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Featured Review: Network Video Alarm System

January 31, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Home security has become more and more prominent as we become more connected, and with more valuable electronics in each and every home its no wonder security is a big concern.  As a result the market for security devices, particularly Internet connected ones, has skyrocketed, and everyone from tiny no-name manufacturers to your local cable company now offers some form of connected security solution.  It can be difficult to navigate through the sea of these types of devices, so what do you do if you just need a simple IP security camera that you can view and move remotely when you’re not at home or the office?  Chinese manufacturer ERAY has a solution for you, and it’s one that our partners at GearBest sent us for review.

Inside the Box

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When it comes to generic looking packages you simply can’t get more generic than this one.  Not only is there zero name branding on the box, but everything about it screams knockoff of some kind.  It actually took me quite a while to narrow down exactly what this thing was, not to mention who makes it.  Inside of this particular package, which costs about $92 at GearBest, you’ll find the camera itself, mounting brackets, remote control, extended-range WiFi antenna and a companion door sensor for triggering alarms.  There’s also an instruction manual in here but it’s only so useful, as the vague instructions in some sections and severely broken English don’t make things easy.  The presentation of everything feels dated in every way, from the fonts to the graphics, and gives off a pretty cheap feel in general.

Hardware

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Continuing with the theme of cheap, the camera itself is definitely not made of super high quality materials, although a product like this doesn’t really need to be.  The optics are more important than anything, and the camera is surrounded with infrared LEDs that help illuminate things in the dark for the camera rather than human eyes.  The optics are housed inside of a round shiny white plastic body that sits in a rotatable base which can be tilted 120-degrees up and down, and rotated a full 360-degrees around.  On the front of this base sits a black shiny plastic panel that houses a handful of LEDs to let you know about connectivity and such, however there are no indicators above or below these LEDs letting you know what they actually mean.

At the rear of the base sits a pair of speakers on either side of the camera module, while the very back houses all the ports.  Here you’ll find the power, ethernet, microSD, Wifi antenna and range extender ports, while a mysterious 3.5mm headset jack sits on the leftmost side.  Rubber feet on the bottom keep the camera from shifting its position and will help it stick to surfaces like glass, metal, etc. without sliding.  The camera weighs very little given the size and has a solid feel to it despite being relatively cheap plastic.

Included in the box is a fairly standard looking door alarm that’s designed to alert the camera when a door or window is opened.  This is achieved via a magnetic connection that you’re likely familiar with if you’ve ever seen one on any other security system before.  There’s also a small remote included that’s used for emergencies, as you’ll find a lock, unlock alarm and sound option on here.  Honestly it’s pretty beyond me what most of these buttons do.  The documentation for the camera is horrendous to say the least, and nowhere could I find any kind of description for the remote much less what it does.  At the very least pressing the alarm button will create a very loud alarm from the camera itself that sounds like a police siren, an obvious deterrent for any would-be robbers attempting to break into where you have the camera stored.

App

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Any good connected system has an equally good and capable app, which may or may not speak volumes about this particular system.  The free NVAS app is on the Google Play Store or Apple Appstore and is nice and small, however you’ll immediately notice that it looks as though it were lifted straight from an iPhone 3Gs.  Using some incredibly old iOS design language (before it was even called iOS for that matter) and some pretty rough English translation, the navigation and use of this app is unbelievably difficult to say the least.  While there are obvious settings here, like choosing wired or wireless networks, setting up alarms and viewing the video, plenty of other things are a complete mystery and without any sort of explanation or documentation.

The included quick start guide will get you up and running with little issue, and the best way to set up the camera is to wire it to your home router and choose wired or wireless connection from there.  For more advanced configuration see the official NVAS ERAY website.  Even still the additional documentation on this website doesn’t explain everything and will definitely leave you scratching your head and experimenting with every feature on the app, with most of them continuing to remain a mystery even after a few hours of tinkering with the app and the camera.  This is an awful app to put it lightly, and it’s really unfortunate given the raw feature set the camera appears to have.

The main screen of the app has tabs at the bottom denoting device list, dialer, tools and systems settings from left to right.  The two main ways you’ll use this app are either to view and configure the camera itself or to make an IP call to the camera or other supported connected device from your phone.  This call functionality is awkward but will allow you to two-way communicate with whoever is in your house, and while you’ll be able to see them they of course won’t be able to see you.  Pressing on one of the devices stored in the device list will allow you to view the live video, edit the settings for that device or edit the name and password of the device.  It’s this last setting you’ll want to make sure you do ASAP, as the default password of 123 isn’t exactly going to keep your video secure.

If the Android or iOS apps don’t work for you there’s always the Internet Explorer only browser-based viewer too.  Yet again we’re seemingly back in the tech stone age with this unit and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you trust ERAY and install an executable on your Windows-based PC or laptop.  As with the app you’ll use the email address or phone number you signed up with initially to log in, and you’ll be presented a screen with a large viewer box up top and a row of action icons on bottom.  These are all similar icons to what is included in the app, and all your paired devices will be found in the list on the left-hand side.

