Security Camera D-Link DCS-942L

Synopsis:
The D-Link DCS942L camera is a feature rich security camera, but a bitch to configure manually. Even the setup wizard, once I finally got it working, didn’t work without some issues. It turns out most of the wizard issue is due to DLink no longer providing you a CD. If you copy the wizard you download to a stick and run it from there it works, even if registration on the mydlink site appears not to work – just login with the account info you gave it. I suspect it’s a problem with the ca.mydlink.com so if you’re USA, this might work just fine. You can skip the wizard completely and just log on to the device directly browsing it through your network places. The initial login is admin with a blank password. The only think you’ll not be able to do is use Dlink’s site to see your camera remotely- for that you have to get the wizard to work – no manual registration is provided.

What follows is a long story detailing all the issues I had in pretty much two days of trying to get everything working.

I decided to purchase a security camera to point out of my front window, for the following reasons:

– Record anyone coming onto the property, with sufficient detail to ID them if need be
– Be mountable inside my window so I don’t have to get an outdoor setup
– Be alerted someone is coming to the door
– Wireless network-able
– Cost less than $200
– See what the weather is like outside – do I need to go out and shovel the walk?
– Access remotely to see if everything is still OK
– Be capable of adding cameras, should I decide to get another one

I decided at the end of the day to buy the D-Link DCS-942L.

I got this thing home and took it out of the box. First, the instructions tell you to follow the WPS setup steps, if your router supports WPS. If not, you will need to connect it to your network wired first to configure it. I connected the supplied Ethernet cable to a spare port and plug this puppy in, since I’m not sure what WPS is. After that, download the zip file for the DCS-942L camera from www.mydlink.com/download, extract it, and run the autorun.exe setup wizard.

At this point, I concluded that anyone not so computer savvy will pretty much be lost at this point. Download and extract a zip file? That’s 1990’s easy, not 2012 “my parents can do this” easy. I didn’t even know that WPS stands for Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a thing where you can hit a button on your router, and on your device to get the two of them talking without having to know anything about wireless security. I didn’t know that – think your average home user is going to know that? More importantly, WPS seems to have been compromised recently. I must now go and turn that off on my router… Oh good, I did have it set to manual, reminding me that “WPS” never seemed to work for me anyways, which is why I never used it in the first place. Cripey, this project has me getting distracted all over!

So, back to the webcam! Following along on the instructions, having ignored WPS not knowing what it was at the time, I downloaded the zip file, extracted it, and ran the autoexec.exe as per the instructions. I hope at this point you’ve downloaded the right zip file, as you have make sure you pick your camera from the list.

Following the usual start up screens, the program informs me that I have to install some ActiveX components and sits there at a screen telling me it is “installing ActiveX 1/2…” Nothing happens. After a while, a new dialog pops up above and to the left: “Can’t install the ActiveX controls?”. I click on this after a few minutes, as nothing else appears to be happening and get this check list 1) Make sure IE is not blocking ActiveX controls from being downloaded or run. 2) Your Firewall is not blocking ActiveX controls from being downloaded or run 3) You have admin rights. I go with 1) as I’m pretty sure I don’t have any firewall issues on ActiveX. A picture showing me how to get to my IE security settings and get to the ActiveX control and plug-ins section pops up. However it only tells me “Disable settings will block your ActiveX Installation, please check the settings of ActiveX controls and plugins”. Nice – how about showing me which settings SPECIFICALLY I need to allow? Also, I’m running FIREFOX some detail would be nice here! Firefox doesn’t appear to have the option I’m looking for. So, exit the setup wizard. Turns out the problem is something completely different, as mentioned in the synopsis, details at the end of this rant.

In the meanwhile, I can see under “My Network Places” that a new device has appeared: The DCS-942L. Hmmm, let’s try opening that. Asking for a logon with “admin” as the user name. Try no password. What do you know, there is a web page with a camera window! Okay, let’s unplug the Ethernet and see if it works wireless. No go. Plug it back in, open device, (which can also be done by just typing the IP address into your web browser). Check the setup. Wireless setup: Aha! You have to actually enable wireless access, then type in your network name, security mode key, etc. If you’ve ever setup any other wireless device, you’ll know this part. Now I can unplug the camera and it works wireless! But since I have not actually run the setup wizard, I’m going to try this again, this time from my Windows 7 Netbook, rather than the old XP box I tried first. I get to do this all over again when I get my current Windows 7 box back from Memory Express, where hopefully they will be track down why it has been so unstable since I got it. (Yes, I will be re-reading my own post to make sure I get this setup right again). You would think a Windows 7 Netbook, running plain IE would work just fine. No. Same issue with the ActiveX component not installing. I even try my best guess on the ActiveX controls. No dice. However, I can pull up the device via it’s IP on my network, so I’m at this point I have a working device.

