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PC-Based Home Security: Do It Yourself

Inside the DCS-1130

If you’ve worked with network cameras before, much of what lies waiting in the DCS-1130 will be old hat; this article is really aimed at people who are getting into home security for the first time. The screens and options you’ll see here are common throughout most of D-Link’s camera line. In fact, they’re pretty typical of consumer network cameras in general. So consider this a general education in IP cameras as well as a survey of this particular camera’s abilities.

By default, the DCS-1130 appears at address 192.168.0.20 on your network. You bring this address up in a browser window, enter your user name and password, and encounter the camera’s setup screen, which encourages you to run through Internet connection and motion detection setup routines. In addition to the currently highlighted Setup tab, you’ll also see tabs for Live Video, Maintenance, Status, and Help.

It would be exhausting for everyone if I detailed every screen D-Link provides, so let’s just stick to some of the key ones that relate most to our security topic. In the image below, you can see the Live Video view, showing an entryway at night lit by a single lamp. The camera defaults to showing a time stamp, and you can select how and where this displays in other settings. Near the bottom of the image, you’ll notice icons for snapping a still image and starting video recording. The adjacent folder icon lets you pick what folder on your local system to use for storing these files. 

Perhaps you noticed the domain name I left showing in that image: joejones.is-a-geek.com. (Joe is a friend who helped me test several of the items in this article.) I was actually viewing this camera, located in Joe’s house, from a block away in my house. The way I did this here is with a dynamic DNS address.

Within the camera’s pages, D-Link promotes its own free dynamic DNS domain, but others, such as “is-a-geek.com” (available through DynDNS.com) will serve just as well. A DDNS is a sort of mnemonic, an easy to remember domain name that simply points back at your camera’s true but often entirely forgettable IP address. Once you register for your free DDNS, you need to dip into your router’s settings screens and perform port forward on the IP address. In our case, this was port 8080, so we had joejones.is-a-geek.com point to the modem’s IP address at port 8080. With this done, you simply fill in the bits of DDNS server info on this screen:

At this point, there is no effective difference between sitting on the same LAN as the camera and sitting 5,000 miles away. It’s all just network traffic.

The Motion Detection options in the Setup tab are very simple. Just use your mouse to drag across an area of the shown live view. This leaves a red grid as shown below. Do this for any area in the field of view, set the sensitivity level, and the camera will watch for a suitable amount of changed pixels within the chosen areas from one frame to the next. When enough change is detected, as from someone entering that area, then an event is triggered. In the Recording screen, you can opt to have these triggers result in the saving of video to a Samba network drive, such as a local NAS appliance. Similarly, an event can trigger the taking of a snapshot and the second of those to an email address or FTP server.

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Image clarity and quality is important if you’re hoping to identify intruders or other elements in a scene. In regular use, I found that the 1130’s images ran a bit dark by default compared to most other cameras. Perhaps the sensor has a lower dynamic range. When a bright light was in a scene, the exposure seemed to favor that region at the expense of darker areas. In the setup menus, under Image Setup, you can tweak settings such as brightness, contrast, and white balance. Under Camera Environment, you’ll also find Night Mode, Indoor, and Outdoor toggles along with a shutter speed menu for night video. These allow you to fine-tune to your specific field of view. Given that surveillance cams rarely change their location, you may be able to get away with optimizing for a given scene, such as a window, and get much better results. Still, lighting conditions change throughout the day. Why most camera vendors fail to offer shortcuts for lighting profiles in their setup screens is beyond me.

If the event options in the DCS-1130 seem a bit cumbersome, check out D-Link’s bundled D-ViewCam Management software. This lets you configure motion detection, record streams, and send alerts with a much more intuitive interface. The app supports up to 32 cameras, and, unlike with the integrated Web server view, you can view cameras at once. A screen shot of D-ViewCam 2.0 is shown below since that’s what shipped with our camera, but version 3.0 launched during our review process, so be sure to download it if you have multiple cameras.