A webcam surveillance system is a security system built using a home computer and webcams to watch the activities in an area. These systems can do everything a commercial surveillance system can do, but have features not found in most or only in very expensive systems. With a little work, you can build a webcam surveillance system much more cheaply than you can buy a commercial system especially if you already have the computer. The extra effort required to build a webcam surveillance system is more than offset by the extra features such as image processing, email/SMS notification in case of an intruder or FTP access of videos. Most commercial surveillance systems are restricted by the number of camera and types of cameras they can support. But you can add cameras to a webcam surveillance system easily and use almost any type of webcam. As an added bonus, standard webcams tend to be much cheaper than a commercial system's cameras.
Setting up the surveillance computer
The first thing to do when setting up a webcam surveillance system is to get a suitable computer. The ideal computer for a webcam surveillance system should have plenty of USB ports, plenty of disk space and one of more large monitors. The USB ports are needed to support multiple USB webcams. The extra disk space is useful to record large amounts of video, image and audio data as well as to archive it for later use. A large monitor or multiple monitors are nice to be able to view a lot of cameras at once. In addition, many people like to hook up webcam surveillance computers to the internet to make the data available to remote sources. Most of these systems are on 24 hours a day and do not need a lot of computing power. So the ideal computer is has a low powered CPU that does not need much electricity.
After you have selected the computer for the webcam surveillance system, you need to set it up. The first thing to do is to make sure the computer does not have any extra software running or other services it does not need. Then you need to select the surveillance software to use. Special surveillance software manages all the webcams at once and can alert you in the case of intrusion. There are any different software packages available depending on the type of your computer's operating system. If you use windows, popular choices include HomeCamera, Dogrem, Capturix and many more. If you use Linux, Zoneminder is a good choice. Most of these options software are free so it is worth trying each of them out before making a final choice. Look for features like email alerting, automatic motion detection, web access etc. Once you have set up your machine the way to like, make sure you back it up in case something happens to the machine.
Pick the webcam for surveillance
After you have set up the webcam surveillance computer, you need to decide on which webcams suits your needs. For locations that can be reached by wire, USB based webcams work very well. When planning out your layout, be aware that USB cables are only able to carry a signal up to 15 feet. If you need longer distances, you will have to invest in either a USB powered hub or USB extender that can extend the range of the USB signals for several hundred feet. You should be aware that these extension devices require a power outlet. If you need longer distances or the location you want to monitor is inaccessible to wires, WiFi webcams are ideal. All the WiFi webcams require are a power plug close to their location and a WiFi router handle the network traffic. Many people will set up a separate WiFi network and router just for the webcams to secure the WiFi webcam traffic. WiFi webcams are susceptible to interference from such things as rain, easier to hack than their and are more expensive than there wired cousins.
No matter which type of webcams you decide to use, there are some specialty cameras that you want to consider. These are features are only found in the very high-end commercial surveillance systems. Most webcams have high-resolution capture ability as well as sound pick up. Some webcams have optical zoom capability, low light, telescoping lenses or infrared capture capabilities. Others can remotely change their direction and view. Before purchasing a remote control camera you need to make sure that your software supports these features.
Putting the webcam surveillance system together
The last step is to putting the webcam surveillance system together. Install each of the cameras to their desired place. Most webcams are not built to withstand a rugged environment so you will most likely have to create an enclosure for each mounting location. Very often a simple plastic dome will suffice. In addition, you may want to hide any wires and otherwise make the camera taper proof. Once you have set up the webcams, the surveillance software has to be tweaked. Turn on the alerting features you want and set up a proper archiving strategy. It may take some trial and error to get the settings to your desired, but it is often easier than trying force a commercial system to do something it was never meant to. Now sit back and enjoy your new found security.