Q-See's QT534 Surveillance System offers increased home security at an affordable price.
With technology improving so rapidly over the past decade, the cost of an entry-level video surveillance system has decreased tremendously and now the market offers the ability to buy a full system for well under $500. Since I have recently acquired my first home, I decided to invest in a surveillance system for extra protection since I own a large array of expensive electronics that are used for producing quality content on this website.
In this review, we are going to take an in-depth look at the QT534 Surveillance System which is manufactured by a company named Q-See. The system includes 4 separate video cameras, a DVR receiver box, and all the necessary installation accessories at a price-point under $250. A surveillance system in this price range is considered the lower-end of the market so we will evaluate it accordingly and will focus on determining the value on the dollar. Rest assured, I promise to give my honest opinion of the product with no outside influence or bias having any effect on the outcome of this review.
Camera Units & Wiring
After unboxing the QT534 system, the first thing that really stuck out to me was how well-made the camera units were for the low price. Prior to unboxing, I expected the cameras to constructed from a mediocre plastic yet I was thankfully mistaken as they utilize a metal chassis to ensure they stay protected and in working order despite being outdoors all year round.
If you weren't aware already these are not wireless cameras, each unit must be connected to the DVR base with one of the 65 foot cables that are included with the system. Each wire is split into two connections with one handling the video feed and the other supplying power to the camera. The build quality of these cables are mediocre and I could see them being an issue in the future when subject to varying temperatures or any potential wear and tear. While it wouldn't be expensive to replace these cables, it can become a major hassle if you have your system professionally wired throughout the walls of your house. In some cases, 65 feet of cabling may be too short so you'll want to take into consideration your camera position prior to purchase (these cables in a 100ft size can be bought separately) however for my situation they were more than long enough.
The DVR box is a necessary component within the QT534 system as it controls all the recording and playback functionality. The design is rather simple yet it blends in on my TV stand nicely alongside my Time Warner Cable box. The average person wouldn't suspect it to be part of a video surveillance system so you can keep a low profile in a business or residential setting.
The build quality of the DVR box is much less impressive than that of the cameras. This is acceptable since the DVR should be kept indoors in a stationary position that is out of harm's way. The system comes with an included remote which is also very cheaply made however any type of included remote at this price-point is a surprise so I can't complain.
While the QT534 is far from a high-end surveillance system, it still gives you a lot of advanced features for the price. As you'd expect, the 500GB DVR is should provide at least 14+ days of footage (in a few cases people reported 90+ days worth of footage). This system does not have Wi-Fi functionality of any kind so the cameras require a hard-line connection and the DVR box relies on an Ethernet port should you want to connect it to the Internet for remote broadcasting. I will warn you, the configuration involved for viewing your camera feed over the Internet will not be an easy task for the average consumer and it requires an advanced setup process for someone with plenty of networking knowledge.
This DVR features a small variety of inputs and outputs of which you can reference directly via the diagram below:
Installation & Camera Positioning
The four camera setup was ideal for my situation as provided enough cameras to cover every entrance/exit to my home as well as allowing me the ability to capture any vehicles that may pull into my driveway.
The installation process is one of the largest downfalls of any home surveillance system and it is not an easy task. Since I have stucco ceilings throughout my home, I had to run the necessary camera cables from their mounted exterior positions through my attic then down and out my living room wall in order to be able to connect them to the DVR box which is connected to my HDTV.
Since this was not something that I had the skills or time to complete, I hired an electrician to complete the job. This resulted in a smooth installation except for when they had to cut a large hole in my wall in order to thread the cabling through a “fire stopper” found within it. The whole process took them about 5 hours and cost me hundreds of dollars in labor so I ended up spending more money on the installation than the unit itself.
Could you avoid the hefty installation expense and install it yourself? This is surely possible depending on your skills and the environment in which you plan to utilize the camera. A setting with “drop” ceilings would be ideal as you would easily be able to run the wiring. A more permanent ceiling like my house's stucco adds an additional layer of complication into the mix so that is why I decided to shell out the extra dough for a professional.
DVR Interface & Configuration
Out of the box, there isn't much you'll need to do in order to configure the QT534 system. It will automatically record all four cameras 24/7 and rewrite over the hard disk when it becomes full. If you desire video monitoring (via the mobile app or web), you'll need to configure this manually and for most it will be quite confusing. Setting up local broadcasting to an iOS device while on your home network wasn't too complicated and I was able to get my iPad 2 and iPad Air broadcasting without much effort. However even with a solid networking background, I was unable to get remote broadcasting working properly after a few hours of troubleshooting so beware if this feature is a deal-breaker for your needs.
The DVR interface itself is far from great. The menus and organization is confusing overall and it can take a few minutes to find the exact setting you wish to tweak. Q-See does supply a USB mouse in the box for use when navigating through the DVR interface, but it is cheaply and its performance reflects that. For those of you want to only record when motion sensing is trigger, this is able to be setup, but I didn't do much tinkering with the settings as I simply sought after basic surveillance.
The video performance on these Q-See cameras is what you'd expect for a standard definition security camera during the day. This quality is good enough to give you an adequate identification on a potential intruder or suspect (depending on the camera angle) although making out things like distinct facial features of elements like a car license plate are only likely in an ideal circumstance.
The video quality suffers greatly in dark conditions as the night vision capabilities are rather limited. The infrared lights only only output enough power to see around 25ft away from the cameras so this may be a concern for some of you depending on how you plan to utilize the camera. In my case, I wasn't expecting spectacular night vision functionality at a $250 price-point so I'm not all that upset.
The multiple USB ports found on the DVR are convenient exporting of video footage via a USB drive. However, there are a few hassles that come with the exporting process. First off, the Q-See instructions that come with the security system are very brief and poorly written so you kind of have to mess around to learn how to work the DVR's backend.
There is a “copy” and “paste” button (it is slightly hidden in the control bar) which allows you to select certain clips and save them to your drive. When viewing a live camera feed there is a “snapshot” button which takes a screen grab and save it to your drive although this button disappears when viewing past footage.
Since I am a Mac user and only own Apple computers, I ran into an issue when trying to view footage exported from the Q-See. This is because the DVR will only export in a .DVR (a proprietary format that requires Windows only software to view) or .AVI format (a format made by Microsoft so it only works natively on Windows computers). Luckily, I have Parallels installed on my iMac with a Windows 7 installation running so I was able to work around this issue, but in most cases Mac users will need to utilize a 3rd party software like VLC to view any exported .AVI files.
At a sub-$250 price point, Q-See's QT534 Surveillance System surpassed my expectations especially when it came to the cameras' build quality and its variety of advanced features. However, it is important to understand this system's limitations and to remember it can only capture video in standard definition (not a whole lot of detail). When you take into consideration the extensive installation process that can be a result of needing to wire cameras through your walls or ceiling, it may not be a cost-effective solution for your consumer budget. In the end, I'm happy with my purchase as this type of basic surveillance is all I sought after with this system and it gives me added piece of mind knowing my home is under a 24/7 watch.