I live in England, the country with the highest number of CCTVs than anywhere else in the world – about 1 camera to every 30 people, it’s estimated. Obviously, that’s not enough (yes, that is sarcasm), so today I’m doing a round-up review of useful tools for adding CCTV to your own home.
In all seriousness, having your own home surveillance system can be a powerful deterrent to would-be intruders or office workers who tend to pinch your stapler, but I don’t suggest using it to spy on your own family members.
A note About UK Law: It is perfectly legal to use CCTV for personal and home security, though you’d be advised not to point it at a neighbour’s property. There is no law against taking pictures or video in a public place including roads and pathways, and the Data Protection Act 1998 or Human Rights Act does not cover domestic usage of CCTV. However, there are exceptions to this rule if your camera is capable of remote-controlled movement. This isn’t relevant for most webcams, but many IP cameras can perform pan and tilt.
A Note About US Law: There are generally no restrictions on private use of security cameras. However there are exceptions in places where people might otherwise have an expectation of privacy – such as bathrooms.
Active Webcam (Windows $29)
Ryan reviewed this back in 2009, and while it has a reasonable level of complexity, it looks like it hasn’t been updated since, so the interface and website are atrocious. Functional then, but better options below – keep reading.
VitaminD Video (Mac and Windows)
Free for 1 camera, but at low resolution. $200 gets unlimited feeds at hi-resolution. At this price, I would have expected something amazing; though the interface is easy to understand – rules that look for objects – the actions available are severely limited to either recording a clip locally, playing a sound, or emailing you. Pathetic, forget this one.
iSpy (Windows – Free/Premium)
Matt did a full review of iSpy last year, so I won’t repeat him here. It’s functional, but not nearly as advanced as some other apps. The software is free, but you’ll need to subscribe for $8/month for online access to view your feeds anywhere in the world (a function which many cameras and other apps provide for free).
One of the top benefits listed for subscribers is “reduced ads”! Probably best to stay away from this one.
SecureCam (Open Source, Windows only)
Mark highlighted this back in 2009 – but for a completely free setup, SecureCam is still a good option today. With support for 4 cameras (unlimited if you donate) and a built-in webserver to view the motion captured images and videos, it’s a fully functional and comprehensive solution, though lacking some of the shine of premium apps.
Yawcam (Windows, Free)
I wrote a full tutorial on using YawCam as a surveillance camera last year and even set up notifications on my iPhone, so read that for a full review. It’s not nearly as advanced as some of the other apps here, but it is free.
Xeoma (Mac/Windows/Linux $30)
Xeoma is a comprehensive, cross-platform premium surveillance solution at an affordable price. Functionality is added by the use of modules. For instance, you can add an email module to email you if motion is detected, or an alarm module to sound an alarm, or you could run a random application that triggers your arduino fog machine, laser cannon and strobe, scaring away the intruder.
It’s infinitely expandable, and can even emulate an IP camera to send its own output to another remote copy of itself. Genius.
The software does come with a limited free mode or 30 day full evaluation period, a $30 license is enough for up to 4 cameras.
Although the interface is custom, I found Xeoma to be a reliable solution and easy to set up chains of custom events. This is one of the most powerful packages I’ve looked at, and is highly recommended.
Security Spy (OSX; £30-£80)
Quite pricey, at £30 for a single camera, £80 for 4. While I would love to have thoroughly tested this, unfortunately the app launched with the main windows far too large and wouldn’t allow me to resize; adding additional cameras was also buggy. Options seem quite limited, especially considering the price. Stay away from this one, there are far better ones out there.
EvoCam (OSX, $30)
EvoCam is an interesting solution but not particularly user-friendly; however it does contain more modular functionality similar to Xeoma. Actions sets are created which can act on one or more cameras – these consist of an active time (if you only want recording at night, for instance), a condition (including sound triggers), and an action to perform (speak text, email an image, save a video).
It takes a while to get used to the control flow, but EvoCam is probably the most powerful of all these surveillance apps if you’re okay with it being OSX only. Do be sure to check functionality with your IP cam first though.
My personal choice is Xeoma, which is both affordable and very customizable. On the free side, you can’t really go wrong with YawCam or SecureCam, but don’t expect as many features. I think that’s all of them, but do let me know if I missed your favourite surveillance software, free or otherwise.