There’s an app for the cameras. . . but not an app to review them for you. That’s where we step in. HomeFixated recently volunteered to host one of Bosch’s demo cams which they use to show off their security cams, software and apps to buyers looking to secure and surveil their secret bunkers, illicit casinos, caches of pirate booty (oh, and conventional businesses and homes too). Bosch sent us several cameras and video transcoders (not required for all camera applications) to facilitate the demo cam, and for us to review as part of our existing security camera setup. I’m a security geek, so this was right up my alley. With that said, the camera setup we tested isn’t necessarily the best choice for a typical homeowner looking for simple video surveillance. In this review, we’ll be covering details about four Bosch security camera models along with our experience using the cameras with both our existing security cam software as well as with Bosch’s security app for the iPad and iPhone. For Google lovers, an Android version is expected out towards the end of the year too.
First off, a bit of a heads-up. We found Bosch cameras and their security apps to be incredibly full-featured. However, with that full-featured functionality, also comes complexity. While we admittedly had a somewhat complex installation (multiple transcoders, one semi-public demo-cam, four different types of cameras, etc.), we had a somewhat regular correspondence going with Bosch to work out a few kinks in the system and to get some hand-holding for things like firmware updates, necessary setting changes in the cameras’ setup, and for enabling remote access via iPhone and iPad. If you plan to access your cameras remotely and you have never heard the term “port forwarding”, you may wish to look toward a more consumer-friendly option like Dropcam, which requires little to no geek credentials. If you’re looking for a feature-rich security camera setup, with more options than beers consumed at a typical Oktoberfest, read on for our complete review of Bosch security cameras and the Bosch Security camera iPhone and iPad apps.
Bosch has an assortment of cameras designed to suit different installation requirements and budgets. Like our other cam project How to Install a Network Surveillance Camera, all the cameras we reviewed were Power over Ethernet compatible. If you’re starting from scratch and are able to run Ethernet wiring relatively easily, I highly recommend working with POE cameras to avoid having to deal with getting power to each camera in your system via a separate cable and power supply. POE makes for a much cleaner installation.
You’ll need a ethernet switch rated for POE, and when shopping for that, keep in mind most of those switches dedicate only half of the ports to POE. In other words, while the switch may say it’s an 8 port switch, only four of those ports might deliver POE power. Since we were keeping a few old cams and adding several more, we stepped up our game with a new Cisco Ethernet switch which has 24 ports. . . covering all my current network and POE needs with some room for more crazy network additions in the future. We went with the Cisco SG200-26P Switch 24 10/100/1000 Ports, Gigabit Ethernet Smart Switch which has worked out great so far. Moving on from geeky switches and into the fun stuff. . .
Let’s dive into the eyes of Bosch’s security systems; the cameras. Since you might start napping if we get into all the spec’s for each camera, we’ll mainly be focused on installation, performance and our general impressions of each camera model. We’ll start off at the smaller/simpler end and work our way up to Bosch’s fancy-pants Pan-Tilt-Zoom cams I can’t stop playing with.
The Bosch IP Camera 200 Series HD: NDC-284-PT
This is Bosch’s 5 MP Vandal-Resistant Outdoor IP Microdome camera. The camera comes with an internal microSD card slot as well as a microSD card for onboard memory. It supports up to two TB storage capacity. We received two of these cams initially and unfortunately found one of them to be DOA. We also had some troubles pulling up the second on in the Bosch app, and with adjusting its default resolution. Once we got those issues sorted out, we installed the NDC-284-PT directly over our front door. If you’re installing the cam out of arm’s reach, the vandal-resistant design doesn’t much matter. However, for lower-altitude installs, you’ll be happy to know this MicroDome has a cover with three Torx-esque drivers. The “esque” stems from the fact that the fasteners have a small pin and hollowed out area on them, which means you can only remove them with the specialized tool included with the camera (don’t lose it)!
As with most camera installs, getting the wiring where you need it was the hard part. Bosch thoughtfully includes a template for the screw holes in the metal backplate of the camera. Our only real gripe with the install is that we would have liked to see larger screw holes and space for larger screw heads around the perimeter of the mounting plate, making room for larger fasteners. The stock fasteners are tiny, and we don’t see much point to making the cover vandal resistant if the camera can be pried off the wall without much effort. I wound up using a couple longer fasteners (but still thin enough to clear the hole and housing) for a more secure installation.
