Low cost IP Board Cameras from China
I bought a number of these cameras with the thought to using them as weather cameras and for security CCTV, I especially liked the low-light sensitivity. Note: I use Linux and Firefox for everything day-to-day, but have a Windows-7 PC for use once in a while for configuring annoying products that need Windows.
Short Version – Not Recommended
After several days of experimenting with the latest cameras I bought I have decided that although the hardware is good, the firmware poor and exposed to malware. There is a iframe that connects to a site reported as being a source of malware and having been involved in malicious activities.
These low cost IP cameras from China are good hardware but seriously disabled by their locked configuration, poor CMS, no useful support or documentation and being tied to Microsoft Windows and ActiveX. They are not suitable for use with Linux, Firefox, as a web-cam or weather-camera, or with other security cctv dvr packages.
These cameras are reasonably cheap and if you can get them working, they provide a reasonable image. With the mechanical IR filter for Day/NIght and no IR LEDs they provide a reasonably good black-and-white night image. The cameras claim to support ONVIF, so it should in theory be possible to use them with other DVR/security software.
Getting them working at all with anything but the provided CMS (camera management software) is a huge PITA, if possible at all. The supplied CMS used to create a security CCTV system requires you to leave a substantial Windows PC running 24/7. Configuration requires Windows and Internet Explorer with ActiveX controls.
The ports used, password requirements and web interfaces have differences and requirements that create complication. Three of my Eight cameras are now locked up and unusable – bricked – it wasn’t difficult, no special tools required 🙂 I have not been able to factory reset any of them. It is possible that this was done by malware.
There may be problems with the CMS and web interface causing login problems. It’s difficult to pin down. It seems that whenever I have to do anything with Windows networking there are problems – Thankfully I only have to touch Windows once or twice a year.
The malware is also a concern. The risk is probably not worth it unless you can keep the cameras isolated from the internet and the rest of your network connected machines.
Board Camera #3 – starlight – May 2017
I bought these because they claim very low light operation and IP interface. Late May I received 3 costing about NZ$55 each on Ebay. IPC 54H13PE-S Board Camera, Described as “HD Starlight low illumination CCTV 1.3MP Network IP Camera Module PCB Board”.
I am not sure but suspect the 54H13PE-S is the hardware manufacturers ID, not necessarily linked to the firmware or distributor. Does anyone know who provides the hardware and firmware ???
Note: I have been locked out of two of these cameras simply by providing a admin password and changing the IP address. Yes, I did write it down and triple check before moving on.
They worked fine for a day as I logged in and out using the CMS and the web interface with IE8. The next day there was no way to login, with the CMS and web interface reporting the password as bad, when it had not been changed. I am not sure if this is a camera fault or something sneaky going on; the malware maybe ???
The default IP of 192.168.1.10; still a problem for me but can be overcome. Using Firefox I was expecting to go to the login page (admin + no password) and get the web interface, allowing basic reconfiguration; but no streaming as Firefox doesn’t do ActiveX.
Prior to being locked out, using Firefox (no ActiveX) the login page is missing the language selector (top right) but allows login to the web interface which is totally unusable, other than for verifying the UN+PW work. I also used the Win-7 PC where IE prompts to install some ActiveX control, and the web interface then works.
I wish these dumb-arse developers would stop using external services and add-ons that make basic function more graphical and more complex than need be.
The web interface page from the camera is trying to access at least one other web site – the malware site.
My first impression is that these cameras are just toys and not intended for any serious use. Potentially useful hardware ruined by bad firmware.
Locked Out of 3 cameras so far
There is some confusion over password length. The CMS beeps when entering more than 6 characters, suggesting it’s not accepting them; but I think it is. I first set the password to be longer than 6 characters using the web interface and then later changed to 6 characters. This worked fine for the first day or so, but then just reports invalid password or user locked. Using Linux and Firefox, I could initially login, but not supporting ActiveX nothing much works and I can’t reset the password. After a while even Firefox could not login. I suspect user locked is just a temporary thing, but not related to the number of login attempts. I read a suggestion that 30 minutes is the timeout period.
There is the possibility that the cameras have been bricked or secured by malware. For 3 cameras to have the same problem at about the same time is suspicious. Corruption caused by occasional power cycling should be unlikely and I have carefully recorded the passwords used. This leaves the possibility of something sneaky going on.
