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Setting up a home CCTV Server

CCTV setup

What about privacy law ?

In UK, you have no 'expectation of privacy' when in a public place or a 'permissive public place' (i.e. a place where the owner allows access to the public without charge). So we already have huge numbers of CCTV camera's in our streets. However when on your own property you do have 'the right to privacy' - so whilst you can set up whatever camera's you like in your own house, if you 'monitor' the outside of your house you have to be careful NOT to 'spy on your neighbour' :-)

Most CCTV camera's have a very wide angle of view. This is fine for the front of your property (but not the side or back). The driveway at the front of your (and your neighbours) house will be a 'permissive public place' (assuming you & your neighbour allow the public access your front door).However your neighbours will have an 'expectation of privacy' (i.e. not to be 'overlooked') when inside their house or in their back-yard. This may mean fitting 'blinkers' to any camera at the side or rear of your property to prevent it 'looking in' to any window or the neighbours back-yard

What about kids ?

Media hysteria has resulted in 'super sensitivity' when it comes to images of children. To avoid persecution by the over-zealous authorities, if your house is on a 'school route' I suggest 'masking' any front of property camera so it can only 'see' those in your own front yard. If you have kids of your own (who will bring their friends home), I suggest limiting yourself to outside camera's only

Is CCTV the solution to crime ?

No, unfortunately, not. In the UK, the only 'solution' is to catch the criminal and lock them away (since criminals in prison can't commit crimes). The cost, in absolute money terms, of keeping criminals in jail may well exceed the cost of their crimes, however this is paid for by 'the taxpayer' - whilst crime affects the individual. So 'on balance', the individual should always make the effort to help catch criminals (even if the Governments priority is to minimise jail time in order to keep down costs)

In UK, public CCTV is now so 'common' that many criminals simply ignore the street cameras. However, private CCTV is still 'unusual enough' to have some deterrence effect (even if it only moves the criminal away from your property and onto your neighbours).If the criminal is not deterred, your CCTV needs to be 'good enough' to actually gather evidence. This means using 'dummy' cameras as a deterrent, with real ones to record the criminal who is not deterred

What else can I do to deter crime ?

In 'high risk' areas you should consider fitting a front gate with a (lockable) 'Mail Box' (and sealing your front door letterbox**).

Fitting a front gate and 'Mail Box', will, along with a suitable notice, remove the 'assumption' that your front yard is a 'permissive public place'.

This will make it an offence (trespass) to enter your front yard without explicit invitation - as well as removing the would be thief's excuse of 'leaflet delivery' or 'door to door sales' etc. (often used to 'check out' your security in daylight so they can avoid your camera's etc. when they come back after dark).

** A well known 'trick' used by many thieves today is to push a simple fishing pole through your letterbox. This allows them to hook and 'harvest' whatever you leave on your hall table = such as your car keys !Thieves also use a simple 'mechanical arm' device that can reach in through the letter box and unlock your front door !

What about physical deterrents ?

As a householder you have a 'duty of care' to avoid injury to anyone (including unwanted intruders) on your property. This means the law may take a dim view of deliberate 'traps' = for example, coating your drain pipes with 'non-setting paint' is fine if the paint starts just above head height level .. however if the non-setting paint only starts at the second floor level you could well find yourself in trouble.

An 'obvious' deterrent that is 'not primarily intended' to case injury - such as plastic drain pipes using the supplied brackets that will collapse under a climbers weight or trellis work on top of a fence / wall (that might well collapse under the weight of a intruder trying to climb over) & the obvious (from outside your property) use of actual barbed wire or broken glass etc. 'wall tops' that are obviously intended 'as a deterrent' would be acceptable (although you might want to provide local cats an alternative route so they can avoid injury)

As the law currently stands, it seems that the planting of 'decorative garden flowers' (such as firethorn / hawthorn / rosebushes etc.) behind the fence / wall adjourning your neighbours property is perfectly acceptable, even if these can not be seen before climbing over the fence / wall. However you should always remember that your primary aim is to get the potential intruder to give up and go elsewhere, not 'win a war' :-)

To deter the casual thief gaining access to your rear garden by jumping over your neighbours fence, you could protect your side with a 4 foot wide & high series of rose bushes or a natural 'barbed wire' Firethorn / Pyracantha hedge .. but be particularly careful to avoid your plants injuring your neighbours (or their kids) who might accidentally brush against (or run into) the fence.

