Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Home Security with Webcams

Home Security
I've toyed with the idea of making my computer (one of them) act as a hub for some security cameras. So I took to the web and read up on the topic. It came as no surprise that most material out there talked about how best to secure your home by closing/locking all windows/doors, using contact sensors, etc. At the bottom of those suggestions were options for those who can afford setting up cameras, systems and such.

In this day and age, however, most laptops (which outsold desktops last year - 2008) come with built-in webcams (web cameras), offer webcams free as part of a bundle, etc. Some of us have at least one webcam laying around the house. A year or so ago, I was able to get a very good deal on a couple of nice ones (two separate models purchased separately).

Although the reasons may be obvious, let's first take a look at why one would want to have a security/surveillance system in place. Without spending too much time on this point, here are some of the reasons:
  • Monitoring of buildings or offices after hours for security.
  • As a video surveillance recorder in businesses to prevent theft, vandalism, burglaries, etc.
  • Used in conjunction with a security alarm, you can analyze and play back security footage to determine if a security call out is warranted.
  • Simple, yet effective video security system for your home.
  • As a pet surveillance system. Find out what they are up to when you're not around.
  • Nanny watch.
  • Kid watch --The Kids get in from school at 4pm. You don't get home till 6pm. They are old enough to look after themselves but you still want to keep an eye on things.
  • Front door/Driveway watch.
  • Watch for (and with some camera set ups, talk back) deliveries.
  • etc.
The applications are many. But in addition to the cost of hardware and the actual set up (wiring, placement, etc.), there's also the cost of the software ... the system itself, if you will. That's the heart of today's article.

Beyond your computer and the webcam(s), you should not need any additional electronics. No need for a DVR, a dedicated system, "security" cameras, CCTV, etc. As for the software, well, many are free. And with some creativity, you may not be able to get 100% of what you want, but you'll come awfully close. Let's keep in mind that some of the many capabilities many seek & expect must exist in the cameras themselves.

What I personally am after is a setup where I could simply point the camera in a direction, and with motion detection, it snaps photos and/or video, and uploads them somewhere. That way, should the computer itself be taken, I have access to those snapshots. For me personally, I'd like some flexibility with the location of the upload. In other words, I wouldn't want to rely on the same company of the software to "host" that media for me. Instead, I would like an ubiquitous option like FTP, email and even social media sites like Twitter, Picasa or Flickr. The latter, Flickr, would make for an excellent choice as long as the account is not public and I don't hit that 100mb limit that comes with the free Flickr plan.

So before I talk about the software options, it's worth noting that there are two categories: Software applications; which are programs you install on your machine ... And, Webapps (Web applications); which run via your browser.

Although most (especially high-end) webcams come with their own software applications, the ones I will be reviewing are generic and should work with any webcam. Webapps, on the other hand, can sometimes be less capable than software applications, but on the plus side there's nothing to install. And in many cases, you can use the same service with a single account on, and from, several machines. Some of the ones I will review can also support multiple cameras at once, which is handy for covering more than one location, angle, room, house, store, etc. at a time.

I'm only reviewing software solutions that offer a free version (no trials); and I'm only reviewing a hand-full. I'm sure there are others out there that I don't know about; therefore, I welcome your feedback in the comments on any that deserve mention.

Let's get started, shall we? Coincidentally, both webcams I have are Logitech. One is the QuickCam® Pro 9000 for Business, and the other is the QuickCam® Deluxe for Notebooks.

Software Applications

This windows-only application has many options, which may come across as complex; instead, there's just plenty to chose from. After spending a little time in the Yawcam settings you can set automatic FTP uploading, emailing, or just saving captured images to your hard drive. You can even set a schedule for when Yawcam is enabled to capture images so your webcam isn't constantly snapping pictures while you're sitting in its path. The free java-based application even has a stealth mode.


The app does an exceptional job at letting you pick various ways you want to be notified. In addition to the ones I mentioned above, it can also play any sound on your computer, or start another program (such as a lock-down or keyboard locking application).

Here're some of the features Yawcam list on their website:
.: Video streaming
.: Image snapshots
.: Built-in webserver
.: Motion detection
.: Ftp-upload
.: Text and image overlays
.: Password protection
.: Online announcements for communities
.: Scheduler for online time
.: Multi languages

Here's a good step-by-step on how to setup your webcam with Yawcam (although you don't really need one): Skatter Tech.

I must say (without any vested interest), out of all the ones I mention today Yawcam is the one I like the most and is the software application I run at home.

