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TRENDnet Surveillance Kit Has Basics Covered

There seems to be no end of small, pre-packaged camera systems available to the general public these days. People like Mr. Joe Citizen see video on social media of some lowlife making off with a package from a front porch and decides that he could use that same level of protection.

So, the next time Joe is in his favorite shopping emporium, a camera display catches his eye and he plays with the mouse on the demo system and reads the marketing info on the package and says, “I can do that!”

Well, yes and no and sometimes, maybe. Recently, we were requested to review the TV-DVR208 system from TRENDnet, the folks you probably know from their networking product line but they also offer a line of surveillance camera items.

The TV-DVR208 is an analog camera system and is one of those systems-in-a-box that has everything you need to keep an eye on your property, except for a video monitor. Since this system is available on the retail market, we’re going to assume that it is intended for the likes of Joe Citizen because any mildly competent security dealer could install this unit with little difficulty.

The system arrived and was very well packaged. In the box was a DVR with a preinstalled, formatted 1TB Western Digital Purple Surveillance hard drive. Also included was a corded mouse, eight TV-A100 cameras with fixed 3.6mm lenses for a viewing angle of 82.2°.

You also get eight Siamese video/power cables (60 feet), two wall-wart style camera power supplies, a power supply for the DVR, a 78-inch HDMI cable and some documentation. Power supplies are all 100-240VAC, 50-60Hz.

Construction

The DVR is compact (approx. 8 X 8 X 2 inches) and can be installed just about anywhere small electronics can be placed, remembering that it does have a hard drive and does generate a little bit of heat. I measured one spot on the bottom of the unit’s chassis that indicated 121° F so some air flow around it is necessary.

There is a provision on the chassis to allow the unit to be wall mounted if desired. If you’re installing this system in a small business (convenience store or small office) the 60-foot cables might be sufficient for the job. If it’s going in a home, 60 feet sometimes might not be long enough for all the cameras.

There is nothing in the literature that offers additional cable assemblies in the event of a longer run so hopefully Joe knows where to turn for help and what he needs to purchase. One bit of advice: if you’re going to spend a day in the attic or ceiling installing these cables, make sure that you pull the correct cable end to the camera location because the power connectors are different from end to end.

The camera housings are attractive and unobtrusive, but I generally prefer metal housings for durability and heat dissipation. The TV-A100 cameras have dark bronze plastic housings that have an IP66 rating for outdoor use and are both CE and FCC certified. They only weigh a bit over 10 ounces each so there’s no need to torque them down severely. The locking screws on the mount don’t lend themselves to overtightening so be careful there when aiming the units.

There are eight BNC camera and VGA and HDMI output ports, a network and two USB ports, two RCA jacks for Mic In/Speaker Out, power connector and chassis ground point.

There are eight BNC camera and VGA and HDMI output ports, a network and two USB ports, two RCA jacks for Mic In/Speaker Out, power connector and chassis ground point.

Setup/Software

The documentation included is minimal; a Block Diagram, Quick Installation Guide, a note about Remote Access, a Safety Booklet and a CD containing a camera utility, and also the User Guide. My “installation” consisted of connecting all components together on a workbench in my shop.

For a monitor, I used a 24-inch, 1080p TV using the HDMI connection. I connected the system to the network and applied power. After a quick boot sequence, the Initial Setup screen appears and, following the instructions on screen, you make a few selections (password, set an Unlock Pattern and language).

Then the Setup Wizard appears for time, time zone and, if using DHCP, your assigned IP address appears. Now, the next page is where you’ll need some networking knowledge because you are going to set your ports and DNS settings.

The Quick Installation Guide merely states that, “If you don’t have or know what DNS settings are, you can click Next and skip this step.” Of course, skipping this step also skips your remote access to the system. This may be a point where Joe needs to phone a friend.

A few more simple pages and the Wizard is complete. When the Wizard screen closes, you should now be looking at your camera video. Having worked with analog cameras since the days when they all used vidicon tubes, I was really surprised at the clarity and sharpness of the video.

Right-clicking the mouse brings up menu selections and other options. There are multiple options for programming the various features that may intimidate someone new to the surveillance world but can be worked out with some perseverance and common sense.

Motion detection recording is available as opposed to continuous mode that uses more HDD storage. I set up four cameras to record continuously and the DVR calculated that I would get six days of recording on my 1TB drive with the cameras set for a resolution of 1920 X 1080 (2MP) at 12fps. Eight cameras would reduce that to three days but, obviously, motion recording would extend those times.

Testing

Assuming that during the setup of the DVR you managed to assign an IP address and configure the ports on your router, there is a free app available, TRENDnet IPVIEW, to view the DVR from a smart-phone. It is an app, and it is free, but that’s about all I can say about it. It allows the viewing of your cameras but only one at a time.

To use the 2 X 2 viewing mode, you need the upgrade app version ($3.99). To view Playback, again, you need the upgrade version. With the basic app, you can save a snapshot to your phone but local recording can only be done with the upgrade. One of my criteria for evaluating recording systems is the ease of locating recorded video. After all, if you can’t find it, what’s the point of recording it?

With the help of some supplemental lighting, the DVR208’s low-light coverage can be very good to about 125 feet.

With the help of some supplemental lighting, the DVR208’s low-light coverage can be very good to about 125 feet.

On the side of the system’s packaging, there is a statement that you can “Playback from the DVR Console — No PC required.” True statement and I could save video direct from the DVR. A feature that I did appreciate in the Playback mode was the fact that you can select playback speeds of up to 128x. A very handy feature if you don’t have an approximate time when looking for a particular incident.

Using a browser-based app was a different matter, however. I could search for recorded video but couldn’t save it because of some software issue so I contacted TRENDnet’s Tech Support. After explaining my problem, the technician jumped right into the issue. After 30 minutes of gyrations, he got me to the point where the program would save the downloaded file to a folder.

Unfortunately, after hanging up I found that I could no longer view Playback video. One step sort of forward, one step back. Not willing to invest more time, I abandoned looking for a solution. The browser software could definitely stand some QC. Camera night-vision is advertised as 30 meters. Approximately 6-10 meters would be a more realistic usable distance estimate but then, I find this with most cameras in this class.

With some help, like the streetlight at the end of my 130-foot driveway, I had pretty good coverage along the entire length. Indoor video at night is pretty good for home or office use.

Conclusions

The TRENDnet TV-DVR208 records good video and plays back a quality product as did the other small video systems with which I have experience. The big difference was that with the other system, I (or Joe) didn’t really need much networking knowledge, if any, and didn’t have to do any port configuration on the router as it was done automatically by the software.

