Snazzy Surveillance System – but Setup’s a Pain

The USB 2.0 DVR four-channel Guardian Monitoring and Surveillance System lets you view and record cameras on your desktop or notebook computer from almost anywhere in the world. It is ideal for home or office, and can be a good alternative to more expensive commercial VCR systems — but only if you have the computer system that runs the software.

The Guardian USB device, one of Swann’s newest products, does not run on Windows Vista. Considering that TechNewsWorld waited several months for a test unit after one delay befell another, the lack of Windows Vista support is a big disappointment. Both the package markings and the Swann Web site clearly state that the product only runs on Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

I had expected the included installation DVD to include updated drivers. It didn’t. I also felt sure that I could find updated Vista drivers on the manufacturer’s Web site or elsewhere online. I couldn’t. In fact, the troubleshooting pages on the Swann Web site had no information about the product or the availability of Vista drivers.

Another disappointment was the extremely restricted hardware options. This product requires an Intel Pentium III 800 Mhz or higher processor. So I could not install the USB Guardian Monitor system on my wife’s new Vista-based Acer laptop, which has an Intel chip, nor on my slightly older HP Pavilion laptop with its AMD Tourion 64 chip. These hardware restrictions also prevented me from installing this product on my Gateway desktop computer (AMD processor) or my Linux-based desktop and laptop computers.

A borrowed computer brought success. The drivers installed, letting the qualifying computer recognize the USB device. However, I still faced some hurdles with the setup process.

Funky Setup

Traditional monitoring and surveillance systems use hard-wired connections to network cameras to a tape recording device. A TV or computer monitoring system provides the video display. Swann’s new approach with a tiny USB digital video recording device that plugs directly to a computer offers benefits for mobility, better efficiency and remote access.

Unlike closed circuit systems, Swann’s latest solution does not work out of the box. Users have considerable tinkering to master in order to get the installation working.

One hurdle is configuring the Windows firewall or a third-party firewall and the broadband router/modem connection to the Internet. The installation manual does not attempt to suggest how to do this. Instead, you have to consult the separate manuals for your particular equipment or contact the various vendors for help.

A second setup hurdle requires opening access to your camera from the Internet. To do this, you have to open several ports, known as “port forwarding,” from an outside connection. Or you have to create a virtual server connection.

Setting Switches

On the list of required port access switching is Port 80, which is used for the initial download of the remote viewing software interface. Then comes opening the ports for the webcamera service, the data port for transferring the live video stream, and the control port for transferring the host interface commands.

Next on the setup list is opening the remote playback service port. This is used for transferring the remote playback video stream.

Finally, you have to select the video standard that matches your hardware to your geographic location. Depending on the hardware, the default choices are PAL if you reside in Australia, the United Kingdom or Europe. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, select NTSC. If you make a mistake and have to change the video standard settings, you will have to uninstall the software and repeat the setup steps.

All of these settings are offered in the setup wizard. The problem is finding out which combination of settings you need, and knowing how to access the control panels to open ports in the firewall and routers.

A final necessity is maybe having to place the IP address of the machine running the Swann USB 2.0 DVR Guardian in the DMZ of your firewall to enable the remote viewing interface. Again, get ready to grab the documentation for your firewall. Here is a clue: It may be part of your Internet security suite. Or you might run the Windows firewall or use a firewall that is part of the router settings for your Internet connection.

Other Problems

Downloading the SuperDVR software entails dodging a land mine or two as well. For instance, with Windows XP SPS2, Internet Explorer may display a yellow warning bar and stop the process of installing a required ActiveX control. You have to access the options and give the browser permission to continue with the download.

A similar problem may happen when you first log in to the PC running the Swann USB 2.0 DVR Guardian software. You could get a warning about downloading an ActiveX control called “DownLoad.ocx.” Again, give permission to continue with this process.

Also, some antivirus applications that scan outgoing e-mail messages may delay or halt the e-mailnotification process. You will have to check the documentation for the antivirus product you use to solve this problem.

Product Highlights

The USB DVR measures 4 inches x 1-1/4 inches x 5/8 inches, and has four attached composite video RCA camera inputs. It has two PC audio RCA inputs with one 8-bit audio channel circuit.

The video resolution is PAL:352*288(CIF), 704*576(D1) and NTSC:320*240(CIF), 640*480(D1). The maximum format rate per channel is 25 fps(PAL), 30 ftp(NTSC).

The USB DVR Guardian can record up to four cameras on your PC’s hard drive and view cameras from your mobile phone. The compatible phones for remote viewing are the Windows Mobile 2003 SE and the Windows Mobile 5.0 platforms.

The USB DVR Guardian sells for US$89.95. The cameras are not included.

Bottom Line

Swann provides an impressive arsenal of video monitoring equipment. This latest offering is an ambitious endeavor. It worked well once I got it installed and configured properly. Despite what it says on the packaging, the setup is not easy.

If you have the computer hardware that matches the requirements of the USB DVR Guardian, you can enjoy being able to run a visual check on your home or office, or any other location covered by the cameras.

Still, I can not figure out why Swann released a product a year after the availability of the Windows Vista OS without drivers for it. This will seriously limit the buying population to those potential customers who have not upgraded their operating systems. I have to assume that Swann is just slow in getting Vista drivers out the door.

Perhaps the best feature is being able to tune into the computer running the surveillance software from anywhere over the Internet. It is very cool to be able to check on your property remotely from your laptop or mobile phone.

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