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Using office computers as security cameras
March 30, 2012 5:30 PM   Subscribe

I have an open-plan office full of computers, about 75% Macs. We're considering putting in security cameras with a DVR. It seems to me that with all these computers (and a bunch of spares, at that) we could do this with what we have instead of paying a security company for dedicated hardware. What can I use to coordinate multiple webcams and do security-DVR-type stuff with them?
posted by mendel to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ex-security DVR/camera tech here.

As far as I know, you can't. Any 'security cam' programs out there made to work with webcams will not suffice for the purpose of investigations.

You'd probably be cheaper hardware-wise to actually get a real camera system installed. You can do 8 or so channels with cameras (assuming you install yourself) for a couple of thousand at most. Likely cheaper if you spend any time looking. Installation is simple as hooking up a VCR, honestly. I wouldn't pay someone to do it unless you just really don't have the time to do so yourself.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2012

I know how to get security cameras installed, we've even got quotes from the vendors of our burglar alarm and access control system.

What I want to know is how to make a bunch of computers, ideally Macs, work like one -- not if it's a good idea, but how, because it seems like a neat thing to do.
posted by mendel at 5:51 PM on March 30, 2012

Just have to put EvoCam on all of them and have it running all the time. EvoCam has the ability to capture either photos or video, either on a timer or configurable motion sensor. It can either save them locally, email them, or upload them to various kinds of servers.
posted by supercres at 5:59 PM on March 30, 2012

Keep in mind that if these are iSight cameras, a green light will turn on next to said cameras when in operation, thus informing the bad guy or guys that they are in use. It's easy enough to put a bit of electrical tape over the lenses, in that case.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2012

You generally want the bad guys to know that cameras are active, don't you? Hence the proliferation of fake cameras that are just a blinky LED in a vaguely cameralike case.

Anyway, mendel, check out ZoneMinder, Motion, GSpy, and I think there's an openCV one that does face recognition and tracking.
posted by hattifattener at 6:41 PM on March 30, 2012


Some states and localities require video be "tamper-proof"; i.e., exist on a non-PC type devices (even though we both know this doesn't stop even a pseudo-saavy user). The DVRs we sold could download clips to a computer using special software (it really was just a proprietary MPEG container). Some law enforcement agencies I was tasked with supporting refused to take the downloaded clips as evidence and required taking the DVR in or recording it from the DVR with their own device. I guess they're worried about the possibility of someone changing timestamps.

That alone would really negate the price-saving or neatness of using a bunch of machines with webcams.

Additionally, how would you accurately sync up the video from each if needed? You really want to make this as idiot-proof as possible if you were to have a break-in and need the video.

I applaud your curiosity (and am interested to see how this would work), I just wouldn't want you to rely on a system that would prove useless in the case of an actual incident.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The camera angles on the personal computers would likely not be sufficient to capture the entire room. You need security cameras looking down on a space to capture everything. Computer-based webcams have a relatively narrow field of view and a straight-ahead-to-slightly-upward viewing angle so they are unlikely to give you the coverage you'd need if you ever had to use the footage to investigate a crime.
posted by SakuraK at 11:36 PM on March 30, 2012

An intermediate option might be to run a dedicated server yourself. A Qnap NAS can do that for example, as can a Synology one. Neither are hugely expensive, and they're fire and forget sort of solutions without an outside contractor.
posted by bonehead at 6:49 AM on April 3, 2012

So we ended up getting a DVR and cameras from our alarm system provider. But I was able to use your advice to set up a littercam at home to figure out which of our cats had, uh, digestive issues. Win-win!
posted by mendel at 9:23 AM on January 20, 2013

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