While Far Eastern IP camera manufacturers have been filling the popular budget end of the market, there have with been notable issues with most of them. Until recently the lack of H.264 support, poor image quality and questionable reliability of hardware, firmware or software has caused issues. It seems some are now addressing these issues and starting to produce gradually better Devices. Amongst the latest line of Indoor H264 PTZ cameras that possess such improvements is from Tenvis, a Hong Kong based company founded in 2005. I take a look at their latest offering, the IPROBOT3.
The Packaging and contents:
The packaging it arrived in was sensibly sized which is handy for storage, if like me you wish to keep the original boxes. It comes with the default username, password and IP address on the box for setup. A QR code is also on the side of the box for helping you setup the camera on phones and tablets using the apps contained on the CD. Upon opening you are presented with a well protected foam inner casing containing the Camera, PSU, Mounting bracket and bolts with raw plugs and screws for wall mounting them. I must point out, again, the issue of PSU cable length. This is something that many manufacturers seem to do, often to the annoyance of the user, as it can severely restrict camera positioning out the box. This particular camera comes with just 113cm of cable.
The IPRobot3 body design is effectively the same look as the Vivotek PZ7151 camera with a silver/grey finish high gloss finish. Tenvis has included IO ports for attaching sensors, alarms and such, which I will address further on. The usual LAN cable connection and WiFi antenna socket are present and there is an output for an external speaker, while there is a hole ready, there is currently no Microphone input on this model. Finally there is a slot for a Micro SD card (Max 32GB) for recording internally.
Setting up was not quite instant as the camera was pre-set with another country’s default IP range, DNS and Subnet settings out the box. After plugging it directly into my laptop LAN connection and running the supplied CD, I manually set the details to work with my UK Network Router. To make things a little easier there is an option in the software to click “same as computer” which will fill in the settings for you based on the system you are using to setup the camera with.
The built in Web interface:
The Cameras built in interface is accessible by using a web browser and entering the IP address and port of your camera, or your DDNS URL and port if using remotely. I immediately discovered one of those annoying inconveniences of many IP cameras the, “some features work in IE explorer only” issue. The effect of this means you cannot access or use many features like 2-way Audio or record video to the viewing P.C in other browsers. It should be noted these browser issues are unfortunately quite common in most budget cameras, some branded cameras and NAS servers also, so if you want the full range of features you will need to use IE explorer browsers.
The bits that matter most:
1) Image quality – The first thing that struck me was the improved clarity of the image for a camera in this budget range. We have all previously been used to low resolution, coupled with cheap lenses that produce a smudged and blurry image. The IPROBOT3 is a definite improvement and makes it much more useable for security/evidence tasks. This is made better when coupled with its IR cut off filter that allows natural colours in the daytime or under well lit situations. This IR cut filter is another “must-have” for better identification of objects and people in the cameras view. Some of you will be used to other budget cameras that have the unpleasant Purple/white false colour due to no IR cut filter. With the IPRobot3 the colours where very near “real life” and quite vibrant, with the IR cut filter moving out the way when night time comes, it produces a Black and White image with help from the ten IR LED’s. The light from these LED’s was sufficient for most large household rooms ofr offices. One thing missing though was the ability to manually shut off the IR LED’s from the interface or settings. This inability to switch off the IR manually will make this unit unusable for looking through a window at night for example. There is a mystery button on the live-view web interface called output control, maybe this is intended for future implementation of this feature, but currently it does not appear to do anything? Also noticed is what sounds like the IR cut filter being moved in and out of position mechanically as the light fades, currently when light is at a certain level this tends to go on and off too much and may cause motion detect/notifications to trigger repeatedly for some minutes or possibly cause premature wear of the filter mechanism, it is something that can be solved with a firmware update of course.
