Reolink offer a range of professional-grade DIY CCTV security systems, and its newest product – the ADK8-20B4 – offers incredibly good value for money.
Available for just $400, it’s an all-in-one DIY security kit with 4 wired cameras, 3 door/window contact sensors, 2 motion sensors, 3 remote keyfobs, and a DVR base station with built-in 2TB drive. Unlike other systems that come with a minimal set of accessories, requiring you to buy additional sensors or cameras for increased coverage, this kit comes out of the box with enough for an entire residential house or small business.
What’s in the Box?
This is a big package, and inside the box you’ll find:
- 4 HD-TVI cameras
- 4 lengths of 18m BNC+DC cabling for the cameras
- 3 alarm remote control keyfobs
- 3 door/window contact sensors
- 2 PIR motion sensors
- 1 DVR base unit, with 2TB drive installed
- Mounting kit for everything: screws and double-sided sticky foam
- Quick-start guides and stickers
- HDMI cable
- 4-way DC socket splitter and power adapter, for the cameras; plus power adapter for the DVR
I think it’s fair to say this is a complete DIY solution with more than enough cameras for most premises – but you have the option to add up to 8 total, as well as additional sensors if you need them. The only things not included that you might want to purchase is a siren; and a monitor or TV for the DVR’s local interface.
Around the back you’ll find numerous connectors:
- Antenna for the wireless sensors
- 8 BNC video input
- L/R audio out (not used, as far as I can tell)
- HDMI and VGA for connecting a monitor
- eSATA for up to 4Tb external drive
- LAN Ethernet
- USB port (an additional one is at the front, but an overhanging part of the case means bulky USB sticks may need to be plugged in at the back)
- Pan/Tilt/Zoom controller (not used)
Note that some of the connectors appear to not be used; I assume this is because the DVR unit is generic across their line of products. We should also clarify that the antenna is only used for their proprietary wireless sensor network – it doesn’t allow for Wi-Fi network access. Ethernet must be used for connection to your local network.
The kit is supplied with four “bullet” shaped HD-TVI analog cameras, which must be wired to the DVR unit over industry standard SYV-75-5 / RG59 BNC coax and DC cabling. Reolink supplies 4 sets of 18m cables in the package – which is quite generous anyway – but if you need more then it’s not at all expensive to buy or crimp your own. This is standard cabling, not a proprietary connector. I purchased a single 50 meter extension for about $50 so I could run a camera to the garage, but depending on the quality of cabling you can theoretically reach distances of up to half a kilometer.
The image quality is fantastic – day, or night (thanks to the large array of infra-red LEDs). I’m not exaggerating when I say these are by far the best picture quality I’ve seen from a home security system yet – much better than you’re going to get from any standard IP camera or “smart home” device. The wide-angle lens is great, and removes the need for a pan/tilt control system. They lack a microphone, but this isn’t a huge loss. I’m sorry to say the color reproduction in the sample below is perfectly accurate for a winter’s morning in the UK.
Still, you might be thinking to yourself “hang on, it’s 2016 – why aren’t these all wireless”? It’s a fair question, but the reality of wireless IP cameras is that the connections are not reliable, they compress the video horribly, and they will congest your network traffic. A good rule to live by if you want respectable wireless speeds at home is never to use something wirelessly when it could be wired. Use Wi-Fi for devices that you absolutely don’t have a choice with, like tablets and smartphones.
In addition, IP cameras pose a huge security risk – the recent internet outages by DDoS attacks on DNS providers were partly caused by insecure IP cameras, having been subverted to flood the internet with unwanted traffic. There are millions of such devices currently deployed, and dealing with them is no easy task. The cameras provided by Reolink are themselves not networked in any way, so you can rest easy that they won’t be contributing to the current Internet of Things security disaster. To be clear, the DVR itself obviously is networked, and therefore vulnerable to any attacks – however, it’s also easy to issue security updates, unlike IP cameras which tend be set and forget, never to have their management interfaces touched again.
As mentioned though, once they’re connected to the DVR, you can still reap the benefits of being able to remotely view the camera feeds from any desktop or mobile device.
The cameras are IP66 waterproof, and pull power through an inline DC cable which runs alongside the BNC data cabling, so they’re happy to be mounted outside. One potential issue with mounting them indoors on the average residential property is that they are fairly bulky, and would be impossible to conceal. In shop or warehouse environments this won’t matter, but they’re not really the sort of camera you’d want in the corner of your kitchen.
The only downside then is that you actually have to run a cable, so if you’re living in rented accommodation or unwilling to drill some holes in your property, this is going to be your deal breaker.
Contact and PIR Sensors
The system comes with 2 PIR motion sensors and 3 contact switches for doors and windows. They’re already paired and run on a custom wireless network, with a 15m range for the PIR sensors and 45m range for the contacts. All you need to do is pull out the battery tab and fix them to your walls. The PIR sensors can be screwed in; the contacts use double-sided sticky foam.
