Pros: Good signal strength; program lets you view multiple streams or use motion detection.
Cons: Poor image quality; no controls with Web interface; online stream doesn’t work with Apple iPhone.
Imagine an 802.11n wireless camera that streams gorgeous video to the Web even when your computers are offline. It’s small enough to go unnoticed and you can easily view the results, and even control the camera, from any cell phone.
Well, if you pick up the D-Link DCS-1130 Wireless N Network camera, all you can do is imagine it. This camera, frankly, sounded a lot better in the planning stages. We’ve been following its delayed development for a while now, and the final result is a letdown.
For starters, the DCS-1130 is huge. No secret spy cam here, the body measures 1.5 x 3.2 x 4.7-inches with two 3.5-inch antennas sticking out the top. If that wasn’t enough to call attention to it, it has a green light on the front that blinks whenever you’re monitoring its video.
Installation wasn’t exactly the plug-and-play process we’d been led to believe. We needed to run an install wizard that only works on Windows computers. We don’t understand why D-Link has chosen to leave Mac users out, when all the software does is a simple router configuration. To use the camera, you’ll need a router that supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). We tested it with a D-Link router that has a WPS button, so installation didn’t take long.
Once we had the camera set up, however, the disappointment really began. The image quality is poor. It’s much worse than you’d get from a Logitech Webcam costing much less. The top resolution is 640×480 pixels with 30 frames per second, and the image is always grainy. If you videochatted with a Webcam that produced an image like this, your friends would complain.
The install process created an account for us on mydlink.com, and it was easy to log in from either a Windows or Macintosh computer to view the streaming video. It wasn’t so easy from a cell phone, however. Our iPhone couldn’t connect; so much for monitoring while away from home. The packaging makes it sound like the DCS-1130 works with any 3G phone, but the fine prints says it needs Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) support and a 3G video player.
As for the online camera interface…no surprise there—another disappointment. We were shocked to find that we couldn’t control the camera through the Web site. There are no controls for zooming in our out. The camera doesn’t include a motor, so we couldn’t pan left or right, something that the Logitech QuickCam Orbit AF can do. Instead, this camera is fixed in one direction. Despite the box saying the DCS-1130 performs well in low-light conditions (it promises 1.0 lux sensitivity for low-light recording), we found low-light video extra grainy. When we pointed the camera out the window on a sunny day, on the other hand, we got a totally white, blown-out image. The camera only creates a decent image in moderate lighting. We were especially disappointed that there’s no autofocus. That’s been standard issue on moderate-to-high end Webcams for years now. The DCS-1130 includes a manual focus dial. If the camera isn’t near your computer, that means making several trips between your computer and camera until you get the focus ideal. Why wasn’t autofocus built-in? And why aren’t there focus controls on the Web interface?
To gain advanced controls over the camera, we needed to install D-Link’s D-ViewCam 2.0 software, which only works on Windows computers. The instructions didn’t specify which program to install or where to find it, so it took us a while to find the correct software on the installation CD. This software lets you view multiple video streams, set up motion detection, record still images, and record video. You can even record video to an external hard drive, so the computer doesn’t need to be on. The program also offers 16x digital zoom. The interface, however, was complex, and we were left wondering why many of the advanced controls couldn’t have been worked into the Web interface. The camera’s packaging mentions the D-ViewCam software, but says it’s for multi-camera monitoring and advanced management. What it doesn’t say is that nearly all the controls are considered “advanced management.”
While this is an 802.11n camera and it requires an 802.11n router, the type of Wi-Fi connectivity it uses isn’t all that important when the rest of the camera is so lacking. Yes, it includes two antennas and we found the signal strength to be strong in our testing, no matter where we located the camera. The image the camera transmitted, however, still looked terrible. A strong signal of a weak image isn’t that much of a help. The stream never dropped out in our testing, but the image was always grainy. Don’t mistakenly pick this up thinking that the “Wireless N” on the box is in some way a measure of the product’s quality.
Wireless monitoring holds a lot of promise, but this camera, unfortunately, only lets you imagine what might have been.
In addition to Wi-Fi Planet, Troy is a regular contributor to Computer Shopper, Intranet Journal, GearLog, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper. We follow him on Twitter @TDreier.