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{mospagebreak toctitle= Introduction,Setup}

Introduction

Updated 1/13/2011: Updated D-View Cam info

D-Link DCS930L IP Camera

At a Glance
Product D-Link Wireless N Network Camera (DCS-930L)
Summary Inexpensive Wireless IP Cemera with motion detection and remote web access
Pros • Low cost
• 802.11n wireless
• Good quality video, including low light
• Audio monitoring
Cons • A few quirks
• Recording not built in
• Motion detection setup can be finicky
• No MacOS setup or mgmt / recording support

Over the years, I've had an occasional need for a security camera to watch over my house. I've checked out a few cameras, but found that the inexpensive units on the market were really no more than toys that weren't suited for 24/7 deployment. But times change. These little security cameras are getting better, adding more features as their prices continue to fall.

In this review, I'll check out the DCS-930L wireless IP camera from D-Link, which can be found for around $80 and advertises a wide range of features including 802.11n connectivity, remote-viewing, audio, motion-detection alerting, Windows and MacOS support and more.

The 930L consists of a camera unit and a swivel stand along with the power cord. In use, the camera barely registered on my power meter using a paltry 1 W. The camera itself is about the size of a bar of soap and is quite light, but a bit top-heavy so it's easy to tip over. If you plan on mounting it permanently, the stand has a couple of slots on the bottom to secure it with screws.

On the front, you can see the lens, a microphone opening and a LED that is used to signify startup network status and activity (optionally). On the back panel (Figure 1) you can see a 10/100 Ethernet network port, power connector, reset button and a WPS button for easy wireless security configuration for those with compatible basestations.

 Back Panel

Figure 1: DCS-930L Back Panel

Setup

Even though the box for the 930L advertises "support" for MacOS users, when you insert the included setup CD and read the installation instructions, you'll find that installation is strictly Windows-only. Sigh. Figure 2 shows the initial setup "Wizard" running under Windows.

setup Wizard

Figure 2: DCS-930L Setup Wizard

The main purpose of the Wizard is to configure networking and set up an account on D-Link's mydlink.com service for easy remote access to your camera. My wireless basestation doesn't have the one-touch WPS setup, so when it came time for the Wizard to configure the wireless networking, I started down the manual path of first plugging in a wired connection and then manually entering the key for my home wireless network.

As I started configuration, everything was going smoothly. A site survey located my wireless network, I selected it and entered my encryption key. But no matter what I did, I was unable to get the camera to connect to my basestation even after multiple tries, double-checking the key, rebooting, resetting, etc. (Figure 3).

Wireless Setup Error

Figure 3: DCS-930L Wireless Setup Error

With not much of an option, I chose to continue on with using a wired connection. Once your configuration is complete, further setup can be accomplished via a web browser so I connected with my browser and returned to the wireless setup. There's where I found out what had happened with the original attempt at setup. Figure 4 shows the browser view for wireless configuration.

Browser Interface to Wireless Configuration

Figure 4: DCS-930L Browser Interface to Wireless Configuration

It may be a bit hard to see in this screenshot, but the SSID field reads Time, whereas back in Figure 3, you can see that the correct SSID for my Time Capsule basestation is Time after Time. Evidently the D-Link Wizard doesn't correctly handle SSIDs with blanks. Once I corrected the SSID using the browser interface, I was online wirelessly.

I have it "fuzzed out", but this screen also shows my wireless network pre-shared key in the clear and it was transmitted over a standard, non-encrypted, HTTP connection. This is likely not an issue on a home network, and secure HTTPS connections to the camera are supported, but it was a bit of a surprise to see my private key pop up in the clear on this menu.


In Use

Once the initial setup is complete, non-Windows users can connect to the camera via web browser to use and configure it further. It appears that the only Windows-unique setup item is the account creation and registration of the camera at the mydlink.com web site, which is used for remote access (more later).

Figure 5 shows the initial live-video menu that appears once you connect via your web browser.

 Live Video view

Figure 5: DCS-930L Live Video View

In this case, I have a 320x240 live-video selected. You can't see it here, but the bottom status of the browser window shows a frame-per-second (FPS) reading. With 320x240 on a local network I was getting anywhere from 19-30 FPS in this fairly static scene. If I bumped the resolution to the maximum 640x480 I dropped down to a rate between 7 and 15 FPS.

At the bottom of this window, you can see buttons for (digital) zooming in on the image and controlling audio (on/off). These worked fine, but the zooming was just a pixel replication so it was not terribly useful.

It's a bit hard to see in this screen capture, but the image itself was quite good. D-Link advertises low-light support (one Lux) and I found that it did well as it got dark outside. Figure 6 shows a snapshot taken from my front window about 30 minutes after sunset taking advantage of a little illumination from our outdoor Christmas lights.

Low-Light Capabilities

Figure 6: DCS-930L Low-Light Capabilities

The audio quality coming from the camera was OK and sufficient to listen to conversations near the camera.

I won't have space to cover every item in the configuration menus, but there are options for creation and maintenance of individual user accounts, updating the firmware, permanently turning the blinking LED off, setting the time, etc.

I will cover some of the more interesting features, though. First, I set up a dynamic-DNS service. This will allow me to address my camera by name when I'm away from home. Figure 7 shows the setup menu.

Dynamic DNS setup menu

Figure 7: DCS-930L Dynamic DNS Setup Menu

Support is provided for several different external services and once I had my info entered, it worked fine. To use the camera outside your home network using this method, you'll be responsible for doing the port-forwarding from your home router to the camera itself. I set this up so that I could access all features remotely without having to rely on the mydlink.com web portal.

The next item of interest was motion detection. This feature monitors part of the image for changes and, when detected, emails you a snapshot. The first step in getting this going is to enter your email info (Figure 8).

