DIY home surveillance with a webcam

(Credit: CNET/Josh Lowensohn)

Got a house sitter or an alarm system? Good for you. If not, there are a handful of ways to turn a computer into a tool that will alert you if someone's there who shouldn't be.

For the sake of this guide we're keeping things simple and limiting our list to free apps that work with webcams on PCs, Macs or both. A few simply use your browser.

If you're serious about guarding your home, a professional security system will obviously take you beyond what most webcams are capable of and be a lot more helpful at deterring would-be burglars and alerting the authorities. But, if you're not willing to make that kind of investment, one of these options would be better than nothing.

The software

Software can offer a definite piece of mind over browser-based solutions. Most of these apps can run quietly in the background, and can save footage to your hard drive for archiving. High-end webcams often come with their own security software, so in the spirit of this guide, we're going with generic software that should work with any model:

Yawcam (PC)

Yawcam is free and PC-only. It's a complex program, but not too complex to set-up. The app lets you set whether you want to capture all of the motion within the frame or just a part of it. We used it to track motion in a specific part of our workplace: CNET colleague Rafe Needleman's office door. Any time he came in or out of his office it took a photo. At home this is more useful if you point it toward something like a door or entry way, which can keep it from picking up one of your pets moving around.

The app does an exceptional job at letting you pick various ways you want to be notified. You can have it upload screenshots to an FTP site or as an email. It can also play any sound on your computer, or start another program (such as a lock-down or keyboard locking application).

Yawcam can be set to snap and email a pic whenever it senses motion.
It was one of the easiest tools to set up. (Credit: CNET)

We set ours up with Gmail, which was a snap. You just have to have plug in the outgoing settings on Google's help page and it will send a high-quality screen shot of whatever motion it's captured just a few seconds after it happens. Using this with your phone's email address will give you a live alert and a saved copy of all the shots in Gmail's sent folder.

HomeCamera (PC)

This software runs a streaming video client that can be accessed from any computer with a browser. You can view either live video or snapshots that can be taken at intervals or on-demand. HomeCamera's secret sauce is being able to email you when you're not there. You can have it send you an SMS alert, or an email — both of which can link to the video or a snapshot. You can also set it to record video or take sequential shots on a precise schedule.

Yoics (PC)

Yoics is a remote desktop application with a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Remote webcam security is one of them. You can very quickly add a webcam that can be streamed to a private web address, along with having its footage archived to the local machine.

It can also be set up not only to send you an email if it detects motion but also send a note to a Twitter account and upload whatever footage it's captured to YouTube or Daily Motion. There is quite a bit of set-up involved though, and the wizard that walks you through it is bound to overwhelm the average user.

EyeSpyFX (PC & Mac)

This software works on Windows and Mac and has a mobile viewer that can be accessed on a handful of devices, including the iPhone. We tried it on a Mac. The software, while primitive, does a good job with privacy; the only way to access your stream is with your camera's special PIN. It also supposedly keeps an online and offline archive of your footage, although we couldn't get either to work.

Honorable mention: if you're willing to shell out US$30, you can go with Mac-only EvoCam, which we've heard good things about. It does motion capturing, emails, and offers mobile access. It's not included in this round-up since it costs money to use.

The webware

Webware can sometimes be less capable than software but on the plus side there's nothing to install. And in many cases, you can use the same service with a single account on several machines. Some of the ones on this list can also support multiple cameras at once, which is handy for covering more than one room (or house) at a time.

Ugolog

Ugolog is a really easy web-based security tool that displays live footage and an archive of snapshots from your webcam. It works with any camera that's attached to your computer or a remote camera with an IP address.

While there is no way to receive alerts via email, the service provides alerts via an RSS feed for every camera you have set up. Using a service like Pingie would let you get an SMS alert every time a new photo shows up.

Another thing to note is that archiving is not unlimited. In the course of a few hours we used 20MB of our 5GB monthly storage allotment. While this "pro" plan is free during Ugolog's beta period, the eventual free plan drops that storage down to 100MB per month. Then again, if you're using it for only a few days and aren't expecting any motion, this isn't a problem.

Ugolog gives you a time line of any time it's picked up motion.
You can then cruise through the stills it's taken at 4x speed. (Credit: CNET)

UStream.tv/Justin.tv

Both UStream and Justin.tv are set up to let anyone create a live broadcast free of charge. There's also a way to make the stream password-protected, meaning only you and those you've given the code to will be able to see it.

There's no time limit on recording, which means you can leave it running for days, then come back to an archive that lives on the web. Now, this may not be as great as using one of the aforementioned tools that uses motion detection, but if someone does in fact break into your house and steal your computer, the archive won't be stolen too.

An honourable mention goes to Livestream.com, which can also do free live broadcasting and recording, although to password protect the stream and limit viewers, you need to sign up for the paid premium plan.

Got a DIY security solution of your own? Share it in the comments below.

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allison898 posted a comment   
Australia

Try WebCam Monitor, a webcam security software by deskshare.com. It's an easy and inexpensive way to setup a effective security system. WebCam Monitor provides useful features such as motion detection detected recording and alerts.

 

SarahB posted a comment   

*peace of mind.

 

sporn posted a comment   

I use iSpy - http://ispy.developerinabox.com - it's free and it's open source. It does motino detection, alerts, recording, remote access, FTP etc etc and can handle high res camera feeds (no restriction on the number of cameras) and you can even access it using mobile devices.

 

Nick posted a comment   

A lightweight webware-alternative: http://watchinator.com

 

Chi Chi posted a comment   

thanks for creating the site! I needed this now I can catch my sneaky land lord, when I do catch her I'm uploading videos to youtube showing how I caught her!

 

Building Materials Supplies posted a comment   

Would this system be able to text you if it detects movement?

And can you build this into a existing system?

 

geoff lowe posted a comment   

I agree
There are a lot of cams and systems out there and I think there are only a few top of the market ones that really work well. Although you need the right type of setup for the right type of environment… I came across this site that helped me decide which solution was best for me http://www.homecctvsecurity.co.uk .
I ended up going for micromark wireless cctv system for my out buildings.
Cheers,
Geoff

 

Alex posted a comment   

1AVMonitor website:
http://www.pcwinsoft.com/1avmonitor/

Best,
Alex

 

Alex posted a comment   

I like 1AVMonitor because it publishes a website with access to live video and detected activity that I can see using any browser anywhere.

Best,
Alex




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