on August 26, 2010
I'd been looking a long time for a product like this... a wireless IP surveillance camera with decent motion detection and email alerts. There really aren't too many such animals at present. The Archerfish is one of a kind from what I've seen. The technology behind this product (streaming video analysis and selective motion detection) is running on the Archerfish servers, not inside the camera itself. That's really the essence of how it works, and unfortunately it doesn't come cheap. The camera is pricey to start, plus there's a $5/month subscription fee. All that said, I think the product and service deliver as advertised, and I give it good marks so far.
The online "SmartPortal" where you view live video, configure event triggers, and view event clips is easy to use and well-documented. The device was simple to initially configure. There is definitely port forwarding involved with the setup. If your wireless router has UPnP enabled, it might configure the port forwarding on its own, but be prepared to access your router's interface. There is sufficient documentation on this. My only hiccup was when I placed the camera in its final position (mounted on the side of a barn overlooking the driveway and back door), I had a problem with the signal strength on my wireless router. The dhcp process is particularly sensitive to a weak signal. I ended up moving the router closer to the back of the house, and that solved the problem. The device does not support 802.11.n at present, just 802.11.b/g.
I've only been using it for a few days, but I'm getting very good event detection. I've had only one false positive so far... our cat got picked up as a "person" event. I will say that the camera placement is really critical to performance. Before you buy, carefully review that page where they go through the best practices, and think about where exactly you'll be mounting the camera. If you can't meet most of those, especially the distance (field of view) and the left-to-right motion, then you should lower expectations a bit. Also, keep in mind the minimum operating temperature is 14F. Being in New England, I'm going to have to move it indoors from Dec-March.
on July 21, 2010
I bought this camera because I thought it had a unique look to it. And, though it is certainly unique, it's everything else about this camera that makes it worth posting a customer review......
The entire installation process - from opening the box to getting video notifications sent to my email - took less than 30 minutes.
Despite the fact that the camera communicates through my router there were zero networking challenges. Set it up by plugging it in to the router (the connector and cable are part of the camera assembly), run an easy piece of software and it's instantly part of your network.
Assembly was a snap and you can easily adjust the viewing direction and angle of the camera after you've got the camera mounted where you want it.
In my case I've mounted the camera on a shed in my back yard and have it pointed back towards the house. It's at least 100' from from where my router sits - not to mention that it's communicating through a number of walls.
I have very little patience or interest in handyman type projects - even for me this one was a no-brainer.
I would strongly recommend this camera to anyone - regardless of technical or handyman type skill!
on October 5, 2010
I bought the archerfish solo and mounted it outside. I had a few problems setting it up but the archerfish tech service was really great helping. They can even with your appoval menipulate your system. For the first few weeks it was great. I was very impressed. The last two weeks i get at least 20 false events a day saying people or vehicles show up. I check the event that was on the video and not a person or vehicle in sight. I would not mind a few a day but 20 is a bit much. I dont want to get to the point i do not pay attention when i get an event sent to my email and my iphone. I do like the fact that i can get on a computer anywhere and see my house. Just wish they would fix whatever is causing the false events
on December 13, 2010
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make this device work. I'm a pretty technically sophisticated guy (formerly in IT), with a good understanding of networking and wifi. But my Solo kept losing the connection with my Apple Airport Extreme. To get it back, I had to take it back off the wall, connect it to my computer, and reconfigure it. Even moving the Airport near the camera did not help. After spending an hour or so with tech support, we weren't able to solve the problem and I returned it to Amazon. Maybe it was a defective unit, but since I bought it for ease of use and wanted it specifically before an impending family trip, I didn't bother trying another unit.
Another thing to be careful of: To get all of the features you must sign up for a premium service for $5.99 per month. Even though I returned the device, after the 90 day trial ended they started charging me $5 per month (the difference was explained as resulting from the device being deleted from my account--not sure why they would still charge in this case). I accept partial responsibility since I hadn't thought to explicitly go and cancel the subscription. However, when I did, their web portal wouldn't let me cancel because it wanted to update the device, which was impossible since it had been returned. A call to customer service got the account canceled and charges reversed--so they did a good job there--just be careful.
