Hands-On Video Secures the Home Front

Hands-On Video Secures the Home Front

DIY surveillance kits have gained ground for their user-friendly installation and relatively low price tag. Being in two places at once becomes a reality for busy homeowners with the help of DIY cameras.

The daily lives of people today are busier and filled with obligations that may take them far away from their homes. A solution to keep a watch on things, while not being physically there, can be found in DIY camera systems.

"In today's world, it is common to have single-parent homes as well as homes where both parents work into the evening," said Brian Lohse, Director of Business Development for Secure-I. "The ability to check in on the kids from a cell phone or office computer is valuable," he said. "These DIY cameras, also known as “nanny cams," can monitor homes along with the child's activities. They can keep an eye on the elderly or make sure hired help are doing what they should be. Other applications include securing second homes or other facilities such as boats.

Alarms can be integrated with the DIY cameras for video verification. "Homeowners will then have actionable data when an alarm sounds — such as the nature of the danger, in what part of the house and which authorities should be contacted," Lohse said.

"With Logitech's video security solution, a camera detects the burglar, captures his movements and saves it to the PC so one can send video to the authorities," said Ha Thai, Manager of Corporate Communications and Social Media, Logitech.

Small business owners also see DIY systems as a fitting solution for their operations. They can keep tabs on more than one store, making sure everything is running smoothly without going back and forth between different locations. Apart from security reasons, such as employee theft and customer disputes, cameras can be used for business management purposes. For example, "video clips can be generated on demand, upon a trigger event or on a time-scheduled basis, so, say, if I want to see how the restaurant or home is doing at noon, I can program it in software to generate and send me short video clips from that time period," said Alan Avidan, President of OzVision. "Owners can see who opens and closes the business, who went in the stock room, and if the sale displays are set up strategically so as to attract a good amount of customers, and have a video record of it."

The simple installation process for DIY monitoring, along with low cost, has opened up a number of applications for the general public.

Easy Installation and Cost
DIY camera systems are attractive to customers because of their low cost and quick installation, compared to professional camera systems.

"Users are provided with everything they need. There is no need to spend a large amount for extra features that common users will never use," said Raj Jain, President of SVAT Electronics.

Self-installed kits are designed for ease of use. "The emphasis is on plug and play. We want to negate the usual complexities of setting up a network camera, such as routers," said Jeffery Wu, President of StarVedia Technology.

"The user doesn't have to spec, configure and maintain a local DVR/NVR — specialized knowledge most homeowners don't possess," Lohse said. Wireless cameras encourage users to set them up personally through a process similar to joining a wireless network from a laptop.

Another appealing aspect of DIY cameras is their user friendly interfaces, which is simple enough for users to instinctively know how to use. Users also like the easy accessibility to their images from a variety of devices. "Most consumers looking to install their own system have a simple and effective goal in mind: to monitor live and recorded events from anywhere and to receive e-mail notifications on events," Lohse said. "Successful DIY systems have intuitive graphic user interfaces, allowing users to accomplish their goals without having to dig through too many menus."

Scalability may not sound like a cost-reducing measure, but scalable systems allow users to choose how many channels they need. "Since hosted applications don't rely on local hardware, it's feasible and convenient for users to install a single camera in a location," Lohse said. "There's a huge market for consumers that don't need a four-channel system and won't buy one."

Users can tailor their video solutions to their needs. "The DIY solution in kit form provides general purpose cameras that can be used both indoor and outdoor," said Martin Worndl, VP of Product Development, Lorex Technology. "The cameras typically have IR night vision, 420 to 500 TVL resolution and a fixed focal length lens."

Camera Quality
Users are able to choose the type and quality of the DIY system they wish to install based on their needs and their budget. "There is such a wide range depending on compression, resolution and frame rate," Lohse said. "Reasonable quality footage can be obtained with as little as 50 kb/s per camera."

Home monitoring solutions, however, are not designed to replace the professional solutions that can be seen today. "The image quality captured by DIY cameras cannot be compared to footage captured by high megapixel or HD cameras," Lohse said, "But most DIY users have little to no use for resolution above VGA."

Having said that, there may be some business owners who feel the need for something better than what is used for a home, but would like to opt for a cheaper solution than a professionally installed system. These are, of course, not high megapixel or HD cameras, but they are just as effective. "Expensive professional security cameras have traditionally run between 480 and 520 TVL," said Jeremy Stewart, Global Marketing Manager, Swann Security. "DIY cameras may not have been able to match this before, but now, cameras have been produced that start at 400 TVL to 520 TVL, along with night vision abilities and a range of lenses, while still bearing an affordable price-tag," he said.

Extra Features
For customers who want higher quality images and add-ons such as analytics, DIY systems often accommodate additional hardware. "Although baseline specifications have improved dramatically over the last few years, one camera is not optimized for all applications," Worndl said. The option to add on is always an option for users. Like building blocks, users can pick and chose what they want to add and what they feel is not necessary.

