Archeer IP Camera Review – Safe and Sound

Introduction –

While I started Everyday Listening as an audio review website, I occasionally like to share other technologies that have had an impact on my lifestyle. Archeer are a well-reviewed company that produce some really nice products and some really cheap products, generally mutually exclusive. While I admire their diverse range of products, I sometimes feel that they need to focus more on quality rather than quantity; the same goes for a lot of companies. That being said, If Archeer have a speciality, it’s their great grasp on audio and wireless technologies; their Bluetooth headphones and earphones are great performers for the asking price and their higher range speakers such as the A320 offer almost unbeatable cost/performance ratios. So when Archeer offered to send me a review unit of their latest IP Camera, I was more than excited to give it a go but also sceptical as a reviewer. Archeer are actually no stranger to IP cameras with several models currently on offer, but their new camera is both their most feature rich and expensive camera yet. While I can assure that it is a very versatile camera, let’s see if it’s worth the premium over competing models.

*Again Archeer persist with their confusing naming scheme, please designate your products with catchy model names! I have will put the Amazon linke below for reference:

http://amzn.to/1T7XoJp

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Lucas from Archeer very much for providing me with a review sample of their latest IP Camera. There is no monetary incentive for a positive review and despite receiving the camera free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories –

For their more premium products, Archeer have mixed up the packaging a bit, with a large box coated in clean graphics.

Sliding off the top cover reveals the camera and accessories nestled within foam moulds. Archeer include:

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  • IP Camera
  • Wall Mount
  • Screws and gyprock sleeves
  • Ethernet Cable
  • 3Db Wi-Fi antenna
  • Power adapter
  • Various power plug adapters

 

Design –

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I like the design of the camera as a gadget but not as a professional tool. It’s clear that this camera was intended more for personal use, maybe pet watch device, rather than a dedicated security device for large scale professional application. While it has all the features of a good security camera, the fully plastic build does not quite feel substantial enough to survive even a modest drop and the bright silver colour scheme lacks subtly, the camera will really stand out in pretty much any home.

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That being said, for a home gadget, it is a charming and fun design that will be approachable and not overly intimidating for younger users/residents; it won’t scare off guests and doesn’t look too serious. While the feel in the hand still leaves much to be desired, the camera is solidly constructed and all mechanisms are without play or creeks which is most important at the end of the day. The glossy finish looks a bit toyish, but it resists smudging better than most, I still think that a matte black option would be ideal.

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All connectors are tight and reliable and the motors operate quietly when panning, audible but not distracting during recordings and barely audible otherwise. All of the cutouts for the IR LEDs and camera are well moulded. The camera has modest weight, it’s not particularly light but the included stand is more than solid enough to support it.

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The base has rubber feet should you want to place it on a desk or shelf instead. The camera is quite compact considering its feature set, the design could have been streamlined a little more, but the look never bothers me in daily usage, I usually keep it out of the way where it has a nice view over the first floor of my house.

The rear of the base contains all of the interfaces, the power port, Ethernet port for wired connection, a micro sd card slot and connector that enables the use of an external wireless antenna. A grill along the top of the base contains the in-built speaker and microphone, there are also two 3.5mm audio input and output jacks that enable the speaker to be used with an external mic or speaker system should the in-built ones be inadequate for your usage. At the front is a transparent window that protects the three status LEDs denoting WiFi, Ethernet and Power.

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Archeer’s IP camera is inherently an indoors camera due to a lack of any ruggedizing features. This is also reflected by Archeer’s choice of a 720p sensor over a 1080p one, in theory translating to superior low light performance when combined with a low aperture lens, but also less detail in bright lighting (which is less consequential indoors). While I still would have liked to see a nice large 1080p sensor for the $100 USD asking price, Archeer’s flagship IP Camera still produces really nice image and video quality for a wireless camera. In addition, a quick perusal of multiple competing models reveals that Archeer’s offering provides a lot more range of motion than most other IP cameras, offering 350 degrees of horizontal panning and 95 degrees of vertical panning. This is essential in tight indoor spaces and, in culmination with the very wide-angle 3.5mm lens (for reference, I shoot my reviews with a 50mm lens and ~10-16mm is generally considered quite wide), somewhat justifies the higher price of the camera as it can scan a larger area, hence omitting the need for multiple fixed cameras or several cameras with less FOV. I can easily see this camera as a nice store or pet monitor in addition to a home security device.