Email Setup

Figure 8: DCS-930L Email Setup

You can see in this screen that the camera can be set up to periodically email images regardless of motion on a schedule. Unfortunately, you can't schedule motion detection during certain hours. Once you get your email info entered, you'll need to set up motion detection parameters. Figure 9 shows the motion setup screen where I had selected several regions of the image that would be important for detecting motion.

Motion Setup

Figure 9: DCS-930L Motion Setup

I found that this feature worked, but selecting the right sensitivity for all occasions was a bit of a challenge. When I first set the camera up, a light snow was falling, so I had to turn the sensitivity way down to prevent getting inundated with email alerts. But when the snow stopped, I had to turn it back up or else I wasn't getting any detections.

I also had a number of false alarms as shadows moved across the image during the day. So, this feature worked but if you are planning on using to view an outdoor scene, be prepared to get a number of false-alarm emails or miss some events if your sensitivity is set too low. You'll also notice that the motion-areas you define aren't exact. I'd get alerts even when the motion was only close (but not inside) my defined areas.

Another problem I saw with the motion-detection feature is lag between the time that motion is detected and the video frame is grabbed. While watching live video when the camera was pointed out my front window, I noticed my neighbor backing out of his driveway. I received two motion email alerts, but neither included the car that tripped the alert.

Note that you can also set the box up to FTP image events to a specified server using much the same type of parameters as for email. But be aware that the emailed or FTP'ed image does not have a time-stamp embedded in the image, so you'll need to rely on the email metadata or FTP file timestamp to tell you when the event occurred.

Updated 1/13/2011: Updated D-View Cam info

One thing the camera can't do is record video directly. D-Link includes a copy of its D-ViewCam software on CD, which supports recording directly from the camera to a local hard drive or NAS, triggering motion detection, setting recording schedules and setting e-mail alert notifications. The software will do all this for up to 32 cameras.

D-ViewCam requires Windows XP pro SP3 / 2003 / Vista SP1/ Win 7 and I'm a MacOS guy. So it didn't do me much good. Also note that the CD doesn't install the application by default.

D-View Cam screen

Figure 9a: D-View Cam screen

D-ViewCam appears to be geared toward management of many cameras and supports many different models (note the controls for pan/tilt/zoom). It allows the operator to switch among cameras or view several on screen at once. The app has a distinct business feel and isn't as user-friendly as the web-based view. So unless you really need camera recording you probably won't use it.

You can download a copy of the User Manual to explore further.


Remote Access

It's all well-and-good to get email alerts from the camera, but you'll also want to view your camera when away from home. Figure 10 shows access to my camera via the mydlink.com website.

Remote camera access via mydlink.com

Figure 10: DCS-930L Remote camera access via mydlink.com

This feature worked well and was easy to use. The site also tunnels back to the web server on the camera itself, allowing you to remotely change any setting that you could change locally. And there's also support for camera access on-the-go. Figure 11 shows access to the camera via my Android smartphone running a D-Link app.

access via an Android Cell phone

Figure 11: DCS-930L Access via an Android Cell Phone

This looks pretty good except for one problem. I could only get it to work when connected to my local network. Whenever I tried to access via the cell network, I'd get a timeout when trying to stream video. The app would log in properly and see my camera, it just couldn't get video.

I had the same issue when using the iPhone version of the app so there must be something about my network setup that the phone apps don't like. Or maybe my cell carrier doesn't allow apps to stream video for bandwidth reasons.

Accessing the camera's standard web page won't work on any device that doesn't support Java, which included my smartphone. But you can grab still shots via a documented cgi-script. This worked fine for me to get remote access to still images via my cell using a custom Android app that I wrote myself. Note that neither the iPhone nor the Android apps support audio from the camera.

Under the Covers

It's pretty clear that this little camera is based on a Linux stack. D-Link even includes a written notice in the packaging stating that GPL-licensed source code is available for those who wish to check it out.

Whenever I get a new device on my LAN, one of the first things I do is a port-scan to see what network ports are open. In this case, I immediately noticed that both FTP and Telnet ports were open on the device and I was able to log in via Telnet using the admin username and password that was set up during initialization.

So, what did I find? The Linux kernel is version 2.6.21 and like most of these consumer-level embedded devices busybox is used for utilities. The processor is a MIPS-based Ralink SoC, running at 320 MHz and 32 MB of RAM is installed. Web serving is courtesy of GoAhead and the video-capture capabilities are being provided by the open-source MJPEG suite.

Be careful about who you let access your camera over the LAN because I found a number of passwords in the clear including credentials for my Dynamic DNS account, the private HTTPS key plus a username and password to a D-Link provisioning server.

I also noticed a comment in the startup scripts indicating that the Telnet daemon was being started up for debugging purposes, so maybe someone forgot to turn it off for production? After poking around for a while using the Telnet interface, I would always get disconnected and could not re-connect until I power-cycled the camera. This indicates to me that the Telnet daemon was being killed by the Linux kernel due to memory pressure on the system. So this little device must be running at its limits as far as memory usage. 32 MB of RAM is pretty tiny these days and this camera has a lot of functionality. But then again, it only costs about $100 and D-Link has to make some profit on the product!

Closing Thoughts

I liked this little camera even though it had a few bugs, and some quirks. But for $80 (street) IP camera, it worked pretty well. It is missing a few features such as the ability to record a video stream directly from the camera and it has no IR illumination for low-light situations, although it did pretty well without it. I was a bit disappointed that the smartphone apps failed for me. But reading the feedback from other users, it looks like most people don't have a problem with the apps.

I wouldn't use this unit for guarding Ft. Knox, or maybe even the local grocery store. But for casual home monitoring, it will do the job and the price is right.

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