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February 28, 2009, 2:24 am
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Set Up a PC-Based Security System
Protect your home with your PC and one or more video cameras.
By Bill O'Brien
Serious home security doesn=92t have to comprise a panic room,
bodyguards with pile-driver arms, and a machine-gun emplacement on the
front lawn. It=92s the peace of mind often achieved by a simple
awareness of what=92s happening around you. For that, you really need
nothing more than a camera=97or three. Put one at the front door to see
who=92s knocking; install one in the baby=92s room to keep an eye on
little Cuthbert; and, if you=92re having second thoughts about that
nanny you hired, stash a secret one in the den.
If you=92re like most folks today, you have at least one PC at home, as
well as a laptop you use when you=92re away. In this project, we=92ll
explain how to configure your cameras so you can monitor them online,
as well as when you=92re home. After all, what good is security if you
can=92t take it with you?
1. Consider wiring schemes (or not)
It=92s likely that your camera or cameras will need to be positioned far
from your PC, so you might assume that installing a wireless camera or
cameras is the only way to go. Wireless models aren=92t always the best
choice, however. Wireless cams operate in the 2.5GHz band, and that=92s
a very busy place, with wireless computer gear, phones, microwave
ovens, garage-door openers, and quite a few other cord-free gadgets
jostling each other for the same bandwidth. Things tend to get crowded
and slow on 2.5GHz, and that=92s definitely not a good thing for a
security camera engaged in activity as bandwidth-intensive as
As an alternative, consider camera models that use power-line
connectivity. These cams feature a receiver that plugs into an AC
outlet and connects to your computer via a USB port. The camera also
plugs into an AC outlet, and the camera and receiver communicate with
each other over the existing power lines in your home. The advantage
is that, in theory, you shouldn=92t encounter any communication dead
zones between the two. They should act as if wired directly together.
2. Choose your camera carefully
You can always point an indoor camera (left) to get an outdoor view,
but if the camera might be subjected to the elements, a camera built
for outdoor use (center) is the only way to go. A spycam (right) is a
great way to add stealthy indoor views.
Several considerations apply here. Do you want an indoor camera or an
outdoor model, or perhaps a stealthy one versus something that looks
obvious? Beyond those choices, however, you have a further pair: What
frame rate do you need the camera to be capable of, and do you want a
camera that records both video and sound, or will video alone suffice?
When contemplating this project, we looked at camera systems from
Logitech and Axis Communications. Logitech=92s WiLife security cameras
use power-line connectivity, do not record sound, and top out at 15
frames per second (fps). The Axis Communications gear can be connected
directly to your network router, but it also uses wireless 802.11g Wi-
Fi as an option. It will record sound and is rated at 30fps (although
in practice it =93feels=94 a couple of frames per second slower than
Based on those specifications, the wireless Axis 207w (indoor) and
211w (outdoor) cameras are more versatile. At $275 online for the
207w, that cam is also about $15 more expensive than the competing
Logitech product, but not out of range for the extra features it
offers. Unfortunately, the 207w was such a bear to set up=97even though
tech support assured us (during the hour or so we spent on the phone)
that it typically works out of the box=97that we opted for Logitech=92s
$299.99 WiLife Video Security Master System starter kit instead. It
comes with one indoor camera; additional indoor and outdoor cams cost
$229.99 each. (=93Spy cams=94 are available too.) The WiLife cameras come
with onboard processing hardware to boost their motion-detection
abilities and image quality.
3. Determine optimum camera placement
Shown here connected to a single six-outlet power strip while setting
up the focus, the power packs for the camera's transmitter and
receiver are enormous. Take that into account when deciding on the
location of the system components.
Even though the WiLife kit doesn=92t require you to string wire across
your home, location is still a key issue. On the receiver side, it=92s
just a matter of making sure you have a nearby wall outlet and a long-
enough USB cable to reach your PC. (The receiver uses the USB
connection to transmit the images sent to it by the camera.) If the
supplied four-foot USB cable isn=92t long enough, feel free to purchase
a longer one=97the recommended maximum is about 16 feet.