QUICK SUMMARY: The Solo camera and web portal are simply not ready for a production release. Save your money and look for alternatives. (Be sure to read my UPDATED comments at the bottom of this review).
Background: This is my second home surveillance system, and although this product touts to be better than the 1950s-era technology my existing system uses, at least my existing system works reasonably well. By contrast, the feature-rich Archerfish Solo camera promises more than it can deliver, and has its own limitations, too.
Installation and Setup: After opening the package up, it's pretty easy to get things going -- IF you are familiar with home networking. The "Getting Started" brochure explains the essential steps of installing Solo to your network.
Step 1 - Add Solo To Your Network. To do that, you plug-in Solo to the power supply and then plug-in Solo directly to an ethernet connection on your router or network switch. Then, you download a setup wizard from the Archerfish website and run it from any networked PC in your home. The process is pretty simple BUT you need to know the type of wireless security your router is running: WPA? WPA-TKIP? WPA-PSK? WEP? If you don't know what these acronoms stand for, you'll likely be stumped when you're asked to explain how your wireless network is secured.
Step 2 - Assemble the Solo camera. To do this, you insert a 2GB miniSD card into the side of Solo, and then attach Solo to an installation base. Trouble here is that the base is made of two big pieces of plastic that won't stay together until you screw-in the whole assembly into a wall or ledge somewhere. Unlike my old surveillance system, you can't just set the Solo on a desktop or other piece of furniture -- the camera will topple over and the base assembly will disassemble if it's not screwed into something. I also disliked having to build this base assembly by removing a rubber gasket, connecting a power cord to the camera. Why can't the base assembly snap together? I wasn't impressed with the plastic build, either. Overtighten the base, and the plastic will crack. My old surveillance system uses metal bases for the cameras that are half the size of the plastic base that comes with Solo.
Step 3 - Install Solo. This is easy. Just screw three wood screws through the plastic base into wood somewhere on your house (my location is above the garage door). Don't overtighten those screws! Note, though, that the power suppply cord is only about 10' long, and so installation is limited by having to figure out how to deal with the power cord to the camera. Although this camera is wirelessly connected to your network, it has a wired power cord! You can install the base on a ceiling, wall, or ledge. Once installed, it's easy to manipulate the camera angle.
Step 4 - Register Solo. Here's where you create a new account with Archerfish. The unpleasantries here include having to offer up your credit card information for a "free" basic account, and reading your Solo's serial number from the "Getting Started" guide where the font size is so small as to be almost illegible. I had to enter the serial number three times before getting the numbers and letters correctly, because the alphanumeric string is so tiny. Also, I had to go through this whole registration process twice because, during the first attempt, a website glitch occurred that lost everything I had already entered into it during the multi-step registration process.
Using the Solo Camera and Web Portal
Once I setup my account, I tried out the features of the web portal and camera. You can see your camera's live video feed over the Internet from any browser (once you've logged in to your Archerfish account). That's pretty neat! However, setting up the zones was frustrating, as the web portal only let me create one set of events that included all three zones. In other words, I can't create one type of event for Zone 1 and a second event for Zone 2 on the same day/time of the week. The web form used to make these entries will suddenly have dropdown controls (where you choose days and times) that have no options from which to choose. Not ready for prime time!!
More frustrations: The DVR feature works, but I can't extract files even though that feature supposedly exists. It gives me an error, but no error code or reason. I tried creating a support ticket with Archerfish through their website, but the web form that collects information from me fails to submit the support request -- the browser just goes blank, and if you hit the Back button, everything you typed is now lost. The event recognition feature -- the killer feature that separates this camera from 1950s-era technology -- only worked for me during the daytime hours, not at night (even with my well-lit porch light on). And even the event recognition during the day was spotty at best in its ability to do what it's supposed to do. Sometimes it recognized people, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes it mistook a neighborhood cat for a person. I definitely wouldn't trust my home surveillance needs to technology that is so unpredictable and unreliable.
