First up - I've been using various CCTV systems (consumer grade, not professional) for a few years now, and I've been through a fair few configurations. As far as I'm aware (and I'm open to corrections here!) they pretty much fall into:
a) analog cameras that record to anything from tape (yeah, those were the days!) to hard disks
b) analog cameras that record to hdd via a "server" of some sort (either a PC with a BNC capture card inside or a dedicated box) and allow remote access through your own router. The commercial ones are called DVRs.
c) IP cameras that -optionally- record to themselves (internal SD cards) and are remotely accessible through your own router.
d) IP cameras that record to a central location, say, a synology box or similar which allows remote access through your router. I think they call these "NVR"s now, but I couldn't be 100% sure.
e) IP cameras that record to "the cloud" usually meaning a paid hosted solution - meh - but allows remote access through THEIR servers.
I think that's them all, but there's always new systems popping up here and there. This system is of type b. The cameras are analog, the "PC" is a dedicated and very small box - around the size of a set-top freeview box and quite neat. Other solutions of type b) are Zoneminder running in linux, and other boxes like this from other brands.
Each type has its pros and cons, something like, I don't know..
Pros of type b):
- plug in, switch on, ignore.
- constantly recording (if desired)
- no additional network load when not being accessed (IP cameras use a lot of network bandwidth to record, if they run via your main home net - this can stress your router sometimes!)
- easy route to remote access.
- good flexibility and choice of cameras - many analog camera models/brands will work on any system (in theory at least!)
- cheaper (usually) than other robust recording options.
- no ongoing monthly costs! (other than electricity)
Cons of type b):
- often have clunky interfaces, often limited functionality (especially the box type, PC software like zoneminder is more flexible).
- analog cameras seem typically lower res than IP cameras, the latter can run to several megapixels!
- centralised on-site system can in theory be stolen along with the evidence
- way more wires than a well planned IP camera system
- hardware limited number of inputs (4 in this case)
So - that helps clear up what's good and bad about this TYPE of solution - how good is this one?
Well - I took it out the box, wired it all up on the floor, which took me around 10 minutes, a fairly simple operation involving matching coloured plugs up! I used a VGA PC monitor to test it out on. It booted within a minute or so and logged in, showing a grid of 2x2 cameras of which two showed images and two were blank. Pressing right mouse button brings up an on screen menu bar at the bottom which has an option called "menu". Going into this takes you to setup which allows you to setup the system.
The setup section is a bit clunky and old school - unsurprisingly - but functional. There's sections for the motion detection - you can mark squares out which will be motion detected, mask areas off to not record. There's also sections to schedule record times, and a few other bits.
The main part of setup is getting the network to...well....work. The process is not tricky if you already know how to do it - you either assign an IP address or take the one it's acquired by itself (displayed on screen) - and note the "http port" number. You also need to explicitly add a user in the USERS section otherwise you won't be able to log in remotely. Now go to a PC and start up firefox (or possibly IE - chrome doesn't work here). Put in the IP address followed by colon followed by port. So.. http://192.168.1.38:85 would be an example address. This will take you to the web portal for the DVR. Congrats - it's working! Log in and play around.
To allow access outside of the local network - i.e. from the internet - you will need to open ports. I really would suggest an alternative approach, which is to run a VPN on your router or network and don't forward the ports of the DVR through the router, but instead "dial in" to your own network and access the DVR that way "as if on your network at home but actually in a coffee shop" - BUT that's well beyond the scope of this review, so I won't detail it, but definitely if you have the technical ability to digest this then google it and do it. If you forward ports blindly you're asking for trouble (re: foscam default user/pass incidents a couple years back which hit the news - google that too!)
There is also an app - I've tested it on android. It likes to crash when you try certain things, but fundamentally it does seem to work in terms of being able to view the cameras. However - I suggest using "robert chou's" IP Cam viewer which actually works, I used the preset "Q-See QT426 DVR" and it works really well - the ch# maps to the cameras exactly!
So where does that leave you other than probably confused with all that information - well, if you're after a "basic" meaning easy simple system that will take care of itself and has enough options and flexibility if you need it later on with things like selective motion detect and email alerts (which I haven't tested yet!) then this is pretty good. I think the interfaces are all a bit uninspiring and clunky but they are largely fully functional with the only problem I've run into being the instability of the android app (easily mitigated!). Remote access on a PC has a lot of functionality, dare I say all the main functionality but on android you're limited to viewing using a 3rd party app, or the "parts that don't crash" on the android app. Which is also very fiddly. Other phones may not crash, of course.
Do I recommend it? At this stage, yes, definitely. For the price point, it's incredibly functional and the camera image quality is also splendid for an analog system. Considering it's not THAT long ago (2003?) that us home users only sensible option was to connect a camera up to the VCR and record it every night on Long Play and hope for the best, it's come a VERY long way.
However like most things, CCTV is no exception to the rule of "the more you spend the better it gets". Higher priced systems are better with better software and hardware, IP based systems have really good image quality but you have to then buy something to record onto and the cost escalates. So the final decision is yours.