Home Automation Systems - Wireless Security Systems Update

Good news for those folks looking to learn about and buy home automation systems and wireless security systems...

A new page has been added to this site to showcase the many diverse products from SmartHome, the premiere Home Automation manufacturer. This new page is just the start of a whole new segment for this site. Come back again and again as new products and recommendations are added.

Learn how to use the latest Insteon technology to control your home. Features include Home Control, Lighting Control, Temperature Control, and Home Theater Control devices. Find ways to monitor the yard, control the garage door, sense for water leaks and keep an eye on the front door.

Create lighting scenes for a quiet evening at home, a party, a romantic interlude, or watching your favorite movie. Just one touch of a button and the lights dim to the appropriate level.

For more control, use your computer or iPhone to keep track of things. Get held up at work but yet your girlfriend is sitting outside your front door waiting for you? No problem. Use your iPhone to send a code to turn the heat up, set the lights to the right level,
and open the front door.

All possible with these great Home Automation and Wireless Security System Products.

Be sure to visit the new page
HOME AUTOMATION to see what I'm talking about.

Home Video Surveillance Setup - Part IV (Software)

Thanks for returning - this post is the fourth and final segment in this thread on how to set up a Apple Mac Compatible Video Surveillance Monitoring System...

In the prior segments, we've learned about how to select and prep a Macintosh computer for this system. We've learned about what types of cameras are available for us to use in this spy system. And we've seen what features these web cameras have that would be important to us. In this segment, I will be teaching you about some of the software you can use to capture and manipulate the images your spy cam(s) are going to gather for you.

As in all software selection processes, features and ease of use probably are going to dictate what you feel is the best solution for you. What one person might feel is important might not matter that much to the next. Please keep that in mind.

There are many software products available so creating a review of all of them would be an exercise in futility. Instead, I'm going to only concentrate on three of what I consider to be the best. But as I just stated, this is very subjective - you will need to work with each of these (or others) and make your own decision. My goal here is to give you a starting point where you can go on to experiment on your own and find the product that works best for you.

The three packages I will be referencing include
Ben Bird's SecuritySpy, Evological's EvoCam, and Econ Technologies ImageCaster. I've talked about and reviewed EvoCam and ImageCaster here in this blog. An in depth review of SecuritySpy is still on my "todo" list. However, I will provide a mini review here to complete this segment...

The one thing that all of these software packages share is that they are dirt cheap for what they do. I'm truly amazed that these developers can produce such high quality software for such a reasonable cash outlay. If I were writing these packages, I would easily ask 2 to 3 times what these folks are asking. That aside, let's look at what each of these puppies bring to the table.

SecuritySpy is produced by an individual (Ben Bird) versus a company. I don't see this as a plus or negative, just something you should be aware of. The current release is ver 1.6.2 and was published on 1/5/2009. This package is a bit more expensive than the other two but still reasonable. Some of the features include:
- Displays and captures live video from multiple cameras simultaneously
- Supports Macintosh-compatible video and audio input devices, including multiple DV devices
- Supports network video devices (Axis, Panasonic, Vivotek, Sony, D-Link etc.)
- Motion Detection and Timelapse capture features, with audio
- Built-in web server for remote viewing and administration (supports iPhone)
- Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) support for many network cameras
- Real-time MPEG-4 or H.264 compression for efficient storage of captured footage
- Broadcasting support for video delivery via QuickTime Streaming Server (QTSS)
- FTP upload feature for off-site storage of captured footage
- Motion-triggered events such as email notifications, alarms and scripts
- Pre-capture buffer to capture video and audio before the time of motion
- Browser feature for playback of captured footage, with synchronised multi-camera playback
Of all these features, the ones that stick out are Pan/Tilt/Zoom for remote control of your camera, remote viewing capabilities through an iPhone or iPod Touch, and Pre-Capture buffer - this means the software can go back in time and record captured video a few seconds prior to a triggered event. The only negative I see is the pricing structure ramps up as you add more cameras. You can find more information on this application by visiting the link above.

