If you have a Synology NAS server, you probably know that there are so many things you can do with it, besides the host for backups and file sharing. One of those things is the ability to build your own surveillance system via the Synology Surveillance Station app.
In my opinion, this feature is so useful and fun that it alone can be the reason you want to get a Synology NAS in the first place.
This post will explain what Surveillance Station is and how you can make use of it. Before continuing, though, check out my review on a Synology NAS server first to get an overall idea of working with a server, including accessing its web user interface.
Synology Surveillance Station
- Lots of recording features and settings
- Supporting thousands of IP cameras on the market
- Highly customizable
- Excellent interface and remote management
- Only two camera licenses are included with a server
- Require networking know-how for setup and management
- Only works with cameras in a local network
What is the Synology Surveillance Station?
When it comes to home security surveillance, there are many options on the market. Most of them are exclusive: once you’ve picked a vendor, you’re stuck with it. For example, you can’t use a Soliom Bird S60 with a setup of Arlo Ultra and vice versa. That’s where the Synology Surveillance Station is different.
Surveillance Station: A versatile DVR add-on app
Briefly, Surveillance Station is an add-on function that turns your Synology NAS server into a digital video recorder (DVR) for network cameras. It allows you to put security footage directly on your NAS server instead of the camera’s SD card or the vendor’s cloud.
Synology first introduced the Surveillance Station back in March 2008 and has been improving it regularly since. The current revision, version 8.2.3-5828, is many times better than when I first used the app back in 2010.
All Synology NAS servers released in the past few years support this latest version. If you have an older server — a Synology NAS can last for a long time — you might have to use a previous release of the app, which is less capable but still very good.
A few things that make this Synology’s Surveillance Station app so much better than other canned home security camera solutions:
- You have complete control over the recording — there’s no need to fret about your privacy.
- There’s no monthly fee, even when you want to have very long video retention. The more storage your server has, which you can easily upgrade, the longer you can keep the footage.
- You have the freedom of mix-matching cameras that fit your needs — Crucial when you need to use different indoor, outdoor, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and PoE cameras together.
- It’s Internet-agnostic, your system is still running even when your broadband connection is down or unavailable.
- You can set up the system to stay alive even when there’s a power outage by using PoE cameras together with a high-capacity UPS.
And the Surveillance Station will give you a lot more since it has lots of features, including the ability to manage our system via the Internet. Almost anything you’d expect from a professional surveillance system you’ll get from this app.
What cameras does the Surveillance Station support?
Synology’s Surveillance Station supports thousands of IP cameras on the market. Here’s the full list. It’s important to note that even those not (yet) added to the list, but support ONVIF — many cameras do — chances are they will work with Surveillance Station.
Case in point: I used two Amcrest IP2M-852W cameras for this article, both were not yet on the support list, and they worked flawlessly.
Generally, if a camera has a web interface, chances are it will work with the Surveillance Station app. You can also expect camera support at the vendor level. If you find a camera from a particular vendor that works with the app, other cameras from the same vendor will likely work, too.
And there are just a handful of security camera vendors whose cameras won’t work. Generally, these are data-mining vendors that make highly proprietary cameras, such as Arlo, Google, Amazon, etc.
When a camera is supported, most, if not all, of its functions and features will be available to the app. For example, if the camera has pan and tilt functions, the app can control those. For all cameras, all essential features, including zoom, night vision, motion detection, are all there.
How many cameras can I use with my Synology NAS
The total number of cameras depends on the NAS server, but generally, each server can handle more cameras than a home would need.
What you should worry about is the license cost. Each Synology server only comes with two camera licenses for free. If you want to use more cameras with a server, you’ll have to buy additional licenses.
Synology Surveillance Station: Straightforward setup
Setting up a camera with the Synology Surveillance Station is not exactly hard, but it’s more work than other packaged solutions, like the Arlo.
That’s because it’s a two-step process, with each being potentially involved depending on the camera you use. You first need to connect the camera to your network, and only then can you add it to the Surveillance Station.
