iT.Blog

The iT.Blog is the Utopian IT Blog that includes articles, useful tips and general ramblings about various interesting IT related topics.

Wireless Security Cameras: Netgear Arlo Pro

Netgear Arlo Pro

TLDR Summary; Great camera system for those that need a secure and feature rich solution, but want to avoid the pain of wires. Battery life is as advertised (4-5 months) with general use. Not overly cheap for the Pro base station to get the local storage and quicker motion triggering, but they're highly recommended if you have similar requirements.

I've been looking into home CCTV security systems for a few years off and on, but I haven't had that urgency to get one and many of the systems require substantial time for cabling and the setup of a network video server. The downside with all the cabling is that's generally unsightly, can be difficult to hide and in a few years when it potentially needs replacing, the existing cabling may be insufficient.
 
 
I could have got a professional to install one but being in IT and networks, I like to do things like this myself.
My requirements were for 2-3 wireless security cameras that had the following: -
 
  • Record for at least a few weeks;
  • Cheap cloud storage if its used for video;
  • Were of a decent visual quality (HD) for forensics;
  • Had the ability to view in realtime remotely;
  • Had night vision;
  • Could pick up movement and quickly start recording.
 
Over the last few weeks, I'd looked at reviews and prices for various wireless security camera systems and while some of the cheaper self contained units with built in hard disks looked OK, the user interface and the longevity of the platform concerned me. Would the units still get updated regularly or leave me with a buggy or broken system in a year?
 
Enter the Netgear Arlo camera range: It's a wireless security camera system that runs on batteries so it truely is wire free. All the camera data goes over wifi back to a base station and the base station connects to the broadband router to send the video stream to the cloud. Wire free means no cabling, easy and quick installation and painless future upgrades and maintenance.
 
They're a great looking camera and while the battery only aspect sounds like you'd be changing batteries in the units every few weeks, they're meant to operate for 4-5 months based on usage. Obviously if you have them constantly recording they'll be lasting a few weeks I'd imagine but as they only turn on based on movement, they should be perfect. Having the cameras accessible with them being wire free is important though so when installing, I'll need be sure they're easy enough to take off to replace and recharge the battery as required but not so easy to take off without at least a small step ladder.
 
The Pro HD version of the Arlo range is quicker and reviews have shown that the movement sensor is considerably better than the standard Arlo model, so it starts recording in about half a second. You wouldn't want to miss someone running under a camera because it took too long to turn on!
 
Another advantage of the Arlo Pro model is that the base station has the facility to record locally to a USB hard disk (or reasonably sized USB memory stick) so this takes a lot of the pressure off needing more Netgear cloud storage and means that in the event of losing the broadband connection, the video is still saved.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
I took the plunge and ordered a 3 camera Netgear Arlo Pro HD kit, 3 mounting brackets and 3 black skins.
 
The box of goodies arrived thanks to Amazon Prime and they look very nice. The packaging of the 3 camera kit was obviously made for retail in mind as the cameras are visible at the top with the base unit hidden at the bottom. It wasn't quite frustration free packaging but thankfully all recyclable from what I could see and well packaged.
 
I opted for avoiding the user guide and dove straight into plugging in the base unit and looking at the cameras. The batteries are square and hold 2200mAh of charge which is similar to a modern phone battery. They're quite heavy considering, but the cameras must conserve power quite well if they're stated to last as long as they do. The process of plugging in the batteries into the three cameras, plugging in the base unit and signing up to the Arlo web site was pain free. Syncing the cameras was straight forward and each required a firmware update which took about a minute each. After a few minutes the three cameras where all registered and able to be viewed in realtime using the "Live" button on the sites Devices screen. All very modern interface and intuitive thankfully and the instructions were clear.
 
I'd already scoped around the house and had a vague idea of where I wanted to install them and with a 6mm masonry drill bit, my trusty drill, ladder, hammer and screw driver the cameras were installed within about an hour and half. So from opening the packaging to a fully working 3 camera system was approximately 2 hours which I must say is pretty impressive and pain free from the point of view of not needing to cable the house to provide power.
 
