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D-Link Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera review: Peace of mind not included with D-Link's Network Camera

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The Good The live feed works well with capable panning and tilting that you can control remotely.

The Bad Alerts don't work well and the recorded video doesn't work at all.

The Bottom Line D-Link's Network Cam functions as a cheap option for checking in on your home, but without consistent or useful alerts, it's a poor choice for smart-home security.

4.9 Overall
  • Features 4
  • Usability 5
  • Design 7
  • Performance 4

Being able to see your home from anywhere and confirm that everything is okay with your own eyes makes a device like the $120 D-Link Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera seem extremely useful. (The same model sells in the UK for about £80, and in Australia for AU$200.) D-Link's camera with the unwieldy name does well in this regard. The 640x480 resolution isn't great, but it's enough to clearly see what's going on. And the ability to manually look around the room from afar by panning, tilting, and zooming the camera worked well and can help you check every nook and cranny.

If you can't keep your eyes on your home, though, don't expect D-Link to help. Aside from the live viewing, the camera promises features that should allow it to function as a sentry, alerting you when something unexpected happens. Unfortunately, these video and sound notifications are unwieldy at best and completely non-functioning at worst. None of the detection features are reliable enough to actually help with security, so you'll want to look elsewhere for that elusive peace of mind.

The basics

Initially, I was quite hopeful for the D-Link Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera. It offers a promising mix of features, especially for its price, and without any monthly fees. Similar fee-free smart-home cameras include the $200, £190 Dropcam Pro (not yet available in Australia, but converts to about AU$230); the $200 US-only Piper ; the $190, £160 Samsung SmartCam HD Pro (not yet available in Australia, but converts to about AU$215); and the $130, £130, AU$170 Belkin NetCam HD+ .

The more expensive cameras all offer better resolution than D-Link and wider viewing angles to boot. Samsung, Dropcam, and Piper have a full 1080p image with 128-degree, 130-degree, and 180-degree respective fields of view. Belkin only has 720p with a 95-degree viewing angle, but D-Link's picture maxes out at 640x480 with a 66-degree horizontal viewing angle. Next to the Belkin camera, the D-Link's narrower viewing angle feels especially underwhelming.

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The camera's image is fine if not great. Andrew Gebhart/CNET

However, it makes up for the smaller viewing angle by allowing you to remotely turn and tilt the camera. With night vision, a built-in microphone (though not two-way audio), and alerts for both motion and sound, D-Link gets back to being quite competitive on features, especially if you don't feel the need to monitor your home in high definition.

To top it off, D-Link brought their prowess with Wi-Fi routers to the camera with a unique extender mode. This allows it to act as a mini-router and bring signal to previously unreachable areas of your home. I was excited for this feature in particular, and thought that if the D-Link cam could act as a router and an effective security camera, the $120 price point would make it a steal.

The setup

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Simple but elegant. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The camera looks sleek. An all white base holds the black rounded lens shell. It's not exactly inconspicuous, but I wouldn't call it outlandish either, and I didn't mind having it on my shelf. You won't have to worry about any physical construction, the camera comes assembled complete with a power cord, an ethernet cord, and a simple instruction manual. The box does include a bracket for mounting the camera to a wall so you can set up an optimal viewing angle.

Getting it set up on your home Wi-Fi network is a bit more involved, and requires that you use your Windows or Mac computer. A "zero configuration" page in the manual tells you how to skip most of the steps if you're also using a D-Link router. I was, and didn't get it to work right. The more complex steps necessary in that circumstance require you to download setup software and do some light configuration. Nothing proved too daunting, but this certainly isn't Wink's "hold your phone near a sensor" approach where you're done in a few seconds.

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Not the simplest setup, but not too bad. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

I was more than willing to jump through a few hoops in the set up for the promise of extra Wi-Fi range in addition to a smart security camera. Unfortunately, it didn't end up giving much of a boost.

For the mobile app, D-Link uses its old myDLink Lite app, rather than its new MyDLink Home app that debuted with its new smart plug . The new app is supposed to let you control all of the D-Link products on your network, but for some reason that doesn't include support for this new camera.

Live viewing

Though first you'll need to get it up and running on your computer, you can then control the D-Link using either the website or the myDLink Lite app. I started playing around with its panning and tilting features. The range of motion impressed me, and I was successfully able to follow my coworkers around a room, listen to their conversations, and generally creep them out. I didn't really notice the lack of resolution until I zoomed in; standard definition looked sharp enough.

With the digital zoom, the clarity peels away and things get downright blurry at full 4x zoom. The camera itself doesn't zoom, so the function just makes the existing picture larger on your computer, and the lack of definition shines through.

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The zoomed image wasn't so great. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

At any time, you can snap a picture from the camera's viewpoint, so you can capture a special moment or an incriminating one. Just don't expect the zoom to show up in the snap. Because the zoom doesn't happen on the camera itself, even if you're computer's picture shows a tight view of your kid reaching for the cookie jar, the saved snapshot will be back at the full unzoomed view of the kitchen.

Controlling the pan-and-tilt action was another source of minor disappointment. On your browser, you have to manipulate the horizontal x-axis or the vertical y-axis individually, and the camera won't move until you release the slider. This makes getting to the right spot a guessing game. Fortunately, you can save a location once you find it, and automatically move the camera to that position with the click of a button.

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