 

Usage –

The camera was far easier to set up than I expected, Archeer streamline the process through a simple, well-translated manual in addition to various QR codes for the dedicated app and pairing of the specific camera. Simply install the MiPC app from the app store on your device, available for both Android and IOS, create an account for the app (the account will unify all of your cameras if you have more than one) and scan the QR code on the IP Camera itself to register it within the app. You can also manually enter the cameras ID code into the app to pair.

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The camera does require a wired Ethernet connection to first connect to you smart device, but is easy to connect to your Wi-Fi network through the MiPC application once initial pairing is complete. The camera connects via a 3Db external antenna. It’s a solid gain, not too high and thus, not too directional, but also high enough to receive a strong signal capable of streaming 720p/25fps video to my smartphone from almost every location in my house, I didn’t notice obvious degradation in quality or framerate from a wired Ethernet connection though the application does enable you to stream in lower resolutions should you have a slow connection. At its highest setting, the Archeer IP Camera will record 1280×720 video with H.264 compression.

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Once connected, the camera only requires a power cable and will remember its settings if unplugged, allowing for quick relocation. The camera can actually cover a very large area due to it’s 350 degrees of horizontal rotation. The wide angle lens comfortably captures about half of a medium-large sized room and panning allows the camera to view the opposite side. When placed in a corner, the camera easily secures an entire room, but if your house is more open, you could probably cover an entire storey with just two cameras. The cameras supports 3X digital zoom (two finger gesture in the app) and although the 720p resolution might sound meagre in our 4K adopting society, there is still plenty of resolution to read text on book covers and identify thieves should something like that occur. While 1080p cameras might resolve slightly more detail in ideal lighting, Archeer’s camera provides relatively clean images and preserves a lot of detail when light gets scarce.

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The smartphone application has various other features, in addition to viewing a live feed from the camera. The Camera supports up to a 32GB micro SD, it has no internal storage but can upload photo and video to your smartphone over Wi-Fi. Inserting a card enables a few other features such as motion detection, the camera will sound an alarm or start recording when it senses movement, and schedule based recording which is self-explanatory. While these features sound very enticing, I was unable to get SD card functionality to work, every time I removed the SD card, it would corrupt, requiring formatting in windows. It seems that the card must be kept within the camera and can only be sent to another device via a wireless connection.

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The camera has 12 Infrared LEDs that enable night and low-light usage. They are mostly invisible to the human eye when activated, you will notice a small red glow, but will adequately illuminate a medium sized room on camera. Arhceer claim up to 10M of night vision, to test this, I placed the camera outdoor in my back yard and took some quick photos at night. The camera did well to light up my back yard and the 10M claim seems accurate.

So I’ve mentioned that the camera has an outstanding horizontal FOV due to its 350 degrees of rotation however, vertically, the camera is limited to just 95 degrees, understandable since this was limited by the design of the camera itself. Archeer include a wall mount with the camera that places it horizontally on the wall. While the camera is perfectly usable just sitting vertically on a table or shelf, the camera is unable to look down, it can only look up at the ceiling.

Placing the camera horizontally using the included mount enables the use to take full advantage of that 95 degrees of vertical panning, granting 47.5 degrees down and 47.5 degrees of upward mobility, it’s clear that this is how the camera was intended to be used. Still, if you are unable or rather, unwilling like I was, to permanently attach the mount to a wall, the camera is comfortable in a waist height location such as on a desk which will also take advantage of that upward panning.

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The camera also supports 2-way audio, especially nifty if you want some simply multi-storey communication. For reasons unknown to me, I could only use this feature on the IOS app as the Android app would only allow 1-way audio. That means that you can either listen through the cameras in-built microphone though your smartphone speakers or speak through your smartphones’ mic though the in-built speaker in the camera. On IOS, it works more like a phone call and you can do both at the same time. As far as audio goes, the speaker on the camera is upper mid-high frequency dominated as expected, but is luckily very loud and clear (measured just over 80dB on my HTC 10 using soundmeter). Voices are easily discerned, I never struggled to understand the speaker on the other side and there was plenty of volume for me to either hear the person perfectly or to gain my attention when some distance away. The microphone quality is similarly impressive, through my HTC 10 and iPod Touch 6, the mics offered plenty of gain to hear what the other person was saying, even when not directly near the camera. The mics are also less directional than most and will pick up voices from almost any direction at the cost of slightly more ambient noise. All in all, even with the clunky android app, I couldn’t be happier with the audio features.