How do I setup a CCTV system ?

If you can position a computer quite close (5m) to where the camera is positioned you can use any USB 'Web-Cam' - USB 'booster' cables do exist that can increase this to 15m, however these do not seem that reliable. If the camera is further away, you can use a 'composite video' (avi) camera with a RCA / BNC co-ax cable (which will allow cable lengths of 30-50m) or a Web-Cam 'kit' that connects using Ethernet or WiFi.

A door 'spy hole' camera can be had for less than £15 on eBay and a CCTV camera in an 'all weather' housing with IR LED's for less than £30

Should I 'hide' my camera's ?

The smarter criminal will 'check out' his intended target during daylight, note any PIR floodlights & CCTV camera's and either move onto a less well protected 'target' or return after dark. So hiding your camera's may actually increase the chance of a break-in !

Most property owners position a PIR floodlight at the front of their property. This plainly acts as some deterrent since statistics show that most actual break-ins are at the rear of the property - but it appears to have little effect on theft from parked cars.I would recommend the following (in order of priority if you have a limited budget) :-1) Front of property, an obvious dummy camera positioned to 'steer' the criminal into looking toward the real hidden camera. If you park your car on the driveway, position the real camera to capture images of anyone 'testing' the doors2) The side(s) of a semi-detached / detached house, obvious dummy cameras at the 'point of access' to the side gate etc.3) Rear of property - hidden real camera - by the time the thief enters your backyard no amount of dummy camera's is going to deter him4) Finally, a front door 'spy hole' camera is a good idea - this gets you a record of all visitors (including those who called when you weren't in & might turn out to be the crook who comes back later) and allows you to provide evidence of any 'scam artist', 'beggar' or 'con-merchant' who calls at your door

Should I position cameras within the house ?

Hopefully, anyone who sees the need for CCTV will also install 'dead locks', window locks and an alarm system that prevents the thief gaining access. I would thus suggest that any money available is better spent on more physical security (such as additional 'lever locks' for your front & back doors) - and making it a lot harder for any thief to 'jump over the fence' from your neighbours back garden

In the UK, whilst it's perfectly legal to record within your own home (even with a hidden 'Nanny Cam') you will be asking for trouble if you have kids, especially if they bring their friends home

Do I need specialist Hardware ?

A1. For a basic USB connected Web-Cam, no

Many manufacturers of USB Web-Cams supply drivers that can only cope with a single camera. To support 2 or more USB Web-Cams on the same computer you will have to buy from different manufacturersMany Web-Cams incorporate microphones which let you add sound to your security system, however 'classical' CCTV systems did not support sound recording so you may have trouble getting standard 'off the shelf' commercial CCTV software to record anything

A2. You can buy Web-Cams that have been 'packaged' into 'stand-alone' kits which lets them connect to your CCTV Server using Ethernet or WiFi. However these usually transmit 'unprocessed' video (.avi) or 'compressed' (.mpg) which limits their maximum resolution (typically) to 640x480.

You could build your own custom 'stand alone' network camera using a 'single board computer' such as the Raspberry pi'. However, as of May 2012, you would have to write your own software to 'process' the raw video (i.e. use motion sensing) and 'buffer' the data on-board to keep down data rates (and thus increase the maximum supported resolution).

A3. For a CCTV 'composite video' (avi) camera, you will need a 'video to USB' converter (aka 'dongle'). One that supports SVGA quality is about £5 on eBay (a 4 Channel version - i.e. supporting up to 4 cameras - can be had for less than £10, however check the ACTUAL resolution output when using 4 camera's before buying (many pack 4 feeds into a 640x480 video stream, i.e. 320x240 per camera)

Most 'CCTV' camera's are IR sensitive & can 'see in the dark' but only in B&W mode. Many will have "IR LED's" which will switch on automatically at dusk.However whilst this sounds 'clever', your goal is to avoid having your goods stolen, rather than catch the criminal in the act, so you should deter thieves with a PIR activated flood light. Thus a 'daylight' (colour) camera is all you really need

A4. 'Remote control' cameras, with pan/tilt & zoom, are starting to become affordable. Many of these (known as 'IP Cameras') can interface 'directly' to the Internet and can be controlled remotely. It is even possible to find 'motion sensing' software that can control a remote camera and 'track' the disturbance

A5. Finally, combined motion sensor light + CCTV camera units are starting to become available (e.g. the ESP GuardCam) and affordable (less than £100 per unit). These take 'snap shots' (or short videos) when the motion sensor is triggered. The only down side is that they are mains powered and have to be mounted outside of easy reach (to avoid theft of the Guard Cam itself !).

