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Technology Tell Review: SwannSecure HD Monitoring System

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Surveillance cameras aren’t new, but the ability to view and receive mobile alerts about them on smartphones and tablets is. It makes keeping an eye on the home both convenient and instantaneous.

Swann has grown its brand by making do-it-yourself surveillance systems easy, sporting some top-notch design with their camera selection. One of its latest products makes surveillance a cinch as an all-in-one monitoring system.

Design & Connectivity

Despite how the packaging looks, the Swann HD Monitoring System with Monitor and Camera doesn’t unpack like “ooooh, yay, fun! A camera and a tablet!” This camera is serious business for serious monitoring situations: cash rooms, outside alleyways, or maybe restaurant stakeouts. Everything about this monitor and camera insists it’s a tool and not a toy.

Swann HD Monitoring System camera

Certainly a good-looking camera!

Swann provides all the necessities for hooking the camera up. The kit comes with power cables, power extension cable, ethernet cable, HDMI cable, Micro SD card, installation CD, and even some stickers to show your security pride. You also get the mounting screws and a wrench, to adjust the tension for camera positioning, necessary for success.

The included documentation gives you a good overview of the setup process. Installation itself isn’t that hard. You just need to find the right wall or ceiling spot for the view you want, one that’s in range of a power outlet.

This camera is totally outdoor-ready. Not only is the build rugged, but it’s meant to withstand wind, rain and all that other outdoor nonsense. It looks and feels (physically) exactly like a surveillance camera typically does.

The camera has its own wireless network that the monitor automatically accesses. It shows up when a computer or mobile device scans for local signals. Although the camera and monitor can work independently of a home network, an ethernet port exists to set it up with what one has within a building. Video recordings are automatically saved on the included 8GB Micro SD card, located in the monitor’s side. It can accommodate capacities up to 64GB in size.

Swann HD Monitoring System monitor stand

The monitor has a convenient stand built-in

For all intents and purposes, the included monitor is like a 7-inch touchscreen tablet. Although it holds nicely in the hands, it can also be mounted on a wall or set on a table with its built-in stand. Two antennas pop up from the top for greater wireless reception. The monitor itself doesn’t have a built-in speaker, but an external one can be connected through the audio port with a cable. You can go one step further and connect the monitor to a larger screen via the HDMI port and cable, too.

Once set up, the tablet automatically displays the video feed from the camera. You can connect three additional cameras and view them all at the same time. Double-tapping on a video feed puts it into full-screen mode. The single-touch button on the monitor opens the menu for naming cameras, adjusting settings and accessing information.

For not necessarily having more features than one would expect for a surveillance camera, the menu system within the monitor seems a little much. However, once you go through it a few times to familiarize, you’ll see it’s mostly all there. The options for motion detection sensitivity, recording schedules, zones and reviewing footage are the parts that count the most. Although some fields for network information exist, there’s nothing that lets you connect directly to your existing wireless network.

SwannView Link App

The mobile app isn’t necessary to access and view live camera feeds, but it makes it much more convenient. The monitor has to stay within range, but the app lets you view from anywhere. Keep in mind that the app type is specific, as there are a few different apps from Swann available: SwannView, SwannView Pro, SwannView Link, SwannView Plus, SwannView Pro HD, SwannView NVR, and SwannView DigiView. I know: It wouldn’t hurt them to consolidate everything into one comprehensive app.

Swann HD Monitoring System monitor connections

The connectivity is pretty robust

My experience with the Swannview Link app has been very limited, in that it never worked for me at all. Not immediately out of the box, and not even after two hours of tinkering around with every possible menu option and configuration all over. The packaging indicates it’s an easy, three-step process, so who knows? It still won’t work on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Although I had been able to set up the device by scanning the QR code on the back of the monitor, that was the extent of my success. I could see (and press) the app buttons for live video, review recorded video, and add/configure devices, but none of them did anything (aside from the last option). Each time I attempted to view the live feed, I’d get a “connection failed” error message on my smartphone. It didn’t matter if my smartphone was on mobile data, my home network, or even directly connected to the Swann camera network. All components were within a few feet from each other, too.

Between the app and the monitor, there aren’t a whole lot of connectivity options to configure and adjust. I don’t think I missed anything, and I don’t believe that the app is meant to make remote viewing complicated. My best assumption is that there is some sort of compatibility issue that needs to be ironed out. Since I have no DVD drives on my computers to load programs, and since the app doesn’t work, and since Swann doesn’t provide remote viewing through the web, my only option is the Swann monitor itself. It’s not bad, though it’s not the whole package.

