The Swann Communications DVR8-4200 is a complete video surveillance solution with 1TB hard drive DVR (Digital Video Recorder) unit and four cameras at 640 TVL resolution. A power adapter and four lengths of 60ft cables provided in the box as well. The system was purchased in the $500-600 range. A comparable system (tested version no longer available) can be found on the Swann DVR8 system website.
Each item in the box was individually packaged and secured from damage. All the manuals, CD and accessories were included and well packaged.
The recording unit is lightweight and sturdy feeling. The unit includes a One TB drive and 8 RCA style connectors. This DVR unit includes pre-installed software to manage the setup, viewing, recording and playback of video from connected cameras. The unit can be hooked up to your network so that you can use the client software on your PC or Mac to view video from the comfort of your couch. If you wish, and if the DVR is connected to your Internet router SwannDVR provides a free service that will help you connect to your DVR unit away from your home. The service provides Dynamic DNS lookup by communicating with your device to lookup your current IP address from your Internet provider so that you can have an easy to remember address to setup the Video watching software. An example would be example.swanndvr.net, where [example] would be replaced by a username you setup with SwannDVR
The cameras are rated at 650 TV Lines and have infrared led bulbs to allow approximately 65ft of night vision. The cameras are a bullet style with two pivot joints to aid in setting the desired angle. There is also a screw on the camera body that allows for turning the body to align the viewing angle to the desired level. The cameras are rated to -14F and have so far survived two cold winters in Central Ohio. Each camera has a movable cover to help block unwanted direct sunlight into the lense. Note that if the cover is moved too far forward, the night time infrared led bulbs emitted light will bounce off of the cover and back to the lens causing excessive halo effect on the outer edges of view. The halo is normal from any camera manufacture of similar design in the same situation. Just test the night vision and adjust the cover back just to the point the halo disappears and leave the cover alone.
Installation is very simple. Locate a suitable place for the DVR unit that allows for at least three power slots. One for the DVR, one for the power adapter that creates power for the cameras and one for the video your video monitor (not included). Locate where the cameras should go and loose fit the cable along the pathway to check proper cable length and any potential obstructions. Thread the cable along the run so as to not leave more than and extra 3-5 inches of cable at the camera. The cable can be tied up neatly as required nearest the point of connection to the DVR unit. The cameras have three screws for the base to affix to a wall or ceiling. It is helpful to leave the pivot points loose until all three screws are secure. Tighten up the pivot joints after getting the viewing angle in position you are happy with. Be sure all cables are securely fastened along the run and outdoor connections are properly protected from moisture. Turn on the DVR unit and adjust any recording settings you prefer. This system allows for setting the time of day and day of week separately for either full time recording or motion detected recording. I found that the cameras viewing enclosed short distance areas fared very well for motion detection. The areas where the camera pointed towards the street and alley views (over 20-30 feet out) would not be reliable for motion detection. Some movements were too miniscule to be noticed in the overall image as to not trigger motion where expected or recorded too many false positives. It was just easier to record full time so as to not miss any important events. I would expect the newer systems and higher resolution cameras will fare better.
The DVR unit connects to the network via an ethernet cable. It would be advisable to connect the DVR to the incoming router assuming enough network ports are available. The reason is that if you plan to view video remotely, many routers can segregate traffic from this device so as to minimize any security issues as this device will need an open port in your firewall. Normally this will not be a problem, but in practice you want to minimize any potential hacking entry vectors. Swann provides a free Dynamic DNS service where the DVR unit can notify Swann with the public IP address from your Internet provider and point a simple web address back to your DVR for remote viewing. Of course, you will need to adjust the settings on your router to open the correct port in the firewall and port forward the incoming traffic to the IP address of the DVR unit.
The computer desktop software to setup and view the DVR unit and cameras is included on the CD that came with the system. At the time when I installed the software on a Windows computer, the software seemed slow and unforgiving. The Mac version seemed to work better and quicker. Connection to the DVR is simple and will automatically browse the network to connect or you can manually input the IP address of the DVR unit. The system has a default username and password which I highly recommend you promptly change and write down in a safe location. If you do not change the user and password, if a hacker finds your open port on the firewall they can try the default user and password information and have instant access to the view what the cameras are recording.
Swann has multiple apps for both Android and iPhone. Each app is specific to the various models, so you have to choose carefully. I was able to use SwannViewLink app and the iPhone version was recently updated as of November 2015. The interface is easy to use and adjusts appropriately for landscape mode. Entering the DVR information is done manually and easy to accomplish. The new version of the software has a very good playback feature for reviewing older video still on the system. One annoyance was the not so intuitive dropdown that needed to be pressed in order to choose which camera and time periods for playback. Adjustment to moved through the selected video is a simple slider at the bottom of the video feed. Live view allows single camera and multiple camera views.
Playback at the DVR is possible if you have a usb keyboard and a monitor. The usb mouse is included. To pull up the menu, righ-click anywhere on the screen. The various functions are represented by icon images that might not be intuitive, but easy to figure out after a read of the quick start guide. Playback lets you choose the date/time range and which cameras you want to view. The playback speeds range from 1/16th speed up to 16x speed. In practice, running at 8x and 16x speed drops far too many frames if you are looking for quick changes in motion. If I have lots of video to watch, I prefer to download the video to a thumbdrive and use my computer’s video power to run video at higher speeds and get smooth far few skipped frames.
This system allows you to choose video files in blocks of 30 minutes and download them to a thumbdrive in .avi format. the H264 AVI format used is a common format that can be played on just about any computer whether Windows, Mac or Linux. Downloaded video is a full frame rate that you choose in the recording settings.
If you would like further details about any aspect of this system, please post your questions below and I will do the best I can to answer. This is my first review and could have easily missed a detail that you might find useful.