Set up a camera with your local network
Hooking a camera in your system is a standard procedure. If it’s a wired camera, plug it in via a network cable, and that’s it. For a Wi-Fi camera, you’ll need to follow the camera’s manual to connect it to the Wi-Fi network using its web interface or mobile app.
After that, follow the camera’s instructions to change its basic settings to fit your situation. Examples of these generic tasks include:
- Set up the user name and password for the camera access. Make sure you use a secure password. (Note down this information, you’ll need it for the next step.)
- Adjust time zone and locale.
- Customize the camera’s video quality (you want to use the highest setting), timestamp display, logo display, and so on.
- Update the camera to the latest firmware.
- Reserve an IP address for the camera. You don’t want its local IP address to change, which will cause disconnection, and note down its port. Most cameras use port 80, 88 or 888, and you can also set the port yourself. (Note down the camera’s IP address and port number, you’ll need it in the next step.)
- Mount the camera where you want them to be.
And that’s it. Now you’re ready to hook the camera to your NAS server. But before that, let’s get familiarized with the Surveillance Station’s user interface.
Excellent user interface
By default, Synology NAS doesn’t include the Surveillance Station app. It’s an easy fix: Log into the server’s web interface, run the Package Center, and install the app. It’s free.
After that, run the app, you’ll notice it has a web user interface of its own with five self-explanatory icons on the desktop. Each icon links to a function. Here is the lowdown of what they do:
Live View: Allow you to view live footage of all cameras and perform any live actions with them. The live view doesn’t affect the recording. In other words, a camera still records (based on your settings) when you’re viewing its live feed.
Timeline: View of recordings of previous days in a 24-hour timeframe. There’s also a neat search function for you to find videos of objects based on motions at a particular part of a camera’s view.
IP Camera: This allows you to add cameras to the Surveillance Station and customize their settings.
Recordings: View recording of individual cameras. You can download a recording or export multiple recordings based on different parameters.
Application Center: Allow access to a list of tens of other functions and apps to add even more features to the Surveillance Station. There are links to download the Surveillance Station desktop and mobile apps that you can use instead of the web user interface.
Similar to the server’s interface, the Surveillance Station’s interface can handle multiple windows at a time, so, for example, you can do a live view and view the timeline footage at the same time.
But since we need to set up a camera, we need to start with the IP Camera icon.
Set a camera up with Synology Surveillance Station
This step is when you hook a camera, already connected to your home network, to the Synology Surveillance Station. It’s quite straightforward.
- Click on the IP Camera icon which will bring up the IP Camera window. Here, you’ll see all existing cameras (if any).
- Click on Add then on Add Camera. Now you can choose to do a Quick Setup or a Complete Setup. (The latter will run you through all settings of the camera, which, if you pick the former, you can do manually at a later time — see below.) Then click on Next, the Add Camera Wizard will come up.
- Enter the name, IP address, and other value of the camera that you have collected from the first step above. You can enter the brand and model of the camera if it’s on the supported list, or pick [ONVIF] if your camera support ONVIF. Alternatively, you can also click on the magnifying glass icon and let the wizard detect the camera in the network for you.
- Click on Test Connection to make sure your camera is connected — you’ll see a preview of the camera’s view.
- Click on Finish.
And that’s it; the camera is now part of the system. But you’ll need to customize its settings to your liking first.
Lots of settings, highly customizable
To customize a camera’s setting, call up the IP Camera icon again, select the camera on the list, and click on Edit. Surveillance Station has a lot of settings and customization in five categories, including the following:
Device settings: Change general camera settings, including video compression format (h.264, MJPEg, and so on), video quality (resolution, frame rates, image quality, and so on), or pick an external speaker as the audio output for the cam (if supported).
Recording Settings: All recording-related settings are here, including storage space and video retention options, scheduling (when to record based on motion detection, when to record continuously, and so on), and mapping recording (motion detection or continuous) with a stream profile. You can also set the length of each video from 1 to 240 minutes.