I don’t believe that the documentation accompanying this system provides the retail consumer enough information to be able to take advantage of the many features available. It needs to be informative without being overwhelmingly technical. If TRENDnet is distributing in retail chains to the general population, it would be well advised to adjust to the specific market.

The company is in the networking business so it should be fairly simple to devise and include a method of helping non-technical customers buy, install and operate a system that’s not going to disappoint. Would I install one of these in my house? Yes, and I would pop for the upgraded app if I did. But I would use it as a standalone system and skip the web browser access.

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published in the October 2017 Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Would Extra Security Cameras Have Helped Stop the Las Vegas Shooter?

A video surveillance expert explains how a convergence of the right security technology and properly trained personnel could more effectively stop active shooters.

A terrible tragedy occurred in Las Vegas on the night of Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire from his hotel room on a country music festival across the street.

Since the event, many outlets have written about what could have been done to prevent the the shooting, or how the shooter could have been stopped sooner. A Los Angeles Times article titled, “In Las Vegas, the casino is always watching — and yet it missed Steven Paddock,” makes sure to point out that the hotel does not have cameras in its hallways.

While the article is more about hotel/casino security in general and focuses on other aspects of security in addition to video surveillance, the basic premise is that there was a failure on the part of security personnel during the well-reported shooting.

Now I don’t pretend to know what went on at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino during this horrific event, but I do know something about video surveillance in casino resorts and in public spaces in general.

And while I am in the business of helping businesses install or expand their video surveillance systems, I’m not sure that adding more cameras in this situation is the answer.

CCTV, like many aspects of security, is known as a “grudge purchase.” You don’t spend that kind of money unless you have to. You may have to because it is a regulatory requirement, like a casino. You may wish to protect your property, like in cases of vandalism or property damage. There may be liability reasons, like the article points out.

Or it may serve as a deterrent, to keep honest people honest. But, lacking a specific threat, there’s really no reason to cover all the corridors in a hotel with video coverage.

And, if you were to add the thousands of cameras that are required to provide this kind of coverage, you create another problem; information overload. While there is some nifty video analytics software, what are you specifically looking for? The fallen security guard? His radio should have told you where he was.

Searching thousands of cameras for “suspicious” activity in real-time is a fool’s errand. Sure, from a forensics perspective it will make it easier to pinpoint what happened after the fact. But it won’t save lives or significantly speed up the process of locating and apprehending the shooter.

If we want to point to technology to solve this problem, let’s point to things that can be effective. Gunshot detection devices located strategically around the property would let law enforcement triangulate on a specific position in seconds.

Glass break detectors in each guest room would tell us if a window had been broken out, with the side benefit of informing us that a party had gotten out of hand. And magnetometer screenings at entrances and elevator banks would keep people from bringing weapons up to their rooms.

Sure, these would frighten guests away — magnetometers would cause TSA style lines like we routinely see at airports, and gunshot and glass break detectors are essentially microphones which no one would want in their hotel rooms. But the few guests that remained would almost certainly be more secure.

No, the best answer continues to be the people manning the technology. Experienced professionals who know what to do in these kinds of circumstances can use the tools they already have effectively. Giving them additional tools will improve things, but only if they know how to utilize them and manage the flow of information in stressful situations. Training security officers for only a month, and focusing on lawsuit avoidance does not prepare them for situations like this. Experience does.

And I hope, as I am sure you do as well, that these security officers in Las Vegas or anywhere, do not get too much of this kind of experience.

 

Hikvision Network Camera’s Image Lives Up to Its Value

Once upon a time in the far off past (well, 15 years ago) you really didn’t have much of a choice when you wanted an IP-based camera. At that time there were just a couple of manufacturers providing cameras to the U.S. market and as we all remember the selections were mighty pricey! Fast-forward to today where IP cameras are cheaper than an analog camera — my, what a difference a few years makes. Just ahead, we’ll look at a new camera from one of the big players in today’s market, the Hikvision DS-2CD4656F-IZH 2.812MM network camera.

I first discovered the Hikvision brand several years ago when I needed an emergency replacement for a customer’s system that had a critical camera down. A local supplier had a Hikvision IP camera that was cheaper than the analog camera I was replacing. I bought the unit (a 1.3MP mini-dome), brought it back to the site, programmed and installed the unit and was blown away with the view I had versus the old analog camera. Right then and there I started paying attention to the Hikvision brand. The DS-2CD4656F-IZH is another solid unit in Hikvision’s lineup (with a minor hiccup thrown in the mix).

Construction

The DS-2CD4656F-IZH is a substantial camera assembly; removing the unit from its box revealed a camera that weighs in at 41⁄2 pounds. The base and external housing are cast metal with a powder coat cream finish and a heavy-duty polycarbonate clear dome. The unit is impact rated IK10 on the international scale, giving it top marks for vandal resistance. The housing is also rated IP66 for its resistance to moisture, dust and debris — you could mount it in the carwash if you had to!

The device has two threaded 3⁄4-inch openings for the installation of conduit, one on the side and one on the bottom. When I first looked at the plugs that were installed I thought to myself, “huh, plastic.” But upon further consideration, it really doesn’t make a difference when you’re just going to discard the plug anyway. As long as it seals up and keeps the water out, that’s all I care about. The
camera body and external shell have a rubber seal that provides protection from outside elements when the two are mated. The seal has several side tabs that help hold it in place during the installation process to prevent the “droop” you can sometimes get when assembling a housing — nice to see.

Once inside the camera assembly I was pleasantly surprised to find a “straight-in” RJ45 jack installed in the camera base. This makes me happy from an installer’s perspective; it’s a real pain to have to contort the network cable into one of those sideways jacks, especially if you’re on top of a 24-foot ladder in the wind. There are two push-in connectors on the side of the camera base to allow you to make alarm and audio connections as well as power the camera from a 24VAC power source. This is handy if you are retrofitting the DS-2CD4656F-IZH in a location formerly occupied by an analog camera. Install an Ethernet/coax media converter and you’re good to go. The camera also has built-in IR illuminators to provide illumination in low to zero light situations (a little more on this later).

Features

The DS-2CD4656F-IZH is equipped with a 2.8 to 12MM power zoom lens that gives the unit some versatility over others that rely on straight digital zoom technology. The use of a true optical zoom gives the user a clear image when zoomed in on a distant object. The camera is also equipped with a micro-SD slot to allow for file backups on the camera should there be a network hiccup or a need for local storage as a precaution. The product also comes with a flying lead attachment to let an installer use a handheld monitor to set up the general field of view during installation. This is nice and saves from trying to balance a laptop on top of that 24-foot ladder in the wind again.