OzVision offers a plug-and-play system which allows customers to purchase professional cameras and sensors, and then attach them to OzVision's encoder. "Once you get our little encoder box, it is just a simple BMC connection to the cameras," Avidan said. "And then just connect the Broadband and the 12V power and you are done. No IT knowledge is required at all, no programming is needed; it takes five minutes."

This expands the range of cameras which can be deployed. "The encoder digitizes the analog input, then compresses it using H.264 and packetizes it for shipment over Ethernet using IP protocol" Avidan said. "Being able to use any analog camera by converting it to IP is a huge advantage, because of lower cost and larger selection, which substantially expands the range of cameras that can be used for specific applications."

Local contact closures for sensor inputs, such as motion and temperature, can also be used to trigger video clips that are immediately sent to a list of e-mails and cellphones. Also, outputs can be used to activate relay mechanisms to turn appliances in the house or business on and off. "One can have their doorbell as the input into the encoder," Avidan said. "When pressed, the front door video camera automatically sends a clip to the owners, who can then let the person in, while keeping a video clip of the event. Additional sensors and relays can be easily added to suit a client's personal needs."

Xumo Security offers a portable camera system as a high-end solution for homes, businesses, governments and the military. Although it is almost 10 times more expensive than the most basic DIY camera systems, it offers more for image quality and features, such as anti-masking alarms, which notifies the owner when the lenses of the camera are tampered with. "Our picture quality is at minimum 1.3 megapixels, and all the features are comparable to professional systems but with a competitive price. It is offers more than a professional system but in only one small and portable unit," said Magnus Stenberg, MD and co-President of Xumo Security.

View from Anywhere
Telecommunication companies are entering security, offering customers DIY surveillance kits along with broadband subscriptions. Today's Internet networks have sufficient bandwidth for easy data streaming.

Users can receive information by logging into a Web site with a password. They can also install software to receive text or video messages directly to mobile phones by downloading applications to their smart phones. "For most systems, getting video consists of visiting the URL of the camera, entering a user name and password, and then viewing the video," Thai said.

Xumo Security adds a SIM card and IP to their solution, making it a communication device as well. "You can talk, listen and watch live video through your computer and mobile phone via system," Stenberg said.

Home and business owners want to keep an eye on their property, but IP video footage may be intercepted by hackers. As captured images are sensitive information, the same security measures for online banking systems are applied. "Proprietary protocols are used and all data is encrypted," Wu said.

User names and passwords are another way DIY systems protect user privacy when accessing video remotely. "Swann's system require users to log-in, and there are also different levels of accessibility that can be set by the user: administrating, interactive viewing and simple guest viewing," Stewart said.

Some users wish to buy managed video services, where the information is saved in data farms. "Recorded information is encrypted throughout its lifetime and the camera itself connects to our online service," said Steven Roskowski, CEO of Third Iris. "There is no need to reconfigure the network and our IP ports do not need to be set up, so there is no chance of accidentally opening up your network to outsiders. The encrypted images are then archived, and we have invested heavily into a multimillion dollar enterprise class solution with multiple tiers to protect the information," he said.

A lot of emphasis is placed on data security by manufacturers and service providers. "All transmissions at OzVision are done through a secure channel called SSH," Avidan said. "Our server farms cannot be accessed without a tank."

Even though DIY systems are becoming very popular quickly, they are still new and face challenges. "The biggest challenge is providing the right mix of features at a reasonable price," Worndl said. "It is rare circumstance that one camera is perfectly matched to every installation environment. This is where the consumer may have to fine tune their installation by adding application-specific cameras."

Challenges also lie in marketing the kits. "We need the end user to understand quality they should expect from a DIY system," Jain said. "This brings more responsibility to the marketing and sales departments of DIY companies to ensure that they are giving the consumer the information needed to make an educated decision on what system is right for them."

Channel partners need to change their mindset. "Distributors need to adjust to selling as much as possible, as opposed to before when it was about how many installation projects they receive," Wu said.

Remote video faces technical challenges as well. "Doing live streaming is difficult," Roskowski said. "We had to tune the codecs to make them usable over typical broadband connections. Most network cameras have multiple ranges of bandwidth, but the lower bandwidth selections have relatively poor quality. We had to design our camera specifically to work well with any broadband connection," he said.

The Future
There will be many more developments being made with DIY systems. "The pursuit of ease and affordability often leads DIY surveillance manufacturers to be at the forefront of new technological advances," said Stewart.

As for the market, Stenberg says, "It will take over a lot of the more traditional analog and IP systems. People will achieve more and more knowledge now with the internet, and how to set up different devices."

Also, "The traditional market is only so big, but the DIY market has no limitations. Every family can have a camera. The future for network cameras is in DIY," Wu said.

The wallet-friendly prices will also drive sales. "DIY exists because people are cost conscious," Roskowski said.

More video deployments are expected to take place. "It appears to be on the rise in residential security," Lohse said. "This is a market that will face saturation. Fierce price competition, differentiation and successful marketing will be the key to success," he said.

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