Set up your own home surveillance system
GETTING A PROFESSIONAL home surveillance system installed and monitored is a very expensive proposition. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to create your own on a tight budget. IP cameras can be used for security, for child or pet monitoring, or simply if you want to be able to check in on some part of your house.
An IP camera, for those unfamiliar with them, are like webcams but instead of connecting to a PC, they connect to your network. Then with the right software, you can check on the camera’s feeds from any device or computer connected to the network. Some software also lets you monitor feeds from over the internet.
Most IP cameras do come with some kind of software, but it is generally very basic, used only for checking and setting event-based captures (such as “capture 15 seconds of video if motion is detected”). If you want something more capable — perhaps capable of continuous recording from multiple cameras, as well as complex recording and capture options — you need a proper surveillance solution.
This month, we’re going to take a very quick look at iSpy, a free and very powerful surveillance solution. There is a paid version of iSpy (iSpy Connect, that grants remote access to feeds, as well as other features like email alerts, but we’ll focus on just getting the free version up and running.
CONNECTING THE CAMERA
The first thing you need to do is set up your IP cameras. You should use the software supplied with the camera to get the initial setup done — it’s much easier than trying to figure out web admin consoles.
Once you have the camera set up, password protected and connected to your LAN, however you can switch over to iSpy for camera monitoring and capture. Just follow these steps: * Head to www.ispyconnect.com and download iSpy for your system. Install and run it. What you’ll see initially is the iSpy Surface, a blank canvas onto which you’ll place one or more camera feeds for monitoring and control. Click on ‘Add’, then select ‘IP Camera with Wizard’. In the Make field, start typing the model of your IP camera — a list will appear that’s filtered by what you type. If your camera is listed, select it. If your camera is not listed, selecting a similar model name might work — otherwise you’ll have to check the ‘Notlisted’ radio button and type in a make and model and hope it can still be supported. Enter your camera’s username and password (if you don’t know the default username, you might have to do a search — though it’s usually ‘admin’). You now have to do a network scan. Click on ‘Scan Local Network’. A list of all the devices with web servers running will appear (IP cameras run an internal web server). Hopefully, you can find your camera in the list, then click on it to select it and click ‘Next’. You’ll now have the option to choose one of the feed types. You’ll see ‘Try these URLs’ with a list of different options, like H264, JPEG or MJPEG. Pick one — if you don’t know which one is best, you can always just go through again and pick a different option next time (in this case, you would pick MJPEG over JPEG and H264 over both). If you entered ‘Not-listed’ in Step 3, iSpy might take a minute as it tries to scan the web pages for feeds. If it finds none, you may be out of luck. If it successfully grabs the feed, you should see it appear on the iSpy Surface, and the Edit window for that feed should appear. For the moment, just close the Edit window by clicking on Finish. You can control the position and size of the feed on your screen by dragging the window and grabbing the resize tab on the bottom left. There are other things in the feed you might notice. A blue bar just below it is a motion
indicator, with a small red bar indicating the alert/recording threshold for that camera. If you mouse over the feed, you’ll see the options for it, including listening, talk (for cameras with two-way audio) and record now. Note that talk and audio are not enabled for all camera models.
* You can, of course, add other cameras to your Surface using the same process. You can have pretty much as many camera feeds running as your PC and network can handle.
EDITING THE EVENT AND RECORDING OPTIONS
Now that you have at least one feed enabled, you can start setting how you want it to record and capture events. Mouse over the camera feed, and click on the gear icon to enter the Edit window for that feed.
Now there’s a lot you can do here, and we can’t cover them all, but some things you can look at include:
Click on the Storage tab — this is where you control where recordings are stored on your PC. Change the Media location to the directory where you’d like video to be stored. Enabling ‘Storage Management’ can be used to put a cap on how much it stores in total. The oldest recordings will be deleted first.
In the Camera tab, you can set the maximum framerate for both the on-screen display and the recording. Clicking on Options also lets you correct fish eye for wide-angle cameras.
If you have a camera with mechanical pan and tilt, click on the PTZ tab to control it. You can even set up motion tracking so that it follows moving people and objects.
Click on the Recording tab to set up recording rules. For example, you can set it to record on movement detection, with a minimum record and maximum record time. If you want to record continuously or according to a schedule, click instead on the Scheduling tab. Then you click on ‘Schedule Camera’, then ‘Add and set a time’ and choose an action for that time. For instance, if you want your camera to record between 8am and 10am Monday to Friday, you would create two schedules: once at 8am on those days with ‘Recording:Start’ set as the action, and another at 10am on those days with ‘Recording:Stop’ as the Action.
Clicking on the Motion Detection tab lets you set both the sensitivity of motion detection and to specify zones for which the motion detection does not apply. The latter is useful if, for instance, your camera is looking at a window and you don’t want it to trigger every time a car drives by.
The Alerts tab lets you set triggers and actions. For instance, you can create an alert on motion detection that sends a network message. Unfortunately, email and SMS alerts are not available to free users.
Those options really are just a taster of what is possible with iSpy. It’s an immensely capable and complex solution, especially when you add multiple cameras. Explore it — you may be surprised as to what you and your camera soldiers can do.
The iSpy Surface starts as a blank canvas.
Using the wizard will work for most IP cameras.
The Edit window is where you control all the behaviour for that camera.
All the web servers on the network will appear in a list. Find your camera’s IP.
You can set recording according to a schedule.