Do I need specialist Software ?

Yes. 'Standard' software will allow you to 'record' to hard disk, however DVD quality video requires about 2.5 mbs or about 1Gb per hour, 24Gb per day (per camera). Ignoring the fact that many applications are limited to 2Gb file sizes, you could fit a 500Gb drive (and still be able to see who robbed you when you get back from holiday), however a far better solution is to 'record' only when 'something is happening'. This requires some sort of 'motion detection' software (or a Hardware (PIR) motion sensor that can be monitored with software).

Many commercial packages exist that will offer 'movement sensitivity' settings to avoid recording falling leaves (or your pets) to hard disk, most keep recording for some time after the 'movement detection' ends, most will take 'snapshots' - which some will 'upload' to a web site (eg Flickr) or 'send' as an email attachment or to your mobile phone

Fortunately, the Open Source 'iSpy' package offers all of the above and a lot more as well !

What resolution should I use ?

Generally, 'the higher the better' (but see 'how many cameras ?' below).

With CCTV camera's the resolution is stated as 'lines' and start at about 380 'lines'. Even the 'top end' camera's are typically limited to 640x480 (i.e. 480 lines) in order to support the legacy 'analogue' based recording (VHS Tape) systems.Web-Cams start at a hopeless 320x240 (which may be OK when you are sitting in front of it for Skype but not much else) and go up from there.To recognise the postman's face at your front door you really need at least VGA (640x480) - if you want to recognise him walking up the drive as well, I suggest 800x600 - and to spot the neighbours cat in your backyard you will need 1280x960 or (a lot) better.

How many camera's can I run ?

Motion detection is CPU intensive. The higher the resolution of your camera, the more 'work' is needed to detect motion, and whilst 'clever software' will reduce the 'sampling rate' to 'keep up', such software can be expensive.

Almost any PC should be able to support a VGA (640x480) web-cam / CCTV camera. For more camera's (or higher resolution) you should consider using a multi-core CPU.NB. When it comes to camera 'counts', don't be tempted by the spurious claims of the 'CCTV kit' vendors.'Standard' CCTV will record at the 'video tape' resolution of 640x480 (or less) which allows them to claim a '4 camera' system = i.e. a 2x2 'mosaic' of four 320x240 'thumbnails' = which is just about good enough to 'detect movement' and set off the alarms but is way too low to actually identify the intruder.To support additional camera's they then pull the trick of reducing the 'frame rate' (so '16 cameras' means each set of 4 will record at 1/4 'speed').A 'DIY' digital computer system that supports a single 1280x960 camera is thus equivalent in quality to a '16 camera CCTV' system (and about 16 times more useful when it comes to identifying the intruder)

Can the 'motion detection' software use my CUDA Video card for processing ?

You would think so, wouldn't you ? However, to date, it seems only some of the very high-end commercial software makes use of CUDA processing

What about 'on-line' viewing ?

A number of services - such as UGOlog and GoTo Camera allow you to 'log-in' from anywhere in the world and view whatever your CCTV camera's are seeing. Of course, these are commercial sites aimed at extracting 'subscriptions' from you, so tend NOT to mention the obvious drawbacks

The main drawback is, if YOU can see that your house is empty 'on-line', WHO ELSE can ?? Plainly, anyone their 'security' allows - and the history of all commercial web sites suggests that information will 'leak' no matter how hard they try.

If you do use such a service, at least 'aim' your cameras so they DON'T show if the house is (un)occupied - and don't make it easy to identify your house - remember Google has made 'your' street view available to criminals 'for free'. Also, if you decide to make any of your camera's 'pubic' (eg see here) leave them 'turned on' all the time .. nothing advertises that you are on Holiday more than an 'alarm' system you only turn on when you go away !

Mass market home security is still in it's infancy. So don't expect the service you choose today to exist tomorrow - and whilst users of 'HomeCamera' were migrated to 'GoTo Camera' there is no guarantee this will happen to the next service that closes

How about using Skype ?

Yes, this is possible - essentially you setup 2 new** accounts, 'link' them (i.e. add each to the others 'Contacts') & leave your computer 'logged on' at home to one account & set to 'automatically answer with video'. When away, you use the second account to 'call' the first.

