In South Africa, many homeowners might be well familiar with CCTV setups of yore that might have come pre-bundled with a set of wired cameras as well as a NAS (Network Attached Server). However, more recent solutions have seen manufacturers embrace wireless technology, and IP cameras (that is, wireless security cameras that need a power supply only) have become increasingly commonplace on the market.
There are usually two principle barriers that prevent consumers from purchasing an IP camera for themselves; the first is largely due to the hefty price tag premium cameras can attract, while secondly narrow viewing angles can altogether stymy capturing the area one might want to keep secure.
Ultra-Link’s aptly named Smart IP camera arrives on the scene with the view to address both of these deficiencies at once. Priced at R999 and available from Takealot, the Smart IP camera is equipped with a PTZ lens. Standing for Pan Tilt Zoom, this means that the view of the camera can be remotely controlled via a smartphone app – allowing a user to adjust the viewing angle side to side as well as up and down.
Setting up the camera is simple; by downloading Ultra-Link’s IP app, users can quickly select their model of camera and associate it with their Ultra-Link account by means of scanning a QR code, or connecting the camera to the internet through WiFi or through an Ethernet cable. After a short series of chimes that will emanate from the camera’s built-in speaker, the stream will be set up to default to 720p.
Give me the specs
On to the good stuff. The Smart IP camera carries a 1-megapixel sensor which, while seeming small compared to the sensors equipped in modern smartphones, is sufficient to capture detail in low light. The camera itself is capable of panning to 355 degrees (just short of a full rotation), and can tilt 120-degrees up and down. A fixed 3.6mm lens means that there’s no optical zoom on this model (meaning that the camera lens itself cannot zoom in and out) though digital zoom (wherein the camera crops the sensor to focus in on a particular subject) is available.
The Smart IP camera offers a neat benefit for consumers in the presence of a microphone, meaning that users can both listen in to the surroundings on film as well as have their voice play through the unit’s speakers in real-time. That’s a nice addition for consumers who might want to use the camera as a baby or pet monitor, and the presence of a speaker is not usually found at this price range.
If you’re expecting crystal-clear sound you might be disappointed, however. The camera’s speaker is tinny, and won’t deliver any playback with reasonable finesse. However, for a simple solution to home monitoring, this will do the trick.
The camera can also take up a 120GB MicroSD card, meaning that you won’t have to buy a NAS to save footage; on insertion, the camera will capture rolling footage to the SD card and will stop once either disabled through the app or the card itself is removed. Again, that’s not a feature that’s common at this price bracket and is incredibly useful as part of a security set-up.
Stream me up, Scotty
Let’s cut to the chase – the primary use case of any camera is to capture footage, right?
In good news, the Smart IP camera is a capable observer and is something that I genuinely enjoyed using in my home during my review period.
Let’s start with the negatives. The Smart IP camera does maintain a stable stream, but can sometimes struggle to connect when placed in mediocre WiFi coverage. The presence of an Ethernet port does mean this can be addressed, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering placing the camera in your own home. Similarly, the camera also requires a healthy speed to render footage effectively and I routinely found that it struggled on the occasion my home ADSL connection dropped below 3 megabytes per second.
This also means that should you wish to put the camera on patrol (that is, set it to automatically pan or tilt repeatedly) the stream can become increasingly intermittent. This can also delay or hamper input or output through the camera’s microphone and speaker.
In more positive news, something I absolutely loved about the Smart IP camera was how quiet its motor was; even when set to patrol, the camera was entirely unobtrusive and only by placing my ears next to the device altogether was I able to hear a servo at work. The added benefit here is that motor sounds don’t filter through should you wish to listen in through the microphone.
The camera also features built-in monitoring technology which, while no means as sophisticated nor as professional as other solutions, does allow the app to trigger alerts in the event it recognizes a human being within its view once ‘armed’. While I wouldn’t recommend this to guard your own home, it is a nice feature should you wish to keep a general eye over your home. You can, of course, always couple the camera with a third party monitoring solution such as Umbo CV.
The app itself offers cloud storage for videos and photos, which can enable you to quickly save footage or snapshots in the event an SD card isn’t installed in the camera.
Perhaps my highest praise must be reserved for the camera lens itself; the view is pleasantly wide at 95-degrees, which was more than sufficient to monitor my own lounge. Despite a 1-megapixel sensor, the camera was able to capture fine enough detail that I could distinguish footage easily, and despite the fact that sunlight routinely blows through my windows, the camera did not overexpose or underexpose the view.
Is it worth it?
Let’s wrap up. Is Ultra-Link’s Smart IP camera a master of all trades? It’s unfortunately not.
However, the good news is that this is a value-for-money camera that can easily find utility in a home; from monitoring children to keeping vigil over a wide area with automated patrol functions, manual pan, tilt, and zoom options, as well as the addition of a microphone, speaker, and cloud and SD card storage, this is an excellent offering for the relatively affordable fee of R999.
Given that many other entry-level IP cameras exist in the same space and only offer a single view source and few perks, this is a well-crafted initiation to home monitoring and is ideal for those of us dipping our toes into this space, seeking to monitor a specific area or activity space in our home, or to complement an existing CCTV setup.