Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where Is Chablis? I Mean Where Is Waldo....? Setting Up Your Own Mobile Device Friendly Video Monitoring Using IP Webcams Isn't As Hard As You Might Think....

Do you want to know get  a pulse on your dog's well being  while traveling? Are you content hoping that your dog sitter is doing his or her duty? Do you have a baby or young child you want to keep tabs on? Perhaps a new babysitter...? How about a potentially disgruntled employee?  Do you suspect something may be going on at your office, but have no way of confirming or denying your suspicions?   Do you simply want to know.... Is there a solution? In today's world filled with tablets and SmartPhones, of course. Many.....

If you have an alarm system from one of the biggest national chains, you may already have an "app for this" available to you. If you do, you should be using what you are already paying for (whether you know it or not) and you should download your company's remote monitoring app. If you aren't currently a subscriber of an alarm monitoring service, or just want to learn how to supplement the security system you already have, read on....

Buy an IP webcam (or two or four), set them up and walk away confident knowing you can determine what what is going on from a tiki bar in Barbados, a beach on Aruba's western shore, a hotel across from the square in  Moscow or a restaurant down the street. If you purchase and set up your own monitoring system, you can control every element of the set up and pay for only what you need or want. The process of installing and configuring your home or office, isn't always seamless, but your effort  can result in a stable, satisfying, and ultimately, cheaper, window into your world than commercial outfits  provide.

If you are still interested in setting up your own monitoring system, read on after the break.....

There are dozens of  IP Cameras and systems available. If you have something to safeguard and having the ability to monitor promises to make you feel better and/or safer, you should use today's technology options to create a solution. Whether it is your home, office, or even second home, you can add a "window" to your world from any location.

There are four  primary areas of consideration-- interface, equipment, installation and software:

A browser snapshot taken using a Pansonic BL-C230A Wireless  Webcam. Can you  find Chab in this photo!?

Interface: Find an interface which works on your platform(s). Are you an iDevice user? Great! Android? Great too. If your monitoring solution doesn't work on whatever mobile platform(s) you use, we've defeated the primary purpose of the exercise, ubiquitous access! The good news is, several companies offer interfaces which are hardware agnostic-- by this I mean, they allow viewing from mainstream web browsers accessing the internet from any number of popular phones, tablets (and of course workstations and laptops).

Companies, especially dedicated alarm monitoring firms such as ADT, provide turnkey hardware and software solutions, usually at a price over the life of the  contractual commitment (which typically spans several years). While this may be the right solution for some, IP Webcams offer access to many of the same features, and in many cases enhanced features,  with more flexibility with a  lesser total cost.

2.) Equipment: There are many IP enabled cameras on the market spanning a wide gamut of features and price points. After a reasonably exhaustive review, I settled on the Panasonic BL-C230A.

This device offers a number of  features important to me:

Remote Camera Control: You can move the camera's viewing angle horizontally and vertically, pan, and zoom,  in real time. After completing a  reasonably simple installation and configuration process, you may view and control your camera(s) without additional monthly fees of any kind through a  customized web portal.

Mobile Viewing: Once logged into your private portal, you navigate the camera's lens (which has excellent resolution: Image Sensor: 1/4" CMOS, 320,000 pixel) using software based controls which allow you to position it for a wide range of viewing angles. This particular camera  model also has a 3X digital zoom feature. Digital zooms aren't ideal, but you aren't trying to compete with Jack Bower on 24 with this rig and this camera's optics is superior to many others on the market.

Built In Wireless Support: My home/office has network cabling throughout. I can't stress enough how worthwhile it is installing high quality ethernet cable if you have this option. If you are building, or completing a remodel, this is an inexpensive improvement you will appreciate for years to come. However, if you are renting, living in an older home without the benefit of computer cabling, or simply want or need to locate your IP webcams in area(s)  where direct cabling is problematic for aesthetic reasons, wireless support is a must.

Please note, wireless support doesn't translate to cable free installation. This Panasonic camera, as well as all of its commercial competitors, still require AC power, so plan your camera location(s) accordingly.

Multi Camera: Almost all visual camera surveillance programs offer this feature. Panasonic keeps this free for up to four cameras. If your needs exceed the four (4) camera limit,  you can pay an additional fee and configure up to eight (8) cameras. The premium software solution also offers file/image back-up and other options which add value in some commercial settings. These additions shouldn't matter to you if your primary purpose is to watch your dogs, cats and kids. I discuss the software set and use in greater detail in the next installment of this series.

Shout Out: I have only used this feature once or twice, but letting someone know I am "watching" can be priceless.  Panasonic makes models allowing no audio, limited two way audio (you can monitor but  only respond using various tones; and full "duplex" audio). My dog,  Chab, got the idea to "stop" hearing just the tonal feedback!  Barking at the delivery man may have consequences.... Your situation may require two-way audio and if it does,  Panasonic's BB-HCM511A allows you two way audio access.

Once installation and configuration is completed, you get great remote IP cameras accessible from a web browser anywhere in the world you have internet access..

If these Panasonic devices don't look appropriate to your needs, keep looking  for alternative cameras from Logitech or any number of other manufacturers.Panasonic is a great name, and their products provide above average performance for many.  In addition to the web cams already mentioned, Panasonic offers wired cameras and webcams such as the one pictured nearby which can be set up for outdoor use, and more. What really matters is picking a brand and sticking with this solution. It is important to find one camera supplier and sticking with it so be sure the company you pick is reputable and offers solutions for both your current and anticipated future needs. (For instance, you may well decide to add outdoor camera(s) to your system down the road. If the company doesn't sell such a unit, you may have unintentionally made your current investment obsolete before its time....) It is difficult to mix technologies, software, and network access using more than one company supplier. So make your decision wisely.

I hope I have intrigued you about this project and the possibilities of adding IP webcams in your life. In the next installment, we'll cover installation, configuration, and software considerations in greater detail.

Have you already installed webcams? Are you using a mobile app solution to check in while away? I invite your thoughts and feedback through the comment board below!

I currently participate in the Amazon Associates Program and certain item links included within this post may tie to this affiliate program.

Companies:  Apple, Panasonic, Logitech

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

Music Row Tech will never sell, give away or use your personal information with third parties. 

All rights reserved @2012, Music Row Tech (MRT). Any reproduction without the author's consent is prohibited.

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