A family of camera devices - small, wireless and equipped with motion and heat detection sensors - is getting increasingly popular in security use, particularly in homes and small businesses. Unlike CCTV cameras, these cameras need not be connected to a bank of monitors at a central place. Nor does it create a cable tangle to hook the cameras to the monitors. You do not need somebody monitoring these 24x7.
These cameras leverage the benefit of the Internet to give you the flexibility of monitoring a secure area from wherever you are. They also have the ability to send clips and still shots periodically. Events that trigger tramsmisson can be defined by the user. The events could be time based, on detection of motion, or on detection of warm bodies (body heat). A typical configuration used is a router that communicates with a DSL modem on the one hand and communicates wirelessly with the camera devices. More than one camera may be used. The purpose of this article is to look at the functionalities required for this class of devices and how they meet your security needs. We will look at two representative products and the implications of the specifications offered by them. The representative cameras are Panasonic BL-C131 and Trendnet TV-IP422W. Implications of the specs are discussed below.
- Networking/ communication specifications
- Security specifications
- Camera specifications
- Video/Picture specifications
- Power specifications
- Physical specifications
The cameras should support communication with the Internet well, and there should not be any limitations that’ll restrict use in the future. Standards-based wireless networking support is an absolute must and typically IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g support is provided. Wireless networking provides flexibility in setting up the cameras easily. The video clips and the still shots are sent as e-mails or they can be transferred to a FTP server automatically. The camera uses Internet Protocol (IP) stack. IP version 4 or IPv4 is the most common implementation over the Internet. Slowly, the more recent version IPv6 is coming into effect. So cameras that implement both IPv4 and IPv6 are going to have an advantage over time. You’ll need dynamic DNS support. This may be provided by the product manufacturers or third party providers.
Typically the cameras should have Ethernet connections of the 10/100 Mbps twisted pair variety. That lets you connect through your existing LAN wiring, if any. Secondly, you can use this connection for initial set up through a PC. So, wherever your monitoring location is, you’ll need to have a PC that will read the e-mails or download the clips/shots from the FTP server and allow you to view the video/images. Downloads to mobiles devices are also available.
Wireless communication is vulnerable to eavesdropping and the pictures can be picked up while being transmitted. Wireless network encryption secures the link between the cameras and the broadband router, thus securing your network. This should be standards based and the applicable standards are IEEE 802.11b/g. These protocols support the high speed data transfer required for digital video, which is a high rate data stream. The b version of the specification supports 11 Mbps and the g version supports 54 Mbps data rates at 2.4 GHz frequencies. Cameras that support stronger encryptions are going to be more secure. Cameras that support more protocols are able to give you the choice of picking the right encryption algorithm from the basket available.
Next: On page two of this article, we look at Camera Specifications, Video/Picture Specifications, Power Specifications, Physical Dimensions, Comparison of Specifications, and our conclusion.
Cameras should be able to cover a large area and have some night vision capabilities. Pan and tilt capability lets you view larger areas than fixed lens cameras can. The pan and tilt should be available as a remote operation (including via mobile devices) facility. Night vision capability is provided through the low light level detection capabilities of the camera sensor. Typically, 3 Lux illumination levels or less is common with these devices. One way audio from the monitored area can be picked up is via a microphone on the camera. Some cameras provide 2-way audio, meaning you can speak and be heard in the monitored area. Look for some amount of digital zoom, 10x is typical. A 3.2 MP CMOS sensor is typical of these devices.
Detection range is typically about 5 meters and the camera covers an angle of 30 degrees on the horizontal plane and about 85 degrees on the vertical plane. Some cameras have a privacy mode available which lets you cover the camera lens when you are at home, for example, and do not need the cameras to monitor your activities. Motion and heat sensors let you detect intruders. IR sensors allow body heat to be picked up. A combination event that raises an alert when both heat and motion are detected is a better trigger to detect intrusion. When using only the IR sensor, triggers by sunlight, air conditioners and heaters can cause false positives.