EvoCam is another very capable video capture application with some nice features as well. I won't go into great detail here as my review is already on this site, but I will go over a few of the highlights. Current version is 3.6.5 and was released on 8/1/2009. Pricing is very modest at $30 for a single user license with site licenses available. Upgrades are also modestly priced.

Some of my favorite features are simultaneous multi-camera support. Each camera can be in it's own window with it's own independent settings, Support for any quicktime capable webcamera with unlimited quicktime effects, Triggered events and remote alerts, and a never ending list of 3rd party webcam support. To see a list of supported cams, just visit my post
Evologicals supported webcams. A full featured download is available for a 15 day free test. I suggest you take advantage of this by visiting the publishers website link above.

ImageCaster is the least updated software title of the three talked about here. Current version is 2.1 and it was released on 4/26/2006. A lot has happened in the webcam universe in the last few years and this package needs to be brought up to date. It's a commercial product with a cheap price tag of only $30 with free updates for life. That's a nice feature but if updates are long in the making, that really doesn't mean much.

However, given the age of this release, it must have been years ahead of it's competition for it's still very current in it's capabilities. And it has a few features still not in the other packages. My favorite is the ability to manipulate the images captured. You can add graphic overlays, put borders around your image, rotate, embed the image in a larger picture, and generate a variety of output formats. You can also set up a schedule when you want your webcam running. These features would serve a business well that wanted to broadcast live events. I could see a resort or club using this as a great advertising tool.

Of the three packages, I find the user interface of ImageCaster to be the easiest to navigate and understand. Not, that the other packages are hard, this one just happens to suite me best and seem the most intuitive. This package is also available as a free trial where you can download the latest version and test it with your webcam to see if it will work. Visit the site link about for more information.

Alright, there it is, a quick look at three different video capture software packages. Another reason I've chosen to showcase these three applications is that they ALL allow you the chance to download a free copy and test to your hearts content. Please remember, this post has only touched the surface of what each of these software products are capable of. I can't emphasis enough how you should download a free trial version of each one and test it to see how it will work for you. Spend some time on each site and read everything the publisher has to say about their product. Education is a good thing and you're going to learn lots about webcam security by visiting all of these sites.

Ok, that's it for this thread. You've learned the basics about setting up your own Mac based Computer Security Video Surveillance System - quite a mouth full but very exciting to fathom. And the best part is that it's pretty easy to do with incredible results. I hope you enjoy your new venture.

Home Video Surveillance Setup - Part III (Cam Specs)

Welcome back. In this segment, I want to talk about the different specs for web cameras...

From our last session, we found out there are basically 4 types of web cams that we can choose from: USB interface, FireWire interface, Wireless Networked, and Wired Network.

There are pros and cons for each type of camera. Knowing how you want to use your spy cam will determine the type(s) you can select.

No matter which interface you choose, there will be some specs that apply across the entire spectrum of webcams.

Cost: Cams vary widely in cost. Price however, should not be your driving factor. Remember the saying that "You get what you pay for". This holds true for webcams as well. In general, the more you're willing to pay, you're likely to find more features and better image clarity. However, this isn't always true so be sure to pay close attention to features, specs, and customer reviews. Higher-end webcams usually include better imaging sensors, better lenses, and better color processing.

Resolution: This is the size of the captured image measured in pixels or dots per inch. The larger the spec, the better the quality of the video. Typical resolutions are from a low of 160x120 all the way up to 1600x1200. Standard resolution is usually 640x480. This used to be the upper end but now it's the norm. Keep in mind that each pixel is data. The larger the resolution, the larger the data flow and storage requirements are going to be. Resolution is directly proportional to speed.

Frame Rate: (or speed) is the number of pictures captured and transmitted per second. Remember video is nothing more than a series of still images. The faster the frames per second (fps), the better the video will look. At 10fps, a video looks choppy whereas around 25 fps or so, the eye begins to see the images as a flowing image. 30-60 fps is more cinema-like and looks much sharper and defined.