The camera’s system menu is quite extensive and is broken into eight separate groups. The primary areas for most users (Network, Video/Audio & Image) are easy to work through and allow the user to set up the camera with relative ease.

The image settings, which will most likely be the area most installers will use, provide for just about every adjustment one could need for the camera. You can even personalize the view with your own superimposed logo on the camera itself; however, you need to keep the bitmap file size small — trying to load one too big gets you rejected.

As mentioned, the camera has an extensive menu. There are two sections, the Event and Counting menus, that could come in handy for locations requiring some video analytics or people counting if the VMS doesn’t have those capabilities.

The Basic Event menu has settings for motion detection and video tampering, while the Smart Event tab gives you an extensive listing of detection settings from audio to unattended baggage.

This sub-menu has more detection settings than some full-suite VMS programs. One in particular that caught my eye was the Audio Exception detection setting; this would be great for a location with a siren or alarm or possibly a gunshot detection setting.

Setup and Testing

Out of the box and connected to the camera took about 15 seconds — just long enough for the PoE switch to power the camera up and allow me to login to 192.168.1.64, Hikvision’s default IP address on all its cameras. If you have a large group of cameras you are bringing online you can use the SADP software to facilitate assigning static IPs to the cameras in the field without having to do so ahead of time.

I set the camera up viewing a rural, outdoor setting (see photo, above right top). The images from the DS-2CD4656F-IZH were sharp and by using the on-screen GUI I was able to zoom the lens in and out. When I did so the camera automatically adjusted the lens for the optimal picture. When I set the camera up in my VMS I was unable to fully configure it since it is a new model and not yet in the drop-down menu. I was able to use the VMS’ digital settings and obtained a respectable zoomedin image, especially with the camera set to 6MP.

My nighttime experience with the DS-2CD4656F-IZH was a bit disappointing, however. As noted, the camera was set up in a rural area — the only ambient light was from two low voltage
landscape lights. Because of this low light level I was interested in how the IR illuminators would perform. The IRs inside the dome reflected on the bubble and caused the image to ghost out, leaving me with a nighttime image that was really unusable (see photo, above right bottom). I read through the manual to see if I was missing something and found there was a setting in the day/ night switch that allows the IRs to be set to automatically adjust to the intensity necessary. I reset the IR output power but alas, the image wasn’t any better with my adjustments. As with many cameras I have tested with internal IR emitters the reflectivity within the polycarbonate dome material is just not acceptable when using the IR function. All of my other menu changes and setting adjustments performed as planned with the picture improving or degrading as I moved through the various changes.

Conclusions

The DS-2CD4656F-IZH is an exceptional camera with a wide array of menu options. The IR reflectivity on the dome was a bit disappointing and didn’t allow for a higher performance rating from me. SSI

 

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published in the September 2017 Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Video Search Function Need Not Intimidate Your End Customers

A large municipal client learns that VMS search functionality allays concerns about having to locate a “needle in the haystack” in large amounts of video data.

Many people contemplating adding security cameras or upgrading their CCTV systems are intimidated by video search. Case in point: we are working with a municipal client on a large enterprise video surveillance system and a question regarding video searching methodology came up from one of the stakeholders.

This person had CCTV experience but with an older and less sophisticated system and was concerned with the amount of time that would be required to search for incidents. This was perfectly understandable, given that many people haven’t experienced search technology beyond watching endless hours of footage at 2x or 4x real-time.

To allay his concerns, I was asked to quantify the effort required to search recorded video for incidents. I thought I would share it here in case others had run in to similar questions or concerns. Essentially, I explained, there are three commonly used search methods, and two different types of sites.

 

The first search method looks for the appearance or disappearance of something. This would include vandalism (graffiti, break-in), an object left behind (trash dumping) or an object removed (theft). In these cases, the most common search method would be using the thumbnail search feature of the video management system (VMS).

With thumbnail search, the operator picks a time frame for the incident and is presented with a series of small, still images (often called “cameos”) on their screen. Each image is representative of a snapshot in time, so if the search window is 12 hours there might be 12 images taken an hour apart.

As an example, let’s say we are looking for a person who dumped trash over the fence at a remote building. In that case, looking at the cameos would show a series without the trash, with a change between two adjacent images where the trash suddenly appeared. Clicking on the image just before the trash appeared would give us a new set of images perhaps 6 minutes apart, and drilling down further might take us to a series 45 seconds apart.

In this manner, the operator can quickly drill down to when the incident occurred, reviewing only the video footage needed for the time window required. The total time for such a search is typically just a few minutes for an experienced operator.

The second type of incident represents a subtler change in the scene, perhaps someone loitering in an area or doing something that is done repeatedly by many people, like putting something in a trash can. In these cases, motion search is commonly used.

For motion search, an area (or multiple areas) of an image are highlighted and “trigger” parameters are entered into the VMS. If we were looking for someone who was reported to be loitering in a doorway and looked suspicious, for example, we would highlight the doorway and tell the system to ignore anything that wasn’t in that area for more than 5 seconds so people just passing by did not create false alarms.

The VMS would then present the operator with a list of incidents that fit the parameters and the operator would then click on each one to review the associated video clip. This can be more time consuming than thumbnail search, but there are several parameters that can be programmed to refine the searches and it is far more efficient than searching through hours of footage even at 2x or 4x real time speeds. Estimated time for a typical motion based search is about 10-15 minutes, although this can vary dramatically.

The third search method is a variation on the extremely time-consuming method of playing back video to look for something or someone that can’t be defined by an area of the image. Even if playing back video at 2x or 4x speed (allowing an hour of video to be reviewed in 15 minutes), the VMS provides short cuts.

There is a slide bar at the bottom of the screen that can be used to skip past spans of time where nothing is happening, speeding up the review considerable in cases were activity is intermittent. Also, multiple cameras can be reviewed simultaneously, with all of them jumping forward together when the slide bar is used.

Complicating things somewhat is that not all locations are always online and available for search from the comfort of an office. While the search methods do not change, in some cases it is necessary to travel to the site with a laptop to pull video off the server. In those cases, the search methodology is the same, but the travel and setup time must be added to the time required.

While video search is often like searching for a needle in a haystack, newer technology often presents us with more efficient ways to burn down the haystack in hopes of finding the needle.

