Thursday, April 26, 2018

Selecting a 2018 Security Webcam



There are multiple reasons to want to buy a security webcam for your home.   Let's review

- Monitor your pet whilst you are at work during the day
- To talk between yourselves in a house,  like a video intercom
- Home security: Monitoring rooms or the outside of your house whilst away
- To see who is at the front door
- You just like webcams


Marcus and Agata are currently upgrading their webcam technology

Generation 1




This is the generation that we currently have used in Lausanne and in the UK.

- One or more USB powered cameras
- Cameras have pan and tilt
- Cameras communicate to the Internet via WiFi
- A dedicated Smartphone App  or
- A webpage where you can view the camera's output in realtime
- Basic Motion Detection.   The camera might detect motion in the full picture frame, or some allow you to select sensitive areas and ignore others to reject false positives

When motion is detected a photograph or short video is taken and this is usually emailed to you via the internet connection



Generation 0
Oh, there was a previous generation, where mains powered cameras sent a video feed to a central electronics unit (sometimes a NAS Network Attached Storage) and it recorded a continuous video stream from every camera.   You could review it later if something like a burglary took place.

Some early versions even stored this on tapes but the more modern iterations stored it onto a hard disk or flash card.

In this generation if the burglar stole the recorder you would be screwed, plus there is no notification system.   You return home and check the tapes.


Generation 1 Email
In this most basic case the WebCam has no running connection to the internet in the steady state case

It is not registered with a vendor website

It simply sits there waiting for motion

When motion is detected the photograph or video is taken

Then using email credentials you configured earlier, an email is sent, at that moment to you,  so you will get an email alert

This mechanism is immune from and required no firewall configuration inside your home Internet.  Why?  Because you are simply making an outbound connection  from the camera out to a mailserver

Generation 1 LiveView
(from PC)
In this case the Webcam normally requires your home internet have a fixed IP address or one that if changes is registered to a Dynamic Name service.  Example my camera might always be reachable via marcuscam.homeip.net

In this configuration you adjust the firewall settings on your Internet router to allow somebody / anybody on the Internet to use a web browser to your IP address ( or name).   There is obviously a username and password to complete, and then you will get a liveview.

This config requires the user to change their Internet Router / Firewall so requires more user skill.


Generation 1 Smartphone App
The later iteration is that your Webcam makes a continuous connection to a vendor computer in the cloud.   It's an outbound connection to a known Manufactures based computer.

You have a companion Smartphone App.   You register both sides with a common userid and password.  Then you logon to the smartphone, it connects to the Manufacturer server and then back down to your camera

In the case of an alert your camera might send photos or videos to the Manufacturer website for storage and computers at that end then alert you

Here you can obviously see that the Manufacturer needs to maintain a computer infrastructure to act as the go between between your Webcams and your Smarphone, and optionally reserve storage to store pictures and videos.




Generation 2



In 2018 I'd like to introduce the current generation of webcams


- 1080P resolution
Can provide fill HD photographs or videos

In some cases e.g. Nest there is a 4K sensor, though no 4K video

- Ability to have Continuous video recording sent usually to the cloud.  More of this later

- Definable action zones, so only trigger if activity in those zones

- Face and sometimes Animal detection.  So can recognise familiar faces and send a message to you e.g.  Agata just entered front door

- Provide a 24 hour summary video of movements detected

- Typically runs from a USB power supply

- May have flexible mounting options.  Example a spherical metal base that the camera magnetically attaches to and so you can move it around to get the correct angle without moving the bracket

- May have an internal battery so can be fully portable for a few hours

- Microphone and speaker so you can hear activity and even have a 2 way conversation with the person triggering the activity

Generation 2 - Persistence
The way these new cameras work is fundamentally different to standard Gen 1.

They maintain a continuous Internet connection from the camera out through your firewall and Router to a Manufacturer Internet Server.

You run a smartphone application that talks to the server and once authenticated a data connection is made back through that Manufacturer server to the camera.  Well that is for livestream.

And why?   Well this setup avoids you having to modify any firewall or Router configuration since no outbound connection from the Internet is actually coming in.  Instead the Manufacturer server already has a connection to your camera, the one the camera initiated and so can enter via that open connection.

In other cases the camera might automatically upload motion videos and photos to the Manufacturer server so that to review these your Smartphone app does not need to talk back down to the camera


Generation 2 - Costs

Guess what, the Manufacturer Infrastructure costs money.  So this is either bundled with the camera or you need to pay for it via a subscription.

Often there are a reduced set of features that are provided at no charge.

Normally you get the first month free of a subscription to test out the extra features that you are asked to pay for.



Charges Then

Netatmo - No subscription fees

Logitech  Circle Safe,  Basic service is free, the upgrade basic is 6 GBP per month for upto 5 cameras. And the Premium plan is 14 GBP per month for upto 5 cameras.
Lorex Flir Basic Plan free, Subscription 70USD per year.
Netgear Arlo has a base free plan then 2 subscription levels at 7 and 10 GBP per month
Nest Aware subscription is 4 , or 8 or 20 GBP per camera depending on functionality
Canary Membership is 8 GBP per month for upto 5 cameras
Ring 2 -  30 euros per year

Summary
2018 Security cameras offer higher functionality and usually 1080P quality.  However they also typically introduce subscription plans which can start to work out quite costly if you have multiple cameras.

Modern camera interface is the Smartphone App rather than the web browser

Cameras achieve a simpler setup by maintaining a continuous Internet connection from each camera to a Manufacturer Server computer.

We are still evaluating a cost effective way to proceed.  Further report to follow!