Several years ago, some kids were wandering around my neighborhood at night and setting off CO2 bombs. One of them went off in my front doorway at around midnight, and it really did sound like a bomb! These CO2 bombs are made by combining toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a 2-liter plastic bottle and then securing the cap tightly. The bottle is then thrown and the "bomb" explodes at a random point thereafter. When it blows, it spews acidic chemicals everywhere, and if it happens to blow when you're holding it, it can take off fingers. I decided I wanted to try and capture video of these mischievous kids, so I began to investigate security cameras.
As I investigated different cameras, I learned that not all cameras are created equal. Some of them require regular "reboots" in order to keep them working well. Others experience connectivity issues often, I can only guess because they use inferior components. I then happened upon the Sharx Security SCNC2607 camera while browsing cameras on Amazon. It was pretty expensive (I paid 300 dollars for it), but the reviews on the camera were great, so I ordered one. That was in 2010 and that camera is still part of my security system to this day. It has operated with 100% reliability during that time, even though it has experienced several six-foot drops onto a hard surface due to my poor mounting choices early on. (I tried to mount it with Velcro strips. Not recommended!)
A lot has changed since 2010. There are more camera options now than there ever have been, but Sharx Security still sits at the top of my list for quality cameras at fair prices. I can also testify that Sharx Security's customer service is still incredible. In this review, we'll look at the SCNC3804 camera. This camera is an indoor/outdoor HD (720p) camera with IR illuminators, audio, and much more!
The SCNC3804 camera comes with everything you need to set up a security system. The camera includes on-board software that can record audio and video continuously or only when motion is detected. It can record to a microSD card (an 8GB card is included) or it can send recorded video files to a NAS device on your network and even send them to an FTP server or to Dropbox. That means that you can purchase this camera and nothing else and you can have a quality home surveillance system. Even at night, the SCNC3804 can record video up to 45 feet away using its on-board IR illuminators.
Let's have a look at the camera itself and then I'll delve into the on-board software and what it can do.
The camera is designed for outside mounting and it can be used in a protected area (such as under an eave) or in an open area with the included sunshade attached. The first thing you'll notice about the camera is that it's built like a tank. The entire camera is made of quality metal and then painted with a durable white paint. A waterproof seal protects the internal components and the microSD card.
Installation involves running power to the camera using the included power adapter. A waterproof seal exists where the AC adapter plugs into the camera, but you'll want to use a weatherproof receptacle cover where you plug it into your AC outlet unless you can run the power cord into an interior space such as a garage. The camera includes two WiFi antennae, one that is short and one that is slightly longer for situations where the camera is situated a bit further from your WiFi access point. The camera supports 802.11 b/g/n and WEP, WPA and WPA 2 encryption. You can also connect the camera via the included Ethernet connector. (The Ethernet connector isn't weatherproof, so you'll want to keep that in mind.) This particular camera doesn't have PoE, but if that's a feature you want, the new SCNC3904 or the SCNC3905 offer that as well as much higher resolution and more.
If you are mounting the camera on an eave or in another location where the mount is above the camera, make sure that you attach the mount to the top of the camera rather than mounting the camera upside down. The microphone is on the bottom of the camera and if the camera is mounted upside down, not only will you get lower-quality audio, but water can also enter the microphone and damage the camera. Sharx Security notes this in the manual, and they also have several other useful notes regarding camera placement and mounting. It's well-worth reading the user manual before you start mounting and setting up your camera.
In my testing, I found that the WiFi radio in the SCNC3804 was capable of maintaining a WiFi connection up to 75 feet away from my access point, even when there were several walls between the camera and the access point. However, at long distances, the quality of the signal was not able to maintain a smooth HD video signal. As most people know, WiFi is a black art and there are many variables that impact WiFi connections. When you're working with WiFi cameras, you have to keep in mind that streaming live video requires a much higher-quality signal than browsing websites and checking your email. The SCNC3804 performed admirably, but if you mount it in an area where the WiFi signal isn't strong, you may encounter dropped frames in your video. In such cases, you can either use a wired connection or you can add additional WiFi access points to increase the signal.
Video quality from the camera was exceptional, even in low-light or zero-light conditions. The SCNC3804 offers a "Moonlight mode" that improves light-sensitivity in low-light conditions. You can configure the camera so that Moonlight mode is enabled automatically when light levels drop. The image you see below is a shot from my camera that is watching my driveway. It was completely dark outside when this picture was taken. You can see that the lights from neighbors' houses are quite bright in the shot, but you can also quite clearly see the driveway at my gate, even though it was completely dark. The lights you see in the upper-left are dim lights from a Christmas decoration in my neighbor's yard. They only look bright because of the Moonlight mode that is enabled on the camera.
This image uses the IR illuminators on the SCNC3804. No other IR illumination was used. Note that this picture is not HD quality. It was taken purely to demonstrate the high-quality of nighttime images and is not intended to show the overall image quality on the camera. It clearly illustrates the quality of the onboard IR illuminators, but it also shows how well Moonlight mode is able to compensate for very low light and provide a great image. If you need more convincing, have a look at the image below. This is the same shot, but it's with the IR illuminators and Moonlight mode disabled. Every other setting is identical.
