From where would you source for a home surveillance camera? There was a time when the only practical solution was to engage contractors specializing in CCTV system installation, due to limitations in hardware capability – you had to wire up the house, since, back then, the Wifi transfer speed was not quick enough, and video compression was not advanced enough. You had to do video recording onto a harddisk using a customized PC system, because there was no such thing as cloud services, nor was the SD card capacity and speed up to the task. Both the harddisk and the customized PC system are highly prone to breakdown, so, you might be left with a white elephant in just a short period of time after shelling out a huge sum on a home surveillance system installation.
Fast forward to today, the technology behind a wireless IP surveillance camera is finally mature enough, and you could just buy it off-the-shelf and do self-installation. So from where would you source for it? Well, from the title of this article, i guess you already know the answer i am going to suggest – Taobao. You will find them on Amazon also, but guess what, many of the products sold on Amazon are Chinese products, sold by Chinese sellers. This is a trend i’ve been noticing, that Amazon is somewhat becoming Taobao-ized. Chinese products win on the price, and they’re compelling. But why buy from Amazon when you can buy from Taobao?
There’s a catch though, when you opt to buy a home surveillance camera from Chinese sellers (pretty much applies to all electronics stuff) – you need to be technically competent to perform the device setup. These days, Chinese companies have improved a lot on customer service, but even then, you might have difficulty communicating with them, especially when having to deal with technical stuff. As for me, i went ahead and bought from Taobao without any hesitation.
You have to answer two questions before shortlisting your home surveillance camera:
1. Do you need night vision? Most likely yes since that’s what a surveillance camera is supposed to do right?
2. Do you need the captured videos to be stored off-device? There are a few ways about this. Cloud service is one way, whereby the captured videos will be uploaded to a cloud server somewhere across the globe. This means the videos are really secure, as long as your home network is functioning properly. You will have to pay for the service of course, and camera manufacturers often times sell you the camera at a subsidized price in return for your service subscription. Another way is to set up a server at home that stores the videos. To be able to do this, you have to be a computer engineer. Having to maintain the server is also a hassle.
Otherwise, you can just have the videos stored on-device. Just about all home surveillance cameras sold on Taobao come with a micro SD slot for storing videos. The obvious disadvantage of doing so is that the home surveillance camera is rendered useless the moment someone displaces the camera. You lose all the video together with the camera.
Anyhow, for practical reasons, i went with on-device video storage. There is only a small chance for the home surveillance camera to be actually useful to begin with, as in, i don’t really expect anything bad to happen. If something does happen, there is a small chance that the camera will be tampered with. I would imagine that someone who has ill-intentions may not be smart enough to know that the video is merely stored on an SD card inserted into the camera itself. The general perception of surveillance cameras is probably that it functions like a CCTV (which means the video is recorded into a device located elsewhere).
So, having answered the two questions, i did a search on Taobao. Night vision is “夜视” by the way. To mitigate the disadvantage of on-device video storage, i had the idea of hiding the camera. If the intruder is not aware of the presence of the camera, then the camera, along with all the videos will be safe. And so i ended up buying this camera:
Quick verdict for the camera – not good enough. The field of view is simply not wide enough. Night vision doesn’t work as claimed. It is said to employ some kind of special Infrared light but the images are not acceptable at all. The mobile App worked quite well though, but it does not provide automatic connection to the camera from outside of your home network. As for ease of configuration, well, i would say it scores 6/10, because other than a blinking LED indicator light, you have no idea what is going on with the camera.
For the price (320 Yuan or S$65), i thought it was not worth buying. Although, as part of the package, you also get a Kingston branded 64GB class 10 micro SD card (which easily costs S$20), plus a powerbank (tested to be pretty useless though). The camera is actually branded, by the name of Camsoy, rather than being a completely generic one, so that’s another consolation.
The camera comes with built-in battery, so i guess i would keep it for future use, if i ever had to spy on someone, though i hope i never have to do that.
Since the camera did not live up to expectations, i continued my search for the next suitable candidate. This time, i decided to scrap the idea of a hidden camera and choose the typical home surveillance camera instead. These are much cheaper, and actually come with more functions, such as the ability to pan and tilt.
For some reason, the majority of surveillance cameras sold on Taobao are white in colour, but i prefer black, thus, very quickly, i settled on this one by VStarcam. At least the name doesn’t sound obnoxious, which is the case for most Chinese products.
Quick verdict for the camera – yes, checks all boxes. The camera focal length of 2.8mm provides ample field of view. Coupled with the pan and tilt functons, you can see up to 355 degrees all around.
It has built-in speakers which allows for 2 way communication through the mobile app, which is pretty cool. The sound quality is not so good though, especially the sound projected from the speakers of the camera (i.e. the person standing in front of the camera side will not hear you so well when you speak through the mobile app).
Another nice feature of this camera is that it is automatically setup for viewing from outside your home network. They (as in VStarcam) do so by registering the camera on their server. The downside of this is the potential loss of privacy. They (VStarcam and who knows who else) has access to your home network through the camera, and they can snoop on you without your knowing.
Setting up the camera for use with the mobile App wasn’t so smooth. They rely on broadcasting sound from your phone to transmit the Wifi password to the camera. No kidding. The first time i tried, i didn’t manage to get it to work and had to do a hard reset of the camera. Anyway, having connected the App with the camera, it mostly worked fine (there were just those few times when it couldn’t connect).
Night vision also works very well. Although the Taobao product page claims that the Infrared light bulbs are “hidden”, i can see them very clearly in the dark. Another feature is motion detection and alert, which is a common feature nowadays. You are notified of any motion detected, and the video clips during which motion was detected are also marked for your convenience.
Overall, for the price – 280 Yuan or S$58, i am very satisfied with the product, and i highly recommend getting them for home surveillance. Oh BTW, you can actually request for a UK power plug adaptor.