I See You!

Security Cameras.

They’re interesting beasts.  I have installed them professionally, and we installed one at home.

They’re not all they’re cracked up to be, but there are some things to be aware of.

Outdoor cameras don’t always perform as well as you might expect.

I think this was what I was being told when I received this picture.  Partly at any rate, and partly because Kevin was gone and looking at my porch from the Auto Train.  He was sitting there most likely somewhere in Georgia on that night, maybe feeling lonely, missing me, or just being curious as to whether he could catch me coming and going.

I’m a TV game now.

We’ve had the DVR, that’s like a VCR but no tapes used, for about 4 months now. 

We’ve seen some pretty odd things in it.  The scooters that ride past the house in the small hours amused me, but I am in Florida and a scooter can be viable as a “daily driver” here – if you don’t mind being hunted down by snowbirds who have yet to learn to drive.

The ducks on the lawn are amusing to watch.  The hedges that are “in frame” are visited each morning by them when they’re grubbing around in my indifferently maintained gardens.

No, really, there are hedges there, you just can’t see them.  On the left of that pole.  See the shadow?  That’s a hedge although you couldn’t prove it by this picture.

And that’s the rub.  They promise 30 feet of Night Vision, typically, although some promise more.   It is like the mileage claims for a car when they say “your mileage may vary”.

My version of that is “Never Trust A Chinese Manufacturer”.

You couldn’t use that picture in court to prove that yours truly was at the front door with his faithful sidekick, Rack the McNab Dog, could you?

You could try.  I’ve heard some pretty sleazy tricks in what passes for a court room in this country, and I try to avoid court rooms as a general rule.

So a few basic rules?  I’ll keep them as brief as possible.

TVL – TV lines.  We’re all used to HD TV now.  This camera is Standard Def.  Old school square, just like all the DVRs that are being dumped.  Do you need HD?  You might, but HD Is expensive.  This camera is 420 TVL (Lines) and Standard Def.

Night Vision.  They slap that array of Infrared LEDs around the lens of the camera.  It puts out a glow.  It will have a “Feet of Vision” attached.  Divide that by two to get your real distance, seriously.  Just like the MPG scores on a car, your mileage may vary.  After all, I can get 40 MPG rolling down hill in my Jeep at 40 MPH.  I’ve seen it.

HD vs SD.  My own opinion is why not both.  Put SD cameras (not as sharp) on things that you will watch from “close up” like your front door, and then put the good HD cameras on things that you want to see crisply.   You may even be able to use fewer cameras by using more HD where you need it.   Instead of my having two cameras on the driveway and one that leaks onto the front yard, one HD camera may do it.  That will save a couple channels for use elsewhere.

Number of Channels.  My DVR will record up to 8 channels.  Some do 4.  The most I have ever seen is 16.  You probably don’t need 16.  Really, you don’t.  You will want to save recordings, so get a big hard drive for the machine of at least 1 TB and roll with it.  It doesn’t have to be fast since you’re not recording a lot all at once.

I will say though after looking at that picture… it needs to have the camera moved.  That’s just too fuzzy to be worthwhile.   Maybe closer to the front door.

I wonder if I can convince someone else to go up on the ladder.  I hate those ladders.  Nothing looks more ridiculous than a tall man well over 6 feet trying to balance on one of those things.

A Security Camera View On The World

Lately I’ve been preoccupied.

When we’re home, I have video to look at.

What you see here is my view on the world.  I have another three cameras to place, and we already know where they will go.

It started with me getting “A Deal” on a security camera set up.   It came with no hard drive, so once we got one of those, dropped it in the machine with a cable and four screws, we were on our way.  Not too shabby for $150 US.  It came with eight cameras and a bunch of wires, mounts, and power bricks. 

Low price to live on the set of The Truman Show.  No, I will not allow cameras inside the house.  That’s just Beyond The Pale.

The machine is self maintaining, so none of the usual “Operating System Twiddling” that everyone was used to.  There is a whole world of terminology to learn.  I had done all this before.   I “Specified, Procured, and Deployed” two of these same units at the mall that I was the IT Director for.

The hardest part of setting the second one of these up is running wires in uncomfortable places. 

The hardest part of setting up the first is learning all the terminology.

Things like “TVL”, IR, and PTZ become second nature after a while.

You have to know that the more TVL you have, the better the picture.  TVL being TV Lines, which is just how “HD” your HDTV Picture would be.  These cameras are only 640 lines so they’re below HDTV spec, around the same as your old square Standard Def TV used to be.

IR is Infrared.  In this case, each camera has a ring of 28 infrared LEDs around the lens.  They glow red at night, and some may not even be able to see that frequency due to color blindedness.  In my case, they’re quite bright and give me a view on the world of everything that goes on at night.

PTZ is something I truly want simply for the flexibility and the Coolness Factor.  Stands for “Point, Tilt, Zoom” and it’s something you need to be able to do even if you never get a camera that will support it.  It will allow an operator, you or me, to Point or Tilt the camera at something, and then Zoom in on it.

Just like any technology, there is a world of jargon to fool the outsiders. 

Add to it that the Chinese who wrote the manual wrote it in crystal clear “Engrish“.  Which is to say there was a passing acquaintance with the rules of English Grammar.   They passed the rules when they were on the bus in the town center.  They were in the book store they rode past at 50KPH.  They didn’t read the rules, but the book was there.

So you have to step back and read between the lines.  The documentation is there, and you just may be able to figure it all out.  Once you do you can twiddle and I have a stack of settings that I can twiddle with.  Getting all that set just so is the goal.  Motion Detection should be just enough that you’re not looking at 8 hours of uninterrupted video every night.  The IR light should not be reflecting against the eaves of the house so you’re looking at solid grey video.   There is a screen where I can block off certain areas of the screen from Motion Detection at all meaning if something happens in the upper third or the neighbor’s house, I don’t care.  I can tell it not to record during certain hours which I’m trying to figure a reason that would be helpful. 

All that is really quite involved.  Just like anything it’s the sum of the parts.  A lot of little parts make a system.

Unfortunately, the software has limits.  The web interface only runs on Internet Explorer which runs like molasses on my i7 laptop, and like crap everywhere else.  The query function is creaky.  I could write some serious improvements to the system if I had “root access” to the operating system but even that isn’t available.  The help messages are written badly, more of that Engrish. 

That’s one very strong reason why this sort of thing should be open.  Chinese Software is horrid.  Give me a LAMP server and let me write my own PHP code or Java.

But it does work, after a fashion, and it is open enough that third party software will work with it – if you are brave enough to try to get it to.

So if you’re coming down the block, wave hello to the camera.  I’m sure I’ll get to watch it on the DVR.