And it strikes me as bad design that someone can walk up to my Archerfish camera and remove the miniSD card and all the stored video from the camera's built-in DVR. (You wouldn't have that risk if you placed the camera so high you'd need a long ladder to reach it). The website portal will only store 50MB of video -- hardly any video at all, although if the event recognition feature worked properly, that 50MB would be the important video you'd want to see.
So, here's how I sum things up:
WHAT I LIKE:
- Best feature: Live video streaming over the Internet to any browser!
- Wired or wireless connection to your network (your choice)
- The video created by the camera had good colors that didn't need any adjustment
- The videos were reasonably clear and sharp for surveillance quality
- Good low-light performance (I can see outside at night with just street light only)
- Configuring and installing the camera wasn't too bad (but I'm an IT professional)
- The concept of event recognition is great (the implementation left a lot to be desired, though)
WHAT I DO **NOT** LIKE:
- The Event recognition feature just didn't work well. If this feature worked well, I'd bump up the star rating to at least 3-stars.
- Couldn't export files from the camera's DVR
- Couldn't create a support ticket through the web portal
- The camera's base assembly is too large and stupidly designed
- Very limited features to configure the camera (such as choosing frame rate), or how to be notified of events (you can only send an email to one registered email account).
- No infrared capability to record in zero-light conditions. The instructions make it clear that this camera will only work well in well-lit conditions, so you'd have to leave outside lights on all night for the Solo to work properly -- that's not energy efficient.
- Requiring users to present credit card information for a "free" basic account, and forcing them to get "free" premium subscription features for three months with no opt-out choice (you risk forgetting to cancel this free subscription and getting billed later on).
CONCLUSION: This is a pricey surveillance camera. At this cost, all the features purported by the manufacturer should work, and work very well and very reliably. They don't. I like the concept behind Solo, so I hope Archfisher continues to fix what's wrong and improve Solo so it fulfills all the hype. Until then, though, I do NOT recommend the Solo surveillance camera.
***** UPDATE as of April 27, 2011 *****
So I've used this camera for about a month now, and have gotten acquainted with its functions and features. I initially rated this camera 2-stars, but I'm now giving it 2.5-stars (but Amazon doesn't allow half-star ratings, so I'm leaving my initial rating intact at 2-stars). Why? Because now that I've fiddled with it by changing its installation and making a device configuration setting, it's doing a better job at doing home surveillance -- but it's still not that great.
A key camera configuration setting (for me, anyway) was changing the "Duration" setting for this camera on the web portal. I had set it to 20 seconds, thinking it would show 20 seconds of video for any event it recognized. Turns out, that setting doesn't control how long the video clips show (it defaults to 10 seconds without a way to change that), rather, that camera "Duration" setting determines for how long something has to be moving around in the camera's field-of-vision before the camera recognizes it as an "event." When I changed this setting from 20 seconds to 5 seconds, it registered a lot more events, and I had a lot fewer missed events.
BUT -- the the event recognition technology just isn't that good! Now, I'm getting several dozen motion events consisting of a cloud passing in front of the sun, which causes shadows to appear and disappear. Or the wind blowing a tree. Or nothing apparent at all. The event recognition technology is in its infancy, and it still just isn't that smart, or good. So, I have more events to look at, which includes more of what I'm interested in, but also more of what I don't want to see. It's noteworthy, too, that the events often don't recognize a vehicle when a car drives up, don't recognize a person when a person walks up, or, sometimes, it says it sees a car when there is none, or it sees a person when there is no one there. It's very dicey.
Even with all these warts, I do find it useful to see what's going on in my home using the web portal which can show live video streaming over the Internet, or event clips that it's registered throughout the day. So, the overall solution is okay, but I definitely don't like the overall package. And I'm not at all convinced that, after the free 3-month "premium" web portal features expire, it'll be worth the money to pay a monthly service fee to continue using those web features.
