Crystal-clear 4K footage in daytime, but the field of view is small and night mode suffers. You can't beat the price, but the software could do with some usability tweaks.
Security cameras are useless if you can’t actually see what’s going on, so it’s surprising to see most companies still pushing grainy HD or worse quality footage. Defender USA is here to change that: the Defender 4K is a complete DIY CCTV system with four wired cameras, each recording at a crystal clear 4K resolution. It includes a massive 1TB drive to record all the footage, and you can plug in your 4K monitor or TV directly to the recorder to live view in full resolution. The whole bundle is currently available for less than $400.
Read on as we take a closer look, check out the video for some sample footage, and at the end of this review, we have a full kit for one lucky reader to win.
What’s in The Box?
Inside the plain packaging you’ll find a value-packed bundle consisting of:
- A Digital Video Recorder with 1TB hard drive pre-installed.
- 4 x Defender 4K wired analog cameras.
- 4 x 60ft/18.2m BNC+DC cables.
- An HDMI and Ethernet cable.
- A USB mouse for operating the DVR
- Power adaptors, mounting templates, quick start guide, and screws.
The only thing missing from the package is a monitor or TV. Up to 4K resolution is naturally supported (over HDMI), but even if you connect something that runs at a lower resolution, the footage will continue to be recorded at 4K.
Around the back of the recorder you’ll find a selection of ports:
- Four BNC analog video connections (for the cameras).
- HDMI and VGA (HDMI must be used if you want 4K output though).
- Ethernet port.
- DC power input.
There’s no room for expansion, so you can’t upgrade by purchasing additional cameras later. Four should be plenty for most people of course, but Defender also offers identical 8 and 16 camera bundles.
Take some time to plan your layout, and measure the cabling you’ll require. Although 60ft sounds like enough, you may need to route it up and down walls, or through roof soffits, which can quickly add up. Defender sells 60ft extension cables for $25, but you can find cheaper options elsewhere.
While Defender can’t guarantee any third party cables you purchase will work at full resolution (or even at all), I had some success with a 50m/164ft RG59-rated cable I bought from Amazon UK for £25. This cable resulted in a pink bank along the left side, though this is probably from interference somewhere over such a long run.
Obviously, a wired system takes a lot longer to physically install than a wireless one. The upside of having wired analog cameras is that none of your precious network bandwidth will be used to transmit video (unless you’re live viewing over the mobile app). You don’t even need to connect it to the network if you don’t want to use the app.
There’s no Wi-Fi capability in the Defender 4K, so you may also need to think about your router location. If you’re installing this in your office and only have a single Ethernet line available (used by your PC), you can split it using a network switch.
Setting up the software side of things is relatively simple, but it’s during the initial set up that you’ll notice some of the quirks of the generic CCTV operating system that Defender uses. Keep the quick start guide to hand.
On the first screen, you’re required to create an IP camera authorization code. As the quick start guides notes, this isn’t actually used on this system, as you can only connect the included wired analog cameras. But you still need to create a code, and it needs to follow certain rules of minimum length and alphanumeric characters. I spent a good minute or so trying to enter a code that would be accepted (but would never be used).
After set up, you’ll notice an Analytics icon on the main menu, complete with a shiny “New” tag, encouraging you to click on it. Don’t bother: Analytics is only available for IP cameras. Which aren’t compatible with this device.
If you’re coming from a previous Defender model, or any professional CCTV system, you’ll feel right at home. For the rest of us, a myriad of complex menus and options awaits. Even for a geek like myself, setting up motion alerts to my phone, for instance, felt overly complex. There’s a lot to delve into, but people who like to tweak settings will have a field day.
24/7 or Motion-Only Recording
During set up, you’ll need to choose whether to record only when motion is detected, or record all the time. Since these cameras aren’t using up network bandwidth, and there’s a large internal drive to store everything on, I opted for 24/7 recording. I’d rather have peace of mind than worry about whether or not the motion was detected. That’s not to say the motion detection was unreliable–it’s really just down to preference.
With four cameras, this means you’ll get about 12 days of constant recording. As the drive fills up, older footage will be automatically overwritten, but this seems like an acceptable buffer.