 

Yale Keypad Lock Is One to Keep in Stock

WE HAVE TESTED AND REVIEWED keypad access locks in the past, including models from Schlage and Kwikset, most recently the Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Deadbolt (securitysales.com/ kwikset_deadbolt_locks_reliable), and are big fans. After looking at promotional material for the Yale nexTouch keypad access lock, we asked for a test model but were really expecting a product that was functionally similar to the Kwikset 916. Well, they both have touchscreens (and are available with pushbutton keypads as well) and unlock doors, but they are otherwise pretty different. The question of which would work best for you really depends on your application.

The nexTouch lock is available in three versions: standalone, Data-on-Card and Z-Wave/ ZigBee. The standalone version is the base model, and while any version can be ordered from Yale, Data-on-Card, Zig- Bee or Z-Wave functionality can be added by installing a color-coded plug-in module. This allows the lock to be upgraded as the user’s application and needs change. We tested the Z-Wave version and cannot comment on the Data-on-Card version for this review as we did not test it.

Construction

The nexTouch is a solidly built, as befits its ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 certification. This grading system, developed for the American Nation Standards Institute (ANSI) by the Builder’s Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) ranges from 1 (the highest grade) to 3, factoring in longevity and durability. Grade 1 is usually used for commercial applications and is tested to 1 million opening and closing cycles. It is also able to withstand five strikes of 75 pounds of force. Clearly solidly built, the nexTouch is intended for commercial applications, and it shows.

There are a number of configurations available, including the aforementioned choice of touchscreen or pushbutton as well as the underlying technology. There are three different lever designs, including a flat lever and two types of curved levers. A lock cylinder override is available, and a number of Yale interchangeable cores can be used. There are also four finishes available, including bright brass, satin bronze, satin chrome-plated (our test model) and flat black powder coat. There are even kits to adapt other manufacturers’ cores to fit this lock; it is hard to imagine more flexibility in construction. We did not install the lock on a door, as it came on a “mock door” for testing purposes. Interestingly, it was installed in the test rig with the latchbolt backwards; perhaps this was a test to see if we’d notice. We did take the unit apart and put it back together again, and the operation was constant with our experiences installing other brand locks.

Features

The nexTouch is really an access control system for smaller facilities, and is designed for a large number of users and a “jack of all trades” maintenance person. Think apartment building or multifamily residences, small businesses or small office buildings. The standalone unit handles 500 user codes and each code can be four-eight digits. There are a number of features that support these applications, and we tested as many of them as we could.

The first feature that really jumps out is the voice guidance. It walks you through all of the programming in your choice of three languages, confirms operations and allows a maintenance person or administrator to easily change settings without referring to the manual (which is really just a poster). A pleasant chime confirms operations, letting you know when the door is locked and unlocked. Certain modes are annunciated, like “Privacy Mode,” which allows you to lock out the keypad from the inside. To do this you need to install the optional door position switch and associated magnet, which allows the lock to know when the door is closed. Opening the door automatically disables the privacy mode.

You can also set the lock to unlock at the first valid keypad entry and relock either manually or after a preset period (configurable from 1-180 seconds). Relocking manually can require a valid PIN code or one-touch locking can be enabled that allows a simple touch of the keypad to relock the door. There’s also a keypad lockout feature that deters tampering by disabling the keypad for a default period of 180 seconds after five successive wrong code entries.

Powering the lock is also carefully thought out. The unit is battery powered with the four included AA batteries, or can be outfitted with a remote power source through an electronic pass-through hinge. If the internal batteries are used and they fail, two contacts on the front of the lock allow you to press a 9V battery up to the lock that will provide enough power to enter an access code and open the door to change the batteries. A belt and suspenders, indeed!

Setup

As with other locks we have seen, the installation and operation manual is a poster and it has everything you need. Once installed, inserting the batteries provides you with a voice prompt (“Welcome to Yale”) and touching the screen prompts you through entering the master PIN code and subsequent user codes. Visual and audible prompts confirm almost all actions, and the programming is very simple.

Testing

We went through the poster and tested each feature with no issues. We liked the door position switch and privacy mode and wish other locks had that feature. The keypad is extremely sensitive and responsive, shows up well in direct sunlight, and the audible confirmation was a nice touch. There are two volume settings for audio, and it can be disabled as well if you find it annoying over time.

We also tested Z-Wave functionality using a SmartThings hub. We had to try a few times; that isn’t uncommon with Z-Wave devices and the nature of home automation networks. Once set up, the lock worked flawlessly, locking and unlocking with about 3 seconds’ latency. We have other Z-Wave locks in our test setup, and the speed in which the Yale lock responded was consistent with our experiences. We did notice that the SmartThings application showed the lock as locked about 5 seconds before it had relocked itself, so there may be some software or integration issues. This did not impact operation, and reporting on home automation applications is not universally instantaneous. We did not test the ZigBee version, although we can’t imagine that it would be different than the Z-Wave functionality and performance.

Conclusions

If you are looking for an attractive lock for home use, this may not be it. It is definitely a commercial design and may be out of place in residential applications. That being said, for the intended applications, it is hard to imagine a better implementation and feature set. We gave a perfect rating to the similar Kwikset product, and we give the Yale lock the same high marks.

That is not to say the products are the same; each has different strengths and we did not take off points because of differentiating features. However, we think it is safe to say that, no matter what the application, there’s a perfect fit for you.

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published in the March 2017 Security Sales & Integration magazine.

TRENDnet Industrial Network Switch

The TRENDnet TI-PG1284i network switch is an attractive solution for locations that are less than ideal.

TRENDnet has introduced a new industrial-grade hardened network switch that promises to become a “go-to” component for installers when they have network locations that don’t have the best environmental conditions.

TRENDnet has been involved in the electronics world since 1990 and was founded in Torrance, Calif. The company has been building network solutions for the consumer, commercial and industrial markets, and today supplies many different solutions for its markets.

Today’s electronic networks whether they are designed and utilized for CCTV, access control, voice over Internet or some other network function, rely on several key components to complete their system designs.

Increasingly the network switch is installed in locations that can best be described as “less than friendly” to electronics. This review covers a switch that is designed to roll with the punches.

Construction

The TI-PG1284i network switch is constructed with a hardened metal casing and about the size of a hardback novel. The unit has a solid feel to it, shows good construction and has an IP30-rated enclosure that protects the internal components from external dirt and dust intrusion.

The unit is not immune to liquids so mounting it exposed outdoors is out of the question! The switch is designed for harsh environments and can withstand temperatures from -40° to 75° C / -40° to 167° F.

The switch has 12 network ports and one RS-232 port on the front panel. Of those 12 network ports eight are gigabit RJ-45 connections and four are GB SFP ports. The top of the unit has connections for the external power supplies (both primary and redundant) and the external alarm.