The Internal Software
The SCNC3804 runs internal software that allows you to access the camera from any web browser. (You can also access it from apps on your phone, even from remote locations. More on that later.) Once you connect the camera to your home network, you can access it by opening a web browser and browsing to http://scnc3804 or to the camera's IP address. When you do, you're greeted with a screen that allows you to either view a live video feed from the camera or access the camera's settings. I'll cover the settings that are available now and cover the video feed later in this review.
I was extremely impressed by the power and flexibility that the SCNC3804 provided right out of the box. You truly can use the on-board software to implement a powerful security DVR solution without any additional software!
If this is a new camera, you can run through a wizard that will run you through the basic setup of the camera. That's probably the easiest way to set the name of the camera, the time zone, image quality, etc. Once you've done that, you can use the various menu items in the Settings screen to configure everything the camera has to offer.
Once you've configured the basics, you can work through configuring other settings on the camera. Sharx Security's excellent user guide that comes with your camera will be a big help in doing that. I don't cover all of the settings in this review, but I do show you some of the settings so that you can get an idea of what the camera is capable of.
The camera delivers video using a video stream that is accessible using your web browser, an app on your phone or tablet, software on your computer, etc. The SCNC3804 camera provides three streams; a primary stream, a secondary stream and a mobile stream. Why three? Because it provides you the ability, for example, to watch an HD stream on a computer while accessing a much lower bandwidth stream from a mobile phone, all without having to reconfigure your camera. In my setup, I use the primary stream for watching live video, the secondary stream for recording to my surveillance software, and the mobile stream when pulling up the camera on my phone.
You can configure the settings for each stream on the Stream Setup screen shown below. Each stream has a selection of presets based on a bandwidth selection, but you can also customize the stream using whatever settings you prefer.
Once you've configured your streams the way you want them, you can click on the link for a specific stream to see all of the URLs for that stream. The screen below is disabled when I click on the Primary Stream link.
Note that RTSP, HTTP and RTMP links are provided, and you have a choice of H.264, MPEG4, MJPEG and more. Sharx Security offers information on these formats in the user guide. If you are setting up a connection to your camera from an app on your phone or computer, you'll likely be asked for a URL to a particular stream format. The stream list is where you can find the URL you need.
One thing to note is that I don't show any Internet streams available in the shot above. The reason for this is that I haven't configured my router to allow access directly to my camera. I'll go into more detail on this in the section called Internet Access later in this review.
If you want to record video using the camera's on-board software and store it to the microSD card or to another device on your network, you'll need to setup the Storage settings so that the camera knows where to save the files. The camera can also save files to an FTP server, but it's not necessary to configure storage if that's what you want to do. You only have to configure storage is you want to save the files to the microSD card or to a NAS device or another computer on your network.
In the image below, you can see that I have configured the camera to save video files on a NAS device on my network. (I'm saving them to a Synology DiskStation.) However, you don't need a NAS device. You can also use a spare computer.
Video files aren't saved to the configured storage location until you configure a task to do that, so let's have a look at how you do that.
Tasks are actions that the camera can take due to some event or continuously. You can choose to have a tasks always run or you can configure a schedule for your tasks. The SCNC3804 offers 11 different tasks that vary from sending an email, to sending files to an FTP server or the configured storage location, to copying files from your storage location to an FTP server. The flexibility that is provided by tasks is enormous. I was extremely impressed by the power and flexibility that the SCNC3804 provided right out of the box. You truly can use the on-board software to implement a powerful security DVR solution without any additional software!
The image below shows the Task Management screen. In this example, I have the Record Storage on Alarm task configured to run on Schedule 1 and the Send Files in Storage to FTP Server task set to run on Schedule 2. (An alarm is triggered when the camera detects motion. I'll show you how to configure motion detection later in this review.)
To configure a task, click the task name in the Task column. The options available depend on which task you are configuring. The image below shows the configuration for the Record to Storage on Alarm task. As you can see, you can choose which stream is recorded and you can specify additional settings for the recording from this screen.
As I pointed out earlier, tasks can run always or can be configured to run on a schedule. Let's look at how schedules are configured.
The SCNC3804 offers up to 4 different schedules. Each schedule provides 8 different combinations of times and days, so you should have no trouble configuring exactly what you need. It's required that the starting time be less than or equal to the ending time on any particular setting, so if you want to schedule a task to start at 6PM and end at 6AM, you'll need two different settings, one for 6PM until midnight and another for midnight to 6AM. The image below shows just such a schedule configured for Schedule 1.
As you've already seen, you can choose to have your camera record video continuously. However, doing so is going to require a lot of disk space, and video that doesn't contain any motion is often not of any interest. It makes much more sense to have the camera automatically start recording when something moves in its field of view and then automatically stop recording when the motion stops. The SCNC3804 can easily do this and more.