Live Viewing on a Monitor
The easiest way to view the CCTV footage is to simply connect a monitor or TV to the HDMI output at the rear of the DVR.
When viewing a single camera feed, you can see the raw 4K stream. When viewing four-up, each stream will be at a maximum of 1080p; but rest assured it’s still recording at 4K in the background.
With motion alerts enabled, you can give full-screen focus automatically to any motion activity, for a configurable amount of time. You can also set cameras to auto-cycle. Everything you’d expect or want from a professional CCTV system is in here.
Searching for footage from a particular time or viewing motion-activated recordings is easy, as is the export process. Hit export, insert a thumb drive, and wait. You can even export a suitable video player for Windows at the same time. VLC works fine too, but it’s definitely an obscure video format that I had issues importing into Final Cut for the review.
Defender 24/7 App
The app for the Defender 4K system is called “Defender 24/7” in the store. You may come across Defender HD while searching; this is only for the last generation model and isn’t compatible with this device.
The Defender 24/7 app is best described as bare-bones, with a simple interface to view the camera feeds or scan through recorded events–and not much else. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I found it was responsive, with no app crashes or DVR login failures. That’s always good.
It does feel like a no-frills afterthought though. You can’t access any further configuration options of the DVR from the app, so while it works as a basic remote monitoring tool, it isn’t a replacement for connecting a monitor. If the app is going to be your primary interaction with the system, there are perhaps better options out there for you.
Setting up notifications to my phone took a while to figure out. For anyone else struggling, here are the steps required:
- Enable Notifications for the Defender 24/7 app.
- Also from the app, open the DVR->Settings, and enable the Alarm. Adjust the schedule if needed.
- From the DVR menu, open the Camera settings->Motion, and check the box to enable Motion Detection. Adjust the active areas if required.
- Open the setting, select the Linkage tab, and tick the box for Notify Surveillance Center (which refers to the app, apparently).
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each camera you want notifications from.
Yes, that isn’t in the slightest bit simple, and nor is it obvious from the online manuals. Our Defender rep promised some additional tutorial videos were on the way for how to do common tasks like motion alerts, but even so, it would be better if they weren’t needed.
Video Quality and Field of View
4K resolution is the highest I’ve seen in a home security system yet, and it really shows. You can zoom in and still have a good quality picture. Images are crystal clear, with good colors and contrast out of the box (and you can tweak that anyway if needed).
This is really the most important for a CCTV system: it’s no good capturing a grainy image of someone. The footage is limited to 8 frames per second when recording at the full 4K, but this shouldn’t be a problem.
At night however, the image quality suffers. With only a single IR LED to light the scene, the sensor really struggles and the ISO is pushed up, resulting in grainy footage. It’s passable, but not nearly on par with the 4K daytime footage. I’ve seen better quality night time recordings from lower resolution cameras that have more IR LEDs.
The other consideration with these cameras is that they’re not wide-angle, so the field of view is quite small. The screenshot below shows a comparison between a Reolink RLC511 (5MP resolution), and the Defender 4K (8MP) camera, positioned next to each other.
This just means you’ll need to be more careful when positioning the cameras. Looking toward entrances and gates at least 5m-10m away would be an ideal use case. Using them directly above your front door may not. In the example above, there are significant blind spots to either side.
Should You Buy The Defender 4K?
The Defender 4K is aimed at the competent home DIYer or small business owner that wants a professional all-in-one CCTV system at a budget price. But it isn’t a package I’d recommend to my elderly parents. Both the wiring installation and software setup aren’t as user-friendly as other options on the market, and you don’t get features like audio or talkback. You can expect to pay twice as much or more if you want those too.
The daytime image quality and resolution are absolutely the best you’ll find at this price point, but the small field-of-view means you’ll need to take extra care when positioning them. If you want to cover a broader area from a single camera, look for something with a wider angle lens. The night recordings also suffer and aren’t nearly as good as daytime, but they’re sufficient.
At less than $400, we really can’t argue with the price. This is a fantastic value package for a four-camera 4K system with 1TB DVR. Just add a TV or monitor, and you’re all set.
Note: the current sale price of $360 won’t last long–the price goes back up to $450 on the 29th September! Hurry if you want to grab a real bargain.