IP Network Cameras
There are a number of important factors to be considered when selecting an IP camera. It is quite likely that you will need a range of cameras, each optimised for to its location and installation environment.
Colour v Black & White
Most IP cameras provide a colour picture or video stream but, entry-level cameras are often black and white only.
An important factor in choosing which digital camera to buy is its resolution. Higher resolution provides a sharper and clearer picture but at the cost of higher bandwidth and storage requirements. Entry-level security cameras typically work at a resolution of 640 × 480 pixels. Some of the higher end cameras support full 1080p (1920 × 1080 pixels) HD video.
Lower resolutions are fine if you want a general view of activity but if you want to identify faces, require a wider field of view or cover longer ranges, then a higher resolution is required. With higher resolution comes the requirement of more bandwidth and storage space though.
The aspect ratio of the images are typically 4:3 or 16:9. This could be important, depending on your application and installation environment.
Indoor v Outdoor
If the camera is to be used outside, it is important that the camera is designed to used like this. Outdoor IP cameras have moisture resistant cases and seals for the required cables. When installing cameras outside, it is important that they don't face directly at sun, as this will damage the sensor.
Day & Night
There are not many cameras that support the capability to work at night. Cheaper ones often have IR LED lighting that provides them with the ability to light up the area in front of the camera at night but, these have limited range and this is not a true night time capability. True day/night cameras have sensors the work in low light conditions and they often switch from colour to black & white image in this mode.
Wired v Wireless
Our view is that wired networks are more reliable, more secure and provide higher bandwidth. We avoid wireless networks where ever possible. That said, sometimes it is not physically possible to run cables to all locations and a wireless network might be the only solution.
Viewing Angle / Field Of View
Most cameras have a fixed viewing angle and field of view. Some support optical or digital zoom though. Some cameras are also available with different lenses, for different installation environments. It is important that you choose one that covers the required area for a given installation location.
The AXIS M3007-PV is an example of a camera with a 360º view.
Pan, Zoom & Tilt (PZT)
Paz, zoom and tilt (PZT) functionality is required if your camera is covering a large area and is often being monitored by a person. It allows them to look at specific areas or objects in more detail and track them across the field of view. This is less useful for unmonitored cameras but can be useful during the initial installation.
Outdoor cameras generally have a fully waterproof enclosure. Some are also vandal resistant. Others have built-in lighting using LEDs. some also have shades but be aware that these can restrict the movement of both manually installed cameras and those with PZT.
The power required is often an important installation factor and a suitable power supply or feed may not be close to the installation point. Consideration should also be given as to whether battery back-up power is required, in case of mains power failure.
The ability to support Power over Ethernet (PoE) is becoming more common. This simplifies the installation and wiring by powering the camera over the Ethernet network cable. This requires a switch or router that supports this capability too.
Some cameras support audio capture and transmission as part of the video feed. A suitable mechanism for viewing and listening to the audio is required. This can be useful for external cameras and some also support external microphones to capture audio from a better location, e.g. microphone at ground level for a camera mounted up at roof level.
Many cameras support events and movement detection. This is a useful feature in some installations but, the technique is prone to false events. This can be from birds flying past, insects, trees blowing in the wind, clouds overhead, washing blowing on the washing line, etc. In most cases it is better to use an external trigger such as a PIR sensor or door contact sensor, as these will avoid many false triggerings.
To access IP network cameras from outside your home, requires a route through your router/firewall to get to the camera. With multiple cameras, this means a port per camera. IPV6 support will greatly simply the configuration and access in the future.
A fixed IP address for you home network is also desirable. The alternative is something like Dynamic DNS.
Capture & Storage
Video Storage Using FTP
A lot of netcams can store pictures onto an FTP server. Our Home Control System (HCS) is running Windows 7 and it is quite easy to set up a Windows 7 FTP server, so that the cameras can store images directly on the PC. Under Control Panel, 'Programs', select 'Programs and Features' and then click the link that reads, 'Turn Windows features on or off'. Expand the 'Internet Information Services' node and then expand 'FTP Server' and check 'FTP Service'. Windows will then take a few minutes to enable the new FTP service.
You should then expand the 'Internet Information Services' node and expand the 'Web Management Tools' node. You can then check the 'IIS Management Console'. Click OK and wait for the service to be installed. This required a machine restart.
Once the Windows 7 FTP service is installed, you can access the 'IIS Manager' in the 'Administrative Tools' folder, under Control Panel. Now you can configure the FTP service to your liking. This service depends on Authorization rules. Typically, you would create a new user account for FTP access as a standard user and grant them authorisation to read and write.
Software & Apps
There are various ways to access netcams from a web browser, to Smartphone apps. Our preferred method (which works both at home and away from home) is the iPhone 4 Cam Viewer app. These cameras require you to set up routes through your firewall, if you want to access them remotely and the feeds should be authenticated (best to do this anyway). Some cameras also allow you to encrypt the video feed.
Example IP Cameras
This camera (product specification) is an old model now and this is reflected in specification and resolution. The CCD image sensor supports a maximum resolution of only 320 × 240 pixels. It does support pan, zoom and tilt functionality and also has a built in microphone and the ability to plug an external microphone in.
The Axis M3113-VE is a fixed dome, outdoor camera with a vandal-resistant casing, with a discreet design. It supports PoE but does not have day/night capability.
The Axis M3114-VE is basically an 'HD' (720p) version of the above M3113 camera. Key features:
The Axis M3343-VE is another outdoor dome camera. Key features:
The Axis P3344-VE is an external, vandal-proof dome camera with day/night capability and a 1M-pixel sensor providing images at 1280 × 800 pixels. It is well suited well to porch and front door type applications. It also provides digital PZT functions but this are of limited use.
The Axis P3346-VE is an external, vandal-proof dome camera with day/night capability and a 3M-pixel sensor providing images at 2048 × 1536 pixels.
The Axis P3367-VE is an external, vandal-proof dome camera with day/night capability and a 5M-pixel sensor providing images at 2592 × 1944 pixels.