***** UPDATE as of May 5, 2011 *****
Another reason to dislike Solo. Yesterday, my Solo inexplicably dropped connection to my network. My Archerfish web account recognized this event because it logged it into the event log, but Archerfish didn't bother emailing me a notification saying that there was a problem with my Solo. So, for the last day, while I'm thinking my Solo is watching my property, instead, it's not -- there have been no recorded events on the web portal to view for the last day. I discovered the problem today when I logged into my web account and saw there were no recorded events in the last 24 hours (there always are such events to review). I had to unplug/re-plug the camera to get things working properly again. (There were no other problems in my home network, btw). Now, imagine this scene when you're on a long vacation, and you're not home to just unplug/re-plug in the problematic camera? I'm back to a 2-stars once more, moving closer to 1-star.
This is a very pricey camera which promises more than it can reliably deliver.
on June 29, 2011
I've been using my Solo for a few days and I guess it's OK.
I was able to get through the installation without calling for help. I needed to tell the installation program the type of data encryption that my home's wireless network uses, and the password that I had set up for that network. And it asked me to decide on an additional password (for the Solo only), so I gave it a very simple four-digit password, which it accepted. Later, when registering the device and setting up my account at archerfish.com, they asked me to create yet another password, six characters minimum. Why does the device need TWO passwords? Go figure.
The equipment seems well made and simple, so I am cautiously optimistic that it will not be prone to failure the way my WiLife equipment is. My router has no problem receiving the camera's signal. The camera and router are 28 feet apart and in line-of-sight through two doorways. I have briefly tested with both doors closed, with no interruption of signal.
Before purchasing, I wondered whether the camera can be mounted on a standard tripod. I had to wait until after my purchase to find out. The answer is yes, but it probably voids the warranty. You would need to modify the tripod's mount, that little base that you screw into the camera. As you may recall, a tripod mount consists of a little platform, or floor, that your camera rests on; and under that floor is a square that plugs into the tripod itself. If you take a hacksaw and cut off one of the horizontal (lengthwise) lips of the floor that sticks out from the square, the Solo will barely fit onto the mount. You would be removing a 1/8-inch strip, making the floor flush with the square on that side. The Solo mounting hole accepts the same size machine screw as other cameras. The cable that sticks out of the back of the Solo will be crimped where it presses against the tripod; just don't remove it and remount it repeatedly, which might eventually break the cable. I discuss the warranty issue later in this review.
I also wondered whether the power supply cable is thin enough to shut a window over it without letting bugs in, thus facilitating outdoor mounting. There is a thin stretch where the Solo plugs into the cable, but it is only about an inch long, and my window frame is too fat for it.
A few criticisms:
During online registration, they tell you to click on a button indicating that you have read, and agree to, the "Terms and Conditions". I know that they don't expect you to really read it, because they don't give enough time to read it! I read all 23 pages of legalese, and my registration timed out. So I had to start the registration over. They are very, very wordy and self protective. OK, I don't blame them. But one of their self protections is that [paraphrasing] you must agree that the Archerfish device(s) are in no way meant to be a security system, and if they fail to protect you, you can't sue the company. Another term/condition is -- again, I am paraphrasing their legalese in plain English -- you must install the Solo exactly as directed, or you will void the warranty. I would assume that this includes installing the camera on the mounting device that comes with it, NOT on a tripod.
The 50 megabytes of storage, which they gave me at their website, is piddling. It will last about a week before the old recordings start to get automatically deleted to make space for the new recordings. There is a lot of traffic in front of my house. Maybe I'm not typical; still, 50 megs is awfully stingy for a video database. My WiLife database uses 55 gigabytes -- yes, gigabytes -- on my 300 gigabyte hard drive with plenty of space to spare, storage is cheap. With one click of the mouse I can look out three (used to be four, but one of the WiLife cameras failed) windows at the same time, and with a few more clicks I can review the past as far back as last October. Digging through the past helps with belated inquiries such as, When did my landlord inspect here? When was that car parked there, and who parked it? Who vandalized the neighbor's mailbox? Or you can go back and compile proof of a nuisance, such as photos and dates of all the times a neighbor's dog pooped on your lawn. I am tempted to buy another Solo, register it, then stick it in a drawer, just to get another 50 meg. This issue is explored further in the first comment on this review.
