Cheap FullHD Chinese IP Cameras from AliExpress – review of a bunch

tl;dr:

I’ve been looking for the “bang for buck” Chinese IP camera that is both PoE and Full HD. I’ve tried 7 different cameras, and the best one that I recommend is this one for $23 (1080P (Black) and 2.8mm).

ts;wm: (Too short, want more)

This is not a comprehensive review, just an overview of the cameras I tried out so I know which cameras I can buy again or recommend; and which ones I wouldn’t buy again. I don’t care about any of the camera’s features as I am just taking their video stream and feeding it into ZoneMinder-based DVR.

For obvious privacy reasons I won’t post sample images of the camera’s stream since I have all of the cameras already mounted in place.

Security

Privacy concerns are something that is often mentioned when using Chinese devices for security purposes. For me, not really. I’ve created a separate group of objects (= the IP cameras) in my router’s firewall which does not have internet access, so the cameras cannot call home in any way. They do try, but it is not a lot of traffic. Maybe they are just trying to contact a time server in China (which I have found in the settings that some of the cameras have automatic time syncing set up with a random university servers China). I’ve simply set the time server to my local ZoneMinder server which also has running ntp service, so the cameras can have correct time even without Internet. (Not really important by default, but I am switching day/night mode on one of the cameras manually by time, which is where it becomes important.)

If you are looking for a single camera packed with functionality (like with iOS app and whatnot) that you may even want to expose on the Internet for remote access, I would probably suggest staying away from these Chinese devices.

But if you simply only need a “network lens” from which the NVR of your choice (ZoneMinder, Synology NAS and many, many others) can grab video stream, read on.

Cameras are in the order as I bought and tried them. FPS can be lowered on all of them in the settings. (See the end of this article.)

1. ???Brand???, WiFI, IR, AC, 1280×960, $34

Model number: N/A (sold it)
ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Ffmpeg
Source Path: rtsp://(ip-address):554/11
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP

This is the first camera I bought, naively thinking WiFi is good enough for streaming (it is not). The image quality is terrible and it gets even worse at night when the IR filter rolls in – the image gets so blurry I can’t even read a license plate on my own parked car right under the camera.

This specific model is not in stock anymore so I can’t find any details on the chip and sensor etc. but it doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t be buying again anyway. I also recommend staying away from WiFi. Just go through the trouble, buy a roll of cat5e and connect it the old school way.

2. Revotech, FullHD with AC power (ASDK Store)

AliExpress, P/N N/A (sold it), bought for $21.28

ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Remote
Remote Protocol: RTSP
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP
Remote Host Name: (ip-address)
Remote Host Port: 5544
Remote Host Path: /live0.264

Can’t confirm the model but they claim it’s I6032B-V200 that has a Hi3518E V200 chip + with 2363 sensor (Hi3518EV200+2363).

Dynamic range is not the greatest (on sunny days sometimes the sun-lit part is way blown and over-exposed), but otherwise, the image quality is so-so good during the day, but it is shit-fuck grainy at night when running on IR light.

Would not buy again, I sold it already and swapped it with a POE camera.

3. Besder, FullHD with AC power (Besder Official Store)

URL

ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Ffmpeg
Source Path: rtsp://(ip-address):554/user=admin_password=tlJwpbo6_channel=1_stream=0.sdp
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP

Little more expensive than the previous one, it was $29. It has a Hi3516C chip with an unknown sensor. The image is great. At night the image gets grainy but it’s way better than the one above.

Has nice metal housing and the four IR LEDs look powerful (can’t confirm how powerful because I have this camera aimed on a gate lit by street lamp).

Despite all of this, I wouldn’t buy this specific camera again. I don’t see the benefit of paying $10 extra for the metal housing; the cameras with plastic housing serve me just as well. Though, this one does look more professional, but for me the goal for the cameras is that no one should notice them at all, let alone judge how “professional” my security system is based on that. (Not very professional at all, haha.)

4. Misecu dome camera, POE, FullHD (Misecu Official Store)

URL, model IPC-DM07-20SC (48V POE 1080P + 3.6 mm), bought for $30.12.

ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Ffmpeg
Source Path: rtsp://(ip-address):554/user=admin_password=tlJwpbo6_channel=1_stream=0.sdp
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP

My first PoE camera! #yay

The chip could be Hi3518 (Hi3518EV200), but it is hard to find out. The seller has this in the data sheet for different Full HD camera (IPG-50HV20PES-S). The sensor is not specified.

However, the image quality is by far the best I’ve seen so far and there is no noise at night! During the day, the image is maybe a little over sharpened but nothing major. Being a dome camera it was a little finicky to get it positioned, I thought it would be easier to set the angle.

The “camera ball” (not sure how to describe but the camera itself is actually a ball when taken out of the dome housing) and the housing are well finished and made from metal. The seller says it’s “vandal proof” and I am inclined to say this is not too far fetched when properly secured to the wall/ceiling (I think it had four screw holes for the dome base).

I would definitely consider buying this one again (especially if I figure out what is the best use-case for dome cameras instead of regular bullet body cameras).

5. Besder camera, POE, FullHD (Besder Official Store)

URL, model 6024PB-IP201 (48V PoE 1080P + 2.8mm), bought for $25.27

ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Remote
Remote Protocol: RTSP
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP
Remote Host Name: (ip-address)
Remote Host Port: 554
Remote Host Path: user=admin&password=&channel=1&stream=0.sdp?real_stream

Chip Hi3518EV200 with a 1/2.7″ SC2135 sensor.

