Surveillance and Ubiquiti Video

My upcoming new office and home-lab space has inspired me to review some of my past technology choices.  The first review comes in the form of video monitoring.

The setup I’m using at my current home involves a NightOwl 16-camera DVR with cheap BNC cameras.  I was very pleased with it until I went to extend or even check for software updates… then I hit a serious brick wall!  I learned it is basically a cheap DVR that hasn’t been updated in, at least, a decade.  Well behind the curve for this tech geek.  Time to upgrade!

I began my research where I began… a DVR, but this time I’d have it professionally installed.  Well… the cost started to pile up very quickly.  At the end of the quote, each of the 7 cameras were going to cost $450 each!  That is insane!!  Back to the drawing board.

Having a fondness for networking, I started researching IP cameras again.  I’ve played with IP Camera software before (Blue Iris) and figured if I ever started over, I’d go that route.  My research quickly brought me back to them as a possible option.  I also discovered that my Synology NAS had a plugin Surveillance Station.  Ultimately I realized that IP Cameras were the direction I wanted to go and this was perfect timing for our new home construction.  I switched from the DVR/cameras to purely Cat6 network drops.  IMG_0065Tons of IP Cameras had PoE capabilities so I wasn’t concerned with powering them.  On the plus side, IP Cameras may range in price… but even the best options are below $450 per camera.

After research, I ordered a camera I thought had all the interesting features… A Ubiquiti Unifi G3 Dome camera.  Picked for the fact that it was an IP Camera, Wide angle lense and PoE.  Initial review… I am blown away by this camera, quality and features.

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It all starts with their software.  It requires either one of their NVR devices to connect, record and manage the camera or a Windows, Ubuntu or Debian computer running their NVR software which is free.  I installed it onto my workstation since I’m currently evaluating… and connected to the camera almost instantly.

I installed their iOS app and it was effortless to point it at my workstation where the NVR software was running and start viewing the camera.  This software blows NightOwl out of the water and well it should as NightOwl’s app is old as dirt.

I have only scratched the surface of what this camera and software can do… but I will be modifying my network diagram to include a custom built Ubuntu 1U server with DVR hard drives to run the NVR software locally.  Plus side, is the Ubuntu server I’m designing can be managed from my Tanium infrastructure and all the benefits that goes with that are included with this setup.

As a treat, here are a few of the images I captured from the iOS software after connecting to the Workstation NVR.

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Add Intelligence to your Home

home_automationI hobby in home automation and love to fiddle around with my home’s system.  As such, I was recently asked to design a system for someone’s new home. New to them, but the home is considered an “existing” home since it is fully built.  This is important to remember when designing a home automation solution for someone.

The following is what I recommended to them, figured you guys would be interested in some of the decisions I’d made regarding their new HS solution:

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Wireless Internet Router:
Before I decided on a business class non-wireless router… i was looking seriously at this one:

ASUS RT-ACU Dual-Band ($192.99) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833320115

But that might be too expensive… so go with one of it’s cheaper models ($107.99): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=33-320-062%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20

Either one will set you up for wireless within the house. If you want to extend that coverage to a majority of your yard… consider going with a high-power wireless access point ($275): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833168099 This would extend your wireless coverage to a major portion of your yard.

If you’ll be adding a separate shop like your current one, you have two options for internet connections out there…

  1. Underground Wiring: http://www.platt.com/platt-electric-supply/Category-Cables-Cable-Outdoor-Rated/Honeywell-Genesis/50901008/product.aspx?zpid=611774
  2. Get a second outdoor access point to connect your house and shop together.

Reasons for connecting your shop…

  • a. you could setup a computer in the shop which is connected to a big screen TV. This could be a cheap one like the one for computer control… and it would run a program which puts the security system up on the TV.
  • b. Wireless internet would keep your cellular data usage on your phone low while you’re out there… pulling up video cameras takes a lot of bandwidth. If you’re on your cellular connection, better hope you have unlimited internet… otherwise be near a wireless access point.
  • c. If you choose not to run video surveillance wires to your shop… you can pick up wireless or wired IP cameras which will let you monitor them.

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Computer Control ~ $250
Would Need: PC, Controller, Modules — Cost: $159.94 + (each light) 38.81… plus shipping
You don’t need a super powerful system as the brain for your home. It basically does a lot of "watching" of sensors which is not particular resource intensive.

I’d go with something like this ($109.99): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16883255979

To control stuff you’ll need a Z-Wave Controller ($49.95): http://store.homeseer.com/store/Aeon-Labs-Aeotec-Z-Stick-S2-Z-Wave-USB-Interface-P746C66.aspx

Appliance/Lighting modules to control desk lamps and such…

Other Z-Wave Recommendations

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Security ~ $250
Need: Alarm System Kit, Door/window sensors and Wire… Costs: $221 + (each door/window) $1.57 + (each motion) $15.55 + $40… + shipping

The security system comes in a kit with almost everything for the core system: http://store.homeseer.com/store/DSC-KIT32-219CP01NT-Hybrid-Wireless-Security-System-Kit-P1154C236.aspx (you’ll need the kit $213.50 + AC Power Transformer $7.50 + IT-100 Integration Interface $59.94 [get the it-100 interface if you’re doing the computer control])

Just because you pick and install the security system yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get professional security monitoring ($8.95/month): http://www.smarthome.com/alarm.html

SENSORS:
I’d also recommend wiring it yourself… it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, and I believe it is more reliable.

You’ll also need 4-conductor wire, for wiring the keypad to the box and computer if you wanted that.