Have just set up the 3rd of these cameras
I had one left that I wasn’t locked out of. So I followed a careful setup procedure and documented each step. I used the Win-7 PC and DD-WRT to connect the camera and keep it away from the internet. I set the network, language, turned off the OSD text, enabled the IR-Cut and set the admin password. One step at a time testing each before moving on. It is working at the moment and we will see for how long.
I set the camera IP address then set the gateway and DNS addresses to the same address. I read somewhere that this will keep it from accessing remote sites – not sure where I read that – lets hope it works.
Board Camera #2 – mid 2016
In May 2016 I bought 2 of these for a outdoor security application. 720P IP board cameras for about NZ$35 each. I specifically did not want cameras with IR LEDs. It’s very difficult to find a lower cost outdoor camera in a housing that does not have IR LEDs. These board cameras have a mechanical IR filter for daytime colour and also reasonable night black-and-white operation. They do produce a good low light image.
NOTE: I suspect these are the same hardware as the above #3 cameras but with an earlier or different firmware. These also have the 54H13PE-S ID sticker. One of these is also locked or disabled.
The default ip address was 192.168.1.10 which conflicted with something else on my network that could not be changed or turned off. So I used a temporary stand-alone router/switch. This also kept Windows and the camera setup software isolated from the internet.
Nothing can be done using Firefox as ActiveX is essential even for the most basic configuration. I got the Windows CMS working using Windows-7, with ActiveX.
Visiting the camera IP address requires IE to install some ActiveX controls. Once working you get a log-in page from the camera (admin + no password), and then on to a page provided by the camera that displays the video stream and menus for configuration. Now to change the IP address and set a password for admin.
Streams viewed using VLC look OK. Still no snapshots, so no use as a weather camera – yet.
Telnet is possibly usable with the admin+pw; some sort of connect is established. The root pw is not known. The UART connected to a PC/terminal does not provide shell access; simply displays a simplified boot process then stops when the Linux kernel starts as with the first camera. U-boot is available if you stop the boot process quick enough.
Board Camera #1
They are not low light cameras. They work well during the day and down to a point at dusk. Beyond that, the image is just black.
The picture shows one of these cameras in a outdoor housing with 6-60mm manual lens and a control board handling POE, heater and cooling fan.
This camera has been on our roof looking at the distant hills since late 2016. The video stream can be viewed from within our network on any computer using VLC – Media, View Network Stream, rtsp://192.168.1.xx:pppp//mpeg4, where xx is the camera ip address and pppp is the rtsp port configured within the camera. No user-name or password is required. Using Firefox the http IP address goes to the camera login web interface. Video does not display without using IE and ActiveX, but Firefox can access the camera setup pages which are relatively simple and less graphic compared to the newer cameras.
Telnet is not usable with the admin+pw. The root pw is not known. The UART connected to a PC/terminal does not provide shell access; simply displays a boot manager and then stops when the Linux kernel starts. A few people more eager than I am, have hacked beyond this but apparently not achieved a great deal.
The provided CMS
Each camera batch has its own CMS software, although they are almost identical. The oldest #1 camera is accessible using the latest CMS although some functions are not possible. The software is a bit inconsistent in labeling etc. but basically works for looking at the camera images. Camera configuration via the CMS worked. The cameras varied in what could or could not be set or modified and the latest CMS seemed to have a few problems with this. If using all the same type/model of camera it would be easier. I expect longer term maintenance would be a PITA if you have several camera models.
Passwords – Resetting Defaults – Lost Password
One of the web interfaces when changing a PW prompts for 6 characters or more, and will not accept fewer than 6 characters. The CMS suggests it’s not accepting more than 6 characters, but I think it is. So I set most of the passwords to 6 characters
Some cameras have a reset button that you hold for 5-10 seconds to restore factory defaults. If you can login with the CMS or web interface you can restore defaults. If you can’t login and there is no reset button, there is a reset utility. But I haven’t been able to get this working. It just reports the camera as off line, even though the login page is accessible – possibly a port issue.
Zoneminder – ZM
I have mentioned Zoneminder before so will keep this brief. Zoneminder is a free, open source CCTV DVR software application for Linux. I like it and hate it. It does some things well and other parts just seem unfinished and almost working. It may be better than I give it credit for, but the complexity and lack of current useful documentation make it a huge PITA.