Usage

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Since the app auto-detects any camera or device found on the local LAN, initial setup is the easiest thing you’re going to do with this camera.  From here navigating into the viewer via the device list screen can be done by either clicking on the thumbnail of the video for the device, or clicking the name followed by the Playback button.  The live viewer is mostly self-explanatory, with an LD, SD or HD quality setting on the right (default is SD for bandwidth purposes) and the toolbar on the center at the bottom.  These buttons will let you hear or mute the audio from the room the camera is in (for listening on your phone), take a snapshot via the scissors icon, close the connection via the telephone hangup button, or talk to the folks in the room via the conversation button.  On the top is the date and time stamp as well as the number of viewers for the camera.

Since this is a camera that moves it’s great to know that swiping anywhere on the screen will move the camera in that direction.  Since the app never tells you this it’s plausible that you would never know such a thing was possible in the first place, but thankfully it is.  While this is a transparent way of controlling the camera without obstructing the view, it makes moving it rather slow and painful, as a swipe will only get you so far, and there’s no constant movement option.  Thankfully since the camera can rotate a full 360-degrees left and right, as well as 120-degrees up and down, the possibility of seeing the whole room is entirely in your grasp.  Also noteworthy is that moving the camera is completely silent, which could be the difference between a robber seeing the camera in the first place or not.

Optics on the camera were rather good, although it could certainly use a slight resolution bump if it were possible.  Still there’s plenty of resolution here to make out the identity of an intruder, and since this is primarily a security system that’s a rather important feature.  Night mode is phenomenal to say the least, and it’s just as easy to make something out at night as it is during the day.  The switch between night and day mode is completely automatic and you’ll never have to worry about doing such a thing manually, although there’s no way to manually switch between modes anyway.

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A single door alarm is included in the box for alerting you when a door has been opened.  This works via some sort of undetermined wireless communication, presumably Bluetooth or some other local protocol.  Pairing it is confusing to say the least and is done by heading to the Alarm Settings followed by Area Code (don’t ask), then selecting one of the predetermined zones to place the sensor in.  Clicking on a number in the desired zone prompts you to press the red button on the sensor itself, which will immediately pair the door alarm to your camera.  From here I have no idea what to do with the alarm.  The manual says to enable alerts within the Alarm Settings are and the camera will video call you whenever an alarm is triggered, however, this setting appears to do nothing.  Furthermore, there seems to be no way to specify what opening the door does or any other kind of configuration method following initial pairing.  It’s simply a forgotten mess.

Setting movement alarms in the app is thankfully pretty straightforward and done so through the settings portion of the device.  You’ll find this by clicking on the individual device on the device list and clicking the settings button.  From here head to record type and set it to either scheduled recording or alarm recording.  Remember that you’ll need to insert a microSD card to store the recordings first, but you can always set up the recordings without having one inserted.  Alarm recordings will automatically detect any motion on the camera and record for 1, 2 or 3 minutes depending on what you select in the app.  In addition to receiving in-app warnings you can select an email address to send the alert too, letting you know when the camera detects something that’s possibly nefarious.

The biggest downfall here is that there seems to be no way to only alert you during a certain time of day, only to schedule consistent recordings during certain times of day.  In addition to this mystery there are a handful of sections here including Lighting Set and Remote Setting that appear to allow the camera to link to various smart home devices for additional connectivity.  Indeed the manual says that you can connect up to 8 wireless zones with 8 devices in each zone, totaling 64 connected devices.  This means you can easily have 8 devices in every room of your house (if you have as many rooms) and have them all working in tandem with each other.  The real difficulty here is setting them up and configuring them, a real problem for an app that’s got such poor navigation and explanation for each setting.

Conclusion

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I really wanted this one to be a winner, but in the end it’s so convoluted and confusing it’s difficult to recommend it outside of using it as a remote IP camera that’s accessible from your smartphone.  The app is ugly and its advanced features are nothing short of mysterious and difficult to use.  Lack of proper documentation makes this a really difficult sell beyond just using the camera as a simple connected camera, but thankfully it performs those duties well.  It’s easy to see and hear what’s going on in the room the camera is in, regardless of lighting conditions, and you can even talk to the people in the room via the app and camera.  While I would love to see some better connectivity options and an easier to use app, this at least gets the heart of the camera experience right and does it well.

Then of course there’s the question of privacy and where your password and other credential information is stored, not to mention where your video is being routed through.  These sorts of questions are certainly valid and will definitely determine whether or not you’re comfortable with owning such a piece of equipment.  Check out the GearBest link below to order if you’re interested, just remember though that if you want more than just the base camera experience you’re going to need to invest some serious time and effort into the app and connected device investigation department, as documentation is unbelievably hard to find.

http://www.gearbest.com/smart-home/pp_171821.html