There is a trade-off -both frame rate and resolution are important but unfortunately, they combine to create a challenge for both your connection, and your computer. Higher resolution means more data per picture. Faster frame rates mean more pictures per second. This means that the pipe (connection) you're pumping this through needs to be able to handle this tremendous data flow. Your computer also has to be able to handle this data rush and if you intend to store it, you need to have adequate (hard drive) space available as well.

Some cameras have built-in data compression so they take some of the burden off your connection and computer by compressing the signal so there's less data to work with, but these models cost more. If you plan to use a low bandwidth connection and/or have a less powerful computer, this type of cam may be what's needed. Even though it's a bit more expensive, it's cheaper than buying a new computer.

Types of Cams:
USB Cams are the most common, the least expensive of the lot and probably come in with the largest selection. But not all USB cams are created equally. Due to our data throughput requirements, you should only consider USB 2.0 or better cams. The older USB 1.1 spec is just too limiting with bandwidth. For measurement speak, USB 1.1 has a transfer rate of 1.5MBytes/sec. USB 2.0 rates at 60MBytes/sec (40 times as fast).

Warning - pay particular attention to the USB spec wording. If the cam states that it's USB 2 "compatible" or "ready", shy away. This manufacturer is merely stating that the cam can function on a USB 2.0 connection, but in reality may only be working at a USB 1.1 level.

USB Length Limits; USB is good for cams that are located close to the computer. Normal operating distances are up to 12 feet. Anything beyond this length, you will need to install active USB extenders which repeat and amplify the USB signals. This is doable but every extension adds resistance and potential for performance degradation.

Ultimately, If you choose a USB connected camera, you'll want to make sure it's UVC-USB 2.0 Video Class compliant. No video drivers required - driverless support for UVC web cameras is built into the Mac operating system for instant plug-and-play operation. The Mac OS X has shipped with a UVC driver included since version 10.4.3, and it was updated in 10.4.9 to work with iChat.

Firewire cams can transmit higher data flows. Firewire (IEEE 1394 interface) is a serial bus interface standard for high-speed communications that transfers at speeds of 400MBytes/sec or more than 6 times faster than USB2.0.

The benefits of going firewire are speed and bandwidth. If your computer is powerful enough, you will be able to process some very nice video images with a firewire cam. Be aware that that bandwidth also means there will could be some big storage demands as well. FIrewire, like USB, is also hampered by distance. Normal cable length is under 10 feet but it's possible to extend this too with the use of active firewire extension cables but the same performance degradation is a potential issue here to - just like USB.

Network cams are great for placing cams at distances further away from the computer. These web cams hook up to your Airport extreme router (or other brand name routers) and are connected via an ethernet cable. Typical modern ethernet connections run at 100Mbits/sec. While a bit slower than firewire, ethernet can transmit over long distances - over 1600 feet. This length can also be extended but does not suffer from the degradation of USB and Firewire extensions. Also, this communication method normally does not require shielded cable. Many offices and business buildings are already cabled for ethernet. The downside is that a cable needs to be run to the camera. If your home isn't cabled as such, you will need to string the cable.

Wireless network cams work just like the wired versions but do so through a WiFi network. The positive is that these cams can be put anyplace a wireless signal is present. They can be moved at will and are gaining popularity - as a result, the price of them is starting to come down. The negative aspect of these cams is that they require a wireless network and some of the earlier models did not support very good security measures. They also tend to be more expensive than their cabled siblings and can sometimes suffer from bandwidth problems. Depending on your WiFi signal strength, you may not be able to push as much data through the air as you would like. Communications with the camera are dependent upon the quality of your wireless network signal and any surrounding electro magnetic interference.

As you can see, there are tradeoffs and compromises to each type of web camera, but now that you know how to select one and what to look for, you should have no trouble finding one to suit your needs.

image logitech quickcam vision pro for macintosh

If you are in the early stages of developing a surveillance system, I suggest you start out with the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro for the Mac. It's my USB best pick. If you should need something different down the line, this webcam will still do a great job for iChat, WebCamNow, Skype, YouTube, DailyMugShot, and any other web cam application you want to use it with. This is a great starter/expander Apple Mac Compatible Web Camera.

