Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dlink DCS-900W

I bought Dinky Jr. one of these wireless cameras just before he left home to go to school. The purpose was to monitor his digs while he was out, "just in case". It turned out his apartment building was not quite as bad as reported by the various apartment rating services available on the Internet. Here's a qucik quote:

"Vomit/urine in the halls, beer, drug addicts knock on your door trying to sell magazine subscriptions *(how they actually got into the building is the scary part), bass 24/7, pot smoke, fire alarms, fireworks, screeching tires *(at 3 am), graffiti, burglary, rape, etc."
Lovely, eh?

It seemed like a good idea at the time to have a security camera (as it turns out it seems rival landlords like to troll these sites and cut the competiton down).

He lived there without incident for about 18 months, graduated, found Jesus (long, long story) and divested himself of nearly all his worldly possessions. Consequently, I got the camera back. Thank you, Jesus!

Fisrt thing I did was go to to download the latest firmware, drivers, software, etc.

Big mistake.

Everything went to Hell after the firmware upgrade (v2.51). The new firmware will allow you to set up the camera's 802.11b SSID, WEP key, etc. with non-standard characters (which I immediately did, since 802.11b is incredibly insecure). The old software for monitoring the camera couldn't handle that. I had to use "IPView SE v1.01", which has this incredibly ugly GameBoy-style interface (see below).

I can't impress upon you how much this interface absolutely appalls me. The old software (extremely hard to find, but available here) allowed you to fill the screen with the camera image. IPView SE's "full screen mode" still has the disgusting silver GameBoy border. It's bad enough that you actually have to look at it, but it also has the added benefit of burning itself into your screen if you monitor for extended periods of time. Luckily, my LCD monitor recovered after a few days.

In the end I settled for insecure 802.11b just to lose this monstrosity. To compensate I put the camera on a 30 bit subnet routed through a USB wireless NIC in ad hoc "point to point" mode and tightened up the firewall rules.

Dlink also offers "DView 1.40" software for controlling the camera, but it's ugly in a whole different way. It looks like it was written by a 10 year old.

With crayons.


  1. Anonymous11:11 AM

    thanks for the info. I have bought two DCS-900W cameras for security at my cabin in the montains. Do you know where some good intructions are as to how to set this thing up? Instructions that come with the cameras are not clear to a non-techie. (i.e. "Your IP address is invalid,you must assign a new IP address." G

  2. I have to warn you in advance, I'm not good at communicating with non-techies.

    In the mountains, huh? You have electricity and Internet? Pretty classy "cabin".

    I'm not sure what you expect to do. Do you want to see what happened while you were gone or do you expect to watch the cabin from the city?

    First off, I'd put both cameras on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). If there's ever the slightest power glitch they won't boot back up properly, requiring a power down/up cycle. A UPS will save you a trip up the mountain to power cycle the cameras.

    Let's say the cabin has no Internet access. In that case you'd need a computer to save the video to and it would need to be on a UPS as well. Plus it would need to be well-hidden because if someone breaks into the cabin they'd probably want to run off with the computer (but, heck, I don't know... maybe they just want your ammo and food... who needs a computer in the mountains?).

    In that case (power but no Internet) you could have the cameras talk to the PC on an ad hoc wireless network, requiring a wireless NIC on the PC. Then, the cameras spool video to the PC and you watch the videos when you're visiting the cabin.

    If you do have an Internet connection in the mountains (how does that work?), you could get away with just a wireless router and the two cameras and pull the video over the Internet back home. Again, you'd need to supply uninterruptible power to the cameras, the router, and your Internet connection.

    But right now, what you need is an IP address, right?

    The camera should be able to pull an IP from your wireless router, but this means your wireless network has to be 802.11b, which is not recommended because of security problems. Most people should be using 802.11g, but unfortunately, the DCS-900W doesn't support 802.11g (or does it now? It's been three years since I wrote this article and five years since I bought the camera).

    I ran up against this wall with my DCS. It was either lower the security of the whole network just for the stupid camera or keep the security and find another way, which is what I eventually did.

    Of course, the smart thing to do would be to dump the DCS and get a camera that supports 802.11g, but I'm too cheap for that.

    Besides, I'm saving up for a cabin in the mountains.