Beware of Cube Cameras

By Brian Rhodes, Published Mar 07, 2012, 07:00pm EST

Integrators may find the low price of cube cameras a tempting reason to propose them for surveillance applications. Cube cameras represent many IP camera manufacturer's low-end price offerings and they often be purchased for under $150 USD. Despite the low prices, cube cameras are not commonly proposed for commercial surveillance. In this update, we examine why they are not commonly recommended despite their cheap price:

Inherent limitations of cube cameras: 

  • Cube cameras provide low quality images
  • Cube cameras are easy to tamper with
  • Cube cameras are designed for 'indoor only' use
  • Cube cameras are not often PoE powered
  • Cube cameras are not discrete

Examples of cube cameras:

  • Axis M10 series
  • Vivotek IP813x series
  • ACTi ACM-4201
  • Geovision GV-CB series
  • D-Link DCS-942L

Cube cameras provide low quality images: The least expensive cube cameras are SD cameras, with MP models available as more expensive options. This limits the FoV for many of these cameras and while they are suited for monitoring small rooms or hallways, they cannot cover larger areas. Cube cameras must be located relatively close to subject target areas to produce detailed image. Since these cameras are built to sell for low prices, they generally have horrible lowlight performance. Advanced image features like Wide Dynamic Range are nonexistent in these units.  These cameras seldom feature interchangeable lenses, and when they do they are not often common lens formats.

Cube cameras are easy to tamper with: The form factor makes these cameras vulnerable to malicious activity. Positioning is commonly locked down through tightening a Nylon lockwasher. This type of hardware might prevent gravity from sagging the camera, but even a gentle push will reposition a cube camera. The power jacks and network connections are often exposed to open air and are vulnerable to being cut or pulled.

Cube cameras are designed for 'indoor only' use: Cube camera's plastic housings are not gasketed to be weather tight nor are the housings protected from UV exposure. The internal electronics are not designed to be exposed to alternating hot/cold environments, and exposure to these environments voids the warranty.

Cube cameras are not often PoE powered: Most cube cameras avoid supporting PoE as an power option, since PoE is not often used in homes. In groups of one or two cameras, the issue of finding an electrical outlet for a 110V transformer is not difficult. However, in substantial quanities it becomes much cheaper to furnish power via PoE.  When PoE support is found on these cameras, it most often is found in higher priced versions of basic cube camera models.

Cube cameras are not discrete: Cube cameras are completely exposed and aesthetically stand out. Experience shows that if something looks vulnerable, it becomes a target. It takes little effort to completely disable a cube camera through brute force, adjustment, or vandalism. However, a dome camera is more difficult to detect. Dome housings are designed to protect the vulnerable connections, and often suppport lensing options that enables it to be hung out of tampering reach while still maintaining good image detail.

For a residential or small business setting, cube cameras are great.  They are inexpensive, easy to hang, and easy to adjust. However, they are not designed with same quality compnents and features of costlier cameras. Cube cameras are easy to tamper with or disable and should not be considered for general surveillance use. 

[UPDATED: VIVOTEK MODEL SERIES FROM 'IP81xx' TO 'IP813x']

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