Security Cameras

While remodeling the house I decided to add security cameras to the front.  There are two reasons I wanted to add them.

  1. I wanted the security deterrence.
  2. It’s really entertaining to see all of the activity at my door.
This cat visits my house fairly regularly.

The Cameras

Security cameras come in two flavors, analog cameras and network cameras.  I went with network cameras because I knew I wanted to monitor them digitally.  Analog cameras are cheaper but you need something to convert the image to a digital stream if you want to use software to muck with it.  Figuring that out wasn’t something I wanted to do so I stuck with the network cameras.
In my case, I wanted full coverage of my front entry way and my car port and I only wanted to use two cameras to do it.  As a result, I needed to go with cameras that had a wide angle of view.  In digital cameras you have two options for adjusting your angle of view, picking a wide angle lens and picking a higher resolution camera.  In my case I went with cameras that have 1920×1080 resolution as opposed to the standard 640×480 resolution.  
HD Image – Click for Full Screen
This picture demonstrates how much less you see with a low end IP camera:
640×480 is really small eh?
I tried out two different cameras when selecting, the Y-Cam Bullet HD 1080 and the Vivotek FD8362. The Y-Cam has terrible reviews on Amazon and it was clear to me that they were earned.  I found the camera to be pretty flaky, it wouldn’t keep a steady image stream and didn’t do as well in low light as the Vivotek does (the cat picture at the top is a night shot).  The Vivotek camera is great, it’s a lot more than the Y-Cam but it’s also a commercial grade camera, designed for this use case.  The dome style also meant that I could mount it less obtrusively.  The Vivotek was more money but it was well worth it.
The cameras are hard wired to my network and powered over ethernet.

The Software

I tried two different systems, ZoneMinder on Linux and Blue Iris on Windows.  ZoneMinder is free and seemed more configurable but I couldn’t get it to play as nicely with the cameras and configuring it was more painful and took longer while being less reliable.  For $50, Blue Iris is a steal.  

How well does it work?

Here’s a video of some solicitors coming to my house.  Make sure you set the video quality to 1080 to see the full quality.  The footage was shot in debug mode, so Blue Iris adds the red box where it sees movement.  

The quality of the video was good enough that I was able to play CSI:Seattle.  I zoomed in on the handout in the video:

I enlarged the handout in a photo editor
And I was able to match it to a handout from the Jehova’s Witnesses Website.  The coloring looks right and it’s pretty clear that there is a guy’s head on the left edge of the photo.

A JW flyer, I guess I should put up a “No Solicitors” sign 
The downside is the number of false alarms I get.  I’ve been playing with the settings on Blue Iris, but I still get the occasional false alarm when a cloud passes overhead or when a car drives by at night and the headlights reflect off of one of our cars.

Is this legal?

Funny you should ask, the answer is, it depends…  Also, I’m not a lawyer so this isn’t legal advice.  From what I understand, in Washington state, you are allowed to record public spaces when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  This means that the front of your property is ok, and it’s how Google Maps gets away with the street view images.
Google Street View of a random house
What probably wouldn’t be ok is putting a camera on your second floor and pointing it into the second floor of a neighbor’s house.  In my case, I have the cameras setup to capture the front of my house and only trigger when there is movement on my property.

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