At the camera end, you need to select a location that=92s both
convenient to a power receptacle and that will let you capture the
view you desire. The WiLife camera and its transmitter are connected
via a Cat-3 cable that=92s about six feet long. You can use a longer
cable if you need the extra reach; if you can=92t find Cat-3, a Cat-5
cable can be used interchangeably.
Also, note that you don=92t necessarily need to plug the transmitter
directly into the wall AC outlet. You can use a power extension cord=97
but not one with surge suppression. That=92s already built into the
camera, and external surge suppressors used inline will degrade the
video signal. (If you do use an extension cord and are installing an
outdoor camera, make sure you use an outdoor-rated cord.)
Tip: When choosing a location for an indoor or outdoor camera, be
mindful of nearby lighting. You don=92t want your camera pointing
directly into the sun or at a halogen light source. Too much of either
may damage the video sensor.
4. Install the hardware
Like with most USB devices, you need to run the WiLife=92s installation
disc first so Windows can set up the needed drivers. WiLife also
installs a software application, then guides you through the initial
The physical connections are simple. When you=92re instructed to do so,
plug the receiver into a wall outlet near your PC, then connect it to
the computer via its USB cable. Next, plug the camera into a wall
outlet. The two units will begin to communicate with each other
through your home=92s power lines. When all the electronic handshaking
and hugging is over, what the camera sees should be sent through your
AC lines, into the receiver, and then into your PC via the USB cable.
5. Make final adjustments
Automatic brightness and contrast controls will work for most daytime-
to-dusk video captures. If you've set up your camera in a dark area,
simply adjusting the brightness and contrast will often reveal enough
details (top) from an otherwise nearly indistinguishable image
Though everything should work well at the WiLife kit=92s default
settings, it leaves some room for fine-tuning. If you click the Setup
button on the WiLife Control Panel, you=92ll find options called Camera,
Recording, Alerts, Online, and Advanced. Some of them, to be most
effective, require an upgrade to the Platinum version of the software.
An extra $80 per year gets you features such as notifications via e-
mail (if, for example, motion=97or lack of motion=97is detected) and the
ability to store and access recorded video in an offsite storage area.
That said, perhaps 98.9 percent of the things you=92ll likely want to do
with your camera will work fine with the options that Logitech
supplies out of the box.
The two options that matter most are Camera and Recording. The former
lets you label the various cameras you have so you can tell which one
you=92re looking at. It also gives you options for where those labels
will appear on the video display. Also, you can make brightness and
contrast adjustments within the software to compensate for the ambient
lighting at the camera location. The Recording option lets you
designate the directory in which recordings are saved, determines
whether motion or timed recordings (or both) are used, and provides
information regarding how much drive space you=92ve used.
More crucial is the ability to monitor your camera or cameras when
you=92re away from home. You can monitor the view from your camera
online, but only through WiLife=92s Web site, and you can only view your
video stream for 3 minutes at a time. (You can register an account
with the site when you set up the kit; sign-on is at
online.wilife.com.) There=92s approximately a 15-second delay between
what you see over the Internet and what=92s =93live.=94 Also, as we
mentioned earlier, if you upgrade the software to the Platinum level,
you can authorize the software to send you e-mail alerts about
activity the camera detects.
If we wanted that level of security, however, we=92d probably consider
something more than just a casual security arrangement such as this.
We=92d also want to add at least an outdoor and, perhaps, a spy camera
to make the possible viewing zones more complete. Whether you=92re
viewing your WiLife system online or on your local PC, you can monitor
a single camera at a time (and cycle among all those you have
installed) or view all the cameras at the same time in a tiled
Tip: In most cases, your camera should be preset to maximum focus out
of the box. If you need to adjust it, bring the camera into the room
where the receiver and computer are. You can adjust the focus while
looking at your monitor, and the camera will hold that focus when
returned to its vantage point.
Re: Weekend Project: Set Up a PC-Based Security System
This is the simplest solution:
Up to 400 devices on a single serial RS-232 port with free Windows
automation software. The Weedtech system is one of the simplest to
use. One can implement an alarm system defining custom events and
triggers with a GUI windows interface.
http://www.weedtech.com/ Misterhouse uses these cards with Perl
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