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What to Avoid when Buying a Wireless Surveillance Camera

Updated on July 22, 2009

A couple years back, my wife and I found ourselves in a very uncomfortable situation due to renters who moved into the home next to us. I guess you could say we felt a bit like we were living next to Norman Bates, Sybil and a Columbian drug lord all rolled into one. So what do you do in a situation like that? Whatever it takes to protect your family. Step one was a security system. Step two was to ensure the police were aware of the situation (not only were they aware, they had entire policies built around this one person alone!) Step three was to install wireless surveillance cameras.


After our neighborhood endured a full year suffering a disrupted life, the renters in question were evicted for a number of reasons, but it was damning evidence from our cameras provided to the home owner that played a large part in things ending the way they did (the renters fought the eviction every step of the way.) I want to stop here a moment, though, and make a point to those of you who may be feeling sympathetic for these people. Don't. In the words of others who provided testimony in the case, these individuals were "holding the entire neighborhood hostage." Parents were to afraid to let their children go out to play, my wife and several other women in the community cried themselves to sleep almost nightly and the home owner suffered over $20,000.00 in property damage by the time they were finally removed. Money he will never recover.

All of that, though, is background story to get across the point that I actually have some experience with wireless surveillance cameras (former employment helps too) and am speaking from a position of authority as I write this. That's important because I intend to share with you the single worst thing about this technology and that's installation.

If you've never worked with wireless surveillance cameras (also known as network cameras or wireless security cameras) you might be surprised that installation can be a problem. After all, they're wireless, right? Isn't the whole point of being wireless to make installation easier and more flexible? Well, yes. In principle, it is. In practice, all too often it's the exact opposite.

Our first attempt at documenting the damage being done and the disruptions happening outside our door daily was an exercise in frustration. The camera we purchased was inexpensive and that was our motivation for selecting it. I did a little research in advance of making the purchase but largely ignored the reviews that practically screamed difficult-to-setup. Why? Well, I have an extensive IT background so I'm not particularly intimidated by technology. That was a mistake.

The directions that came with my camera were not only written in broken English, they were also wrong in several steps. Not a little wrong, but wrong enough to be virtually useless. Now, were I a member of the opposite sex and, therefore, smarter, I would have probably called the technical support number sooner, but I'm a guy and you know how we are. Instead, I kept messing with the damn thing, reconfiguring my wireless router, messing around with IP addresses until I finally did wise up and call the support number. Helpfulness rating on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being horrible and 10 being stellar was a negative 215.

Eventually I managed to get my wireless security camera working on my own. Almost. All the features performed but I'd invested so much time just trying to get it to actually connect and then trying to get the included software to talk to the camera that I ran out of patience and didn't bother to activate features I really could have used (such as emailed alerts and videos and remote access via the web). Still, it was fun to come home from work everyday to review the footage and see what our crazy neighbors had been up to.

Eventually, I solved all my problems with the purchase of a new wireless video camera that not only did everything I wanted it to do but that embodied everything modern technology should – simple, plug and play installation. And that's the biggest point I can make if you are considering buying your own network camera.

In this day and age (and in this economy) there really is no excuse for consumer-focused technology NOT to be plug and play. Computers are prolific and so many of us own them, but it's not like we all work in the IT industry. Product manufacturers have no excuse to be pushing wares designed for in-home use and computer interface without giving considerable thought to ease of use and ease of installation. Failure to do so is lazy, cheap and even cruel to the people who make the purchase only to find themselves completely let down when the time comes to use it.

So the message is this – as you search on the internet for a wireless surveillance camera, find one in your price range and then prepare to spend a little more. If you make the mistake I made of bargain basement shopping, you are almost sure to be disappointed. Pay a little extra for a device that has the dedication of a company behind it that is interested in selling you something that works and maybe getting some repeat business out of you (rather than banking on you simply being too lazy to return it should you become frustrated). In fact, the sales literature for the wireless security camera you are considering should not only claim it is easy to install, it should share some of the steps required so you can tell right away if this is a product you'll be able to work with or not. Do I have any recommendations? Absolutely, but that will have to go up in another post. I've already exceeded my self-imposed word count. Check back soon as I'll link this hub to the one that reviews my recommended wireless surveillance camera.

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