Ubiquiti Super Low Cost Surveillance

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 10, 2011

Wireless manufacturer Ubiquiti has been extremely successful at bringing low cost products to the wireless networking market. They are now attempting to do the same in surveillance with their upcoming AirVision VMS and AirCam line of cameras. In this update we examine how these cameras compare to other low-cost offerings and whether this solution is a viable option for users.

UPDATE: We now have full test results of Ubiquiti's first AirCam.

AirCam

The AirCam line consists of three megapixel cameras:

  • AirCam bullet camera
  • AirCam Dome
  • AirCam Mini cube camera

Currently, the line is 720p/1MP, H.264-only, supporting RTSP. All three of these models have fixed lenses (4.0mm for the bullet and dome, and 3.6mm for the cube). Lenses cannot be changed. The line is currently not ONVIF-compliant, but Ubiquiti is considering this addition.

Pricing for all 3 cameras is estimated to be between $100 and $125. We expect their to be minimal discounts for dealers as has been the case for their wireless gear.

The AirCam line is color-only using a 1/4" image sensor, which will be a major limitation for some installations, especially outdoors. The line also uses non-standard, passive 12-24V PoE, which is not 802.3af compliant, which some users will find an annoyance, since standard switches cannot be used. There are three ways to handle this:

  • Install a separate injector for each camera required: This method is simplest, but requires a lot of power strip space. It may be suitable for very small camera count installs.
  • 802.3af adapter: Ubiquiti offers an inexpensive ($19) adapter which converts compliant PoE to 16V at the far end. This allows the use of standard switches at the head end, but requires installers to attach a dongle at the far end, which may be inconvenient, depending on the location.
  • Use a passive PoE switch. These switches are not all that common. A thread on Ubiquti's forum discusses sources.

AirVision

The first product in Ubiquiti's surveillance line is the AirVision VMS software. Specifically speaking, AirVision is made up of two components: the recording server, which is based on open source surveillance software ZoneMinder, and the client, which is a customized user interface by Ubiquiti. According to Ubiquiti, users do not have to interact with ZoneMinder. All tasks are performed through their client, which is browser-based. The server side runs on both Windows and Linux.

The client is designed to be simple to use. A count of cameras and NVRs and their current connected/disconnected states is shown for quick health checks. Maps showing camera locations may be created, so operators may more easily select specific cameras. A statistics screen shows disk usage and processor load, as well as the distribution of activity across cameras, so users may see which cameras are most used. Ubiquiti has uploaded the following video demo of its client software:

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AirVision is free with the purchase of cameras, with no recurring charges. In an extremely rare move for free software, it is also capable of connecting to and monitoring multiple NVRs in one instance of the client. Most free, or even low-cost, VMS software requires you to log in to each server separately.

The main limitation of AirVision today is that it only supports the AirCam line of IP cameras. Since it's based on ZoneMinder, which is open platform, we believe it wouldn't be too difficult to open to other cameras, but there are no current plans for this, at least in early releases.

Competitive Comparison

Compared even to other low-cost options, the AirCam line is cheap. In our recent survey of low-cost camera manufacturers, we found Compro's IP70 cube camera ($119 online) to be the lowest-cost megapixel option. The AirCam is about 20% less than this. Compared to low-cost leaders such as Vivotek, it's even less expensive. To move to a megapixel resolution bullet camera, the Vivotek IP8332, users should expect to pay ~$350 online, a 250% premium.

Neither of these cameras is a direct comparison, however. The Compro IP70 is true day/night witha mechanical cut filter, as is the Vivotek IP8332, which also has built-in IR illumination. Additionally, both these competitive models are 802.3af-compliant, which simplifies installation.

Recommendations

Based on pricing alone, the Ubiquiti line will be highly attractive for those seeking a very low cost surveillance solution. We will test AirCam and AirVision in the near future, once product is readily available. Until that time, we cannot speak for quality or usability. 

We see a number of important objections:

  • Lack of day/night cameras: Without day/night capability, placing the AirCam outdoors may produce unusable video. Even in indoor locations, users have come to expect day/night capability.
  • Lack of Varifocal lens support: Most professional users want to optimize the FoV for the given scene which is not possible with Ubiquiti's cameras unchangeable lenses.
  • Lack of PoE support: When deploying more than a few cameras, it will be clunky to install a power adapter for each camera.
  • Lack of third-party or ONVIF support: The lack of support for third-party cameras will be an issue for many users, especially considering the line is made up of only three cameras. This leaves no room for special applications or even PTZs. If Ubiquiti were to add ONVIF support to the cameras, we expect sales would jump, as it is one of the lowest-cost megapixel cameras on the market.

That noted, Ubiquiti should not be underestimated. They have disrupted the wireless world with an aggressive and successful campaign of providing super low cost products. They might be able to do the same in surveillance.

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