Monitor Your Home on the Internet
Monitor Your Home on the Internet
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
Most of you have heard about the Florida woman who had a funny feeling about her home so she logged into her web camera to see it being robbed. Since then, I’ve been asked multiple times if people should do this with their home. I’ll show you several ways people are successfully doing this. You just need to have a high speed internet connection to get started.
Q- “Should I have a webcam monitor my home when I’m away? Is it expensive?” Jermaine K Portland, OR
A- Jermaine, this is a timely question and I think many people would benefit from knowing the possibilities. First off, the answer is a definite yes. You should monitor your home, especially if you have large pets that can knock things over and cause fires or water damage (anyone see Marley and me?). That being said, I would like to discuss the ways to do this. Assuming you have a high speed connection in your home, such as DSL or Cable, you’ll need to buy a web enabled camera. This is commonly called a webcam (just like you were commonly called “Jermy” when you were a kid).
A webcam can be wired, wireless or both. You should get a camera that costs in the $100 range or higher, rather than the less expensive $50 models because of a huge difference in quality. Of course, if you decide you need to protect several areas of your home, this could get expensive. I personally like the wired webcams for reasons I will explain shortly, but first, let’s discuss the difference between a computer webcam and a security webcam.
A computer webcam is a USB connected device you plug into your computer for web chatting using Skype, or an instant messaging program like AIM or Yahoo Messenger. This is not the type of camera you want to buy to monitor your home. You need to buy the type that has an Ethernet connector in the back or is wireless. The packaging should say it does security video for monitoring. An example of these types of models would be the Linksys WVC or Dlink DCS 3420. Some are for indoor use while others are used outdoors and include a weatherproof housing. The outdoor models also have an infrared option for nighttime recording that is amazingly clear.
The best scenario would be to have an Ethernet wire run to each of the cameras rather than using wireless, because it will be a lot more fluid and less jerky. Wireless connections have a hard time keeping up with the 30 frames per second we need to see in order to perceive a video as being as “normal”. If you have multiple wireless cameras, this can get even worse. This is a valid option, and if you’re happy with the quality, then it’s better than nothing. You can hire a person to run the cable, or do it yourself if you’re handy. If you decide to run any wires into the ceiling, you may need to get plenum rated cable in order to meet code. This type of cable won’t give off harmful gases if you have a fire. Unfortunately, there are no codes for gassy relatives when they come over for holiday dinners.
Once you have your security camera, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to buy a software package where you upload the video to a paid service, or use your computer or a DVR to record the video. The cameras themselves don’t have enough memory to hold all the video you may need in order to hold evidence of a crime. An offsite service that stores the video and feeds you live images is great for the non-techy person because the setup is very simple. You’ll have to pay a fee of a few dollars a month for the service, but it may be worth it.
For those technical minded people (those of you who have watched the new Star Trek trailer over and over online) you could set up a computer in your home as a digital video recorder. This would not only record the video but also give you a way to view it live through your router. You’ll have to edit your router to allow the http traffic to your camera (or monitoring DVR device for multiple cameras). If you don’t have a static IP address, you’ll have to use dynamic DNS. If you don’t know what this is, then you don’t have a static address. Google it. You know you want to.
Having direct access to your camera is a lot better quality. The offline services tend to only let you see a smaller video picture than you would see direct from the camera or DVR. It’s also closer to real-time because you don’t have to wait for it to go to an offsite location before you see it. It may only be a few seconds of a delay, but for some people that would not be acceptable.
Besides monitoring your home for burglars or clumsy pets that are too big for your home (and should be on a farm), you could use it to monitor your children. It’s also good for monitoring fire, flood, or nosy neighbors that still have your key you forgot to get back after your last vacation. If you have a security monitor for your home and you get a call while you’re away, this could be a big help in deciding if the police should be called, or if your spouse accidentally tripped it and can’t remember the password to save their life. (Its rosebud, remember?)
Some come with a microphone so you can hear what’s going on even if the picture of a disaster is out of the reach of your camera. I personally like the kind that can pan, tilt, and rotate. This allows you to use fewer cameras because they cover a wider area.
If you get that funny feeling about something happening at your home while you’re away, you may need to get a security webcam set up before it’s too late. But then again, I may just be scaring you because I like to do that sometimes. Boo!
For more great tips, check back here and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10 AM in Seattle on KOL, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.