House Hacking Project: Video Surveillance
If there is a bump in the night, or you are away from home and your security alarm goes off, wouldn’t it be nice to check on your home immediately? Modern home surveillance can deliver the goods with proper planning. Between desktop programs and cell apps, you can see what is going on in real time.
Video surveillance might seem a little over the top for your home, but it is really a convenience. Someone at the front door? Check the video feed. Smoke alarm activates? Open the app to view the inside of your home. Someone broke in? You can prove to your insurance company that it was a burglary, and you might even be able to provide a positive ID to law enforcement. The ability to monitor activities inside and outside your home from anywhere in the world is really neat. Technology has been improving at an exponential rate, and now is as good as any to add this feature to your home.
Peek-a-boo. We don’t answer to strangers!
You want to start by identifying your goals for the project up front. How many areas do you want to monitor? How many cameras do you want? Do you need night vision? What resolution do you require? What range and viewing angle? DVRs (the heart of your stand alone system) commonly come in 4, 8, and 16 channel configurations. You can always add to a larger system, so buying a unit with extra capacity might make more sense then having two units. Storage capacity varies from 500GB to 3TB, giving you weeks to a year of video archive based on your preferences for handling video.
Once you have decided roughly how many cameras you need, it’s time to address what resolution you want. Higher resolution systems can use lower res cameras, but not the other way around. Megapixel systems are priced exponentially higher than lower end systems, something to keep in mind. A lower res setup with 8 cameras can be built for around $1000. A 1080p 3 megapixel system with 8 cameras can be upwards of $4000. Cameras with infrared lighting and wide and narrow fields of view can be bought in all manner of configurations. For those with a robust budget, pan/tilt/zoom cameras and those with audio capability can be mixed in as well!
Camera placement can get tricky. You might find the ideal spot, but you need to run power and video wires, or power over Ethernet for higher resolution systems. This is where this project can get very complicated. Wireless cameras are available, but still need a power wire. Finding power near a location can be easy. This option makes sense for cameras far from the DVR, which is a bit counter intuitive. The camera above is at least four walls away from the DVR, but only one wall away from power. Instead of tearing the house apart to run one wire, they opted for a wireless BNC camera.
When running wiring, it can pay off to add other features such as 120v power and audio cabling for speakers.
DVR placement can be tough! You need power, internet connectivity, and a physical connection to all of you cameras. This can of worms is opened once you start this project, and your ideal placement will likely not work at all. Cameras are powered on this end as well, so more than one plug is needed. A UPS will likely be wanted here as well, so room for that provision needs to be calculated. This installation already had a small structured wiring cabinet with Cat5e, power, and attic access. The DVR and other wall warts fit inside. A locking door was fit, and a monitor was hardwired in for easy viewing.
Hardwired touchscreens offer multiple options for viewing as well, either single cameras or split screen.
Cell phone app screen capture.
Once your system is up and running, it is time to configure your network to allow outside access to your video. The first step for security is to update your DVR firmware and use a secure user/password credential. Next, a dynamic DNS service is the easiest way to get a “static” IP route for your phone app and custom URL. Once that is setup, you can configure your router to allow port forwarding to the DVR only. You don’t want anyone to just stumble onto your home network.
If a whole house DVR system is over the top, inexpensive wireless cameras can be bought for under $100. This example from Foscam is a pan/tilt model with two way audio. You can communicate through the camera via the cell phone app. This method lacks recording of video out of the box. This model needs to be used with security configuration in mind. Out of the box, they are very susceptible to someone who wishes to access your camera.
A good friend of our brokerage is a security researcher and engineer. He built a tool that crawls the web for unlocked IP cameras. (FYI: if a login prompt appears, click Cancel.)No hacking involved, these systems are wide open to the internet. Video feeds are live, in real time from around the world. A few simple setting changes can keep your video feed safe!