When it comes to the safety and security of your home or business, sometimes you need more than just a perimeter alarm system. To protect the area around that home or business, a video surveillance system can give that extra level of security and peace of mind. A few weeks ago, I received just such a system. It’s the Archerfish video surveillance system from a company called Cernium. I set it up and used it for a couple weeks to really find out if it’s worth the cost.
Fir a list price of $2,499, you get an Archerfish SmartBox, two cameras, cables and complimentary Archerfish SmartPortal access for a month. I received an evaluation kit, which only included one camera. The kit came with good instructions, and everything was pretty well documented, I did have a problem during installation, but a call to the support number took care of that pretty quickly. In fact, they called back twice before I could return the call and try their suggestion. The included customer care is about as important as the product they support.
The included camera is designed to be used either outside or inside. I had played with IP cameras that were intended for only indoor use, so this was good. The little black box is where all the magic happens. All the video goes through this box. The included cable provides power to the camera while bringing the video feed from the camera to the box.
Getting set up
After emptying the boxes and familiarizing myself with the hardware, I purchased a bird feeder. Because I was already having a problem that I wanted to catch on video, I wanted my system to be discrete, so the bird feeder I purchased was to house the camera without looking like there was a camera out there. I mounted the camera inside the bird house and stabilized the whole thing in my tree. The long cable made it easy to have the camera outside while the rest remained safe and secure in my house. With the hardware in place, the next step was to get the software figured out.
After registering for my myarcherfish.com account, I walked through the process of getting my zones and motion detection schedules set up. With this system, you can create up to three zones per camera and the box supports up to four cameras. In my case, I had just one camera, so the setup was pretty quick. Figuring out the zones was not obvious just from trial and error, but after reading the setup guide, I had a couple zones set up pretty fast. The zones are polygon areas that you define one border point at a time. Additional points can be added in the middle without starting over and the zones are color coded to make it easy to view all zones at once. I really liked how this was done. Another area where the Archerfish motion detection stood apart from other systems is the offering of specific detection of a person or an automobile in addition to the standard “any motion”. I set it up to detect a car or person in the larger zone or any motion in the smaller zone.
After the zones were set up, I was able to schedule my alerts. The scheduling would be much better if I could apply a single schedule to every day or set up a weekend/weekday system. The advantage is that I would be able to set up specific schedules for each day of the week, but in my implementation, schedule grouping would have been better. The final step was to set up the notifications. The Archerfish system can notify you of any detection via text message with an included image or email with a ten second video. I used both throughout my testing, but ended up choosing email notifications because viewing an SMS on the iPhone is still cumbersome at best.
How does it all work?
The real test of a system like this is to catch someone actually doing something that they think they’re getting away with. Luckily for the review (but not for me), something unpleasant has been happening on my property for months. After a couple months of noting a strange smell in our storage shed and replacing the shed door once, I discovered that the source of the smell seemed to be urine. Disgusted, I set out to find out how this was happening. After a couple more months and a couple other (much less expensive) camera systems, I finally got a hit from the Archerfish system. The video below is dark. To be fair, the system is designed to work with adequate lighting. Despite the dark video, I finally had confirmation of what I suspected was happening. In the video, you can see someone walk up, urinate on our storage shed door, and casually walk away.
While the video was too dark to positively identify the culprit, it did confirm my suspicions and provided something to show the police when we filed an incident report.
This video, along with a few others during my review period, also provided a decent time frame of when this guy comes by. It was amazing to finally have some answers after months of wondering and trying to get the guy on video. The Archerfish portal put the video in front of me in a simple web interface from work, home, or just about anywhere. The SmartBox also has a USB port on the back to hook up an external drive and a button to enable it. I used a MyBook backup drive to store video and wound up barely putting a dent in it after a couple weeks. The backup system stores the video in one-minute chunks and sorts them all into folders by date and hour.
My wish list
While I felt this was a pretty complete system and it certainly did what I needed and expected of it, there were a few things I wished it had while I was using it. The most important would be a larger video capture to the attached backup drive. The stored video is very clean at its resolution, but I really wanted to get a closer look with a larger resolution video. I also would have loved to see the portal support browsers other than Internet Explorer. The player worked great in IE, but just wasn’t an option in Firefox or my iPhone’s Safari browser. An option to view captured (or live) video in a Java player would be welcomed. Of course I already mentioned my want for schedule grouping.
For the price, this is an incredible system to help protect any business or home with video coverage of key entrances or parking lots. You could almost get it completely running without touching the instructions. The only really technical part was getting my router to redirect the camera’s feed on a specific port, and even that wasn’t hard, especially with support so close by and eager to help. I really can’t see any reason not to buy this system if you can afford it. There are cheaper systems out there, but you’ll have to get creative for outdoor use and might not have all the features that Archerfish offers.