At just over 4″ in diameter, the camera is small and unobtrusive, making it ideal for installations where you don’t want a giant, conspicuous camera. It’s rated at 0.3 lux which means low-light performance isn’t stellar. Our installation has a light illuminating the area after dark, which gave very acceptable results. However, if you’re looking for good image quality in low-light conditions, this particular model shouldn’t be at the top of your list. Dialing in aim and focus is straight forward, just keep in mind you’ll need to remove the cover anytime you might want to change the camera angle. Once the cam is in action, you’re treated with crisp resolution and vibrant images.
We found street pricing on these at around $570 from online outlets like B & H Photo – Video.
The Bosch IP Camera 200 Series HD: NDN-265-PIO
For a more traditional style Dome camera, Bosch’s NDN-265-PIO brings infrared illumination to low to no-light environments. Although the camera is rated at .3 lux, with the IR illuminators on, you can see what’s happening (albeit in black and white) in zero-light conditions. We installed this particular Bosch cam in an interior location with one of Bosch’s mounting arms. Installation was straight-forward and I liked how the ethernet cable for this model actually has LED status lights so you know you’re wired up properly and have a solid connection. The dome design, particularly with the mounting arm, makes for a very secure and versatile mount. Positioning the camera is easy. I was not a huge fan of the focus and zoom controls which not only required removal of the dome, (which of course makes perfect sense), but also relied on very sensitive adjustments with two rather spindly focus and zoom stems. Focus was a particular challenge to dial-in precisely. The camera is definitely not one you’d want to install in a setting that will require frequent changes to camera angle, focus, etc. However, once set, the camera delivered a solid view.
In our particular installation, the interior frequently was relatively dim, even during daylight hours. So much so, that the camera mostly stayed in IR / black and white mode, even when we would have expected it to switch over to daylight / color mode. How the camera handles switching from day to light mode is adjustable in the camera settings. With this particular cam, you can set it to either automatic, day, or night modes, but you can’t adjust the threshold the automatic setting uses. Bosch informed us that some of their more sophisticated cameras do have an adjustable threshold for this. We happened to install several new windows to the space the cam was in, resulting in the camera kicking into color mode more as we would have expected it to. The dome looks and feels near bulletproof, however we stopped short of using it for target practice. The metal housing is also very robust.
Street pricing on this model was also around $575 from B & H Photo / Video.
The Bosch IP Camera 200 Series HD: NTC-265-PI
This particular camera is what we used for the Bosch Demo Cam installation. It too, is a 720p cam, featuring IR illuminators which make it a strong contender for both day and night applications. Its high efficiency 32 LED array didn’t create the same unwanted halo effect that we found when reviewing similar style security cameras from Vivotek. An adjustable sun shade can be slid forward and back with a simple screw twist, making the NTC-265-PI well suited for outdoor environments. It also sports an IP66 rating for dust and moisture resistance. However, the camera is just as readily suited for indoor use. Initially, I was disappointed the camera didn’t have a separate camera mount. I have found aftermarket mounts (at least the good ones), to be very flexible in terms of situating and adjusting the camera. I have to admit the design of the integrated mount on this model is a LOT more flexible than I thought it would be. Several screws can be loosened on the mount, allowing for near infinite adjustments whether you’re mounting the camera on a wall or ceiling. The downside to those set-screws is that some of them were awkward to get to when the camera was mounted at certain angles, particularly when I was balanced near the top of a 24 foot extension ladder during installation.
Like the cam reviewed above, we had some issues getting things focused. The NTC-265-PI is unique in that it has two holes at the bottom of the camera to facilitate focus and zoom. Using one end of the wrench they include for the set screws, you can can adjust zoom and focus without the need to open domes or remove access covers. The easy access is great, and it’s not easy enough access that someone is likely to adjust focus or zoom without authorization. The downside was that I was attempting to focus the camera perched near the top of a 24 foot extension ladder. Initially I tried viewing the cam on my existing Security Spy camera software, through my iPhone. However, the screen was so small it was hard to tell when it was fully focused. Eventually I resorted to requesting family assistance, and they held my iPad running the Bosch Security app perilously out the top of a second story window so I could see when things were focused. Thankfully, both the iPad and I survived the focusing adventure. Even with the iPad, the range between focus and out of focus was extremely tight. I repeatedly overshot the focus and had a hard time dialing in focus precisely. If you’re mounting the camera anywhere hard to access, I highly recommend trying to adjust zoom and particularly, focus, from a test location on terra firma if that’s at all feasible.
While I’d like to post the live feed to the video demo cam here, the epic crush of traffic from HomeFixated readers/viewers would likely cripple the server instantly. However, if you’d like to see the horrible view we’re subjected to daily here at the HomeFixated HQ in San Diego, you can check out these screenshots of the Bosch demo cam:
Finicky focus aside, I think the NTC-265-PI is a great all-around security camera that’s well suited to a broad range of installation conditions. It makes an excellent outdoor and indoor cam, and the low light performance, thanks to its substantial LED array, is excellent. Keep in mind these only come in Silver (I’m still trying to figure out a way to better camouflage mine). Street pricing on these is also around $575 via B & H.
