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Multimedia & VoIP Reviews

D-Link DCS-5020L

At a Glance
Product D-Link DCS-5020L [Website]
Summary mydlink-enabled pan and tilt Day/Night Network Camera
Pros • Best night vision we've tested to date
• Great wireless range
• Hosted portal for remote viewing
• Great value for the price
Cons • No recording to SD card, but you are notified at network loss
• No recording to share
• Not HD

Overview

We're starting to put together quite a little database of day and night images from different network surveillance cameras we've reviewed. Some rather impressive, some not so much. What has really surprised me with each review is that the camera's price does not necessarily indicate its quality.

The subject of today's review, D-Link's DCS-5020L, is relatively inexpensive. But it really surprised me with how good certain aspects of it are. Especially considering the other D-Link cameras we've looked at have been just "ok".

Opening the package finds the DCS-5020L, a long wall wart power adapter with lengthy cable, flat CAT5 cable, quick install quide, mounting templates, mounting hardware and mounting bracket.

The DCS-5020L supports both 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n wireless network connections. For sake of disclosure, all of the tests run on this camera were using wireless. I ran initial setup using D-Link's Setup Wizard. Once through with the wizard, I simply pushed the WPS button on the DCS-5020L and on my router and disconnected Ethernet once the WPS light quit flashing. It was that easy.

I've included some of the DCS-5020L's key features below.

Hardware

  • Chipset - Ralink RT3352F - MAC, 2.4Ghz radio, ethernet and CPU
  • SDRAM - 64 MB
  • Flash - 8 MB
  • Microphone - Yes
  • Speaker - No
  • Wireless - 802.11 b/g/n w/ WEP/WPA/WPA2 and WPS
  • Ethernet - 10/100
  • PoE - No

Video and Lens

  • Lens - Focal length: 2.2 mm, F2.0
  • Horizontal viewing angle - 66 degrees
  • Pan/Tilt - Yes, motorized
  • Zoom - Digital, up to 4x
  • Video codecs - H.264, MJPEG, JPEG for still images
  • Max resolution - 640 x 480 up to 30 fps
  • IR LEDs - 10 LEDs, 8 meter claimed distance

Features

  • Remote viewing - Yes, hosted portal
  • Motion Detection - Yes
  • Sound Detection - Yes
  • Email notifications - Yes, still images and clips
  • Text notification - No
  • Record to share - No
  • Record to FTP - Yes
  • Record to SD - No
  • App support - Android and iOS

Inside

I was wary of taking the DCS-5020L apart just for the fact of the pan and tilt. So I decided to look at the FCC site to see if there was clear documentation of the chipset. In fact there was, in the image below we can clearly see the Ralink RT3352F router-on-a-chip, so named because it involves everything needed to run on one single chip, including the MAC, 2.4 GHz radio, Ethernet and CPU.

Ralink RT3352F router-on-a-chip chipset

Ralink RT3352F router-on-a-chip chipset

This could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well everything worked, and I intended to find out. One feature I was eager to test given the router-on-a-chip configuration was the "Wireless Extender" that D-Link has added to this camera in order to extend wireless range for more IP cameras. The Wireless Extender allows you to connect up to five wireless devices, either keeping the original SSID or creating a new one. The configuration options you'll find for the Wireless Extender are shown in the image below.

Wireless Extender functionality

Wireless Extender functionality

Given that one chipset handled everything, I was eager to see what happened to framerate on the camera's image once clients started connecting. To test, I installed the mydlink Lite app onto my Android phone. D-Link provides the Lite app for free, which lets you view one camera at a time. But the company charges you $0.99 for the mydlink+ app which lets you view four mydlink cameras at once. I still don't understand vendors charging something as paultry as $0.99 for an app that should be included with your purchase, but I'm getting off-topic.

Once I had mydlink Lite installed, I checked the framerate and found 30fps at 640 x 480, perfect. I then connected my Android phone to the DCS-5020L's extender. I also connected my laptop to the camera's extender and VPN'ed into work, all while watching the framerate and picture. Framerate stayed responsive and high. The pan and tilt features were never particularly snappy through the mydlink hosted portal, but they were using IPCam Viewer locally.

The Wireless Extender functionality worked well and impressed me. I'm not sure I would use it, I couldn't test reliability over the long-term with the setup. It does halve your bandwidth as one radio is used for sending and receiving, but it's there. When I checked Amazon reviews for the camera, many of the negative reviews were regarding the wireless functionality. My testing did not reveal problems and actually revealed very good wireless range. I moved the camera outside, to a place where my phone and laptop can't connect to my wireless anymore and connection was still sound on the camera. The Wireless Extender even worked well out there.

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