Tactical Advice

D-Link DCS-3420 Wireless Internet Camera

For day and night security on a budget
This story appears in the December 2007 issue of BizTech Magazine.

When you work in a million-square-foot warehouse, you quickly find it is practically impossible to keep an eye on every inch of the building without a little help from technology.

We thought most of our building was covered after the original security system was installed. Alas, we discovered we missed a few spots.

Rather than go back to our security vendor and pay an exorbitant price for some after-installation cameras, I decided to see what I could find to supplement our existing system.

The D-Link DCS-3420 Wireless Day and Night Internet Camera quickly rose to the top of the Internet cameras now on the market.

I was, of course, familiar with the D-Link brand, and this particular model seemed to have every feature I was looking for:

  • 802.11g wireless protocol support
  • Aluminum casing
  • Motion-triggered recording
  • Mounting kit
  • Wired or wireless operation
  • 4X digital zoom
  • 24 x 7 technical support
  • One-year warranty
  • Camera output viewable via Internet Explorer

After reading the documentation and description at D-Link’s Web site, I decided to take the plunge and purchased three units.

The DCS-3420 comes with everything you need to get it up and running: the camera, power supply, Ethernet cable, antenna, mounting bracket, Quick Installation Guide and installation CD.

End-User Advantages

The camera setup is relatively straightforward, but you do need to pay attention to detail. One mistake and you will find yourself resetting the unit and starting from scratch. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

Having said that, if you closely follow the directions in the Quick Installation Guide, you’ll find yourself up and playing — um, running — with your new camera in no time. 

The installation is simple:

  • Connect the Ethernet cable to the camera and your network
  • Attach the antenna
  • Attach the external power supply
  • Insert the installation CD and follow the directions

The software looks for a connected camera and then offers you the opportunity to configure it.

Now, the setup can be simple or more detailed, depending upon your in-house wireless network. 

For example, I had to configure the camera with a name, optional password, IP address, subnet mask, default router, primary/secondary DNS, SSID, security key length and security key, just to name some of the proffered items. 

Once the necessary items were configured, I simply clicked the Done button and waited while the settings were transferred to the DCS-3420.

Then I restarted the camera by disconnecting and reconnecting the power, which causes the camera to switch from wired to wireless mode, and voila, I had an operational camera with which I could view co-workers trying to sneak up on me! No more surprise visits from my boss while I’m visiting the Dilbert Web site.

The camera also sports audio and talkback if you attach an optional speaker to your camera. There is also a setting that will allow you to turn off the power LED so that it does not appear that the camera is on.

Why It Works for IT

Again, setup is relatively painless. And, once complete, viewing the camera’s output is as simple as entering the IP address in Internet Explorer.

You will be prompted for a password (if you assigned one); then, you’ll find yourself viewing whatever the camera is pointed at.

The camera has myriad configuration options after installation, as well. 

You can configure it to e-mail you a snapshot every five minutes; you can configure it to record based on motion; you can change your frame rate, your code type — MPEG4 or Motion JPEG — your bit rate, etc.

As for MPEG4 versus Motion JPEG, there are obviously several differences. MPEG4 is an ISO standard finalized in 1998; Motion JPEG is not a standard, which means everyone and his brother can write a codec, none of which will necessarily work together.

Additionally, MPEG4 offers object-based compression, whereby individual objects within a scene are tracked separately and compressed together to create an MPEG4 file. This results in a very efficient compression scheme. In Motion JPEG, however, each frame is compressed individually using the JPEG still image compression standard. No frame differencing or motion estimation is used to compress the images, resulting in much greater file sizes.

Is one better than the other? If you want to store more data, go with the MPEG4. If you want better video, use Motion JPEG.

The DCS-3420 also comes with the standard D-Link software that allows you to view up to 16 cameras at once. With this software, I can view output from all three cameras simultaneously on my computer screen.

Finally, D-Link offers 24 x 7 support for these cameras via a toll-free phone number. I called several times with some easy questions and some more difficult ones, just to test the support team. They answered fairly quickly, although I had to navigate through a somewhat confusing voice-mail tree to get to the correct group.

Disadvantages

If you choose to record video, it can take up a lot of disk space. I called D-Link support to see if there were settings that would let me limit the disk space to a set size or configure the camera so it would record a rolling week of data. They told me that no such options were available. 

So, it will be up to you to delete data from time to time to keep your hard drive from filling up. For a workaround, we simply delete the files every week, eliminating the need for archival storage. If an incident has occurred and we find we need the data in question, I can simply burn it to a CD.

CDW Price: $463.99

Brian Chastain is the warehouse manager at Genco/Hershey.
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