Bosch Autodome Junior HD PTZ Camera
I’ll just come right out with it, this camera is amazing! It blew my mind when I saw what it could do with Bosch’s security iPad app (more on that later). The Bosch Autodome Junior HD cameras come in a variety of options starting off with a fixed version at the low end (still a $1000+ camera) to the Pan Tilt Zoom version we tested (with a street price of over $2600). The cameras are available in white or charcoal, with clear or tinted domes, in both interior and exterior use options. Make sure you research the exact model that’s best suited for your particular install. In our case, we opted for the charcoal color with tinted dome to help it blend better with the house style and also because of its high sun exposure location. We could get away with an interior version since we added gaskets to the camera mount to keep things watertight, and a heater isn’t needed thanks to our temperate San Diego coastal weather. An outdoor, heated version exists for users that live in areas that actually have seasons.
Installation on this camera was the most challenging, due mainly to the precarious location I decided to install it in. I used a curved Bosch pipe mount which is designed to mount onto an existing double gang box. Since carving a box into the stucco of our house just under the roof didn’t make a lot of sense, I opted to improvise a bit and drilled the pipe mount directly into the framing by our eaves. By building up a thicker gasket around the perimeter of the pipe mount, I left a small gap that was not exposed to weather for the ethernet cable to enter the tube and fish through to the camera. The pipe mount relies on a Torx set screw to secure the camera in place and that’s an important thing to do. Once you have a camera like this in place, the last thing you want is it wiggling loose and dropping off the mount. Since there’s no real visual reference to indicate the Autodome has been rotated sufficiently for the set screw, I actually marked the mount so I’d know how far to rotate it before locking it down.
After installing, I excitedly went to check out the results. What I found was a partial view of the camera’s housing and I was unable to pan or tilt the camera. After some troubleshooting with the Bosch pro’s, we realized that this particular model has a POE+ requirement. Basically, POE+ is a standard that allows for more power to be sent through the ethernet cabling. The standard came about with the increasing popularity of more power-hungry POE devices. Since I was happy with my switch, I opted to buy a POE injector which basically is a small device that goes inline with your ethernet cable and provides POE to the single device hooked up to it. If you’re working with a POE+ camera like this model, make sure your injector is actually POE+ rated (I had a failed attempt with another injector that was “high power POE” but still didn’t work with the camera). Once POE+ was enabled, this camera really came to life.
I have used PTZ cameras before and found them to be pretty clunky, although the technology I was using for those at the time is now very dated. I pulled up the Autodome Jr PTZ in the Bosch Video Security iPad app (more on that below) and was stunned at how quickly and smoothly this camera panned. With the app’s virtual joystick, I could pan the camera 180 degrees in a heartbeat. How far you move the joystick from its center position determines how quickly it pans. The controls are nuanced enough that you can still make small and precise adjustments even when the camera is somewhat zoomed-in. You can even operate panning using your iPad’s accelerometer, which is downright mind-blowing. I found it worked best rotating around in an office chair. Expect to have a sci-fi moment when using this feature.
Speaking of which, the zoom functionality on the Autodome PTZ was equally, if not, more impressive. I trained the camera on a car parked quite a distance down the street and was amazed to be able to make out the license plate clearly. I then zoomed in on the San Diego Yacht Club over half a mile away and could make out the types of vehicles in the parking lot and could see the people walking to them. Both the license plate and vehicle detail could not be seen with the naked eye. It’s clear Bosch put a lot of work into both the Pan Tilt Zoom capabilities and the visual performance of this model.
Given the $2000+ price point, this security camera isn’t for everyone. For serious security installations that require more than just a fixed view, I highly recommend this model. You can find several of the variations of the Bosch Autodome Jr HD PTZ cameras at B & H.
VideoJet VJT-XTCXF Video Transcoder
The VideoJet is partly what makes the magic happen in the Bosch camera ecosystem. It serves as a go-between for the camera(s) and your internet connection, but it is not required (you can use Bosch video cameras and apps without having a transcoder). Installing one VideoJet enables you to view and interact with up to four Bosch security cameras via the iPad or iPhone app. The VideoJet enables HD quality video over connections with limited bandwidth, which is no small feat, and one of its main selling points. The video transcoder also facilitates local recording on a CF card (not included). Installation is just a matter of plugging in an ethernet cable to your network, and plugging the VideoJet into a wall outlet for power. It would have been cool if the unit was POE compatible too, but unfortunately you’ll need to power it the old fashioned way; plugging it into a wall outlet. If you’re ready to channel your inner security geek, you can read the full VideoJet spec’s here. After installation, you assign an IP address to the VideoJet and then configure it either via a web browser, or if you’re on a PC, via Bosch’s Video Client. You’ll then assign up to four cameras to the VideoJet.