Performance

The Swann HD Monitoring camera provides pretty good and clear images, with accurate color tone and detail. Although the view is not wide-angle, it gets in closer to subjects by comparison. The biggest weakness of the camera (which could be related more to the monitor instead) is the lack of highlights to shadows. Images look darker in the video feed than they do in real life. Because of this, the camera works best in moderate lighting conditions. Broad daylight casts too much shadow, and low-light conditions are far too dark.

Swann HD Monitoring System cables

Camera power cord, reset button, and ethernet port

Even if the camera is indoors where it’s well-lit but not bright, the low contrast is evident. While most objects themselves look fine, shadows get too dark, too quickly. As a result, image detail and depth suffer since things blend in with each other. The image turns worse as lighting diminishes. Low-light is terrible, in that shapes are grainy and too hard to define. But things get better once night vision kicks in.

The night vision is good and bright, maybe almost too bright in that it can turn a little hazy sometimes. As long as there aren’t a whole lot of white, reflective surfaces, then the image detail is darn good. The camera can pick up shades, subtle patterns of thick and thin paint layers on the wall, and bugs passing by. The only criticism with the night vision is that it can be too good at times, where some areas are too bright and too dark without enough separation in between. There aren’t enough grey tones to make up the difference.

Despite the issues of contrast, the camera captures images at a great distance. I can see all the way across my back yard, a good 50 feet or more. Although the range is diminished at night, it’s still quite impressively clear up to about 20 feet. Beyond that, shapes and objects are too hard to discern. When the video is good, it’s pretty darn good.

Swann HD Monitoring System monitor screen

Overall video quality is too dark, too many shadows

When it comes to motion detection, users have flexible options for detection area and sensitivity. Sensitivity level 1, which is the highest, triggers on pixel-level movement. I tried to sneak an object through the camera’s field of vision, but it saw exactly what I was doing. At the least sensitive setting, you can gently wave a hand up and down without the camera triggering.

The range is good, so users can find the setting they need without excessive alerts sent. Detection area is selected by clicking on/off grid squares on the monitor. It can be done individually or by dragging a finger to make a box. The bounds of these areas are tightly controlled, meaning that an object doesn’t need to cross the line far before the camera triggers movement.

Although the touchscreen monitor looks advanced, the touch sensitivity is basic. The menu system could use a facelift too, but that’s just a personal preference. The viewing angle of the monitor is only OK. You’ll have to look at it straight on for the best contrast and color. If you’re too far off to the right or left of dead center, the image quickly becomes unviewable. Depending on the user, this can be fantastic or not. Those who want less eyes peering at the video feed can appreciate the limited viewing angle. Otherwise, the limited viewing angle just exacerbates how dark the live video can look. Outdoor viewing with the monitor is completely out of the question.

I’ve been able to walk the monitor over 50 feet from the camera and maintain a solid connection with (mostly) smooth video. As smooth as 15 frames per second will get. What’s really good about the camera-to-monitor connection is that the video footage is practically instantaneous. The delay is less than a second, so you’re watching in real time as much as it gets. Recorded footage appears as a timeline bar with markings for events. Narrowing in on a specific timeframe isn’t the easiest, since the only buttons are pause, forward, and reverse. You can drag the cursor with your finger, but accuracy is limited by the touchscreen sensitivity, which tends to feel clunky.

To save on power, the monitor screen automatically shuts off after a minute or so of inactivity, regardless of power input. When it’s running off the battery, the monitor will completely turn off when not in use.

Verdict

The Swann HD Monitoring System with Monitor and Camera performs well in some ways, but has room for improvement. The camera design is solid, provides a clear image, and has powerful night vision optics. The accompanying monitor is very handy, portable, and maintains a strong connection to the camera at a distance. Convenience is multiplied as additional cameras are connected and able to stream video through the monitor. Four separate cameras all on the one device? That’s pretty fantastic.

This Swann system suffers from insufficient contrast and a lack of lighting enhancement. It’s hard to say if the poor performance is from the camera, the monitor’s display quality, or a combination of both. Regardless, the video appears darker than what your own eyes see, and there is no means to compensate. Because of it, depth of objects can blend in with each other and cut out detail. Low-light performance gets progressively worse until the night vision kicks in. Even then, the night vision can have bright hot spots with a lack of grayscale.

Although recorded video is conveniently stored on the Micro SD card, the monitor could benefit from more control over accessing specific parts of video. It doesn’t help that the touchscreen is a little insensitive. Other than the setback with mobile app connectivity, the hardware itself performs as intended. The Swann HD Monitoring System can benefit users who need to mount a camera to view outside their home/building or on the property. Just know that the results can be mixed, depending on lighting.

 

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