Turn Your Webcam Into A Surveillance System

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.


Comments

    If you've got an old laptop or un-used EEEbox or similar, "Motion" for Linus isn't a bad program for taking a snapshot from a webcam whenever motion is detected.

    It's not quite as GUI as most Windows options, but it works pretty well in the default configuration (and you can always seek help to set it up the way you want, and you'll only need to do it once!)

    I recently used yawcam with teamviewer and dropbox to monitor my front room while I was away for 3 weeks. I set the yawcam to take pictures every hour and to motion detect. I found it could be so sensitive that it would pick up changes in the sunlight within the room so it needed a bit of adjusting but proved how powerful it could be.
    I used a subfolder of dropbox as the save location for the pics, so even if the pc was stolen by intruders, I still had offsite copies to pass onto police. Teamviewer allowed me to see the cam live at any time and to make adjustments to the settings. Yawcam can also be setup for video streaming, but I found this easy and more useful, plus I was going to connect remotely anyway. Yawcam also has plenty of other file save options including ftp but I found dropbox to be easiest and most versatile.
    Dropbox and teamviewer also have mobile apps.

    There is something very reassuring to be able to see your hosue not being robbed at any time

    There are many options out there, however one I've used numerous times both professionally and personally is from a company called Milestone. They have a product line up called XProtect, which is designed for professional CCTV solutions and supports hundreds of different camera vendors. They've recently released a cutback version of the poduct called XProtect GO for free. You can add numerous (eight) web cams (inbuilt and usb) and IP cameras to the system and record based on rules, times and/or constantly. It is super easy to recall the recorded footage and search by movement in a particular area on a particular cameras, raise alerts from numerous triggers (such as movement or some external trigger). In a week they are releasing XProtect Mobile too, which will allow you to connect to your system from your Android or IOS device, view live footage and recall recorded footage.
    Just my thoughts, certainly worth a look by anyone half interested. It is fast, easy and with XProtect GO - free.

    great article guys, i have used WebcamXP and the older version Webcam 5, the motion sensing was really hard to set up.

    Thanks for this. I currently use GotoCamera and it serves my purpose. Less than $4 a month, i can record video, receive motion detection alerts and set-up Auto Record as well.Totally worth considering.

    what about night time? i guess an intruder would have to use a flashlight and movement would be detected. but no useful photos would be produced.
    separately, our outdoor area is subject to vandalism from yobbos on the way home from pub. i am considering setting up some kind of system for outdoors. so far, two large windows broken = $600 plus two wheelie bins @ $180 set on fire and in process burning the end of adjacent shed with tools inside @ $600. luckily fire brigade is at end of street and the shed was saved with thousands of dollars worth of our possessions in storage there during reno.

    @Frank. Two main solutions spring to mind.

    For the outside, a motion-sensing webcam in conjunction with a sensor light would work. The light might provide a deterrent, but when it doesn't, the change in light level will trigger the webcam, so at least you can see which local yobbo was responsible.

    Inside, use a webcam with infrared LEDs, often available on the camera itself. The pictures aren't great, but they're probably enough to identify an unmasked intruder.

      both good ideas Ian.

        Possible to buy or build IR "floodlight" basically an array of IR LEDs. Gives you the ability to record in total darkness.

    For Macs, SecuritySpy by BenSoftware works really well - I have been using it for 5 years. Lots of options, camera support and control.

    http://www.bensoftware.com/securityspy/

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