The cameras seem clear and I've been getting push notifications and emails to my phone. These are configurable and you can setup new modes online if required to only notify you about movement being sensed or sound being heard from certain cameras. Being able to start recording on sound is a nice touch as it's generally the motion that you'd want to trigger a recording.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
To ensure the free (7 day rolling) basic cloud storage was sufficient, I put in a 32Gb USB stick into the Arlo Pro base station, formatted it via the Internet based web interface and have tested that it indeed records the MP4 videos there as well. This means that if and when the cloud storage does fill up, I've got the USB stick to fall back on and it means if the internet goes offline, the USB still will get the video instead. This is definitely one of the plus sides of the Pro unit over the standard unit as the standard base station doesn't have the the USB local storage meaning that you could end up paying for extra cloud storage, albeit a lot cheaper than many of the providers out there.
 
For added resilience, I've got the Arlo Pro base station plugged into a UPS battery that I've got servers plugged into so in the event of a power outage, the unit and cameras will still be powered as will as the broadband router.
 
I did have a slight issue with one of the cameras going offline and I'm thinking this is a wireless strength issue as it's the camera that is furthest away from the base station. I'll resync it and see if that fixes it and move it closer temporarily to see if it is signal strength related or something else. The first two cameras are about 5m away with the 3rd being about 10m with a few very solid walls in the way, but I've a suspicion that it could be wireless interference which will be a case of juggling the wireless channels of other devices so they all play nicely together.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
The next week or so will undoubtedly be tweaking the sensitivity of the cameras and potentially disabling some of the notifications during certain times. You can schedule different settings to start and finish at different times but the basic "Armed" settings will be sufficient initially. Good experience with the cameras so far and I'm impressed with the ease of setup and flexibility. Being able to view the video (with sound) remotely from Android and iPhones is great and a critical feature these days. There is an option to grant secondary users rights to view (and optionally make setting changes and delete videos) if necessary so for a bigger household this is great.
 
1 Month Later...
 
Well, the batteries in the Arlo units at the front of the house where they get the most triggers are going well and showing as being down about a quarter of the way. This is in line with the 3-4 month battery estimates so seems quite fair. Another camera I've been using inside the house to monitor the cat on a night (don't ask!) does get a lot more triggers through the night and that's got about 1 quarter left. The 3rd camera has a beating with between 40-100 motion tiggers per night each with 10-30 second videos so that's undoubtedly par for the course. If leaving the house or business location for a period of time, it's definitely worthwhile looking at the batteries beforehand and recharging them to make sure they don't die while you're away but there warnings given.
 
The notifications of motion is a blessing and a curse at times and push notifications to phones are undoubtedly better than emails as they're easier to hide or ignore but with the emails providing a direct link to the appropriate video and a nice audit trail, they can be useful. Where you'll be potentially triggering certain cameras a lot during a day, it's not a bad idea to disarm them temporarily but obviously be sure to rearm them afterwards.
 
I'd spoken to a few friends and colleagues about camera systems after my recent investment and learned of someone that had bought a no name brand wireless IP camera system (power still wired, data wireless). While the unit was alright to start with, it lasted about a year before having a hardware failure. Now the IP cameras can be used with another system thankfully but it turned out that only the one camera had been mounted due to the pain of having to wire them up. Having a truely wireless camera system definitely has it's installation benefits but it's certainly not for everyone. Another friend bought a similar 4 camera wireless IP camera system and got an electrician friend to wire them up to power with some 10m low-voltage extension leads. If this approach is feasible and you have the means to quickly and cheaply cable the power to the cameras, then there are certainly more options available to you than such wire-free systems as the Netgear Arlo.
 
Being involved with IT security, I had done my research into the security of the cameras and vulnerabilities affect many wireless cameras. One security researcher at NewSkySecurity discovered a vulnerability (ref: http://blog.newskysecurity.com/2016/09/brute-force-vulnerability-netgear-arlo/ ) with the Netgear Arlo Q's in 2016, however Netgear have already addressed this quickly with automated firmware updates.
 
For other wireless IP cameras on the market that aren't cloud managed this means that such firmware updates are undoubtedly more manual, if they get issued at all, and could easily leave cameras open to local or internet based attacks. This is certainly something to be aware of when choosing a camera system as the latest cameras aren't true Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) any more, but wireless cloud-connected cameras, so we need to be sure these benefits don't compromise their security!
 
I hope you enjoyed the review. :)
Our Test Lab
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment