TP-LINK TL-SC3171G wireless camera
TP-LINK produces a number of networking and connectivity products ranging from wireless routers and print servers to wireless IP cameras. I’m looking at the latter in this review, the TL-SC3171G wireless day/night surveillance camera.
The camera comes with a screw-in metal stand and wall mount kit. Attached to the stand, the camera can be tilted up and down with a locking wheel to secure it in place.
Connectivity comes in the form of a wireless 802.11b/g option or wire it in via ethernet to a router or ethernet over power network. Either way, you’ll need to connect the camera to a power source with a standard 3-pin UK plug.
Like other IP cameras, there’s a built-in server which handles the capture and viewing of the video feed. The software allows you to view the live feed at up to 30fps in VGA resolution, but there is one caveat. You must be using Internet Explorer to get the smooth video feed. If you’re using another browser or a non-Windows based system, you can still get access to the live feed but you won’t get the same refresh rate. I wasn’t able to find the precise refresh rate for non-IE users, but the feed I saw was not far from 1fps and was more like a fast slideshow than a video feed. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
A common issue with cameras that rely entirely on the onboard processing capability is that recording capacity is limited. On the TP Link, you can only store photo snapshots of the video feed. The onboard software allows you to setup an FTP upload straight to your own web server when the camera detects activity, and you can also set it to upload a fresh shot at defined intervals. E-mail alerts can also be setup to give you instant notification of activity being captured. Naturally, you’ll only want to have this on if you’re pointing the camera in a location where movement only takes place if something suspicious is happening. Pointing the camera through a window looking on to a busy road for instance would result in constant e-mail notifications.
One feature I haven’t seen in other IP camera’s is Windows Live/MSN Messenger integration. With this feature enabled, you can open up an IM window from a remote location and use the video streaming facility to get a live feed from the camera. As you’ll no doubt be aware, if you’re on the Mac, Microsoft has yet to enable support for video chats on Messenger.
Infra-red LEDs give the camera its night recording capability and I was impressed with the clarity of the picture even in pitch black conditions. There is however a limitation to the distance in which the infrared sensors can see. For instance, if you’ve got the camera pointing into the room, then the camera won’t pick up on activity outside of windows.
When testing the sensitivity of the motion sensors and the speed in which the camera can capture activity happening, I found it lacking in a couple of areas. Despite adjusting the motion sensor, I wasn’t able to get it to capture activity that was moving quickly. If I ran past the camera, the resulting image would likely be a blurred image or a shot of an empty room. It could be a software issue, but it could also be a hardware issue. Either way, it’s not quick enough in reacting to activity taking place.
I also tested the camera’s ability to pickup activity whilst standing in the room and found that to be poor as well. When stood in front of the camera with movement for several seconds, it would capture a blurred and virtually unrecognisable image.
The TP-LINK TL-SC3171G offers a good feature set containing most aspects you would expect from a surveillance camera. The infra-red lighting system provides excellent night-vision capture and you’ve got easy access to the video feed via Windows Live Messenger – no complicated setup with IP addresses and logins required. Where it doesn’t meet the mark is in the recording department – the software/hardware is too unresponsive to make it a reliable security camera. Instead, this camera is more suited for on-demand streaming. A good example of where this might be ideal is checking up on the kids or elderly family members who have health problems that might need watching over.