I go back to my XP machine, since it’s easier to work on than a little Netbook screen. Start messing with the settings. I can’t remember where (I think Image Setup?) , but I encounter the usual icon in Firefox for missing plugin. I click on it, go to the VLC website, download and install the program. That part is at least painless, or so I thought. Turns out this thing has changed some of my defaults for video inside of Firefox, breaking some sites I went to today. Another thing to fix. To be fair, I was not paying that much attention and might have given the program default opening status on more than I intended. Yet another thing regular computer users will miss.

Now at least, I can get at all the setup screens and try setting this thing up. First things first, you should know that what I am trying to do with this thing is a little more challenging that monitor my living room – I am trying to point this thing outside my front window so I can monitor my front yard. To add to the complication, there are trees and a shrub partially blocking the view. From working with motion sensor lights, I know this is going to be a challenge. The first thing I find out is that using the IR light to light up the scene outside produces lots of glare thrown back from the window. You might get away with it if you can keep the unit a little farther away and pointing at least 30 degrees to one side. I was able to get it working, and could see to my sidewalk about 6 meters away. Other than that, IR works great in a dark room – you can see like it’s got a headlight shining on it from the camera. One thing though- the IR LEDs also glow into the visible spectrum, being a dim red, so any thief worth his salt is going to identify your camera pretty quick if he comes in a dark room. I messed around with the visible light settings as well. I would say that if you have enough light to recognize someone with your own two eyes, the camera will have enough light, although you may have to tell it to use a slower shutter speed under Setup, Image Setup. I’ve got mine down to 1/7.5 sec exposure, and that seems to be enough. I could do better, but I have a car dealership blaring lights out of their yard about 100m away from me, so I can only go so slow before glare becomes an issue. I tried recording some video from the live feed – works great, other than I wish it would actually grab the previous 1-3 seconds when you are trying to catch something that just happened. I know the camera can do that – you can set that in the motion trigger options that I will discuss further along. At this point I was ready for bed, having been at it for 3 hours to get to this point.

The next day, I resolved to dedicate to getting the camera fully working properly. I had all day – surely this would be enough time? As you will see in grisly detail, it was not. I decided to work on the record part first. I will put an SD card in the thing eventually, but the first thing I wanted the camera to do is capture anyone passing in view record it, then upload somewhere safe. First, since I had decided the camera worked well enough that I might actually keep the thing I mounted it on top of my living room window, looking out the front, giving me a view similar to standing there looking out:
DLink Camera pic Example 20121017_113756_0007
(slightly smaller than real size)

Here is an example video, done at 30fps, 2000Kbps, H.264 recording (I think)

At 2.5 megs for 9 seconds, you’ll want to cut back the quality if you actually care about the space these things are taking – that would be 1GB per hour! I’m trying 5FPS at 256Kbps, which should yield about 660k per video clip taken I’m finding them bigger than the bit rate suggests they should be, I was getting up to 360KB at 128Kbps, which I’m finding is a little low quality, so I’m trying a bit higher bit rate for recording.

So, now I can record video manually, at the quality I want, and take a picture. My plan is to record degraded quality video, and take pictures at 1 second prior to the motion event, and every second after that for a total of six pictures. The pictures provide the highest quality, and if I can’t see what I need there, the video will hopefully catch it. One snag though, I can’t record more than 10 seconds per motion trigger. Not sure why they would allow only 10 seconds? However, the SD card allows up to 60 seconds, so you don’t end up with as many files. Note that for each, the camera will wait so many seconds before responding to another motion event, so you could get the camera to respond again as soon as it finishes recording the last clip by setting the duration and the time to next recording the same. I quickly found that for the 10 second clips, 1 second pre-event recording was plenty to show the scene prior to someone entering it.

The next part of my challenge was to tell it where to save the video. You can either have the camera FTP the files or E-mail it. Being a notification that someone is coming to the door for me, I decided on email for starters. The dialog is straight forward, I copied name of the SMTP Mail Server from my Outlook settings Tools, Accounts, Properties button, Servers tab. What was not so straight forward was why the service was not working. After much head scratching , I determined through an internet search that the user name and password have to be empty if you are just sending it from your local internet provider’s email service. Tom’s Hardware forum saved the day; DLink’s help and website is useless.

Since I was having so much trouble with send to email, I tried FTP in the meanwhile. First, I had to find a site that would let me store some files for free, and let me put stuff there through FTP – not so common as you’d think. I setup a free account with Drive Headquarters which gives you 1 GB of free storage, with 200MB download per month. You can upload as much as you have space for, which is important for the camera. What they DON’T tell you, is you have a limit of 100 logons with FTP, with 25 new ones added every day, if I’m reading the FTP server message right. Sooo, if say, you’re having trouble configuring the sensitivity of your camera and it keeps uploading every minute, you quickly hit your FTP limit, like I did. While I don’t mind the Drive Headquarter free service otherwise, I wish they would have shared this one little detail on there feature comparison table – I would have approached testing differently, for sure. As it turned out, it totally confused me as all of a sudden I wasn’t getting any updates. I finally figured it out by looking at the camera log files and seeing a bunch of failures to update to FTP.