If you think you might need something else, don't be afraid to look at my other BEST-OF picks in the webcam list on the Apple Surveillance Cams page.

Ok, that's more than enough for this time. Next segment in this thread will be about putting these cams together with some software... See you soon.

Home Video Surveillance Setup - Part II (Camera Types)

Web cam selection - the type and model of camera you choose for your Mac surveillance security system is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the entire project. Not to scare you off by that statement, it's just that I want you to fully understand how important this piece of equipment is - it's the eyes to your spy system!!

When considering your camera selection, you will need to factor in a number of variables to find the best camera to meet your needs. There is a wide spectrum of products within the webcam arena, each designed to meet a particular set of requirements. It's wise to think this process through and spend some time considering how you plan to use your cams. This will help guide you in your spy cam selection.

Things to think about are:
1) How far away from the computer will your camera(s) be located?
2) Will the camera be stationary or will you want to move it from location to location
3) Are you going to want to control it remotely, either over you local network or through the internet?
4) What level of clarity will you consider acceptable for viewing?
5) Does this camera need to work in a low light situation...

There is a lot more criteria to consider but those are the biggies. So let's look at each one a bit closer.

Distance: If your cam is going to be close to your computer than you may be able to get along with either a USB or Firewire type camera. There are limits to the length of cable for each sort of webcam. There are ways to extend the length, but these sorts of extensions have limits as well. If distance is going to be lengthy, you should look at either a network or wireless cam.

Locations: If the location is going to be stationary, you will most likely be able to use a cam with a connected cable. If on the other hand, you plan to move the camera around, you'll most likely want a wireless version so you don't have to string cables all over the place. If the location is fairly distant but the cam will remain in one place, a network cam is a good choice. But then again, if running a cable is going to be a hassle, then you should give a wireless cam the nod.

Control: If some of the things you want to do with your cam involves remote control such as panning, zooming in on a particular area, or queuing in on sound, make sure the cam you select has these capabilities.

Clarity: Consider visual clarity of the video image. If you plan to use this as a Nanny cam or to watch a cash register or something critical like that, the quality of the picture captured is going to be very important. However, if you only plan to keep an eye on the pool or use one to watch the weather (or something similiar), then quality may not be that important to you. Good cams have ground glass lenses and should have the ability to perform some sort of focus functions. Focal distance is another attribute you should check when selecting a cam. Video quality is also affected by the type of connection you use to hook this to your computer. USB can get overwhelmed by the shear volume of data flow and so your frame rates will be lower than say, a Firewire or an ethernet connection. So too with the size of your cam. If you're after a tiny cam that you plan to install in a hidden devise, the small lens will affect picute quality.

Light Sensitivity: Where you plan to use this cam is something else to review: If you need to keep an eye on subject material where there is little or no light, you should think seriously about a night vision type camera. Same is true for indoor or outdoor use - make sure the camera is rated for the environment you are going to place it in.

As you can see, there's more to selecting a camera than just picking one up off the shelf. Not that this is a hard task, it's just important to do a bit of planning so you get the right web cam during the first go-around. BTW, there's no reason why should feel that you need to buy a camera with every bell and whistle in the book. If you plan to have multiple cameras throughout your system, each one can be chosen for that particular requirement. You may have a night vision cam at the front door, a hidden cam in the babies room, a usb cam watching your office area, and a remote network cam keeping tabs over the back yard.

Next time will discuss specifics about each webcam. In the meantime, you can visit the
Apple Mac Surveillance Cams page to get some feel for the cameras I recommend in each category.

See you again soon.

Home Video Surveillance Setup - Part I

Seems that anyone you talk to these days wants to have a video surveillance system in place. Maybe we've become used to being watched, or maybe it's because we've seen on TV first hand how beneficial it is to catch someone red-handed... Whatever the reason, video surveillance has become very popular.