In most setups, there are areas of the camera's field of view that are of interest and others that aren't. There also may be a portion of the video area that always has motion that you want to ignore. (For example, there may be a flag in your video field of view that flaps in the wind.) In these cases, you can configure up to 4 areas that the SCNC3804 will monitor for motion so that you can exclude areas that aren't of interest or that might set off a false alarm. Each area that you configure has individually configurable sensitivity and motion threshold settings.
In the image below, you can see two different areas of interest. The first area (called Window 1) is focused on the driveway and the gate area. The second area (Window 2) is focused on the road in front of the house. The first area has a higher sensitivity setting and a lower threshold because it's the area of primary interest and if something moves there, I want to be sure to capture it on video.
Using these settings, I avoid capturing video when the bush on the right edge of the video sways in the wind. If I need to, I can adjust the size of the different areas to avoid false detection. There's a small level indicator below the Sensitivity slider that fills from left to right when the camera detects motion. You can use this to easily configure the settings the way you need them.
Accessing your camera's video feed from the Internet will require some additional configuration in your router. Routers are designed to block traffic from the Internet in most cases, so you have to configure the router to allow requests to be sent to the camera. The easiest way to do that is to use a feature on your router called Universal Plug and Play, or UPnP. UPnP allows your camera to automatically configure the router to allow traffic to flow correctly. However, there are two problems with UPnP. One is that the UPnP implementation on your router may not work with the SCNC3804 camera. The other is that turning on UPnP is a security risk and most security experts recommend that you leave it disabled.
Given those problems, what is one to do? Well, the simplest solution is to turn on UPnP on your router temporarily, set up the camera using the UPnP Setup page in the camera's settings and then disable UPnP on your router. (UPnP doesn't have to remain enabled once you have configured everything.) For details on how to enable and disable UPnP on your router, see the directions that came with your particular router.
If UPnP doesn't work, you will have to configure everything manually. Sharx Security provides details on how to do that for some routers in the user guide. If your router isn't covered, you can still configure it manually using the directions that came with your router.
Once you've configured your router to allow access to the camera, you can access the camera by browsing to your router's IP address. However, your router's IP address is likely one that changes from time to time, so using the IP address isn't the ideal solution. By using a dynamic DNS provider (they're free), you can create a user-friendly URL to use when browsing to your camera. Once again, Sharx Security has you covered by providing details on how you can do that in the user guide.
Allowing Access to Others
One thing you might want to do is allow family members or friends to access your camera's video feed. However, you likely don't want these people to change settings on the camera. Conveniently, the SCNC3804 allows you to add additional users (using a unique username and password) to the camera. Any additional users you add are added as simple users, meaning that they can access the video feed, but they can't access or modify settings on the camera. This is a great way to share your video with friends and family!
If you would like additional functionality for recording your camera's video feed, you can use third-party software. Out of all we've tried, Luxriot VMS is our favorite. It is a full-featured, professional DVR solution for security cameras, and it can even handle cameras with insanely high resolutions such as the upcoming Sharx Security HDNC5501. Blue Iris is another software package that will work well with the SCNC3804. Both Luxriot and Blue Iris offer an iOS app, but in my opinion, the design of the mobile apps leaves a bit to be desired.
Another option is to use a solution such as Surveillance Station, a package that is available on Synology DiskStation NAS devices. Synology also offers apps for iOS and their apps are polished and well-designed.
Speaking of mobile apps, you have plenty of choices for accessing your camera from your phone or tablet on both Android and iOS. Almost all of them will work well with your SCNC3804. Choices are more limited on Windows Phone, but choices there are increasing. The user guide has a list of apps you can use with the SCNC3804.
Infrared illuminators are like little flashlights that shoot out IR light. The SCNC3804 has a camera lens that is able to pick up this IR light. That's why you can use this camera to record video even when it's completely dark outside. There are a couple of situations, however, that you may find frustrating.
The sunshade on the SCNC3804 can reflect the IR illumination and make the picture appear foggy. To reduce this, adjust the sunshade so that it as far to the rear of the camera as possible. If you mount your camera in a location where it isn't affected by precipitation on the lens or sun, you can remove the sunshade completely.
Another situation you may encounter occurs only you mount the camera indoors and point it through a window to the outdoors. When doing so, the IR illuminators will reflect off the window glass at night, making them completely useless. To resolve this, you can purchase a separate IR illuminator and mount it outside. There are many IR illuminators available from Amazon. Simply mount one of these outside of the house and turn off the IR illuminators on the SCNC3804.
I started this review by writing about kids setting off CO2 bombs. I suppose these kids grew tired of CO2 bombs and I never did get any video of anyone bombing the house. However, I have captured video of a teenager running a stop sign in front of the house and crashing his car in front of my house, tearing up my yard in the process. He told police that another car had run him off the road, but the video I provided showed otherwise. I've also captured many wild animals wandering through my yard at night. I've seen gray foxes, opossums, bobcats, coyotes, skunks, armadillos and more.
We were immensely pleased with the SCNC3804. It's a neatly compact camera that screams quality and provides great audio and video. When you couple that with the incredibly feature-rich software provided within the camera itself, it becomes a top choice for building a home surveillance system. Along with the camera, Sharx Security provides excellent support so you'll be sure to have no problems making the most of this camera.