 

Image Quality – 

On a whole, image quality was on the higher end of the IP Cameras I’ve seen. All images suffer from compression artefacts but are otherwise quite clean, especially in low light. The camera meters exposure quickly and the sensor has adequate dynamic range to resolve plenty of shadow detail without blowing out the highlights. All of these scenes had vastly differing ambient light levels yet they are all similarly exposed. In the lower light images we can see the advantages of using a lower resolution, higher sensitivity sensor for indoor shooting. Video quality is almost identical to still image quality, there is plenty of resolution to resolve text in medium and bright light, but things get a bit too fuzzy in lower light situations unless night mode is used (black and white, uses the 12 Infrared LEDs to illuminate the scene). The following images were taken in my room lit by a large window to the left. I artificially simulated varying light levels by adjusting the blinds and shutters, closing off all light sources for the night test. The camera was about 1.5m away from the bookshelf to give you a reference of the camera’s FOV. As seen in the night image, the IR LEDs are too bright for close subjects, overexposing the books, the LEDs are also quite

The following images were taken in my room lit by a large window to the left. I artificially simulated varying light levels by adjusting the blinds and shutters, closing off all light sources for the night test. The camera was about 1.5m away from the bookshelf to give you a reference of the camera’s FOV. As seen in the night image, the IR LEDs are too bright for close subjects, overexposing the books, the LEDs are also quite focused to illuminate the centre rather than evenly across the image, suitable when tracking a subject in detail. Sharpness, exposure and contrast can be adjusted via the application, all were left on their default setting in the following images. The sharpness could have been turned a little higher to resolve more detail on the text though I am pleased with the results.

Of note, I’m guessing that the camera doesn’t support autofocus as the text on the books looks to be out of focus and there is no tap to focus function on the smartphone application. When placed further from the subject, the camera achieves a sharper image, these images are more for noise and processing. See the bottom right corner for crops.

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  • Considerable colour noise and processing artefacts in the shadows, text is barely legible if at all.

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  • Shadows are still just as noisy but the text on the books is more legible if still not ideal.

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  • Shadows clean up considerably, text is completely legible but a little fuzzy.

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  • Very clean image, text completely legible but out of focus due to fixed focus tuned for further subjects.

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  • Focused IR LEDs overexpose centre of the image, exacerbated by reflective subject. Text is legible and noise is surprisingly hardly prevalent at all. Great low light performance.

 

Verdict –

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As a technology, IP Cameras are one of the most useful home tech products out there, existing not to bring convenience or aesthetic appeal, but rather security and communication. In this sense, most of these IP cameras are quite alike, they all provide the same basic features and are controlled/viewed through a smartphone application over a wired or wireless connection. Among these cameras, a few stand out with superior optics, higher resolution, night vision, weather proofing and enhanced mobility that suit the differing uses of their clients.

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Overall, I think everyone should own at least one IP camera to watch over their house. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as this one, Archeer themselves have a few models that are about a third of the price, but this one, in particular, is especially versatile. Setup is easy and usage after that is even simpler, the camera is pretty much automated. It can record throughout the day and overwrite older footage when the card is filled, it can automatically record when motion is detected and can easily stream to a network-connected smart device (you can access the camera as long as you have an internet connection even from data and when overseas). I was recently overseas and having this camera gave me just that little extra comfort knowing I was able to check in on the house every now and then. The extra mobility allowed me to scan almost the entire first floor of my house and the night vision was adequate enough to illuminate about half of it. The audio features are also a highlight of this camera, while not nearly an exclusive feature, they do work very well here with a loud, clear speaker and sensitive mics. I would probably recommend the camera more for IOS devices as the app is better optimised with generally lower latency and better 2-way audio support, but apart from that, every feature works perfectly on android too. Archeer’s newest IP camera is a winner!

 

 

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