I do feel these are the weakest part of the system however, especially since it’s not clear how you can test they’re even working. I found the easiest way was to just switch the system into away mode, then attempt to trigger them. By default, this is going to fire off the buzzer in the DVR and send a mobile alert if you have the app installed. If nothing happens, you’re probably not in range. What disappoints me about the sensors is the lack of a status page to get a quick overview of all the installed devices – this would be useful to see if something is low on power, or out of range, or someone has left the window open.
I’m also a little sad to see the lack of any consumer-oriented smart home features, such as IFTTT integration. It always seems like a shame to cover your home in smart sensors like this, only to find the data locked away in a proprietary system. Still, if you’re prepared to put the time into configuring the email alerts, you could conceivably hack together your own custom IFTTT integration of some kind.
It appears the ADK8-20B4 is the first device they’ve offered with alarm sensors, it’s possible this aspect of the system will be more fully developed later on.
Also operating wirelessly are the 3 remote keyfobs, used to disarm the system and set the mode. These are natty things that are barely worth mentioning, but they get the job done.
Configuring the System
Once wired in, videos are recorded to the built-in 2TB hard disk in the DVR (expandable to 4TB), plus an external eSATA connection to an additional 4TB drive if required. At full quality, each camera consumes 1Gb per hour. On regular 24/7 scheduled recording, with 4 cameras, this means you’ll be recording just under 100GB per day – so you should be get about 3 weeks of recordings on the supplied 2TB drive, with older clips automatically overwritten as the drive fills up.
The sheer range of configurations options can seem quite overwhelming, though the defaults will be absolutely fine for most people. App alerts work out of the box, but you will need to enter your some valid email credentials if you want to be able to send mail alerts.
The alarm system has 4 modes: Home, Away, Night, and SOS. By default, in Home mode, all notifications are silenced; Away mode all are enabled. Like everything else in the system though, these can be individually tailored to your needs, with each sensor enabled or disabled for each scenario, and event notifications customized.
It is going to be a significant investment of your time to customize the system to your needs, but the essentials work out of the box without any further customization.
Some of the highlight features that Reolink software offers:
- Email alerts, with a photo or video clip. This does require you to setup an SMTP mail server however. If you want to use Gmail, you may get an initial failure, followed by an email from Google saying your sign-in attempt from a “less secure app” was blocked. You can then override the setting to allow it.
- App notifications of alarm events. These only work on your smartphone though – there’s no integration with Mac or Windows native notification systems.
- Video masking and selective motion detection areas.
- Per camera scheduled recording, so they can disabled at specified times.
- FTP backups
In fact, I can’t think of anything a CCTV system should offer, that Reolink doesn’t. The only thing that is lacking is general user-friendliness, particular for those us that are used to simple smart home devices.
You have three different options for viewing and managing your Reolink system: through the local interface on the DVR itself, PC/Mac software, or a mobile app. All of the options are responsive, and offer live playback or archive viewing for all the cameras. Annoyingly though, they’re all ever so slightly different.
First up: the local interface, which is also the most powerful. By plugging in a mouse and monitor (through HDMI or VGA), you have access to linux-based interface. You’ll need to use this at least once to run the initial setup wizard, but it’s a trivial process that shouldn’t present any problems. The most common usage for the local interface will be a simple monitor for live viewing all the cameras, but this is obviously more useful in a retail environment than at home. You needn’t keep a monitor attached though, so once you’ve run through setup, feel free to disconnect it.
One feature the local interface offers than I couldn’t find elsewhere was the ability to export specific clips. When viewing archived footage, you can set a start and finish point, then export just that portion to a connected USB drive or hard disk.
Next up: the PC/Mac clients. I tested using the latest version of their Mac client, but they appear to be identical. If you have an extensive system, one of the main benefits of using this method is that you can manage multiple DVRs at the same time. Other than that, it offers an almost identical feature set as the DVR itself. You have standard 9/4/1 camera live view, as well as archive playback and viewing of alarm events. While you can download entire 1 hour blocks of footage, you can’t export specific cuts from the footage. If you do find yourself in need of passing footage over to the authorities after an event, I’d suggest using the local interface to do so at the highest speed possible.
Finally, there’s a smartphone app. This is the most simplistic and doesn’t allow you access to the full range of configuration options, but does offer the ability to remotely view and playback archive footage from any camera. It’s also the only way to get notifications. Like the DVR itself, the app is designed to work with a range of devices, so some of the buttons – like microphone talkback, and PTZ control – don’t actually do anything.
Remote viewing isn’t limited to your local network, either – it works just fine over a 3G/4G mobile connection.
Should You Buy the Reolink ADK8-20B4?
The Reolink set offers a heap of high-end features at a price that’s affordable to the average home or small business owner, as long as you’re willing to put in the time to install everything, run cables, and learn the software.
The software offering might not be as intuitive as the kind of smart home products we see today, but the difference in video quality and value for money is astounding. Out of the box, you’ll have 24/7 video recording from 4 high quality cameras, and smartphone notifications from the alarm system.
Grab yours now from Reolink for $400.
The standalone Reolink kit offers fantastic value for money and great video quality.