One thing we discovered with the onboard memory is that Compact Flash storage is still both expensive and relatively limited. For the single Bosch demo cam, a 16 GB compact flash card was storing less than 24 hours of video when set at maximum quality. While you can downgrade the quality of video you’re collecting (and thus increase how much video you can store), in our opinion it makes more sense to store video locally on a hard drive connected to your computer if you’re looking to be able to access a longer span of recorded material.
We found limited availability of Bosch VideoJet online, but it looks like street price is around $800 on these.
The Bosch Video Security App for the iPad and now iPhone
Both the iPad and iPhone apps are free downloads via the Apple App Store. When searching the app store, you’ll actually find quite a few Bosch Apps in the results. You’ll want the App titled Bosch Video Security. Once you have the app, and assuming you’ve already connected your cam(s) and configured your VideoJet (if applicable), a small search icon will bring up any Bosch cameras or transcoders on your local network, or you can enter a URL or IP address directly. Once you’ve added your device(s), clicking on them will bring up a live view, where you can view the live video, browse through recorded video (if you’re using local storage), and even speak through to the camera’s audio (requires connection of speakers to an audio-capable camera). If you’re storing video via a CF card, the ability to efficiently scroll through recorded footage is impressive. Using a virtual jog dial in the app, you can fast forward or reverse at anything from 2x to 400x. On some of Bosch’s higher-end cameras you can also do forensic search using parameters like Timespan, Motion Detection, Crossing a Line and even entering a field.
Scenes! When working with the Autodome JR PTZ in the Bosch iPad or iPhone app, you have the ability to program up to twelve scenes. A scene just means a specific view angle and zoom level. This can be extremely useful when monitoring multiple areas, or even if you want to quickly track a subject. Switching between scenes is just a matter of touching the scene name you’d like (the names are easily customized). Unlike live PTZ, the app will quickly refresh to the new scene without the nausea-inducing swinging camera effect you can get when panning the camera rapidly manually. With 12 scenes and the PTZ camera, it’s almost like having 12 different cams. Although it doesn’t really give you a sense of the PTZ prowess and other app functionality, Bosch put together a little promo video on the app. Be warned, it contains more finger swipes and iGestures than every Apple commercial you’ve ever seen:
Alternative Desktop Software for Mac Users – Security Spy
If you’re a Mac-only person without access to a PC, all the Bosch gear can be configured without Bosch’s Video Client software via a web interface. Despite only using Macs, I was able to configure everything using a web browser (although a few settings and firmware updates required bouncing around between different browsers for full functionality due to some Java issues). Your browser will need to have Java installed, although Bosch is moving away from that requirement in their latest versions. I also continued to use our existing Security Spy software to manage not only our existing Vivotek cameras, but the new Bosch cameras as well. Initially the cams did not work consistently on the Mac software, however Bosch consulted with the makers of Security Spy and a beta software update resolved the issue. Initially I experienced a choppy frame rate when viewing the Bosch cams on Security Spy, but it turns out that was quickly resolved with a change in Security Spy’s video device settings. Now, both my previous cameras as well as the Bosch cams are performing great. If you’re looking for a security solution specifically for your Mac desktop, we highly recommend the full-featured and versatile Security Spy.
Remote Camera Monitoring
Hooking up and then viewing surveillance camera footage on a local network is a breeze with both the Bosch system and app. However, configuring your system for remote monitoring outside your local network can prove more challenging. To make remote monitoring feasible requires a couple key ingredients; a static IP address and port forwarding configured on your router. The static IP assures that your camera is always reachable outside your network via a set “address.” If your internet provider doesn’t have you set up on a static IP or if that isn’t an option, you can use a service like DynDns.org. Starting at about $25 per year you can get setup with remote access to your device without having to worry about your local IP address changing. As of their recent 5.60 firmware Bosch security cameras support several of these service directly (you can input the fixed address into the Bosch camera settings without having to run a separate piece of software for the dynamic DNS on your system. That’s a great feature, and it makes for a more streamlined and reliable setup than depending on dynamic DNS software running 24/7 on your system. DynDns.org and NoIP.com are a couple of the Bosch-supported vendors.