Since I was having so much problem with configuration (more on that later) I thought it would be a good idea to update the firmware in the camera. I had 1.01. Head to the maintenance section of the camera interface, select Firmware upgrade, see they have a link to the website with the firmware, click on it… Whoops, it’s the east asian version of the site – not going to help me. {Sigh}. Go to the web site, find where they hide the firmwares, latest is 1.12 – download, install, no issues reported. Reload page. There is my live view. Check the setup page – nothing there anymore. Check the other tabs – nothing, not even firmware upgrade! Take a deep breath – load IE, check page – everything is there (whew!). Go back to Firefox. Close the browser down entirely – reload. NOW it’s all there. Weird. The new firmware does fix a few things I could see, including fixing the web link to at least take you to the main corporate page, and adds a test button to the email send for video and pictures so you can see if it’s going to work or not. Also, there are some tweaks to video recording settings, so go get the upgrade, even if it almost caused me a heart attack.

Having gotten the camera to at least save images via FTP, I now proceeded to play with the motion detection. It’s under Setup, Motion Detection. I turned off the PIR (passive infrared), because as you can see from the area I am monitoring, everything I don’t want recorded is going to set off the camera, as well as the one thing I do: people stepping onto the property. So I proceeded to work with a drawn motion area. Basically I’m drawing an area on the grass and my approach walk, cutting out the area around the shrub at the bottom (which has been cut back from when the picture was taken). From much experimentation, I discovered that you need a certain minimum area to get the motion detect to work at all – mine started working when I had at least a 1/4 swath of the image covered, being most of the front lawn and my approach sidewalk not within the shrubs motion area. Figuring that out was an hour of changing the settings, walking outside to trigger the camera – see if it triggered – repeat. I also left the sensitivity at 100%. At this point, I’m not picking up any false positives during the day, except when it is windy. I’ve tried cranking the sensitivity back to 80% to see if it cuts things back enough. I also find that I pick up false positives from headlights shining onto the lawn at night – either people turning around or fog lights shining off the street onto my yard. One other thing I’m seeing is that the motion detected seems to draw slightly from outside the drawn area – I was picking up people walking by on the sidewalk despite not having drawn that area. One funny thing – I never knew so many bugs crawl on the window in front! I’m still playing with the settings – it’s a work in progress.

I decided to try the Wizard one more time. Searching with Google for DCS 942 Active X found me the the “D-Link Forum BETA” with advice to copy the installer files to a USB stick and try from there. Running it from a stick, WORKS! Now, running through the wizard, I see it tells you how to set things up much better, although again you need to know if your router WPS. Now, having already setup the camera, I’m not sure what the wizard is going to do with my settings. Turns out it leaves most of them alone, other than having to enter a new password for the camera. Enter my wireless network information again, (You’ll have to allow the program when windows firewall pops up asking) reboot the router, sign up for a dlink account, now it barfs on the site signup saying I can’t connect, despite being able to open the site in another browser window on the same computer. I’m betting it’s trying to go to the wrong site. Open ca.mydlink.com directly, click on “Not Registered?” instead of trying to sign in. Great, it just tells me I have to run the wizard to register with the site, no other method supplied. However, it tells me I have to go to ca.mydlink.com/download rather than www.mydlink.com/download. I’m betting the installer here is going to be different – go grab that one! Run through the same setup again… Getting to the dlink account setup, it tells me my email address is already used – so it must have connected to the site partially at least? Go back and tell it I have an account already – argh! stupid thing goes back all the way to setting up my wireless network! Go put that in again, wait for the router to reboot, THEN tell it I have an account already, seems to accept my sign in.. Registering… Setup is complete! Gives me a dlink Number I assume I use to connect to the camera from Dlink’s site… Now I see the camera on there site and it works. Going into the advanced settings opens the same local webpage of the camera, in an https connection(rather than http you get locally), that causes Firefox to complain, plus the program complains about Java JRE not installed or disabled. Sigh. At least it works now. I have no idea if the “ca” wizard version was any different. I suspect they are the same as the file sizes all looked the same. Trying the mydlink.com on another computer (my now fixed Windows 7 box is now back) I find that it does work, after bugging me to install Active X, Java, and provide permissions several times to get to my video window. I’m betting a lot of corporate locked down systems would not work, which defeats the purpose of the camera for those people!

On the good news front, at least I don’t really have to do anything else to configure the camera on my other boxes, other than install the plug in to see live video.

On the to do list is to put an SD card in there and see if I can get that working. The first card I tried didn’t work, but there may be an issue with that card. From looking at the camera settings, it looks like I can manage all the files remotely so I can just get what I need – plus the camera will overwrite the oldest files from what I can tell. I wouldn’t rely on the SD card to provide you evidence in a breaking. It’s as simple as stealing the camera to defeat that idea. If I have any real issues with that, I’ll update from here.

Thus ends my saga.

Note to self: WordPress keeps screwing up links; keeps stripping off the ‘close anchor’ html code off the end. I had to turn off autochecking of XHTML to keep it from doing that.

About ralph

Just another blog to share some thoughts with the world.

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