See the Unseen – A Synology Surveillance Station Review

January 26, 2017 at 7:53 pm by

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In September of 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published a news story displaying the 2015 American crime rates. Split into major categories, including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft, burglary, and larceny-theft, America’s crime rates have been a big problem in the last few years; and there has been little done to stop it.

According to the FBI report, an estimated $14.3 billion was lost in property damage and $12.4 million worth of goods were stolen. That’s a lot of money loss in property damage and stolen goods, and the 2016 reports from the FBI aren’t showing better numbers.

When a crime is in progress, whether that be a burglary, theft, robbery, or worse, the police are minutes away to assist, but sometimes minutes are too long. A small shop owner may have a successful business day and it could all be ruined if somebody stole the money or stole merchandise.

In some states, laws prevent self-defense and instead look to locate the criminal after-the-fact. However, locating somebody who’s wearing a mask or somebody who has hard-to-define facial features, leaves the criminal on the run with the goods.

Just the other day, I read in the local news that a local gas station was robbed late at night. This part of town is not known for its high crime rate and to hear this, it’s a surprise (and scare) that inner-city criminals are making their way into this city.

The robber ended up getting away due to the lack of profiling and the gas station had poor camera angles for security. Criminal -1, Justice -0.

Walk into nearly any public building and chances are high you’ll be spotted by a front door camera that is always watching. This is done, not for your security, but for the store or business. If a person knows that there is a chance of being caught, then they are much less likely to perform a malicious action.

It’s the sole reason why cameras are installed in the first place, but many businesses tend to cheapen out on this important security feature. Ideally, it’s best to operate a camera security system that runs high-end cameras followed up by a robust camera system software that can monitor areas, send alerts, and record when motion is detected.

Known for their networking equipment, Synology has entered the game for virtual security by providing that robust camera system software. By running on a local server, the new Synology Surveillance Station software takes care of protecting your assets by always keeping an eye on things.

Welcome to my review of the Synology Surveillance Station. Throughout this in-depth review, I will be covering the following topics: the setup and user interface, functionality, and my final thoughts. A special thank you to Synology for providing the software for this review.

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Setup and User Interface

Since Surveillance Station is an application on Synology’s DiskStation Manager server operating system, you’ll need to own a Synology server to use it. As a networking company, Synology offers a lot of different servers, which range from the individual consumer to large businesses.

For this review, the Surveillance Station was running from a Synology DiskStation DS416j with 3TB of hard drive space installed. These hard drives run in a RAID 1 configuration for hard drive redundancy.

Although the review will be focusing on Surveillance Station, something to note is that when using the DS416j, it’s ideal to use hard drives that are rated for surveillance recording. These drives have the potential of always running and writing/deleting data. In my case, I am using Seagate ST3000VN007 IronWolf hard drives.

As with any Synology unit, setting up the DS416j is a straightforward operation that mainly requires clicking ‘Next’ every few minutes and entering in some server information, like a username and password. To hear more about the installation of DiskStation, I recommend reading my review on the DS216j which outlines the crucial steps.

Typically, when you use enterprise grade tools in consumer settings or for small business, many of them rely on the user inputting code, data, or configurable settings that they may not understand. That’s not the case here. Once DiskStation is up and running, Synology makes their application installation process even easier than the DiskStation setup.

Just like an app on your smartphone, Surveillance Station is a one-click installer application. By opening the Synology app store, a.k.a. Package Center, Surveillance Station is a free-to-install application that takes about a minute to install. Afterwards, you’re brought to a secondary interface outside of DiskStation.

Surveillance Station is, technically, up and running waiting to record from your cameras. Once Surveillance Station is running, it’s time to leave it for a moment and take a look at the security cameras you want to use.

Surveillance Station supports nearly every camera manufacturer under the sun as well as all of their cameras. For the cameras that they do not support, they offer generic or user-defined settings instead. I opted for an Amcrest IP2M-841B and a Foscam FI9800P camera.

Out of the box, the cameras will not immediately connect to Surveillance Station. They need to be independently configured using their own user interfaces. While Surveillance Station can send configurable settings to the cameras, some settings are camera specific and need to be adjusted on their interfaces.

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What you’ll want to do on each camera is connect it to the wireless network. Once connected, grab the camera’s IP address and port number. Returning back to Surveillance Station, entering in the login and networking details will return you with a working camera that immediately begins recording. That’s it, the setup phase is complete.

In terms of the user interface, you get a near-identical feel to Synology’s DiskStation Manager that is installed on the host server. That would seem fitting as they are practically the same operating system with a different name.

On the Surveillance Station desktop, there are the five major application tools that you’ll be using. Live view, which gives you a live view of any connected cameras, Timeline for watching recorded video, IP camera takes care of settings and configuring the cameras, Recording is a file explorer of recorded data, and then the excellent Synology Help Wiki.

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There’s a little bit more to the Surveillance Station desktop than those five icons. While some of this will be discussed below, sub-applications include notifications, action rules, user control, logging, audio pattern, smart searching, and snapshots.

For the most part, the Synology Surveillance Station is a straightforward interface that doesn’t have a steep learning curve. It’s the feature that I like the most of this entire review.

I would enjoy it if there were tooltips that help get you started, but the installed Wiki covers this area if you know what you’re searching for.

Surveillance Station’s user-interface was made for everyday people who may not be tech-savvy. It resembles a Windows OS and acts like an Apple OS. There may be some predicaments for average users when configuring cameras and adding them to the system, but any tech setting up this system shouldn’t have a problem.

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Functionality

I mentioned earlier that the Surveillance Station application is a free installation onto DiskStation Manager, but there’s a catch when you try to add cameras to the system.

