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No matter what our politicians say, the crime rate doesn't ever seem to go down.And while many of us would love to live in a castle, most have to find better ways to protect ourselves.
A lot of people find that a Closed Circuit Television Camera (CCTV) sign acts as a deterrent, but I think having the real thing is so much better. If you do have a break-in then hopefully you will have some images of the culprit to give to police.
Apart from that, CCTV is great keep an eye on your place while you are away - in my case, to make sure the dogs aren't misbehaving!
Before you start, if you are planning to cover any public property with your CCTV then check with your local council or police regarding its legality.
Whatever option you choose, spend enough time deciding what features you need first, then make sure that your solution provides everything you want.
Most CCTV solutions these days come with a good range of features. Here are some you might want to consider:
detect motion and automatically record
ability to define what areas for motion detection
record at preset times or days
do you need to see at night too
alerts by email
alerts by sms (usually only in more expensive systems)
record still pictures
view live from other computers in your house
view live from a smart phone
view live anywhere on the internet (with password)
ability to move cameras remotely ("pan, tilt, zoom)
Remember that choosing more features may cost more.
You will also need to consider:
how much area do you want to cover
do you need high resolution
how many cameras do you need
For example if you are trying to protect a small area in a shop (like a cash register), you may need only one lower resolution camera positioned quite close.
If you are protecting a house with large front and back yards, it is likely you will need several cameras with overlapping coverage. Higher resolution cameras will be necessary to ensure that you get enough clarity to identify faces.
If you only have a short term need or want to monitor only a small area, then the solution can be very cheap and simple. This can work well if someone at work is raiding your jellybean supply.
The easiest way is to use a webcam connected by a USB cable to your computer, which should be a maximum 5 metres away.
For Windows users, Active Webcam works well and even supports multiple webcams. It costs $29 to buy, but it can be used for free if you are willing to put up with a "Demo" overlay on the video and a "nag screen" as you exit the program.
There are also some alternative programs listed on this site.
If you need to run multiple cameras, then installing a CCTV Capture Card in a computer at home to build a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) may work well for you.
It needn't be a brand new PC, often an older PC running Windows XP can do just fine. Generally a PC with an Intel based motherboard and chip works better with capture cards. It will depend largely on the capture card you buy, and they can be found on Ebay for as cheap as $30 running up to hundreds of dollars.
The capture card should come with software to make it functional, check what features it offers against your requirements list.
Each card will usually support up to 4 cameras, but some may support up to 16. If the card only supports four, then usually you can install up to four cards in a PC (a total of 16 cameras).
Read the specifications carefully. Cards will have a "frames per second" (fps) figure which generally applies to the whole card. So a 40fps card will only support 10fps for each camera. This means any video will be jerky, and may be blurred if someone moves fast.
Ready made Digital Video Recorders
Again Ebay is a popular source for ready-to-go DVRs. The basic unit can cost around $100-200, and is a box (usually running Linux) with a hard drive and provision to record at least 4 cameras. They are often bundled with a selection of cameras too, but you needn't buy everything at once.
As the box may need software upgrades or support in the future, it is important to choose a supplier that you have confidence in. An Australian supplier is more likely to provide good support, but will usually cost more too.
To locate these boxes on Ebay, type ch dvr cctv into the search box. Be sure to check and compare all the features offered between suppliers, especially things like exactly how do you get remote access to see your video.
IP Cameras are cameras that can connect directly to your home network router or modem, either via a cable or wirelessly. They don't need a PC or anything else to make them usable, everything is built into the camera case.
They have been getting cheaper and more functional, and it is now possible to pick up units from under $100. These have motion sensing, can record images or video at pre-set times, and generally work well by day or at night as they have built in LED's to illuminate up to several metres away.
Cheaper units generally have a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, or 0.3 megapixels. If you spend more, you can find higher resolution models having 2 megapixels resolution.
Some IP cameras have a microphone and speaker built in, which is ideal if you want to scream at your dogs to stop barking while you are dining at a Uighur restaurant. I recommend going outside for this in case other diners think you are admonishing your children a little too strongly.
A feature becoming common on IP cameras is pan/tilt, which allows you to turn the camera to whatever angle you need to see. Very handy indeed!. It is also available on some fixed cameras suitable for use with DVR's, but is generally quite expensive.
IP cameras should be viewable on a smart phone, or in a browser such as Chrome or Internet Explorer from anywhere in the world which makes them extremely accessible.
Monitoring cameras remotely
There are many apps for monitoring cameras remotely, but some do not support all types of cameras. I have been using IP Cam Viewer for some time, and it supports both my PC based DVR and IP cameras. The free version has small ads, but the pro version only costs a couple of dollars and is well worthwhile.