My IP Camera Lessons

Earlier this year I decided to string up some security cameras on the house. Like many projects, this one took on a life of its own.

I decided to share my experiences after playing around with several different cameras, network setups and software packages. Maybe you can glean some nuggets of wisdom? Or maybe you’ll just find comic relief in my haphazard abuse of the English language? Let’s find out…

Chapter 1: Wired or Wireless?

Axis Communications design cameras with industrial-strength features and provide free software that makes for a simple setup using a secure interface to view online.

We wanted to monitor our entryway and property in case something happened. Over the years our corner lot has experienced minor vandalism, lost a couple of yard ornaments and observed more and more unsavory types wandering the ‘hood. I wanted the cameras to record constantly, so we could review the footage in case something happened. The cameras also needed to be mounted outdoors. Plus we wanted the ability to access the cameras from afar- via another computer or mobile device. But my preference was to create a self-contained system. In other words, the footage would be stored locally, instead of on a remote server or cloud service. I’m cheap.

I pondered several options. Actually… more than several. To start with I looked at everything from expensive off-the-shelf systems and a video doorbell, to simple webcam setups and even repurposing an old video camcorder. Eventually I felt comfortable setting up a couple of IP cameras connected to a recorder thingy known as a network video recorder.

So I set to work ordering gadgets.

My first attempt was a pair of Amcrest wireless cameras (wireless being a misnomer we’ll discuss a little later) and an NVR. The test setup in the den worked splendly. The WiFi signal inside the house worked dandy, so the cameras had a nice picture and recorded with no problem. They were well built, recorded HS video, included infrared for night and were easy to use. But, we weren’t mounting the cameras in the den.

Once outside the cameras’ signals went south. The camera close to our router worked pretty well. The camera further away was offline more often than not. Trying to get video data through the brick and wood and sheetrock of our home seriously degraded the WiFi signal. Plus, our sprawling Sixties abode added to the challenge. The wireless signal was sketchy on far-flung wings of our house, even non-existent over the garage.

Wireless cameras can work great in some locations. But consider this: most of them are not really wireless. Cameras touted as wireless typically use Wifi to transmit their video signal. The power input still requires a wire (the Arlo by Netgear is one of the few exceptions).

After several weeks of frustration with the wireless camera setup I finally gave up and bought some cable.

The NVR Option

Managing your cameras via a network video recorder (NVR) is probably the best option if you aren’t plotting a new career as a video surveillance technician. They’re easy to set up, offer a nice suite of features and usually work pretty reliably. Most are small boxes that look frighteningly similar to a VCR, hold a hard drive for storage and run a simple version of Linux. They are typically managed from a web interface or offer a simple console requiring a monitor and a mouse.

The NVR differs from a DVR (digital video recorder) primarily by the connection to the cameras. A DVR has a cable to each camera. The NVR connects to your network just as your IP cameras do.

Do the NASty

To avoid saving my footage to the cloud I chose to store it locally. This is pretty simple to do if your camera has an SD card slot, or you have a router equipped with a USB port. If you have a single camera, you can just tell the camera to use it. The camera computes the storage space available for recording, then proceeds filling it up with a video stream. At a certain point it fills up, so it automatically discards the oldest recordings as new footage arrives. But…

If you have more than one camera it gets a bit trickier.

Multiple cameras each require a separate space allotment or they will walk over each other’s disk property. Camera A isn’t sure how much space it has left to use, because Camera B is dipping into the same pool. We have to tell each camera exactly how much space it has to work with. And this is where disk quotas are required, and the simple jump drive solution no longer works. You need something called network attached storage, or NAS.

Whew… that’s enough for today.

Tune in next time for Chapter 2: This Gets Good- Axis Companion

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