I have been running a simple ZM system with several analogue cameras for years. It keep popping up donate requests. I would be happy to donate if it wasn’t so difficult to use or at least had some decent instructions available. My plan is to replace the analogue system with a separate network and IP cameras. The analogue system uses a 8-port capture board that works but has driver issues in Linux after kernel updates. It is also very CPU intensive, which doesn’t suit my ongoing work to reduce power requirements. The conversion problems are:
- the IP cameras need Windows and IE to be configured – see rant below
- low-cost IP camera streams are all different and mostly undocumented by the manufacturers.
- ZM does not support ONVIF and IP camera support is minimal and poor
ZM does support the video streams that are available from some IP cameras. Accessing the streams varies between cameras and I don’t know how versatile ZM is at handling the differences – the documentation sucks.
Alternatives to Zoneminder
There are not many alternatives that run on Linux. So ditching ZM would be a last resort.
I have looked at a standalone DVR. It was a bit basic but operated with a screen, keyboard and mouse connected directly. But via a network it only worked with Windows, IE and Direct-X. So anything requiring Windows is out.
This is a open industry forum trying to standardize the interface of IP-based security products – getting all types of security products working together – a great idea.
For cameras, ONVIF could provide discovery, configuration and operation. For these “ONVIF capable” cameras, how compatible or how much function is supported is unknown; again – no documentation.
There are Android apps that find and display video from some ONVIF capable IP cameras. Typically, the app will scan the network and report the type of any cameras found. You then supply access details and the app will display the video. I have tried without success so far for these latest IP cameras.
ONVIF is good in theory, but equipment manufacturers have to properly support it. We see all the time manufacturers changing things to suit their own requirements or attempting to force the purchase of their range of equipment.
I installed a app that claimed to be able to view IP cameras and also scan to identify unknown cameras. But it didn’t work on camera #2. It did seem to cause the camera to reset a few times during the scan, but no matches found. Failure is likely related to the lockout problems.
ActiveX is Bad
ActiveX is a Microsoft creation dating from the mid 1990s. It contains compiled code, runs in Windows on a X86 computer and Internet Explorer up to IE-11. The Windows-10 Edge browser does not support ActiveX.
Described as a rapid development component based system that puts functions into a product (camera in this case) that get uploaded/installed to the web-browser/windows to make the products web interface function.
This is bad because it ties a product to a specific web browser and operating system. If no longer supported or available, the product becomes useless. Most of the function added to a IP camera by ActiveX is unnecessary, flashy GUI crap that is not necessary for its primary function but ultimately limits its usability.
Alternative Camera Firmware – notes
There may be an alternative firmware available.
You may be able to find the actual manufacturer by looking up the first 3 pairs of digits of the MAC number here.
IP Camera Alternative
Considering the problems with these cameras, an alternative for the technically inclined would be to connect a USB camera to a Raspberry-Pi, Orange-Pi or similar board and make a IP camera.
The problem for me is finding a reasonably priced USB starlight camera with mechanical IR filter.
This goes a long way to overcoming malware problems and completely avoids the bull-shit associated with Microsoft Windows, ActiveX controls, cloud services, crippled and dishonest camera firmware and lack of documentation.
A bit of a rant
I hate it when things are more complex than they need to be because some moron thinks a fancy GUI is best.
Windows 7, 8 and 10 are going to break a lot of equipment that relies on proprietary controls, or with Win-7 you have to make your computer less secure to allow your camera system to work.
This ties devices to particular versions of one browser and OS and means that without better than average PC skills these devices will no longer be maintained. Suits equipment suppliers I guess.
It’s just stupid lazy programming by the manufacturers. They could provide a simple web page from the device that provided all of the configuration and user control. It wouldn’t be pretty but it would be simple, functional, reliable and work with all web browsers well into the future.
Is the problem with managers, marketing, programmers or customers. It seems that sales people and customers are more interested in having the latest flashy user interfaces than a simple reliable, get-the-job-done, process that will always just work. Marketing and programmers are stupid enough to follow along; probably at the insistence of management demanding a “better” product; Better meaning a new user interface GUI.
The same thing is happening with apps, but that’s another rant.