BOOT CAMP 366 (01/03/05)



A recent news item concerning a 19-year old burglar may have caught your eye. He was bought to justice after his activities were captured on a camera connected to a home computer. What made this report particularly interesting was the fact that the he stole the computer and it wasn’t recovered until after his arrest.


The young felon was apprehended thanks to a relatively recent development known as ‘IP surveillance’, which is revolutionising the CCTV industry and as this case illustrates, is now filtering through to the home security market. IP stands for Internet Protocol, which is the system used to send data over computer networks and the Internet. In this instance the data took the form of video images of the hapless thief, uploaded from the PC to the owner’s website just before he pinched the computer. With the evidence safely preserved the police were able to make a positive identification.


In part 2 of this short series we’ll show how almost any recent PC can be used in a remote IP surveillance system but we’ll begin this week with a brief overview of the technology.


Conventional large-scale CCTV installations in public places, commercial premises, and shops generally rely on dedicated cables or sometimes fibre-optic and microwave links to connect remote static and ‘PTZ’ cameras to a central control room where the images are viewed on banks of monitors and more often than not recorded on what are basically little more than beefed-up VHS video recorders.


IP surveillance does away with the need for miles of costly and complex wiring by ‘streaming’ video images over existing computer networks -- wired and ‘wireless’ -- and the Internet. This also removes the need for a permanently manned ‘on-site’ control room; images can be viewed from anywhere with a network or Internet connection, which also means one control room can monitor several sites.


However, the obvious drawback with this kind of arrangement is that as the number of cameras and monitors grows it becomes harder for control room staff to keep watch. So-called ‘monitor fatigue’ often sets in resulting in operators missing small but possibly important events on the screens in front of them. Moreover the quality of VCR recordings also leaves much to be desired and unless the equipment is regularly maintained and the tapes frequently replaced the amount of detail captured on tape is often inadequate for identification and evidential purposes.


To overcome monitor fatigue many multi-camera CCTV set-ups (and the one used on that stolen PC) employ electronic ‘motion detection’ systems that react to movement within a video image, setting off an alarm, alerting an operator and triggering recording equipment. Grainy recordings are also becoming a thing of the past as tape-based video recorders are being replaced with high quality hard disc digital video recording (DVR) systems, which can be either stand-alone devices, or PCs with large capacity hard drives.


Scaled down versions of this technology is now available to the home PC user. There are two basic configurations. The first is a ‘local’ system that uses video recording and motion detection software to store images from one or more cameras on a PC’s hard drive. The alternative is a ‘remote’ system, with a camera connected to a PC, or a ‘netcam’ (see Tip of the Week) capturing images, which are uploaded to a web site or monitoring service. This also overcomes the problem of the evidence disappearing if the PC is stolen or damaged.


Depending on the software and type of Internet connection a number of extra refinements are possible. These include responding to an alarm activation by sending the owner an SMS text message to their mobile phone or an email alert with a still image attachment, and remote viewing from another PC, theoretically anywhere in the world, to keep watch on an unoccupied property or holiday home.


The hardware and software required for a basic local system is inexpensive and relatively easy to install and the sort of job that’s well suited to a redundant or retired PC. Remote systems are a little more complicated since they require access to the Internet. It’s not a huge problem on a set up configured to upload still images to a web site or send email alerts and an ordinary dial-up connection is all that’s required.


However, in order to stream live images or enable remote access an open broadband link is needed and this may be difficult to arrange if the property is overseas or in a remote location, moreover some ISPs do not permit this type of constant high volume data flow on a ‘domestic’ account. There’s another complication and broadband connections are normally assigned a ‘dynamic’ IP address. A new IP address is allocated to a connection every time the PC goes online. So even if the PC is set to automatically reconnect or reboot after a broken connection or power cut there would be no easy way for the remote user to gain access without knowing the new address. It’s not an insurmountable problem, though, and some ISPs can provide static IP addresses but this will normally cost significantly more than a home broadband account.


Next Week -- CAUGHT ON CAMERA, part 2





Pan, Tilt, Zoom -- remotely operated camera with a motorised zoom lens mounted on a moveable platform



Short Message Service, used to send a brief text message to a mobile phone



Sending live full-motion video an/or audio over an Internet connection



If you would like to see for yourself how remote surveillance works through a browser just type ‘rz30 home’ into Google. This will bring up a long list of sites around the world using the Sony SNC-RZ30 ‘netcam’. This is a self-contained camera and video server that streams live video over the Internet. It has remote control pan, tilt, and zoom, so you can move the camera around. When you access a site you will have to download a small plug-in that displays the image and the ‘PTZ’ controls. Many of these cameras are unsecured but on those that are you will not be able to use the camera controls without a password or PIN number. Here’s a few direct links to get you started:

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