For $25 this is the best value for money I’ve got so far. Image quality is very similar to the dome camera above, and it doesn’t seem to be as oversharpened. On the default quality setting (Medium) there is visible compression in the stream, but it goes away when set to High.

Worth noting is also the fact that despite cheap-ish plastic case I have this camera in the wild (on a tree, actually) exposed to all kinds of weather, and so far it holds up fine! It survived summer thunderstorms and now going through its first winter. So far, so good. (Edit July 2019, over a year after set up: Still hold up fine.)

6. Two Revotech cameras, one with Sony chip and one “regular”

URL, models I6032B-V200-POE ($24.29) and I6032B-Sony-POE ($33.61)

ZoneMinder settings for the cheaper model (I6032B-V200):
Source Type: Remote
Remote Protocol: RTSP
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP
Remote Host Name: (ip-address)
Remote Host Port: 5544
Remote Host Path: /live0.264

ZoneMinder settings for the model with Sony chip (I6032B-Sony):
Source Type: Ffmpeg
Source Path: rtsp://admin:@(ip-address):554/live0.264
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP

Note: Both settings somewhat work for both of the cameras, I don’t know why I’ve set them up differently, but since it works, I am not gonna touch it. :D

Here it gets little confusing. When I bought these, this seller was offering two variations of the camera:
* 1080p (Hi3518EV200 + 2363), today the 1080p
* 1080p with a Sony chip (Hi3516C + IMX322), today the 1080p 25fps

The main difference in the specs is that the basic version has max 15 fps and the one with Sony chip has maximum 25 fps. This is not a dealbreaker for me as I reduce all cameras to 5-7 fps, but it’s worth noting. Today, the seller doesn’t include the exact specs, but it’s safe to assume that they remain the same. The 1080P (Black) is the basic model, and 1080P 25fps (Black) has the Sony chip.

Now the image quality on both is great, day and night, but I would not buy the more expensive one again. The one with Sony chip has a little better image quality, but it’s not $8 worth of difference. Also the one with Sony chip pulls the contrast too high at night so the IR-lit area is okay, but the rest is pitch black. All of the other cameras have more even night image.

Unlike Besder above (#5), which has very similar image quality and price point, the Revotech cameras can be set up through any browser and OS (I run on Mac), whereas the Besder camera needs to be set up through Windows and  Internet Explorer with ActiveX enabled. More on that at the end of the article.

But I must admit, when I was setting these cameras up, I loaded up the direct stream into VLC and I was truly amazed at how good the Sony one was. Also I think both of these record sound which I also only noticed in the VLC. I don’t use this feature in ZoneMinder (not even sure if it’s possible) but maybe it is worth knowing. The sound stream can be turned off directly in the camera’s web admin.

7. Dome 720p POE

URL, model LTID-72BDF ($21.93).

ZoneMinder settings:
Source Type: Ffmpeg
Source Path: rtsp://(ip-address):554/user=admin_password=tlJwpbo6_channel=1_stream=0.sdp
Remote Method: RTP/RTSP

All I’ve got to say: piece of shit in every way considering it is only a 720p (1280×720) camera (all the other ones are FullHD – 1920×1080). The image sucks, its plastic body sucks, etc.

Conclusion

I have not bought any more cameras to try, because number #4, #5 and #6 are good enough for what I need and I started replacing all the other cameras with these.

On 11/11 Sales I’ve even managed to buy the cheaper Revotech (the one with non-Sony sensor) from #6 for under $19!

How to setup the cameras

Majority of the cameras have the DHCP turned off and the local IP is set to 192.168.1.10. This is where you can access the camera’s admin page and settings after initially plugin it in. Most of the cameras have default admin user admin and empty password.

I always first plug them into my test-bench router, log into them, grab their MAC address, bind this MAC address to free IP address on my master router, turn DHCP on (unless it’s on already) and only after that I plug them into my main network.

Some of the cameras can be only set up through Internet Explorer with ActiveX enabled and you need to download and install some weird app. I’ve simply bypassed it by having a disposable Windows virtual machine that I use to set up the cameras. After you install all of this, surprisingly a lot of the camera’s settings can be adjusted in-camera (time, IR-cut filter sensitivity, bitrate, frame rate, OSD features – moving them or turning them off altogether to get nice, clean stream). Before I’ve found that out, I contacted one of the sellers who told me it cannot be done (needed to do frame rate adjustment from 15 fps to 5 fps)… But rest assured, it seems that in some way it can be done on any camera.

Cut them off the internet

While I am not overly concerned these cameras are “calling home”, I would still recommend putting them on a different subnet that has no access to the internet or group all cameras into a group and forbid that group access to WAN in the router’s firewall.

There are little bits of traffic to Chinese IP addresses (I was upgrading routers and forgot to set the firewall group), but it was like 50 kB down and 50 kB up total over a month or so. I figured some of this is for time sync – most of the cameras have it active in settings and all of them use random time servers at Chinese universities (or so I figured). I can’t imagine what else it could be sending, but I certainly sleep better when I know the cameras cannot access the internet at all. I certainly have doubts there would be millions of cameras worldwide, all streaming video of your garage to some Chinese servers as some YouTube know-it-all commenters are suggesting.

Interesting reading

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