There are also addressable DIP switches that allow the end user to customize the notification alarms from the switch for every port and power connection. There is also a grounding terminal on the top of the case to provide greater protection from static shocks.

The TI-PG1284i relies on an external power source of 48VDC; the input voltage has a range of 48 to 57VDC with a rating of 240+ watts. This voltage can be supplied from a master power source or from a standalone unit.

For our testing, we were provided a complementary component power supply, Model TI-S24048, to provide the required input voltage. This unit, just like the switch, is designed to mount to a DIN rail to provide a secured installation.

The electrical wiring for the power unit connects to a Phoenix connector that allows the unit to be easily disconnected from its 120VAC power source should servicing be required.

Features

The TI-PG1284i can supply up to 30W of PoE/PoE+ power for its network ports. The power to each of these ports can be turned on and off via the web-based graphical user interface; this allows the user to remotely reset a device, which can be very effective for troubleshooting or refreshing field devices.

The inclusion of four SFP ports allows the switch to be connected to different devices via fiber-optic connections. This can allow the switch to be used as a hub or repeater for a fiber network; this can be very handy when there are different connection requirements for a network’s construction.

The inclusion of alarm outputs for each network port (as well as the power supply) provides an alert to the user that there is a system problem that requires immediate attention.

The switch is constructed to resist shock and vibration damage and has been rated for durability by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It also has a freefall rating which is one I have a hard time understanding since the unit is designed to be firmly mounted to a DIN rail!

The TI-PG1284i is also rated by the IEC to resist electrostatic discharges and electromagnetic interference. This makes the unit a perfect fit for installation in a congested environment where there might be heavy electrical interferences.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

Setup and Testing

Upon unpacking the contents from the box, I found the unit is supplied with a six-foot RJ-45 to RS-232 cable, a quick installation guide, and a CD containing the full product manual and the quick reference guide.

For my examination and testing I performed a basic installation utilizing the switch, power supply, computer and PoE network camera. I used a fixed dome IP camera to test the PoE port switching that allowed me to switch the camera on and off as needed.

As noted, having the ability to reset a device remotely is a wonderful thing — think of the time and effort that can be saved by being able to remote in to the switch and perform this reset.

Compare this to grabbing your eight-foot ladder, slugging it through a back hallway and climbing up to a field node just to unplug a camera or other network device. This feature is worth its weight in gold to me.

The embedded GUI of the TI-PG1284i allows for many system settings within the network. While my networking experience is fairly extensive and has been put to the test many times, I must confess that I was not completely familiar with all of the arcane system settings of which this device is capable, according to the manual.

In addition to the web-based GUI for programming and control of the TI-PG1284i, the unit can be controlled via RS-232 commands from your computer for those “old-school” system administrators.

While I am not one who is well versed in command line interface (CLI) commands, I understand its usefulness for network professionals. Again, this switch provides the user with a plethora of options and protections.

Conclusions

The TI-PG1284i is a robust switch that will perform well in any system’s network. Its size, design and durability makes it a great unit for installation in varied environments, from a small field node in a hazardous location to a network closet with many switches configured together.

The TI-PFG1284i will make a welcome addition to any installer’s repertoire.

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published in the March 2017 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

11 Common Types of Security Cameras

Bullet, dome, covert, outdoor, varifocal and night vision are just some of the common types of surveillance cameras. Here’s a quick reference list.

Selecting a type of security camera is simple, right? If you want a camera that follows people as they move, you want a pan/tilt/zoom or PTZ camera. Otherwise you want a fixed camera. Right?

Well, yes and no. PTZ and fixed cameras used to be the only types of cameras out there, but today it can get a lot more complicated. There’s a difference between the type of security camera and the type of housing or extra features you can add to it.

Types of Security Cameras:

  • Fixed
  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ)
  • Virtual PTZ or 360-Degree

Types of Security Camera Housing:

  • Outdoor
  • Dome
  • Bullet
  • Discreet

Extra Features:

  • Resolution
  • Day/Night
  • Infrared
  • Varifocal
  • Remote Zoom
  • Auto-focus
  • Wireless
  • Thermal Imaging

I often say we’re in the “golden age of cameras.” Cameras are uniformly good at the basics, but by over-simplifying things you may not be making the best choice for your application.

This guide will outline some of the variations on those two themes, and suggest some enhancements that you might want to consider for your application. The chart below shows some common, popular features of security cameras compared to the three camera types to consider.

Choosing the Right Security Camera

Fixed Camera

At the heart of the matter is the fixed camera. It is positioned to capture an image and can be optimized for the application with different housings and features as we’ll cover later.

With few moving parts, fixed cameras are inherently more reliable than PTZ cameras and they are always pointing in the intended direction.

PTZ Camera

Remotely positionable cameras are typically called PTZ cameras for their ability to pan, tilt and zoom in on a subject. This is a specially designed fixed camera wrapped in a cocoon of motors and gears which allow an operator to remotely move it.

Higher end cameras may have a greater zoom range, with 32X being fairly common. A higher zoom range is helpful when you are covering a large area, but isn’t always needed.

While a PTZ camera will follow a person or object through an area, they do have a few disadvantages. A PTZ camera may be set to automatically patrol an area, but they are oftentimes most effective when manually controlled.

If a CCTV system is used for forensics, determining what happened after the fact, Murphy’s Law pretty much guarantees that a PTZ camera will invariably be looking in the wrong direction when something happens. The greater the magnification being used, the smaller the area being covered, and this type of camera can only be facing one direction at a time.

360-degree Camera

This has led to a third type of camera, the virtual PTZ or 360-degree camera. This is several high resolution fixed cameras in a single (usually dome) housing. The images are stitched together and you can zoom in after the fact, up to the limits of the cameras being used.

Since all the images are being recorded, it can face in all directions and can be a great forensic tool. The biggest challenge facing 360-degree camera acceptance is that they are often oversold as a universal solution. Few rooms allow an unobstructed field of view in all directions, so you are generally not utilizing the full field of view.

A standard fixed camera can easily be paired with a lens to give it a 120-degree to 140-degree view, and many rooms are better served with cameras in corners which only require a 90-degree field of view. Still, in the applications where this type of camera is needed, it can really shine.

 

Choosing the Right Housing

After selecting the type of camera, the next level of choice is the type of housing. With a PTZ camera you are pretty much limited to indoor or outdoor, as they are mostly dome cameras except for a limited number of specialty applications.

Outdoor

Outdoor cameras will be more weather resistant and include heaters and blowers to allow for environmental variances.

Dome

Dome housings are designed to conceal the orientation of the camera, with some doing a better job than others. This is a high priority in most applications, and is our default selection as it is generally the best deterrent.

