Test Drive: D-Link 2.4 GHz Wireless Internet Camera

By Joseph Moran

The new DCS-1000W doesn’t look anything like a Web cam, and that’s good, since that is not what this unit is meant to be. Were it not sporting twin antennas, it could probably be mistaken for a conventional wired security camera you might find at your local bank. D-Link touts the DCS-1000W as the first 802.11b camera, to I think Panasonic’s Wireless Network Cameras might have come first.

The DCS-1000W is a color camera, and it captures images in three resolutions (160×120, 320×240, and 640×480) with five levels of compression, ranging from Very High to Very Low. Frame rates of up to 30 fps are supported, but only at the lowest resolution. At maximum resolution, frame rates are in the single digits.

The camera has a 10/100 RJ-45 jack for the initial configuration, and you can use the camera in wired mode if you’re so inclined. A toggle switch on the camera lets you choose between LAN, WLAN, and LAN+WLAN modes. The DCS-1000W also has an I/O connector to be used with forthcoming optional modules, such as infrared and motion detection sensors.

The DCS-1000W sports Power and LAN/WLAN LEDs on the front. You can choose to have these lights remain dark, or in so-called “dummy” mode where the LAN/WLAN light will remain on and flash randomly to obfuscate the operation of the camera to passersby.

D-Link recommends that the DCS-1000W not be used outside unless it’s housed in a weatherproof enclosure (or at the very least, placed under an overhang) and fitted with an iris lens (the standard lens can be damaged by direct sunlight).

Configuration and administration of the DCS-1000W is done by Web browser, naturally. The administration console is a bit confusing and hard to follow. I often had to hunt for certain settings, and there is no online help included, so if you need to get an explanation of a particular setting (and you will), you’ll need to consult the manual in PDF format on the included CD.

Like most wireless devices, the D-Link camera can obtain an IP address from a DHCP server, but it also works with BOOTP and RARP, making the camera usable in a UNIX environment.

Interestingly, the DCS-1000W can also work directly with PPPoE, so you could presumably connect the camera directly to a broadband connection and have it login to your account and send images.

In addition to the de rigueur administrator account, you can also add up to 64 other individual users who may access the camera (image only, not configuration) over the network.

You can specify date and time for the camera manually or configure it to update itself automatically from a time server. Unfortunately, the camera cannot overlay the date and time on either the live image or the frame grabs. D-Link says this capability is coming in a future version of the camera.

Thankfully, the DCS-1000W supports e-mail alerts. Naturally, the e-mails arrive with a still image attached, in JPEG format. I couldn’t test this feature, though, because as it turns out you can’t simply send periodic frame grabs from the camera; you need to have one of the (still unavailable) optional modules (or a makeshift device–the manual discusses how to do this) connected to the I/O port to trigger captures.

If you want to monitor your video without filling up your inbox, you can alternately have the camera upload image captures to an FTP server. You can do this according to a schedule you define, and it does not require an I/O trigger.

Depending on where you put the camera, physical access might be problematic. Because of this, the camera wisely lets you either reset it (equivalent to a power-cycle) from the admin console or even restore the camera to its factory default settings, saving you the trouble of pressing the little recessed button on the back of the unit.

The DCS-1000W does support WEP encryption, and I had no difficulty getting an encrypted connection to work with D-Link’s own wireless routers. On the other hand, I was unable to enable a get a WEP connection between the D-Link camera and several wireless access points and routers from other vendors.

The DCS-1000W has a very Spartan WEP configuration section, only allowing you to specify the key type (ASCII or Hex) and the key itself. It doesn’t let you specify whether you want 64- or 128-bit enabled, instead inferring the level of security from the length of the key you input.

However, the camera only lets you input 5 characters or 13 characters (for a 64- or 128-bit key, respectively) and, according to the manual, “These character counts result in bit counts of 40 and 104, respectively; the DCS-1000W will automatically pad your input to a bit count of 64 or 128”.

Herein, I believe, lays the problem. Since most other wireless devices allow (indeed, require) you to provide the full key, it appeared to me that the camera could not be given the same key as the access point, and thus the link failed when WEP was enabled.

It may ultimately be possible to get WEP to work between the DCS-1000W and a non-D-Link device, but be prepared to put a lot of effort into it.

Multiple Cameras
What happens if you want to deploy several cameras? Administering them separately through the browser must be a royal pain in the derriere, right?

D-Link recognized that if you need one camera, you’re likely to need several, so they include an application dubbed IPView, which allows you to view and access the configuration parameters of up to 16 cameras simultaneously. It’s a pretty nice application, and you need it for certain things even if you only have a single camera, like if you want to record video (or upgrade the firmware). In fact, I recommend using IPView instead of the browser to interact with the camera whenever practical.

In the final analysis, the DCS-1000W is a solid overall product that does a lot of things well, in spite of some notable weaknesses (the WEP issue). However, if you can live with the limitations, need video surveillance, and don’t want to wire, it may do the job for you just fine.

Model Number: DCS-1000W ($450)

Pros: Excellent IP View software lets you view and administer multiple cameras.

Cons: WEP may not work with third-party hardware; administration console is confusing with no online help.

Reprinted from 80211-planet.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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