** When you set Skype to 'auto-answer' it will respond to ANY caller in your 'contacts' list. This means if you are already a Skype user you must NOT use your 'normal' account on the computer left at home (unless you want friends to wonder why you 'answered' but are not there :-) )

Apart from the fact that there is no recording (so no evidence to pass over to the authorities), the main drawback is that few 'public access' computers have Skype installed ... and using a 3G 'smart phone' to receive video whist abroad is likely to cost you more in call charges than any criminal could possibly have stolen !

What CCTV software should I use ?

The only really 'free' software is Open Source, however many 'commercial' vendors offer free 'Starter Editions' to 'tempt you in'. By all means use their 'Starter editions' - just don't get sucked in :-).'Free Trials' are another matter - these are to be avoided like the plague they are - ALL 'Free Trials' are 'copy protected' and leave behind components that not un-installed and are DESIGNED to be impossible to remove (this is to prevent you obtaining another 'free trial' after the first expires).

iSpy (Open Source, Windows only)

Uses the VLC / FFMPEG code base for video support (fortunately it does not follow the VLC approach to 'GUI' :-) ). A low power 'sub-computer' (slave) can be used to 'capture' the video/audio data steam and (running iSpyServer) 'pipe' this to the main 'processing' computer across your (Gigabit**) Ethernet network.

It can record (and trigger) on sound (as well as motion detection), record pre-trigger events (using the 'buffer') and you can set a 'record after movement ceases' time. It supports record in time-lapse mode and has a 'snapshot' mode. It can even connect to iSpy's web site from where you can monitor (or even control) the cameras or 'save' to You-Tube

**A 100mbs network will (just about) support one full frame rate (.avi, uncompressed) SVGA camera.iSpy native recording format is .avi. You can set up auto-conversion into mp4, however this is 'non-real time' (the maximum 'clip' time is limited to 15 mins). The software can be set to delete old clips to make way for new ones.

About the most comprehensive package in existence - if it's got a fault, it's that with all the options it can be a bit daunting to setup

SecureCam2 (Donation supported shareware)

This is actually a 'snapshot' utility that can record as a Mjpg 'video' or as individual JPG frames. 'Motion detection' is actually 'image (frame) comparison' which discards 'duplicate' snapshots by simply comparing one with the next ! (you can set the level of 'difference'). Supports 'up to 4' cameras - the screen shots show the usual '2x2 grid' sub-resolution arrangement, however the nature of the software suggests that it will 'snap' at 'full' camera resolution.

This is ideal as a 'front door monitor', since you can set it to 'large differences' mode so it will only 'snap images' of anyone appearing directly in front of the camera. Further, the standard 640x480 is sufficient resolution to provide a good chance of identification when taking images from only a few feet away.

Vitamin D Starter Ed (shareware ?)

The 'starter' edition is limited to 320x240 resolution - this would be OK for a single head height door mounted 'spy hole' camera but not much good for anything else

OK if all you want to do is set up a single 'door spy' camera to record the fact that you had a visitor, but not much good if you want to identify an unknown caller

"Active WebCam"> (commercial)

I mention this POS only because it's an excellent example of 'over-hyped' software aimed at the 'novice' user with a fancy 'set up wizard'. A 'free trial' is believed to exist that constantly 'nags' you into 'upgrading' (and which some users report 'times out' after 24 hours anyway).Reading 'between the lines' it seems that motion detection only works on the paid-for version. It can even be purchased at '45% discount' (how to suck in the mugs = double your price and offer them a 'discount' :-) ).Windows XP users report frequent crashes, however it seems that emails to 'support' go unanswered, so, despite having paid, it seems you can expect no support. The latest version is over 2 years old, so plainly no bug fixes can be expected, ever

So once again I stress -- DO NOT waste your time on 'free trials' of commercial software (90% of their efforts must go into 'copy protection' and licence control - which 'locks' the software in stone and means bugs are almost impossible to fix)

Zone Minder (Open Source, Linux only)

"The top Linux video camera security and surveillance solution". Unfortunately, no Windows version exists, although ZoneMinder may well tempt you into setting up a Linux computer just to run your CCTV cameras :-)

The availability of this software encouraged me to build a 'stand alone' Raspberry Pi 'CCTV camera system'. To see how I went about it, visit my Raspberry Pi Projects topic pages, or see what others have managed to get working here

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