With hardware costs coming down the way they have recently, putting a system together is relatively inexpensive. Also factor in the idea that most of what you'll need you may already have and any components you do have to buy can perform double duty. This makes this notion all the more appealing.

So how do we go about building this video surveillance system?

Well, first we need to figure out what components we'll need. We also need to determine how elaborate we want to get. Do we want to monitor more than one entrance? Will we want to control the camera remotely? Are we going to want this system to notify us and send the recording to another location? These are all good design questions. Luckily we don't have to be too bogged down with these right this moment - we just need to keep them in the back of our head.

My suggestion is to start out small and simple. Let's get comfortable with what we're doing at this level and then we can expand and crank it up from there.

So first we'll need a computer. If you have a spare Mac laying about, you have that taken care of. One thing to consider though is the age of this spare computer? If it has a G4 processor or less - don't even think about using it. Video processing takes considerable horsepower and a G4 or less aint gonna cut it. A laptop probably isn't the best choice either cause they don't like to be running continuously... However, you can use a notebook mac to get the feel for this project - just keep in mind that you're gonna wanna swap that out real soon.

image apple macintosh mac mini with remote
My suggestion is to find a fairly recent Mac Mini. These are cheap as hell and if you really wanna save some money, consider a reconditioned unit. Both these guys can be had for peanuts by visiting Amazon.com's Apple Mac Mini selection. The beauty of a Mini is that you can use a spare monitor and keyboard if you have either of these laying about which cuts your costs even more. The mini is, well...Mini. It's very small so you can hide it in a closet or on a bookshelf, and it also comes with a remote control. Yes, remote control - are the gears in your head turning now? One last reason to go the mini route is the future. The recent minis are intel based units. The current release of the Mac OS (Snow Leopard - OSX 10.6) dropped support for the powerPC processors. So even though you could probably get a G5 tower for around the same cost as a mini, why be left with an orphan?

Next thing to do is prep this computer for this project. Make sure the system software is up to date. Delete all user accounts except for only one Admin account. Then delete all the files from the DESKTOP, DOWNLOADS, DOCUMENTS, MOVIE, MUSIC, PICTURE, and SITES folders.

Go to the APPLICATIONS folder and delete everything except for Address Book, the AppleScript folder, iChat, iSync, Mail, Preview, Safari, TextEdit, and the UTILITIES folder. Everything else should go. Download a copy of Cocktail and use it to strip out all the blot - run ALL scripts to clean up the system drive.

Next, download a copy of iCleanLanguage and run it (first in 'Dry Run' mode) to clean out all the extra language files. We don't need all this crap so lets get rid of it and free up the hard drive for the video we will be capturing from our surveillance cams.

Alright - that's enough for this post. In the next we'll discuss what cameras we wanna consider. See you in a week, if not sooner.

Apple Mac Mini Desktop Computers

Mac Compatible Security Camera and Surveillance Monitoring Systems

This post introduces a series of posts showing you how to set up a Security Camera Surveillance monitoring system. Use this system to protect your home and/or business through the use of some "off-the-shelf" webcam components from manufacturers such as Panasonic, Dlink, Trendnet, and HP.

This system also includes a basic Apple hardware (Airport Extreme) WIFI station as well as a software component from EvoCam (reviewed earlier).

And finally, there's a section on home automation - giving you the ability to monitor and control your environment from a remote location.

This series starts in seven days. Be sure to subscribe to this blog in order to get all the updates.

Best Security Products Online

Finding the BEST Home Security Products available online just got a bit easier.

image of best security products available online

Whether you are looking for home security equipment, webcams, remote control web cameras, video surveillance hardware, or a full range of spy instruments, you can start and end your search with our sponsor Amazon.com. Find a full range of equipment along with real customer ratings and honest-2-god reviews.

Be sure to click on the above link to see all that's available. You may be surprised... and if not surprised - certainly amazed.