When someone can’t tell which way the camera is pointing, they often assume it is pointing in all directions. So, a fixed dome camera covering a door at the end of a hallway is assumed to be covering the entire hallway.

Bullet

We’ll call the cameras that resemble a box on a post bullet cameras, named for the sleek cylindrical shape that many of them have. Whether a small unitized design or a camera/housing combination, these clearly show the direction of orientation and generally provide a better picture.

The front of the housing is close to the camera lens, cutting down on reflections and making it easier to keep clean. They are a deterrent as well, although not as effective as housings that mask the orientation.

Discreet

Sometimes you want to hide the entire camera using covert or discreet housings. These can be designed to look like something else (smoke detector, motion sensor) or nothing at all, with pinhole lenses or flush mount lenses mounted on a wall or ceiling.

These are not designed to be deterrents but are often preferred by architects seeking to achieve a certain aesthetic within a space.

All types of housings can be made to be vandal resistant, a step up from weather resistant. These types of housings (most commonly the dome type) are designed to withstand unfriendly environments while still providing a usable image.

 

Choosing the Right Features

Once you’ve selected the camera type and form factor, you might want to consider tweaking the feature set for the application.

Resolution

The possibilities are varied, with resolution being the most common upsell. Resolution is measured in millions of pixels, or megapixels. The higher the resolution, the more space required to store the images and processing power to manipulate it.

For perspective, an old analog camera is about 1/4 megapixel, your giant HDTV screen is a little over 2 megapixels, and the highest resolution projected image in your local movie theater is called 4K and has 8.8 megapixels.

Higher resolution cameras do not respond as well to low light situations as lower resolution cameras, so, it is possible to buy more resolution than you need and needlessly drive storage costs up and performance down.

Low Light Performance

Beyond resolution, low light performance is often a requirement.

Cameras with day/night capabilities switch into a different mode in low light situations, with various technologies allowing usable images in near total darkness.

Cameras with infrared illuminators provide their own light source, allowing better images in dark areas as well. As previously mentioned, be prepared to sacrifice some resolution to get better low light performance.

Lens Features

We are seeing more fixed cameras with advanced lens features as well.

While varifocal lenses have always been popular, allowing the installer to manually adjust the image magnification when installing the camera, many fixed cameras now come with remote zoom and focus. This allows the user to adjust the camera without physically going to the camera site, a big cost savings in many applications.

At the ISC West security show in 2017, several manufacturers were showing fixed cameras with auto-focus as well.

Advanced Options

Beyond features and functionality, there are other considerations such as wireless signal transition, ultra-high resolution, thermal imaging, explosion proof housings and more.

While the proliferation of available options can make the selection process more difficult, the good news is that no matter what your application is there’s likely the perfect tool for the job — for far less money than you might have thought possible just a few years ago.

Also published as:

First published on the CEPro website.

Robert Grossman has spent more than 20 years in the industry — giving him plenty of opportunity to learn from his mistakes! He is president of R. Grossman and Associates Inc., a consulting group specializing in electronic security products and projects. Bob has spent time as an end user, responsible for security, surveillance and low-voltage electronics at Bally’s Park Place, a major Atlantic City casino. As a senior project manager for Sensormatic Electronics’ Enterprise Accounts group, he learned first-hand the difficulty in translating ideas into reality while staying on schedule and under budget. He has worked for both Vicon Industries (as vice president of Customer and Technical Services) and American Dynamics/Tyco Safety Products (as director of Product Line Management), with responsibilities that included pre- and post-sales support, project design, product line management, customer service and sales. Bob is a frequent contributor to CE Pro and sister publication Security Sales & Integration. For more information, visit www.tech-answers.com. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Bob at rdgrossman@tech-answers.com

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Minuteman PRO1500RT UPS Has Few Downsides

This uninterruptible power supply bests comparable units in both price and performance.

Minuteman Power Technologies’ power protection products are manufactured by Para Systems, based in Carrollton, Texas.

Now in its 35th year, the company’s product line is well supported and respected, and we tested its remote power management system in August 2016.

Our positive experiences with that product raised our expectations, and we were not disappointed. For this review we tested the PRO1500RT, a member of the PRO RT family that includes both 1000VA (700W) and 1500VA (1,050W).

These are line interactive units with six battery backedup outlets and surge protected outlets and two surge protected only outlets.

All outlets are 15A, appropriate given the power rating.

Construction

Believe it or not, our favorable impression began with the packaging.

Rather than making the user wrestle with preformed top and bottom pieces of Styrofoam packing material, the PRO- 1500RT arrived in a box with eight corner pieces (four top and four bottom) and three side pieces.

Unpacking was extremely simple, and there were no larger pieces of Styrofoam to be broken up when it was time to discard the packaging. We found this packing configuration to be ingenious.

As with the previously tested Minuteman product, construction is extremely solid. The inside is easily accessible with a standard Philips head screwdriver and looks to be fairly easy to service.

Batteries were relatively easy to change, although lining up the long-yet-flimsy screws that hold the front bezel on was more difficult than it needed to be.

The RT designation at the end of the product model number stands for Rack/Tower, another clever design trick.

The supplied rack mount ears can be screwed on the front for rack mounting, or flipped over and used on what becomes the bottom for stabilizing the unit when used in a tower configuration.

al supplied with the product.

An abbreviated single-page quick install guide explains how to connect the batteries and equipment, and turn the unit on, but you need to go to the manual for the other mounting configurations, display reorientation, and an explanation of the various alarms and display information.

It should be noted that this UPS, like others we have tested, is made in China. Unlike others, Minuteman has clearly taken a leadership role in product line management, particularly with regard to documentation.

The manual was well written, free of typos and grammatical errors. We understand that few people actually read the manuals, but those that do will not be left scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Features

The PRO RT Series is marketed as “a value-priced, yet feature-rich UPS,” and that it is.

With an easily read backlit LCD display, simple to use software (more on that later), and displays with alarms for fault, low battery, weak/bad battery, fault and other modes.

The UPS self-tests every two weeks, and overcharge protection is also incorporated into the software. The UPS also checks for an improperly wired wall outlet, indicating a problem on the front panel display.

There is no programming to be done from the unit; not even an option to run in “silent” mode, bypassing audible alarms. You have to go to the software for that.

The scroll buttons take you through the various display options, and the manual explains them (fairly intuitive).

There’s a serial port on the back (RS-232 communication and simulated contact closures for low battery warning and AC failure), a USB port for the included software that also works with most operating systems (e.g. Windows), and accessory slot for an optional SNMP card or dry contact relay card.