This Windows and Mac application did not come across as intuitive; although, in all fairness, I did not get a chance to install it and play with it. I was distracted & confused by their web site too much to try it. Still, it's been around for a few years, works on both platforms and deserves the mention.

Their mobile video surveillance software, called EyeSpyFX Webcam, allows you to create your own webcam monitoring service.

This webcam viewing software works by broadcasting a live webcam page displaying the images captured by any webcam you have connected to your local network. Once you download and install the software package to your local PC, you can use any standard web camera to capture and broadcast live images. Live images can be accessed either through a standard PC with internet connection, or web enabled cell phone. When accessed through a cell phone, the broadcast web page will automatically optimize to suit your specific mobile phone.

The EyeSpyFX Webcam software comes with many unique features and benefits. These include:
  • Remote camera control -- If you have a web camera that has pan/tilt/zoom functionality, you can use EyeSpyFX Webcam to manage these controls remotely. In addition, you can also use your cell phone to take remote snapshots as well.
  • Privacy protection -- EyeSpyFX Webcam provides extra security and privacy protection controls to ensure an unauthorized user cannot gain access to your web cameras or video feeds.
  • Simple to use -- This software package is designed to be simple and easy to use. Once you download the software, it can be installed in a matter of seconds and will work with any ISP regardless of bandwidth connection speed. It will also function regardless of whether the broadcasting computer utilizes a dynamic or fixed IP address. The software is also designed to work with all standard web cameras and with any GPRS/GSM color picture phone.
Other Windows-only software applications that warrant mention and looking into include AbelCam, Yoics and HomeCamera.


I've mentioned Orb in the past, as it is one of the best ways to listen to your own collection of music without the need to carry it with you. And you can listen to it all from any where and on pretty much any internet-enabled device. The same application can serve up your webcam ... live! Orb, however, is a software application that installs & runs on your machine, which acts as a server, allowing you access to what it streams over the web. While it's a likely fit in the software application, its interface and ease-of-use (albeit unfairly) put it in the webapp category. Think of it as a hybrid.

This solution, however, doesn't offer snapshots, archiving, publishing, hosting, etc. It's more of a "I want to see what my camera sees." So what made this an option? Well, when used with something like Yawcam, it's the best package you get even from many of the high-end solutions.

OrsonEye is free software that lets you use a small, cheap, and easy network camera to automatically upload images to Flickr.

Although I've not tried it, I get the impression that it runs directly on standard Axis webcams (no need to leave computer on) , simple to set up (no port forwards on your router); but I'm not sure on how. I have a feeling you must install something first.

This is a really easy Web-based security tool that displays live footage and an archive of snapshots from your Webcam. It works with any camera that's attached to your computer or a remote camera with an IP address.

While there is no way to receive alerts via e-mail, the service provides alerts via an RSS feed for every camera you have set up. Using a service like Pingie (an SMS alert service for RSS feeds), would let you get an SMS alert every time a new photo shows up.

Both UStream.tv and Justin.tv are set up to let anyone create a live broadcast free of charge. There's also a way to make the stream password-protected, meaning only you and those you've given the code to will be able to see it.

You could use this free service to broadcast your band's concert, your high school's football game, your company's training session or just about anything else. More importantly, you now could use for all your security needs. All you need is an account, a video camera (either a webcam or a camcorder that has webcam capabilities) and a broadband Internet connection. You can schedule events, send out invites and archive broadcasts for later viewing.


You could go high-tech with a webcam robot like the Rovio™ or the amazing Spykee™. The latter received higher reviews; not surprising since the build-it-yourself robot can move, watch, hear, speak and monitor using any computer and an internet connection. The Spykee takes pictures and records videos. It lets you make free calls over the Internet with the VoIP phone function. It's also an mp3 reader allowing you to listen to your own mp3 music. The monitoring and video surveillance detects movement and sends you a picture of the intruder by email.

As for webcams that are more robust than my Logitechs, and ones that have more oomph and features, I recommend the Sharx Security VIPcella-IR (here on Amazon) and the Panasonic BL-C131 (here on Amazon). I won't bore you with the specs, details or the $200+ price tags, but I urge you to check them out (no, I don't get any commission or advertising or anything). These are simply the cameras on my wish list.

Whether you use your existing webcam, go with a more advanced/robust one, select a software app or a webapp, your choices are sure to payoff. The rest is about creativity in placement & implementation, and a little elbow grease. Having free software options, however, is sure to help make it easier.  ▣

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