Port forwarding, also known as port mapping, is the other key component of remote access. It’s what enables remote access to a camera or transcoder on your local network. While not rocket science, if you’re not an IT geek and don’t have much of a grasp on networking knowledge, the port mapping process can be a little daunting. If I didn’t have a Bosch pro holding my hand, I’m not sure I would have fumbled my way through it without a major time investment. One popular resource for setting up port forwarding on various types of routers is PortForward.com. Chances are if you’re looking to setup a remote monitoring capability on a residential camera system, you’re likely geeky enough already to make it happen. If you’re looking to set up a surveillance system for a business, just hand everything off to your favorite IT geek and they’ll likely think it’s a walk in the park. And if you or your IT folks need a little help, check out the Support Options section a couple sections below.
Remote Camera Monitoring with The Bosch VideoJet
Remote camera monitoring with the benefits of the Bosch VideoJet transcoder is where this system really shines. The promise from Bosch is that you’ll be able to view and interact with your cameras via the Bosch app even when you’re connecting over low bandwidth connections. To put this to the test, I went to an office I visit regularly. I brought my iPhone as the test device. This office regularly makes me crazy because it has horrible cell reception and no wifi. I was fairly convinced I would not be able to connect to the Bosch cameras. To my surprise, I was able to pull them up on the Bosch iPhone app. Not only that, I could even control the PTZ camera with ease. Of course, the quality wasn’t crystal clear and the connection wasn’t the snappiest ever, but I was literally watching live video of my house miles from home in a cell phone almost-dead-zone with one to two bars of reception. If you’re dealing with limited bandwidth connections (which most of us still are when it comes to cell phone connections), using the Bosch VideoJet transcoder makes it possible to view and work with multiple cameras remotely under less than ideal conditions. If on the other hand you’re always connected to your cams via high bandwidth connections, the VideoJet Transcoder may be an unnecessary piece of hardware for you.
Bosch Support Options
Typically, those implementing Bosch Security Camera solutions would go to their integrator/installer for assistance with installation and setup. For geeks and the less geeky, Bosch also makes numerous support options available through their technical support department. Bosch Security Technical Support can be reached via the following avenues:
- Phone: (800) 326-1450
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: http://support.boschsecurity.us
Bosch also has a “tech support to-go” youTube channel, which addresses both general and specific tech support needs with informative videos. Sometimes seeing the solution is a lot easier than sorting it out any other way.
You may also find yourself in need of a firmware update. If so, you can get it here:
You’ll need Java capabilities with whatever browser you use. Speaking of firmware, even during the relatively limited time of our review process, Bosch released firmware updates to both the transcoder we were using as well as some of the cameras. While it may seem like an inconvenience to periodically updated the firmware, doing so helps ensure your investment in Bosch gear isn’t something that becomes immediately outdated. Many new developments, features and functionality can find their way onto your Bosch hardware with a simple download. It’s nice to see Bosch actively committed to improving its existing product line.
If you need help from within the iPhone or iPad, the built in help system is excellent. A quick tap of the help icon provides a live overlay of various tips and descriptions right on the screen of your iOS device.
Without getting into the politics of Big Brother (the NSA apparently knows what each one of us had for breakfast this morning), one look at how the Boston Marathon bombings case was solved makes it clear video surveillance and security cameras are more commonplace and more powerful than ever. HomeFixated has used security cams to solve cases slightly less important to national security, eg. which of my neighbors’ dogs kept pooping on our lawn. From terrorist bombers to renegade poopers, video security provides evidence, clears up misunderstandings, and even leads to the criminal conviction in countless cases every single day. It’s also clear that smart phones and tablets are becoming more entrenched in how we interact with the world.
Bosch brings some very capable cameras to the surveillance table, and, more importantly, is making those cameras more usable, useful, accessible and effective by harnessing the power of your iPhone and iPad. With the iPad app relatively recent, and the iPhone app almost brand new, it’s still very early in the game for Bosch’s app development. In future versions, we’d love to see the use of alerts from triggers like motion detection in specific areas to provide notification via the iPad’s and iPhone’s notification system.
Setting up a network-capable surveillance system using Bosch security cameras and video gear isn’t the cheapest option out there. It’s also not the easiest system for a typical homeowner to configure and administrate, especially if your installation is more complex with the use of transcoders and multiple cameras. However, when you factor in the performance, free software, iPad / iPhone apps, and quality, for many it will be a very worthwhile investment. And if you catch a burglar, workplace thief, or neighborhood hooligan (or dog) in the act, you’ll likely consider it some of the best money you ever spent. You can find more links and info on the Bosch Video Security site. Lastly, if you setup your own video security system and catch someone (or something) up to no good, contact us with details or share them in the comments below!