The bad news about their "Intelligent Surveillance Technology, newer than motion detection" is that it's not dependable. This afternoon a cat walked across my lawn, and it was detected as a "Vehicle". A few minutes later a UPS truck stopped at the end of my driveway, and it wasn't detected at all! The good news is that motion detection zones can be drawn as polygons, which are more helpful than the simplistic WiLife rectangles.
Another criticism is that each Solo video clip is exactly ten seconds long. I like my video clips to last as long as the action continued. Maybe something important happened after ten seconds!
All in all, it's probably worth the money, and I again have video surveillance looking out an upstairs front window, replacing the WiLife camera that failed because its power supply burned out. I might move Solo to monitor a stairwell, which would be a better use of its ten-second videos.
on January 14, 2011
I've had several of the Solo units running for more than 3 months now and have found them very stable, easy to setup and configure, and very easy to access for monitoring.
They work over a fairly broad level of lighting and I've been surprised at how they can detect movement in shadows. The alerts from detection can be sent a number of ways and I've been using both an iPhone 3Gs and iPhone 4 with great results using a MMS with video clip attached. A recent update performed by Archerfish has significantly improved the stability and they performed the update without any work on my part- very slick engineering. The DVR feature is very nice, giving you playback over about 72 hours right down to the minute and clips can be saved and exported to your PC.
I have these units configured with an Apple Airport Extreme with an extended network and they all play nice together. The setup is web-based so you can use your favorite browser to setup and configure the zones for monitoring via the Dashboard interface. Detected movement that triggers an event will arrive at my iPhone about 30 seconds after the event. I can then pull up the camera using the Mobile Dashboard and see live video (over either 3G or WiFi) right on the iPhone or a handy computer.
The cameras are reasonably small and mount any number of ways giving you lots of placement options.
on September 18, 2010
This is even more useful and easy to set up than I would have ever imagined!
It has helped track packages/deliveries and verify when someone is entering my home...especially when we are not. A few less things we need to manage or worry about since I have this set up to send video notices to my Blackberry! I actually receive a notice with the video clip of when our dog walker comes in and leaves! This camera has taken away any stress I may have had about the security of my home.
And this was VERY easy to set up! No wires, just a provided power cord! I had a question about my own wireless router during the quick set up, and the Archerfish customer service was AMAZING! The Smart portal where you tell the camera what to watch for is simple, too! And I love that I can access this from anywhere!
Now that I know how easy this is to use, I need to get a few more for the rest of my home! We don't know how we ever lived without this!
on July 8, 2011
Update 1/16/13: Before you consider this product, find out who is running the show now and how much it costs. After a couple of years of using this to simply check my driveway from my home office, which the free service it was sold on allowed, I get an e-mail saying Archerfish is now CheckVideo and I have to switch to their system. So I do and discover they no longer offer a free service, which they did when I got this. They give you 2 months free then will start charging $5 a month, but you are supposed to get all their other options. Problem is, the smartphone feature never worked with Archerfish and it only works sporadically, if at all, with CheckVideo. In addition to that, the regular camera, after the changeover, doesn't work as solidly. Has a lot of quirks. Turns UPnP off, takes forever to get an image, goes off and on, and often just doesn't work. They offer a remote app for your smartphone with a Live View button that does nothing and the Settings button leads to a dead page. Makes you log back in often. You have to go to the non-mobile CheckVideo site for any chance and then if you get anything it's just as unpredictable as your home network connection. In others words, it got worse and they want me to pay for it.
<Original Review, which may not be relevant anymore>
I work in an office behind my garage and I wanted to be able to monitor the driveway. It serves the main purpose I wanted one for, but there may be some key (optional) features that may not work for you. Overall, it is a fairly easy product to use, but, for me, it does not do everything advertised (hence the 3 stars on Bait and Switch attribute) and lacks one key usability feature.
1) Fairly easy to set up. I use a powerline network, so I can't speak for the wi-fi setup. Setting this up was initially easy enough. My computer recognized the camera on the network and I was able to set it up so that all I need to do is click on a bookmark on my browser to access it. (A true plug and play ability did not work for me and I needed tech support, see Cons, to complete the set up, though)
2) Clear view during the day, fair enough in the dark. Day time viewing is clear and at night it makes out things like cars coming in and out and you can make out people if outdoor lights are on. Good enough for me, but it is not a night vision system, if that's what you need.
