In several recent incidents, thieves have stolen equipment worth thousands of dollars from Brigham Young University. The staff of one department took matters into their own hands and set up a surveillance camera. The perpetrators were promptly recorded and arrested. And no high-end, expensive equipment was necessary -- just Apple's $150 iSight camera and a $20 software program called EvoCam.
Whether you're checking on your pets or protecting your business from criminals, you can set up your own sophisticated surveillance system.
Just One Look
EvoCam, from Evological Software (http://www.evological .com), is one of the most versatile applications you can use with an iSight (800/692-7753, http://www.apple .com). The program provides motion detection, movie recording, built-in Web serving, e-mail notification, and a host of other options.
When you use it as part of a one-camera security system, the setup is straightforward. Point your iSight at the area you want to monitor. If that area is more than a few feet from the host computer, buy additional FireWire cables; depending on the cable quality, you'll gain 20 to 30 feet. To span longer distances, you'll need more cable and a FireWire repeater such as the $39 FH-110, from Macally (626/338-8787, http://www.macally.com), which adds another 15 feet. You can add a repeater and more cable every 15 feet.
Once you've hooked up the camera, create a motion-detector sensor: click on the New Item drop-down menu in the Items tab of EvoCam's main window, and choose Sensor. Position the movable sensor in an area of likely activity, such as a door. You can create additional sensors if necessary.
Now go to the On Motion drop-down menu and choose Refresh or Record Movie. Refresh takes a still photo when EvoCam detects motion, and Record Movie starts a video sequence. Set the video duration for at least 15 seconds, so you can get a good look at the activity.
In the Recording tab (also in EvoCam's main window), choose compression settings for the captured video. I start with 10 frames per second at medium quality to keep the file sizes down; then I review the sample footage. For better rendering, try 15 frames per second at high quality.
When you return to the area where the iSight has been on duty, you can log on to your Mac and review the still images or movies. If the motion detector is activating too easily, such as when a houseplant bends in the breeze of an air conditioner, use the sliding scale in the Items tab to decrease its sensitivity.
If you have a broadband Internet connection, you can instruct EvoCam to upload still images to your FTP server, or to attach them to e-mail messages and automatically send them to you. You can also set up a constantly refreshing Web page that you can check from any Internet-connected computer. These options provide nearly unlimited flexibility -- EvoCam can even send notifications with images to an Internet-enabled phone for nearly real-time monitoring.
Do a Double Take
You can monitor two or more areas, but you'll need more iSights and some supporting hardware. The simplest configuration involves adding a FireWire hub to your Mac and then plugging an iSight into each port in the hub. Your Mac can recognize each camera separately, even though they're connected to the same FireWire port on your Mac.
You have a couple of software options. EvoCam lets you open a window for each camera. You can configure the settings individually or copy them from one iSight to another. You can even show a picture within a picture by clicking on the Items tab and choosing Video under the New Item drop-down menu.
Another application well suited to multicamera setups is SecuritySpy, from Bensoftware ($50 for one camera, $100 for two to four cameras, $200 for five to eight cameras, and $400 for unlimited cameras; http://www.bensoftware.com/ss/). SecuritySpy includes many of the same features as EvoCam, such as motion detection, time-lapse capture, FTP upload, Web serving, and e-mail notification. But SecuritySpy's real strength is how easily it manages multiple-camera setups.
With SecuritySpy, you can connect cameras to your Mac in several ways: through FireWire hubs and repeaters; via a network that communicates over Ethernet; with analog cameras connected to a quad video processor (images are digitized by a converter); and even with USB Web cams plugged directly into your Mac. I tested the application using FireWire hubs and repeaters with iSight cameras, but if you already have analog cameras, SecuritySpy makes it relatively painless to migrate to a Mac-based system.
SecuritySpy also lets you pan, tilt, and zoom your camera remotely. Another bonus: you can set up SecuritySpy to automatically restart if it crashes. This feature can keep it up and running, even if your Mac hits a bump in the road.
Many Cameras, No Wires
When I installed my own security system, even the simplest two-camera setup had me tangled up in wires. I wanted to occasionally move the second camera to different locations without having to rewire the entire building. I turned to EvoCam because of its Web-serving setting and its support for Rendezvous, Apple's networking technology.
You can set up a second iSight on an AirPort-enabled Mac, preferably a laptop, and broadcast the feed to the monitoring computer that's running either EvoCam or SecuritySpy. The wireless camera will work seamlessly with other iSights connected by FireWire or other means.
This configuration gives you much more flexibility because the second camera can be as far away as 150 feet (the reach of AirPort), and you don't have to run wire over that distance. The second iSight plugs into the remote computer, which broadcasts the signal to the monitoring computer.
To enable motion detection on the wireless camera, you'll need SecuritySpy on your monitoring computer. Go to Settings: Video Device Setup, and then click on the Network Devices tab. Enter the IP address and port number of the remote camera.
If you're using SecuritySpy on the remote computer, the computer shows the IP address and port number when you enable Web serving. Enter that information into the program's Network Devices dialog box, and then select SecuritySpy from the Device Type drop-down menu. The image from your second camera will appear on the monitoring computer below the image from the first camera. The only hitch is that SecuritySpy is network-aware for registration, too, so you'll have to purchase a $50 single camera code for the remote Mac.
If you don't need SecuritySpy's features for the remote iSight, save $30 by using EvoCam instead of a second copy of SecuritySpy. Enable Web Serving (in EvoCam's Server tab), and note the IP address. On the monitoring computer, go to SecuritySpy's Video Device Setup dialog box and enter the following information: IP Address, 10.0.1.4 (whatever EvoCam lists as the address); Port Number, 8080; Device Type, Manual configuration; and Request, /webcam.jpg.
Click on OK to pick up the image broadcast from EvoCam and display it in SecuritySpy on the monitoring computer. If you enable Rendezvous in EvoCam for the remote iSight, you can also pick up the feed in Safari under the Rendezvous tab on any locally networked computer.
For less than $200, you can configure one camera to monitor your treasures and record any illicit activity. With two iSight cameras and $120 in software, you can set up a professional multicamera surveillance system every bit as powerful as the systems most businesses use. Depending on your needs and your budget, the camera can be far from the monitoring computer, whether you run cables or go wireless. And once the cameras are rolling, there are many ways to learn about brewing break-ins and archive video. Explore them all to configure the perfect security system for your needs.
Tips and Troubleshooting
Although EvoCam and SecuritySpy are already easy to use, these tips will help you get even better performance.
Web Watching If you want to monitor an area but don't need notification and image recording, you can set up a wireless remote iSight with EvoCam, enable Rendezvous sharing in the program's preferences, and observe activity through Safari on any Mac on the local network.
Control Cameras When you're monitoring multiple areas with SecuritySpy, turn on the Camera Status window. It lets you control each camera individually. This is particularly helpful for switching cameras from active to passive modes. In passive mode you can still observe activity for a particular camera, but motion detection and recording is disabled. This is helpful for situations where you know there will be activity but don't necessarily want to record it.
Refresh Regularly If you're using EvoCam to broadcast wirelessly and monitoring the feed with SecuritySpy, you may run into a problem: SecuritySpy telling you that you need to refresh the image. Simply make sure that EvoCam is actively refreshing and saving at a regular interval. If that doesn't work, launch Safari on your monitoring computer and refresh the remote image in the browser.