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 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.

Evological EvoCam 2.6.4 Upgrade Review

image of evocam icon
Evological, the developer of one of my favorite software packages (Evocam) has just released an upgrade to their venerable product.

Evocam (ver 3.6.4) adds support for an even larger list of network cameras. Also with the update to this version comes the capability of iPhone support. Now you can tilt, pan, and zoom from your iPhone thru the built in web server within this software upgrade.

image of evocam software show how to set up a sensor trigger

Keep an eye on your remote location(s) and even set up triggers to start a broadcast. In the example shown, I've placed a trigger (sensor) on the mid section of the door. If the door opens, the software detects this change and starts recording.

Movement has to take place within the sensor zone for the software to activate. I like the fact that you can place triggers where you want them. This way if my pet hedgehog should walk by, he won't start the camera.

This software needs a minimum of OSX 10.4 [OSX 10.5 Leopard recommended] and Quicktime 7. Pricing is $30 to buy outright, Free for versions 3.2 or later, and $10 for version 3.1 or earlier.

Couple this great price along with an inexpensive TrendNet camera and you have a very powerful video setup on the cheap. If you want something a little better - put this software together with Panasonic's most popular Wireless IP Network Web Camera for the ultimate remote control webcam monitoring solution.

You can download a trial version (full capabilities) and give it a test run for 15 days.