2) Audio quality – While many may just want to use the 2 way audio as an intercom it can also be a vital tool for security and evidence. Previously on budget cams the Microphones were usually acceptable in sensitivity, but some like the Y-cam and Foscam suffered with interference from the built in Wi-Fi antenna due to bad shielding. After testing the IPROBOT3 with the Wifi antenna in different positions, I found no such problems. The audio was clean and free of such interference. It was noticed though, that the microphone is not quite as sensitive as some cameras and could do with some gain. I found the built in speaker to be quite good though still a bit quiet, but an improvement over some I have experienced. The cameras audio system in general tends to give bias towards high frequency sound (whistling, scream) and needed more sensitivity to lower tones (deep voices). On my home LAN and via 3G the audio was unbroken both ways.
3) Frame rate – On my home LAN network over Wireless N type and using the supplied software (Easyview) or the cameras built-in web interface, the 30fps was achievable at all resolutions. Also via the LAN at 320×240 it was also 30fps Via the P2Pcam Android app installed on my Motorola Xoom Tablet and HTC Smartphone, however I could not get more than 320×240 resolutions as the app did not allow me to select another streaming mode. More about the android app below.
System settings: Users can be added and rights granted individually, including deleting recorded videos or PTZ control. Snapshot quality and frequency can be set and the useful addition of scheduled rebooting. In this section you can also see overall system status, set system time including automatically from a NTP server. To end this section with is the ability to upgrade firmware or reset to factory state.
Network section: this includes IP address settings, Wi-Fi settings for connection to your router. For remote use DDNS settings are available which currently only cover Tenvis, 3322 and Dyndns servers. The lack of No-ip.org is noted. Next up is PPOE and SMTP for email alerts. After this is the UPnP settings finishing off with PTZ config. This allows you to set speed (3 settings) and whether the camera is mounted in ceiling or desktop mode
Video section: it allows you three stream mode settings to make available to users. You can set each mode depending on whether or not you are streaming on LAN, recording to SD card or streaming across the Internet. Resolution options are selectable from 320×240, 640×480 and 1280×720, with variable or constant bit-rate, selectable Frames per second and I-frame gap rate for each of the three modes. There is also OSD settings and in here you can select what information to display on the video stream, Date and time, camera name or user entry. All are able to be positioned to any four corners of the image.
Finally in the Video section is a very nice addition and one normally found on more expensive cameras, a Privacy masking system. This allows the user to shield off areas of the image so you cannot see what is behind them. Unfortunately unlike more expensive cameras, the Privacy mask does not remain static where you placed it when you move the camera. This makes it only useful if the camera is being used in static mode, without users being able to move the PTZ position. This is somewhat of a drawback but given the price of this camera it is still surprising to find such a feature and I am sure it will be useful to some users.
Alarm settings: Settings can adjust settings for motion detection and detection areas. You can choose sensitivity of the motion detection and set notifications, including email or to trigger a recording. You could also make use of Tenvis wisdom to keep the IO ports on the camera instead of removing them like they have in the latest H264 PTZ Foscams. These IO ports make it possible for you to attach audible alarms, Sensors and even some have used it for garage doors openers! I applaud Tenvis for including these IO ports for both the consumer who can buy things to add to the camera and the Hobbyist who can use them for making their own add-ons. However in the settings I only see 1 port available in the pull down menu but 4 physical IO ports on the camera? Since the manual lacks so much information at this stage, it is not certain if they all work, are all selectable somehow or if any work at all? To finish off the, “nice extras”, sound detection is also available to trigger a recording or notification, with a choice of sensitivity settings for the audio level trigger.
Finally for the web interface settings are the Record settings. In here you can set the Size limit of recoded files, the time limit of a recorded file and time limit to record after a trigger to record is made. You can also set what stream to record out of your three stream modes and whether or not to record Audio.
Finally is a very useful feature, the ability to record to Network Assisted Storage device (NAS). This is done using CIFS/SAMBA/FTP/NFS mode. You can designate the shared folder to use for recorded files and whether to delay transfer or have real-time recording to NAS. It should be noted if you choose real-time and your network cannot handle it, the recorded file may be unusable. Again this is a nice touch as previously most budget cameras only had ability to record stills via FTP.
