You don't need expensive software or a new camera to keep an eye on things at home. Whether you're looking after your dog or trying to catch burglars in the act, you can put together a home security system with a regular webcam and your PC.
We've talked about home security software a few times before, but after seeing the above video on Boing Boing -- in which a woman is able to detect, call the police on and apprehend two men robbing her house -- we thought it would be a good idea to give a more definitive answer on which software we thought was the best. We tried a number of different programs out, and here are the two we think are most worth your time.
The Cheap, Easy Method: iCam
Previously mentioned iCam is undoubtedly the simplest of the bunch, and at only $US5, it's a steal for how many features it gives you. Set up iCam with any webcam and you can view an ongoing stream from your iPhone, Android phone, or even a web browser. It can also send a push notification to your phone whenever it detects motion, and take a number of quick snapshots so you can see what was moving around.
The best part about iCam is that it couldn't be simpler to set up. You just install the iCamSource app on your Windows PC or Mac, download the app to your iPhone or Android device, and select your camera from iCamSource's menu. Give it a username and password (so no one but you can access it), edit the motion detection sensitivity if need be, and get on with your day. You can even set up multiple cameras if you have a number of different areas to monitor. Check out the video above for a demonstration on how it works, and see our previous tutorial on iCam for more info on setting it up.
The More Expensive Bells-and-Whistles Method: WebcamXP
The only real downside of iCam is that you can't record and save video. You can watch it live, but if you see that someone's entered your home, you can only save snapshots of it on your phone. If you want a few more features (like saving video, uploading saved video to the web or only monitoring certain parts of the frame for motion), WebcamXP is the most user-friendly program we tested. The basics are pretty easy to set up -- just start up the program, right-click in the video frame to choose your webcam, and tell it to alert you via the Security tab. You can also set up more complex schedules, telling it when to record, when to monitor for motion, and when to upload videos to the web.
The main downsides to WebcamXP are its price ($US60 for single-camera use), its Windows-only availability, and the few extra steps it takes to forward the necessary ports and set up DHCP reservations. You don't need to do any of that in iCam, but if you want to view WebcamXP's stream from the internet, you'll need to fiddle with a few router settings. Neither is especially hard to do, it's just an annoyance you have to deal with when you first set it up. For more information on setting up and using WebcamXP, check out its very thorough documentation.
Note that WebcamXP does have a free version, but it doesn't offer the ability to alert you when motion's detected, making iCam a better choice than WebcamXP Free. Grab the Pro version if you want the full set of features; otherwise, iCam's probably fine.
There are a ton of other webcam-based surveillance tools out there, but these are our two favourites. If you like a different program better, let us know which one (and why) in the comments below.