Live View Settings: Determines the video quality for live streaming using the stream profiles.
Optimization: Miscellaneous settings, such as timestamp onscreen display, camera orientation (flipped, mirror), time synchronization, and so on.
Event Detection: Set motion detection source (by the camera or by Surveillance Station), sensitivity (from 1 to 99, the higher, the more sensitive motion detection is), and threshold (from 1 to 99 as the size of the object that can trigger detection.) You can also change detection areas to ignore certain parts of the camera’s view.
It’s important to note that the number of settings and their values change depending on the camera. In all, Surveillance Station has a lot of customization to fit anyone’s recording needs. And again, there are also even more available via the Application Center.
Synology Surveillance Station: Excellent performance
I’ve used Synology NAS servers for almost ten years now, and most of this time, I also used the Surveillance Station. For the most part, I’ve been happy with how the app works. It’s reliable and delivers excellent performance.
What I like most about Surveillance Sation — compared with Arlo cameras — is that there’s almost no limit in how long a recording is (as opposed to just 5 minutes of the Arlo). The Timeline view and Sync playback are also helpful when I need to find a particular recording or have a good picture of what’s going on at a specific time.
Remote access to the system is also convenient. You can do that via the web interface, the Surveillance Station desktop software, or the DS Cam mobile app. All of them use Synology’s QuickConnect vendor-assisted portal to access the NAS server. Alternatively, you can also use Dynamic DNS.
By the way, using remote access with the Surveillance Station means you stream recording (or live footage) from the NAS server. For this reason, the performance depends on the Internet speeds at both ends, where the NAS server resides and the remote location.
It’s worth noting that the Surveillance Station doesn’t take a lot of system resources. Over the years, I’ve used this app with more than a dozen of Synology NAS models — DS410, DS411slim, DS1511+, DS412+, DS712+, DS713+, DS1513+, DS214play, DS214se, DS414slim, DS415+, DS1515+, DS1517+, DS218+, DS1618+, and DS1019+ — and none of them had any issue.
For example, my current DS1618+ server, which has 8GB of RAM and no other upgrades, runs the Surveillance Station app quite smoothly in tandem with few other heavy apps, including a Windows Server 2016 virtual machine.
Obviously, the more cameras you use, the more the NAS server has to work. However, my take is if you employ five or fewer cameras — I’ve always used only four at a time –, it’s safe to say you won’t need to worry about the server being slowed down.
Like everything else, the Synology Surveillance Station is not perfect. Here are a few things that you should be aware of:
As mentioned above, each NAS server, no matter how big or expensive, includes just two camera licenses. If you want to use more cameras, you’ll need to buy additional licenses at about $60/each. I feel the company should include a free license per drive bay. So a 4-bay server should have four free camera licenses and so on.
By the way, you can transfer a purchased license from one server to another. Just delete it from a server, and it will become available to use with another. However, the two built-in licenses will remain with the server, even when you don’t want to use them.
Impractical default settings
In my experience, if you use the default settings, one or all of these will happen:
- No motion detection recording
- Video quality automatically set at the lowest
- Short video retention.
So, take time and configure each camera properly.
No camera support via the Internet
You cannot use a single NAS server to host cameras at multiple locations, like your home and your office — you’ll need a NAS server at each address. The reason is the app can only handle local IP cameras and not cameras via the Internet. That said, if you want to manage security cameras of multiple properties in one place conveniently, the Arlo Q or Q Plus is a good alternative.
Just like the NAS server, the Synology Surveillance Station is not for everyone. It requires a certain level of networking know-how to perform the setup and ongoing management.
However, in return, this do-it-yourself surveillance system is much more comprehensive than any other canned home security camera set. What’s more, you’ll have full control of your security recording and will not have to pay a monthly subscription.
That said, if you already have a Synology NAS, get one or two cameras and try out this add-on app. Most importantly, if you have a large property and want to protect it with an advanced security system, get a Synology NAS server instead of paying for a service. You’ll save a lot in the long run.