3) Excellent customer service. Easy to get to, fast response, very knowledgeable tech support.
4) Reliable connection. Seems to stay on all the time and when there is a network hiccup, it fixes itself.
1) Does not allow long term desktop monitoring. This is a key usability feature missing and something they should think about. I'm sure there are many buyers of this product like me who work at home and just want to be able to glance at a computer screen to see the driveway view. The software does have the ability to pop out a small monitoring window that sits on your desktop screen, however, the live view only lasts 15 minutes or so at a time. You have to keep re-logging in in order to get a live view. I think this is a significant deficiency, but check to see if they fix this in the future.
2) Not 100% accurate. The software has a good ability to detect cars, people or motion, but the motion sensor is too sensitive and can't really be used (it interprets passing cloud shadows as movement!). In order for it to tell the difference between objects, I found the camera must be placed no higher than the top of a door. I originally mounted it looking out a second floor window, but it could not distinguish between any of the objects it is supposed to detect (the monitoring alerts specify, cars, people, motion; it is supposed to ignore cats, rabbits, etc.). I believe it needs a lower angle of view in order to judge height and width (a person would be tall and narrow, versus a car's wide and lower). In addition, I know for sure it does not capture all events. For example, I often would see things like a person walking into the garage, but not back out. I know for sure it completely missed several instances of me walking across its field of view. I do not know what percent of events it misses (probably low), but you have to wonder if it may miss a significant one.
3) May require additional configuration/tech support to make it work through your gateway. While it is supposed to be compatible with plug and play technology, I have yet to find a tech gadget that sets up that easy. I even bought the newest, most advanced cable modem/gateway in order to have the latest plug and play technology. However, I still had to set up port forwarding, which just isn't something the average home owner is that familiar with. BTW, Vonage users may have issues.
4) Does not pan (missing feature). It is a set view, which, fortunately, is wide and high enough for its purpose as a driveway monitor.
Paid services versus free
It comes with a 90 day trial of its premium services. They do not send out a courtesy e-mail reminding you when the 90 days is up, by the way. They just start charging. I caught it but as of this writing I have not heard if they are going to credit my card for the month they charged me.
1) The premium service is supposed to allow you to view a live or recorded feed on another computer or your mobile device. I think it may be worthwhile if I could see the camera view from my mobile device, but we could never get it to work. My android phone has all the latest updates and the signal strengths were good when I tested it, but the mobile app simply crashes and via the web site portal I could never see live or recorded video. The only part of the service that I could get was a snapshot of what it detected. This is better than nothing (at least I could see if the UPS guy was there), but the majority of the paid feature would not work for me. Maybe if I spent even more time with tech support I could have got it to work, but since I did not go with the paid service, it is not needed.
2) The paid service sends e-mails, if you want, when it detects something. This is a good feature if you are out of town, but if you have kids and/or an active driveway, the e-mails pile up. I did change monitoring times for the weekends, but there is too much activity to keep up with.
3) Included is the ability to use a virtual DVR of what the camera sees. The paid service stores a greater numbers of days (not sure how many) and the free service stores maybe 2 day's worth. The paid service allows you to jump to recorded events while the free service is just a running review.
4) The recorded video snips of detected events are short(the snips can be e-mailed, so that's one reason they are short). You have to go into the DVR section and find the spot it was recorded to watch the whole thing. That takes some clicking around on a mobile device. It would be nice if the snips were longer or you could adjust the amount of time recorded.
At this point, I am just using the free service and it works well for my intended need. It is frustrating I can't keep a constant monitoring on my desktop, but at least I have something.
I think this product and company, however, does have an easier to use product. I also bought a Panasonic camera and the first thing I discovered is that under a veneer of consumer friendly packaging, their product instructions require an engineering degree to appreciate.
The camera works but you need to know that:
1. It requires a power cord connection.
2. There is a monthly charge for the service after the first 90 days. Even for the first 90 days free service, you have to sign up with the credit card, so they automatically start charging you after 90 days, without any warning.