There is also a pair of RJ45 connectors for surge protection of a telephone (RJ11) or network connection. In short, this UPS is bare-bones if programming or advanced features are required, although the software provides some additional “tweaks.”

However, the PRO1500RT is quite full-featured in terms of the majority of applications for this price class and configuration. We would have liked to have seen a way to mute the alarms from the front panel, but that’s the only shortcoming that we saw.

Software

The PRO1500RT ships with a CD that includes Minuteman SentryPlus software and the associated (again, well written) manual.

The software is designed to support other Minuteman products and there are a few options that do not apply to the PRO1500RT, such as monitoring three-phase power.

Surprisingly, the software adds quite a bit of functionality, including the ability to silence alarms, run a number of more comprehensive tests, log line and load voltages, graph operation, and indicate battery voltage, battery level, loading level, input frequency, and input voltage.

It should be noted that the software is purely optional. If you just want to use the UPS to shut down a PC automatically, Windows will handle all of that.

In fact, that was our only issue with the software; on the splash screen it noted that the software only worked with Windows versions through XP. In fact, it worked just fine on our freshly updated Windows 10 test bench configuration.

Our least favorite software feature was the constantly scrolling Minuteman UPS logo on the main screen.

Our favorite feature? When Broadcast Message is enabled, unplugging the UPS will result in a very British (think Elizabeth Hurley) voice calmly saying, “Power failed. The UPS is operating on battery power,” and “Power restored. The utility power restored” when all is well.

For those who are interested, the voice announcements (there are 24 of them) are stored as WAV files in the software directory and can be repurposed if desired.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink
tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

Setup

Because of the limited options available on the UPS, setup is a breeze. Remove four screws, connect the batteries, mount the unit as needed, plug everything in and away you go.

The manuals are fine, but I doubt many will need them. The software is optional unless you want to silence the internal alarms.

This is as it should be; a versatile UPS with plug-and-play operation.

Testing

As expected, the UPS performed without a hitch. The voltage measurements were off by more than we usually see on a UPS, registering almost exactly 3V low on both input and output (we used three separate meters when testing and got uniform measurements from all of them).

The surge protection RJ45 connectors are specified as 10/100 Base-T in the manual, and our testing bore that out; they worked fine in the specified range but would not pass a Gigabit signal, even at a reduced speed.

This is noteworthy, as most current generation PCs include 10/100/1000 ports and will not work when connected through the PRO1500RT.

As this is explained in the manual, it did not impact our score, although we think Minuteman should either mark it on the rear panel or consider upgrading the port to 10/100/1000 to be in line with commonly connected devices.

Conclusions

One of the first filters we use when selecting products for review is “bang for the buck.” A product can be spectacular, but if it is priced outside of the market range for similar products, it may not warrant our consideration.

After all, we all live in the real world, and comparably performing products should generally be comparably priced. To that end, the Minuteman PRO RT line is a winner.

It beat the comparably rated unit from a major manufacturer in almost all categories — slightly more efficient power conversion (1,050W vs. 1,000W), better surge protection (1,140 Joules vs. 459 Joules) and a significantly lower price.

Construction, warranty, ease of use, software, simplified battery changes and display functionality make this a product worthy of your strong consideration.

As far as we’re concerned, Minuteman has once again delivered a winner.

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published on Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

How to Keep Customers Happy When Overworked

An improving economy means more work for integrators, but do they have the time?

As we start the year with high hopes and expectations, I wanted to bring up a topic that impacted many of us last year. Too much work and too few resources, including time and manpower, to complete that work.

Sounds like a great problem to have, right? Not necessarily, and for two reasons.

First, being overworked doesn’t mean you have more business than you can handle. We all know the past few years have been brutal, that the days of having “extra” people around to lend a hand are long gone (if they were ever there).

We’ve all had to work smarter, work harder, do more with less, and so forth. Sometimes it is austerity measures, while at other times you are able to hire more people, but you just can’t hire the right ones.

Or, it very well could be that you have more work than you can handle. The economy is improving by most measures, and virtually all of the integrators I talk to have plenty of work. We’ve even had integrators decline to bid on projects because they are too busy. Good for them, and good for the economy overall.

Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. There are delays in meeting the agreed-upon schedule, customers get frustrated (and vocal about it), and there is often a hit to your reputation. It’s a shame when you work so hard to bid and win a project, it starts out well, and winds up slipping its milestones due to manpower issues.

We all strive for referenceable projects, yet delays are the primary cause of customer dissatisfaction that we hear about when checking references.

This all sounds pretty grim, and, unfortunately, by the time this situation is upon us, it’s usually too late to act. The typical solutions are to add more people, which is easier said than done and doesn’t usually solve the immediate problem, or take on less work, which doesn’t help you today (and good luck convincing anyone to take on less work).

So, if you can’t solve this problem, can you at least mitigate it somewhat? When I am in this situation, and sadly it happens more often than I care to admit, my answer is to overcommunicate. I will call or email clients, tell them about the anticipated delays, and give them revised dates that are “worst case,” internally.

I will provide updates as to progress, and I will take the blame for the delays. Most people appreciate knowing what is going on, understand the situation, and will work with you. Sure, we want to keep everybody happy, and we try and set realistic deadlines in the first place, but sometimes Murphy gets in the way and other times changing needs reorder your schedule and priority.

I’ve found bad news is better than no news, and we do our best to overcommunicate when we have a problem.

How about the ones that won’t take “later” for an answer? Well, that is a clear measure of how you need to re-prioritize. I’m not saying you delay projects at the expense of other ones, but if you have any wiggle room you know where it is best applied.

How do I know this works? Because it works on me. When projects are running late, some of the integrators working with us are upfront about it, providing weekly reports and informing us of delays. Others just disappear, neglecting to give us weekly status reports because they don’t have enough to report. Guess which ones get called back to bid on other projects, and score higher in our integrator database?

Sure, this takes time that you may not have, but common sense tells us that it is far easier to prevent a fire than to extinguish one.

Also published as:

First published on the Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

Bench Test: Ubiquiti Router Ramps Up Networking With Nary a Net

Thanks to widespread hacking nowadays, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed for video surveillance systems.

THE SECURITY AND VIDEO SURVEILLANCE world has been evolving the past decade from a mostly analog-based environment to an IP-based one. Security camera systems today have changed from analog matrix switches, VCRs and CRT monitors to multiterabyte-capacity video servers, IP cameras and fiber-based system backbones. As a result of this metamorphosis, the need for strong network components to provide the security required for the video surveillance network has also evolved. With the advent of hacking as a pastime for many, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed in that environment. Based on our experience with systems undergoing daily denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, we set out to find a robust yet reasonably cost-effective router that can provide a secure gateway to the outside world for more complex systems and applications.