Web interface –Using the live View:
1) PTZ control
2) Preset position control (up to 16) (IE only at present cannot set properly in firefox?)
3) Cruise control, for panning a pre-set path(this currently causes the cam to lock up in a vertical position when pressing the big cruise button in firefox (on cruise setting 1), this requires a power down/restart to be able to move the camera again. In IE i have noticed it also gets locked up and presets are not being remembered. Also how to set the cruise options 1-4 is a mystery as there is no information in the instructions) and presets cannot be set in firefox either only IE also?)
4) Drop down menu for selecting one of three stream options previously designated in settings
5) Buttons for Audio in activation and for microphone-cam output (IE only)
6) Two buttons for taking a still or record video to PC (IE only)
7) Button for image flip and button for output control
8) Two sliders, one for brightness and one for contrast
9) Unknown clickable button round at bottom?
Included on the CD is a Windows application called,”Easyview”. This was straight forward to install and includes a search function to easily find and add your camera from your network. It allows multiple Tenvis cameras to be monitored. There were no help/instructions with the Easyview software at the time of testing. The software also lacks any PTZ presets but does have the standard PTZ controls up/down/left/right. Remote access was available after entering my Dynamic DNS information into the settings. You can record video/audio to a. V264 file to your P.C, which is not the most useful format for immediate editing in common programs. You can also take a JPEG snapshot to your PC using the software, both of these features worked fine in the test. You can also monitor audio or talk back though the camera locally or remotely. The software includes the ability to view and search locally or remotely stored files that were previously recorded.
The Android app included on the CD is P2Pcam264. After installing, setup was aided by the ability to scan a QR code on the cameras box. This did not appear to work on my Motorola Xoom tablet and after scanning the label I found the entry’s remained blank. On my HTS Desire S however it did work. Also on the Xoom tablet, the Menu’s in the app do not appear correctly, but are still usable with some guesswork. The Android app appears to lack one “major” feature and that is the ability to use it remotely? Due to the complete lack of a manual or anywhere in the Menu I could find to enter Dynamic DNS information, it was impossible to use it remotely. This appears to completely go against the whole purpose of an Android app as most would use it remotely? While using it on LAN locally audio worked fine both ways. There again was a lack of PTZ presets, you can however move the camera by Screen swiping. It would be nice to see the ability to record the Video stream with audio to your android device like you can on the Easyview software to your P.C.
For users of NAS servers like Synology, I understand that this camera is being tested for inclusion into their surveillance station software in the near future. You will then be able to use and record it alongside your other cameras on your NAS systems interface.
Pros and cons :
1) Good quality image
2) Ability to Schedule camera reboot
3) Sound detection to trigger recording
4) Privacy masking system
5) IO ports for alarms/sensors
6) Direct NAS video recording
7) H264 encoding
8) Low Cost
1) No ability to manually switch off IR LED’s
2) Still having to use IE explorer browser for full features
3) Android app and PC app lack of some features and some compatibility issues
4) Lack of detail in manuals
5) PSU cable too short
The bottom line:
With regard to the few niggles I found, they can mostly be addressed with a Firmware upgrade in camera or app upgrade-releases. Seeing how this is still a very new camera, I suspect they will be addressed in the near future. Given the quality of the image and the “nice touches” like the Masking, IO ports, IR-cut filter and sound detection, coupled with the price, the Tenvis IPROBOT3 gives good bang for buck and stands up in the crowd. It is a realistic choice for home and small business indoor use with the budget user and will become more useful as the NAS manufacturers and App makers support it in their line-up. A quick Google for the UK shows the equivalent competition like Foscam retailing for around £122.99 and without some of the “nice touches” mentioned here, the Tenvis Iprobot3 is avaliable for £99.00
The budget IP camera market, previously very “same-same” is now starting to see the standards Bar being raised and the heat is on.