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Video Surveillance for Home Security

Video surveillance has become much easier for the do-it-yourselfer to set up for home security & monitoring. Equipment is widely available, comparatively inexpensive, easy to set up and use. The benefits of employing video cameras to monitor your home include both a deterrent affect as well as an aid to identify and arrest criminals. All too often police are able to do little more than take a report if your home has been burglarized. However, armed with video evidence, police are much more likely to make an arrest.

Video Cameras as a Deterrent

Bottom line, burglars and other bad guys don't want to get caught. They seek out homes that minimize their risk. They look for homes whose occupants are away, that offer cover like large bushes, that are poorly lit, with windows and doors that are not visible to the street or to neighbors. They also look for signs of a dog or security system. Stickers identifying a home security system are as much of a deterrent as the system itself. Visible surveillance cameras also have the same effect. In fact, because the camera can capture their image, it may serve as an even greater deterrent.

Whether you install an complete surveillance system or use dummy cameras, the deterrent effect is probably the same, as long as convincing dummies are used and they appear to be properly installed. However, as an enforcement tool, only working cameras will enable you to gather incriminating evidence.

Camera Choices

The most fundamental choice for a camera is whether it is hard-wired or wireless. Wireless is much easier to install, but it has some downsides. Wireless cameras may have distance limitations, the signal must penetrate walls to the location of your monitoring system, they are subject to greater interference and they must still be wired for power.

Hard-wired cameras are more difficult to install because of the wiring demands. However, once installed they are more reliable, generally provide better image quality and are easier to operate.

Other options and choices include whether to choose black-and-white or color, infra-red features for nighttime surveillance, and sensor type CMOS versus CCD. Audio monitoring is an option with some cameras as is panning capability to change the camera view.

Generally color cameras offer better picture quality. CCD is the more recent technology and yields better images than CMOS. Infra-red is absolutely necessary for nighttime monitoring. Audio is usually only useful in real time monitoring, such as watching the kids in the yard or when a visitor arrives at the door. Motorized cameras add a lot expense and are more difficult to implement and operate. A better option may be to add another camera to cover a larger area.

Monitoring and Recording

Cameras can be monitored in various ways. Most cameras offer a simple RCA jack for connection to a TV, VCR or specialized monitoring equipment. Simple monitoring just connects a live camera to a TV monitor with no recording feature. The addition of specialized devices can connect multiple cameras to one monitor while either displaying each image on a portion of the screen, or filling the screen and switching between cameras either manually or automatically after a timed interval.

For security enforcement, a recording system will be needed. The simplest option is to connect a single camera to a VCR set to record at the slowest setting. However, this requires changing tapes every 6-8 hours. Motion activated cameras can be employed which make this a much better system. Specialized equipment can record a single frame at a preset interval. This allows a tape to be used to record a longer time period with less data.

To record multiple cameras, a specialized recording device will be needed. The simplest combines the cameras images together on one screen and outputs that to the VCR. Dedicated recording devices that use computer hard drives offer much more flexibility. With a hard drive based system, it can be set to over-write old data after a preset amount of time. This avoids the need to change or rewind video tapes. The more elaborate systems can be set to record at preset intervals, such as one frame every 1/2 second enabling continuous recording while reducing the data storage requirements.

Placement of the recording device should be in a secure location, otherwise a burglar can simply take the device with them. Installing the unit in a locked cabinet is better than leaving the unit out, but if the cabinet can be found and broken open, it probably will be. Installation inside a very secure housing or difficult to find location is recommended. One option is to install the unit in the attic. This has the added benefit of simplifying wiring in many cases since running wiring through an attic space is very common practice.

Remote Monitoring

Another interesting option is the ability to monitor cameras remotely. Connected to a PC, cameras can be made available through the internet for remote monitoring from anywhere in the world. Cameras labeled as being IP cameras (IP stands for internet protocol) are designed for easy connection to the internet. However, any camera that can be connected to a PC can be set up for internet access through the use of software.

Because a camera needs a unique ID to be accessed remotely, (like a telephone needs a phone number to be contacted), it must be assigned an IP address. Because most people don't have a static IP address at their home, their IP address changes periodically. In order to contact a camera through a dynamic IP address, it may be necessary for you to subscribe to a service that will maintain contact with your home PC. You then contact the service provider and they reroute you to your monitoring system. If you have a static IP address (many ISPs offer a static IP for an additional fee) you can avoid this extra step.

In summary, a video camera, even a dummy camera, is a valuable deterrent to criminals. Its presence alone can dissuade someone from breaking into your home. If a crime does occur, video footage can be invaluable to catching the perpetrator. We recommend installing cameras in multiple positions to cover all access points to your home.

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