Our company was first introduced to the Ubiquiti product line by an integrator we were working with on an outdoor project where wireless links were required for the remote cameras. Having never worked with Ubiquiti before we were intrigued with the company’s offerings for future security projects we might be involved with. We reviewed its website and took a look at the products we felt would be useful in future projects. As it turned out we had a project come around where we needed to provide a client with some rapid network security for sites that had to come online quickly. After reviewing the Ubiquiti routers we decided to test the EdgeRouter ER-8 for possible deployment for their project sites.

Construction
There are four different EdgeRouters in the Ubiquiti line. The smallest, the EdgeRouter Lite, has three ports for the system network. Next in the line is the EdgeRouter PoE, which has five ports and, as you guessed, has PoE available for the connected components that require such. The full-size EdgeRouter is the “big brother” to the smaller units. This is a 19-inch 1U rack-mountable unit and there are two versions of this chassis, the ER-8 and the PRO. Both models have eight front-mounted RJ-45 jacks that can be configured with different parameters for the network connections. There is also a separate RJ-45 jack that can be utilized to interface with the router utilizing a serial cable and command line interface (CLI) communications.
The EdgeRouter PRO has an advantage over the ER-8 as it has an additional two SFP ports to allow direct fiber connections to the network router. The casing and materials used for the EdgeRouter Series is solid and doesn’t have a flimsy appearance as some less expensive units do. There is a power socket on the rear of the unit for the power cord as well as two cooling fans to keep the unit operating within parameters. The fans are easily accessible; three screws on the bottom of the router get you inside and changing them is simple, if the need arises.

Features
The EdgeRouter ER-8 is designed to provide multifunction performance on a system’s network. The unit, for example, has the ability to provide structured settings for different network connections in a location. This would be particularly effective for someone who had to manage and administer Internet access to different tenants in an office environment as an example. The unit also has a robust suite of firewall settings as well as other programming parameters that would make a network IT person feel like a kid in a candy store.

One of the main reasons we selected this device for deployment at our customer’s sites was the robust firewall that the EdgeRouter ER-8 provided. One of the main problems we had noticed at our customer’s sites was the repeated DoS attacks that were being bombarded on the routers provided by the site’s Internet service. The EdgeRouter ER-8 effectively blocked almost all of the DoS attacks at the sites and kept the Internet up and running, something the service provider’s router couldn’t do.

Setup
When you first unbox the EdgeRouter ER-8 and start working through the basic system setup it seems like a fairly straightforward process. The unit is easy to connect to with minor system settings to your laptop (you must assign a static IP to your computer) and the login process is easy. The unit doesn’t ship with an installation manual so you must go to Ubiquiti’s website to get the literature. This is a good thing because here is where you also find out you must download the latest firmware for the router to ensure proper operation.

This mandatory “get the latest firmware” task to me ranks right up there in my pet peeve category of electronic components, right after those devices where you must use their software to perform any programming. I understand getting firmware updates from manufacturers for components that have been installed and operating for a period of time but to have to flash the firmware on a brand new, out-of-the-box unit just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think the folks at Ubiquiti made a great big batch of ER-8s and just let them sit in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust! But, without question, this step was vital — the router simply did not work in our application with the factory installed firmware.

Once you get the firmware flashed on the unit you can then follow the programming guide that is included with the ER-8. The main screen for the ER-8 is the dashboard that shows you the system’s status on all of the ports, transmit and receive rates for all channels, and other statistics. The dashboard also allows the administrator to individually monitor each system port and check on the bandwidth usage for each.

The subsystem menus of the EdgeRouter ER-8 almost made my eyes glaze over due to the multitude of system parameters available for deployment. I like to think I have a fairly good grasp of network programming but this unit has everything including the kitchen sink packed into it. That is a good thing for a network administrator who has the time and wherewithal to manage such a device. It could also be a bad thing for a location that has an IT administrator who knows just enough to be dangerous — this router isn’t something that needs an “experimenter” working on it.

router-internal

Testing
For this product review we didn’t perform a normal bench test per se since we have deployed them in about 20 locations or so around the country following our initial evaluation. We have also integrated them into two of our office locations and use them for our office routers. As such our “testing” has consisted of real-world product applications in different environments.

In the locations where we had specific setup parameters (static IP, subnet, etc.) the setup using the built-in configuration wizard was easy. We had a couple of locations where, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. One site’s Internet provider required the router to be set up for PPPoE and I tried for the better part of four hours to get the EdgeRouter ER-8 to work with the parameters that were provided to me by the site’s Internet provider. I knew for a fact that the Internet worked at the location as I could get Internet access with the service provider’s supplied router.

Having worn my fingers out on my laptop trying to program the unit properly, I decided to contact Ubiquiti’s support folks. This is where my experience with Ubiquiti took a very large turn for the worse. If you think you can talk to a live person and get some direct support from Ubiquiti you can forget that. Also, if you think the online chat forum can get you a quick response you can forget that too. The support network consists of online forums and also includes a lot of YouTube videos to show you how to do things.

This to me is not really support; it’s more of a self-help guide, albeit one that had nothing listed to help me with my issue. I forged ahead with the chat site in the hope of getting lucky and getting a quick response. My hopes were soon dashed as the chat site just sat there with no response at all. I did get an email that documented everything I sent to the Ubiquiti chat forum — lot of good that did me. I ended up leaving the service provider’s router in place and the EdgeRouter ER-8 just sitting in the rack.

The next day I got an email from Ubiquiti asking me to rate its support service. After I stopped laughing I thought about how bad that actually was — somewhere an automated program fired off an email in response to another automated program that didn’t really do anything for me. Classic!

Conclusions
The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter ER-8 is a very solid router for use with system networks. It is bulletproof, reliable, and has lots of little touches that make it feel like a premium product — internal power supply, MAC address on a sticker on the rear panel, and a great user interface. If you have the time and knowledge this router is very solid and a great buy for its price point.

However, there is an Achilles heel — the support is pretty much nonexistent. If you have a system that will require some tweaking and support to get things just right, you had better think twice. You may spend more time than it’s worth trying to get the router configured, ultimately buying a comparable — but far more expensive — unit, where you know you can get proper support.

Verdict

  • Features 1 2 3 4 5
  • Construction 1 2 3 4 5
  • Setup 1 2 3 4 5
  • Performance 1 2 3 4 5
  • Overall 1 2 3 4 5

First published in the November 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.