Video is created in MPEG4 compression mode to get the most efficiency. Some cameras offer the Motion JPEG or MJPEG. The cameras can typically produce video at 3 resolutions: VGA (640x480 pixels), quarter VGA(320x240 pixels) and SQCIF (192x144 pixels). Still shots are also produced in similar resolutions and in JPEG format for high quality. Sometimes, full screen video is mentioned in the specs, but what that really means is a display at full VGA resolution. So if you have a higher resolution display, the video would still cover only a part of the screen. Video is produced at 30 FPS.
These cameras run from your domestic power outlet and total power consumed is around 10 watts. Low power consumption is an important spec as you’d like to leave these on 24x7.
Physical dimensions are around 110 mm x 110 mm x 110 mm (4.5"x4.5"x4.5") and the devices may weigh around 350 gm (12.4 oz). Operating temperatures are 0°C to 45°C (32°F to 113°F) and Storage -10°C to 60°C (14°F to 140°F). The size and weight specs are important because you should be able to fit the device anywhere easily.
Comparison of Specifications (Power & physical spec comparisons not included)
Two cameras that represent this segment and fit the role very well are presented here.
- Network/Communications specs
- 802.11 b/g, IPv4 & IPv6 protocols supported, Built-in web server, DDNS available from supplier, Authenticated eMail, FTP transfers
- Security specs
- WEP, HEX, 10 Chars, 64bit/ 26 Ch, 128 bit, WEP, HEX, 32 Chars, 152bit/ 5 Ch, 64 bit, WEP, ASCII, 13 Chars, 128bit, 6 Ch, 152 bit, WPA-PSK(TKIP), HEX, 64 Chars/ ASCII 8-63 Ch, WPA2-PSK(AES), HEX, 64 Chars/ ASCII, 8-63 Ch
- Camera specs
- Detection range 5 m, 30 degree on the horizontal plane, 85 degrees on the horizontal plane, Remote pan & tilt, pan -143 degrees, tilt - 82 degrees, F2.8, .3 m to infinity lens, 3.2 MP image sensor, Motion & heat detection sensors, Night vision < 3 Lux, color, Built in microphone, Privacy mode
- Video/Picture specs
- 10x digital zoom, not on mobile, Simultaneous video & JPEG, MJPEG or MPEG4 video, 30 FPS, VGA-640x480, QVGA-320x240 and SQCIF-192x144 resolution; JPEG of same resolution, Favor clarity, Favor motion mode
- 802.11 b/g, IPv4, Authenticated eMail, FTP transfers
- 64/128-bit WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK (TKIP/AES)
- Detection range 5m, Built in microphone and 3.5 mm speaker jack, Night vision < 0.5 Lux- IR only, Pan 30 degrees, tilt 105 degrees, 8 preset positions, F4, F1.8(IR), Built in Microphone and 3.5mm speaker jack,· Motion and heat detection sensors
- 3x digital zoom, Simultaneous video and stills, MJPEG & MPEG4 video, 30 FPS (settable 1 to 30 FPS), VGA(640x340), QVGA(320x240), QQVGA(160x120) resolution, JPEGs of same resolution, Image enhancement, flip
If you are on the look out for a security solution on a limited scale and want the flexibility of remote control and monitoring over the net, these are the cameras you need. The Panasonic unit has features that suit the application best and cost between $244.99 and $259.88 (see epinions.com). The Trendnet camera also fits the role quite well and costs between $279.99 and $323.99 (see MSN Shopping). For regular security use, the Panasonic cameras seem to be a good fit both specwise and price. However if you need to talk to someone in the secure area, the Trendnet camera provides you two way audio that could be useful. You’ll need to pay a little bit more though.
The two example products are aimed at the Windows environment mainly. Mac users will run into some limitations such as no audio and no MPEG4 support, so the frame rate drops to 15 FPS.