Wireless sensors are a lot more expensive but saves a lot in labor
If you go wireless, you’ll require a wireless signal receiver ($55.18): http://store.homeseer.com/store/DSC-RF5132-433-PowerSeries-Wireless-Receiver-P1159C235.aspx

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Video Surveillance

You have two main options for video…

  1. Use a DVR which is a single purpose device and records connected computer for upwards of 1-2 weeks with the started 4-cameras. This option includes an iPhone app but it too is single purpose and can only view cameras, a separate app is required to for home control and remote security. This option can be WAY cheaper than option 2…
  2. Use wired or wireless IP cameras. This option is more expensive because each camera is a self-contained mini computer which connects to your wireless router or wired in using cat5 cable.

OPTION 1 – self contained DVR.
Need: DVR 4-camera Kit… Costs: $249 + $79… + shipping
I’d recommend you go with a DVR; this one is 8-channel with 4 cameras and wire included: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16881192198

It doesn’t have a hard drive, so you’ll want to pick one up… 1Tb Hard Drive ($79): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136776 (avoid Seagate since they can get really hot)

This DVR has 8 channels… so you can add 4 more cameras, includes wire, for only ($109): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=81-339-014&ParentOnly=1

The DVR supports up to (2) 1Tb hard drives… Each camera will provide 30gigs of video every 24 hours. So with this 4 camera system… a 1Tb hard drive will support a week’s worth of video. If you add the additional 4 cameras, that’ll cut it to only 3.5 days, so get a second 1Tb hard drive to keep it at a week.

OPTION 2 – IP Camera, recorded on the computer
Need: IP Camera… Costs: $30 + (each camera) $100
If you want live monitoring this is great and can be fully integrated into the home control/security iPhone app and doesn’t require any additional equipment.

If you want to record it, then a cheap $30 software (http://www.blueirissoftware.com/) will turn the control computer into a DVR…just remember to get a large hard drive.

For wireless, I’d recommend getting the more expensive router or the outdoor one since video is bandwidth heavy.

Lots of wireless cameras are available here (avg $100/ea): http://store.homeseer.com/store/Netcams-C194.aspx

For wired cameras, use the Foscam wide angle ethernet cameras ($105): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA1R00M31192

Foscam also has a wired/wireless version, but not wide angle ($95): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA1PK0MG8083

I would highly recommend wide angle… it distorts the image but shows you more without having to push the camera further away from your target.

 

If you have recommendations, alternatives, or just want to comment, leave it below… I respond to all, but spam.

How to Produce a Webcast… part 2

Video Cameras

We got off to a good start with my previous post (part 1) about choosing the right person to Host our webcast.  In this post, I’ll talk about the camera I’m using, why I chose it along with upgrade options we’re looking at if the show really takes off.

For the start of our new show Week In Review I chose to use the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema for a few reasons.  image

The first and most important for any new venture is price.  I took a trip down to my local Wal-Mart, I live in NWA and there’s a Wal-Mart every 10 miles… literally, and browsed around the electronics department.  No one in NWA can beat them on the price point, although everyone can beat them on selection when it comes to computers and computer accessories.  Anyways, I picked up two of these cameras at the low low price of $79 each.  I was under a time constraint and with the launch of the show just weeks away, I wanted time to configure, confirm and possibly return if necessary whatever I chose to sue.

The second reason for this selection is the widescreen High Definition video it produces.  I wanted to produce a high quality 720p video production and our local options are limited.  I did my research online and of the options I had the LifeCam Cinema fit the bill.  I brought it home for testing and everything worked better than expected.  The video was so crisp and clear I had to go change my shirt cause I noticed I’d spilt some of my lunch on it earlier today.

imageHere is an image of my first test.  It was directly being compared to an old webcam I was using before and demonstrates the higher quality of the broadcasted image.  Click it to view it larger and see the clarity the LifeCam Cinema provides over my older HP standard definition webcam.

The next qualification for this camera was if it would be compatible with the video mixer software I chose called VidBlaster.  I’ll go into greater depth about this software in part 5 of my series.  On a side note, the video mixer software can only accept one audio feed.  This meant that if I was using more than one camera, I could not use the microphones from each.  As a result I needed to buy an audio mixer in order to supply the mixed audio from multiple sources.  I’ll discuss further about the audio mixer in part 4 of my series.

During my research I discovered many options available for supplying the video I want.  Some were much pricier than the option I chose, however some of these are in my upgrade plans if the show takes off.

A possible upgrade path for our video equipment will include a few different pieces.

HD Camcorder:  The one I’ve researched with a reasonable price range for ourimage size production is the Canon VIXIA HF R20 Full HD Camcorder.  This $340 camera has the HD quality we’re looking for and the portability we’d like to add to the show.  We can use this portable camera to film events, then play them during our LIVE broadcast and edit them in during post-production.  Combine this with the compatible WM-V1 Wireless Microphone and we can capture HD video and audio easily when remote on location.

HDMI Capture Card:  This PCIe computer card will convert the HDMI computer signal from the camera to digital video imagethat VidBlaster can use as a video feed.  The device I’m looking at is the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro HDMI card.  At $189 at the time of research, this price fits perfectly into a reasonable upgrade budget.  Other options on the capture card can be found over at BH Photo Video.  If I’m looking to have 2 Camcorders, I can simply purchase a second capture card since I have several PCIe card slots in my video mixing computer.

Both the Camcorder and the Capture Card(s) will provide us with remote recording capabilities.  This won’t make us LIVE on remote, however it is a good start in that direction.  Another benefit gained by these two devices is the ability to have 3 in-studio video sources.  Now we can have a nice widescreen zoom able video feed from our studio couch when we have guests.

Cost Sheet

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Next we’ll look at the options I chose for capturing audio from my host and his in-studio guests.  Be sure to join us for part 3.