Each camera installed onto Surveillance Station requires one license key. The software comes with two free licenses, so, if I were to install a third camera, I would be prompted for another license. Licenses are tied to the system, not the camera itself. Options for one, four, or eight camera license are available and the prices vary.

Synology’s Surveillance Station has a broad customer based system meaning that it will be used by consumers, small businesses, and large businesses and I believe this plays a factor in the pricing.

Using Surveillance Station on a day-to-day basis is done through the web-based interface. Since it can be connected to by any computer on the same network, user profiles can be added which grant individual access and controls to people. This is best for businesses who will be looking for managers to have access to live feeds, but not past recordings.

My daily browser is Windows 10’s Microsoft Edge and, unfortunately, Surveillance Station doesn’t play as nicely with Edge. To view video recordings, or use camera functions, the browser needs to support an NPAPI plugin. I swapped over to Internet Explorer and, after a few plugin installs, everything functions as intended. Optionally, users can choose to use Synology’s Windows desktop which pushes out the use of the web-based OS for a Windows/Mac application instead.

Given that the cameras are installed and running, Surveillance Station offers some neat functionality for the cameras. Each camera is independently controlled and monitored for certain actions. If the camera supports it, Surveillance Station can send movement commands so the camera can look in a new direction. Additionally, two-way audio can occur or if placed in a store, you could record audio as well.

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On top of those live settings, the software can also set recording schedules, optimize the video feeds, and watch out for events in the video, like if somebody tampered with the camera. Another feature that is camera based is I/O port monitoring. If available, a camera can begin recording when a door sensor has been tripped.

What I enjoy most, is that if you have multiple cameras in this system, each camera can be told how much data it can keep and record. A front door camera may want to have 100GB of data and hold 30 days of data. Whereas, a rear walkway would need 30GB with seven days of data. The data limiters are first-come, first-served, meaning if the 30-day mark comes first, then the recording from 30 days ago will be deleted. Whereas, if 100GB of storage is used first, then the oldest recording will be deleted. This is, of course, all user-defined and changeable.

Another thing I quite enjoyed was that the system is somewhat a ‘setup and forget about it’ deal. During this review, I mainly poked around, played with features, and let it sit for a while to see how it performed.

One problem that I did run into was that one camera ended up grabbing a new IP address and Surveillance Station lost the connection. I didn’t know this until I ended up logging into Surveillance Station and seeing the alert.

When a camera goes down, there’s logging that records this action and it needs to be configured to notify you of an issue. Alerts and notifications can be pushed out through SMS, email, or a push service. The best way to ensure constant connectivity would be to ensure that each camera is on a static IP.

Watching old recordings is, again, a somewhat straightforward process. The default timeline viewer is great for when you want to watch video from a certain day and time. However, since my cameras are set to record for 30-minute intervals and it’s constant recording, finding what you are looking for may be difficult. I would advise using the Synology motion capture that records when motion is detected.

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These motion detection areas are known as Detection Zones. By dragging out virtual boxes on the display, you can tell Surveillance Station which areas you value over others. You can also set an area as a “door” or “walkway”. It works very well and even functions through glass.

Looking closely at the quality of each camera and it’s recording, everything is surprisingly clear and crisp. My testing was done in a home environment, but even my front door camera could see the make of a car driving by or the face of the mailman. When watching live view, there is just the slightest bit of delay and the past recordings are just as smooth as a YouTube video.

Inside my recording folder, I can see that both cameras capture a 30-minute video which provides me with four days’ worth of video on both cameras. This four days of video is limited by my preset 10GB data limit; increasing this limit would give me significantly more days’ worth of storage. Each file is approximately 200 MB, which I find to be quite small for how well these cameras perform and one even recording in 1080p.

If the timeline isn’t your thing and watching hours’ worth of video is boring or time-consuming, then there’s a built-in smart search that can help define the searching. A certain camera, from a certain date, with certain settings and detection zones, can be applied to the search and provide a narrower index.

Lastly, one of the neatest features in this system is the audio pattern plugin. When setup in the action rule menu, if a camera hears a certain audio wavelength, say an alarm, then it can begin recording. This would be perfect when somebody attempts to run out of a store with stolen goods and an alarm goes off.

In the end, this system is full of customization and functionality, but the main usage of it will be to sit quietly unless it’s called upon. While I don’t own a business, the fact that there’s something watching the perimeter from threats is nice to know. It’s a product that you don’t want to use, but when you need it most, you’re very thankful that it’s there.

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My Final Thoughts

I am quite pleased with the Synology Surveillance Station. It’s a friendly user-interface, easy set-up, protection kit that monitors everything all the time. Its performance on the Synology DS416j was well above par and the server provides additional functionality, such as a file storage hub.

The Synology Surveillance Station would be best used in small business. It doesn’t require an IT team to operate or use and it just simply works without complications. Plus, when using the Amcrest cameras mentioned in this review, the 1080p recording allows you to see even the smallest details both in live view and recordings. Also, given the movable controls and audio recording, it would make catching the criminal fairly easy.

On the surface, the Synology Surveillance Station may look like an inexpensive device, but it can become pricey, quickly. The DS416j that I used in this review is $250 and including two hard drives adds another $200. In most scenarios, four to six cameras would cover a home or small business well. Therefore, if you pick up a four-camera license pack, it adds another $200 to the price or $50 per one. (Note: Two licenses are provided for free when installing the software.) The entire system would be an investment of $650, not including the cost of the cameras.

It may be a serious investment, but it’s an investment that every business needs to consider. Theft, robbery, and other major crimes won’t go away and the police may not always be close enough to stop the crime. I have used other business surveillance systems before and none of them were as pleasant or robust as this one. Just like my past Synology review, there aren’t any complaints here.

Buy it now:
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(Synology DS416j – Includes Synology Surveillance Station)

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(Synology Camera Licensees)

© 2017 Justin Vendette

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