Keeping an Eye on the School
With summer around the corner, there’s never been a better time to outfit your school with a video surveillance system to make sure that it stays shut tight and its valuable equipment stay put until the school year starts in the fall. D-Link’s DCS-6511 HD Day & Night Vandal-Proof Fixed Dome Network Camera can keep an eye on the school and let you know when someone has broken in.
The white circular camera has a clear plastic dome to protect the digital video camera inside. It can be mounted in a variety of ways from screwed directly into a ceiling or wall to using a straight or bent pipe. Inside the box is most of the hardware you’ll need to permanently set it up, including electrical connectors and a star tool for opening the camera’s case.
All of the camera’s wires can be hidden to deter tampering. It’s weatherproof so it can be set up indoors or out, but you can’t replace the dome if it gets scratched or covered with spray paint.
Underneath the dome is a high quality camera that can produce vivid and sharp 1,280 by 1.024 images and video streams. It is vastly superior to many surveillance cameras whose output looks more like it came from a Web cam than serious security equipment.
On top of H.264, Motion JPEG and MPEG-4 video formats, it can create an analog NTSC video stream for schools that already have the wiring for it. The camera can’t be panned or tilted remotely, but can be zoomed in 10-times to see a detail. Inside, it has a slot for holding an SD card for recording videos of suspicious behavior.
The camera does one thing that few devices of its kind can: listen and talk. It has an input jack for a microphone and an output connection for speakers so that a security guard can interact with the person on camera to determine if they pose a threat or are there to get directions or deliver a package.
Once it’s physically in place, setting up the camera starts with logging onto its IP address with a Web browser. It works with FireFox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Opera, although if you use IE, you’ll need to load an Active-X component. On top of viewing the video stream as a window or full screen, you can set its resolution, flip or mirror the image and set up the camera’s autofocus abilities.
If you want, the Settings menu lets you configure the camera to act as a motion detector so that when something happens in the frame, it either takes a snapshot or starts recording video. This can be excellent evidence of a break-in for a guidance counselor or the police to use. The danger is that it starts up prematurely, like by a loose gerbil. The software has settings for controlling the sensitivity and whether an email is sent when it’s triggered.
If you’re using several cameras, each can be uniquely identified by name and the camera adds a time and data stamp for use as evidence. All video can be saved locally or to a network.
D-Link includes D-View Cam console software that can monitor a school’s worth of individual cameras as long as they are made by Dlink. It can show the output of a single cam or thumbnails of 4-, 6-, 9-, 10-, 16- or 32-streams. If you like, it can shuffle through them in sequence.
The security camera comes into its own at night. There’s a ring of infrared LEDs around the lens for illuminating nighttime scenes, such as in a deserted hallway, gym or playground. It worked well with little or no light, although the images get grainy and it can be hard to make out what’s going on.
It has a green LED that shows that it’s operating, which can help when setting it up and troubleshooting problems. Happily, it can easily be turned off so as not to tip off an intruder that he’s on candid camera.
Unlike Panasonic’s BL-C230A , it lacks WiFi for wireless connections to the school’s network. It connects to a network via its Ethernet cable, and is powered via a 24-volt source or the included AC adapter. It can use the 802.3af Power over Ethernet standard to run data and electricity over a single Cat-5 cable, simplifying installation.
In daily use, the DCS-6511 was able to see potential intruders during the day and in the dark, catch motion and send me a notification that something was going on. I can think of no better way to protect a school when nobody is around.
Sure, at $960, the DLink DCS-6511 is not cheap, particularly when you figure that even a small school with likely need at least six or seven cams. But, insurance companies typically give a discount if you have a surveillance system and this camera requires little or no extra wiring. In other words, it is money well spent.
+ Day and night operation
+ Excellent software
+ Sharp, bright video
+ Motion detection and remote notification
+ Indoor/outdoor use
- Ethernet only
- Can’t replace clear dome