Looking for a wireless security camera system.
October 7, 2004 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I need a wireless security camera system. My requirements are that it be able to support at least 8 cameras, be reasonably high-res, and be able to capture and record streams digitally (not just take still snapshots). Motion sensitive activation is a plus, but not required. Ability to view the streams using a standard web browser is a big plus, but not necessarily required.

Budget is flexible, but I'd like to spend less than $5K total if possible. If that's not realistic (high or low), say so.
posted by Caviar to Technology (7 answers total)
Making the question explicit might spur more response.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:28 PM on October 7, 2004

Here's what you're looking at, IMHO (my company is considering entering into the security camera market): ($CDN)

$1,200 - 8 x wireless cameras (give or take) [usually about 300 - 400 lines, a full 525 lines will cost a good solid $500 per camera]
$200 - Each heated + fanned outdoor camera enclosure (should include power supply) + fixed mount
$350 - 2 x 4-way el-cheapo video capture cards (approx 2-3 fps per camera)
- or -
$2,000 - 8-way full motion video capture card

Software price will depend on how much pain you are willing to endure. The software for windows that comes with the el-cheapo cards sucks terribly. The UI is horrible, and, well, I don't like it overall. It supports motion capture.

The software I like the look of, but I haven't been able to get installed (damn linux software and its inability to work between distros!) is Zoneminder. It also does motion based capture.

Both of the above softwares seem to have web support.

There's some professional packages out there, but I can't reccomend any, since when it comes to software, I'm just not interested in paying for any.

If you are wondering what cards will work under linux, in case you choose that, the cheap 4-way card from Microjack called "4-eyes" works fine.

posted by shepd at 1:42 PM on October 7, 2004

My friends like Axis cameras (I don't know about specific models). They have embedded web servers and motion capture support.
posted by holloway at 3:55 PM on October 7, 2004

I thought the question was implied as with every askmefi question about buying things, but I'll be explicit about it:
Where to even start looking? What's good? What's not? What features should I watch out for? What's worked for you? Any horror stories?
posted by Caviar at 4:33 PM on October 7, 2004

So, I asked a friend of mine about this... It's a little PepsiBlueFilter, but quite informative. Here's what he gave me:

Just so happens someone mentioned I should look at this question, I am the Network Administrator for Polaris Industries, Inc. (http://www.polarisusa.com) , a security and surveillance manufacturer, distributor, and reseller. As far as your requirements go, you’re basically looking for a pretty standard system. Ignore these heathens who say you should use a PCI based capture card – I also do the customer support and returns, those cards (I don’t care who makes them) suck wastewater. I’ve gone ahead and taken the liberty to create a quote below and include links to all of the products as they stand on our website, if you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to give any of the sales guys a shout.

8 Cameras—
If you need cameras that can see in the dark:
ILC-300 - $189.95 per camera, 470TVL resolution, 12 IR Leds with an effective IR distance of around 35 feet.

If you’re not worried about night time surveillance:
LP-700C - $149.95 per camera, no infrared, 380TVL (only decent, not good!)

Note – both of these cameras are weatherproof and come with mounting brackets and power supplies – most companies don’t provide these, and would rather sell you honking huge cameras at 3x the price and then nickel and dime you for the housings, lenses, and power supplies. SCREW THAT.

I’m not sure if you know this, but wireless transmission of video is the worst possible way to get it anywhere. The 2.4GHz range of RF is so overtaken by 802.11 networks, Bluetooth, microwave oven emissions, cordless phones, and about a million other things – the probability of you getting a system that will show you 8 cameras (there are only 8 licensed frequencies in the 2.4GHz range that can be used for video/audio transmission.) is slim to none. HOWEVER – I have taken the liberty of providing you with some pieces that should help to make one that will function, just realize that no matter what you get – you’re taking an instant 20% off the picture quality from the digital -> analog RF -> digital conversion that happens between the transmitters. If you only had 4 cameras you could use a 5.8GHz system, but there are only 4 available channels that still allow FCC licensing. If you wanted, you could fashion a system with 4 2.4GHz transmitters and 4 5.8GHz transmitters … but I digress.

All that being said, check out the wireless FAQ on the bottom of our front page at polarisusa.com.

Once you’ve done that, here are my recommendations.

GFT-2408 – 8 channel transmitter. YOU WILL NEED 8 OF THESE. $179.95 These are the only FCC licensed 8 channel transmitters available that have enough RF spread that you can actually use all 8 channels.

GFR-2408 – 8 channel receiver. YOU WILL NEED 8 OF THESE.
$149.95. These are the only FCC licensed 8 channel transmitters available that accept the frequencies used by the GFT-2408.

TCP/IP Enabled Multiplexer/Recorder with >=8 channels.
Basically ANY DVR (Digital Video Recorder) made in the last 2 years has TCP/IP support. Most good ones don’t require the use of a secondary viewer. EVERY multiplexer/recorder on the market has motion detection. Most also have FTP upload and e-mail upload in case alarm events occur. This is where the bulk of the money is going to be spent, and it is wise to not overlook this part – you get what you pay for, don’t buy something cheap because it’s just going to break or aggravate the crap out of you.

The king-pimp-mack-daddy of DVRs is the Panasonic WJ-HD309 series, they are 9 channel recorders that have more bells and whistles and aesthetic appeal than Britney Spears in her birthday suit. This thing is the Bentley of DVRs. Check the site for information, they range in price from about $4,000 to $19,000 ($19,000 gets you 3.5TB of hard disk space …) No client viewer is required to use these, you can just connect with IE/Netscape/Mozilla/Opera/etc. from anywhere

One step down from that, and a bit less expensive are the (unfortunately) Windows 2000 based Integral DVX-1000 units. These things have the best picture quality of ANY DVR we have ever seen – so good in fact, we use it for our internal security system at the office. On top of all that, should you ever require it, the unit will allow you to integrate it into your access control system. The only downside is that it requires a client viewer to access the video streams, you can’t just use IE.
(Ignore the DVX-9200, it’s just a camera.)

Once you’ve gotten through these items, the only thing left is your cabling – we sell it by the foot, power+video over the same cable (it’s just RG-59 + 18gauge power wire) for relatively cheap. You WILL need cable going from the cameras to the transmitters, and you WILL need cable going from the receivers to the DVR, don’t forget about this, many people do.

Finally—the reason I did not quote you 802.11 enabled cameras, even though they exist, is that 99/100 of them use CMOS chips as their pickup chips. If you’re not familiar, using a CMOS chip as opposed to a CCD chip is akin to using a 2 stroke engine as opposed to a V8. If you took a 500TVL CMOS camera and a 400TVL CCD camera and put the pictures side by side, the 400TVL CCD camera would look SUBSTANTIALLY better than the 500TVL CMOS. Just inherent to the chip. Also, most of these systems don’t allow you to record! What the hell good is a surveillance system if you can’t record?!

That being said, should you need any information, send me an e-mail at email me, I'll give you his contact info.

Thomas Jefferies
posted by esch at 5:38 PM on October 7, 2004

I've played with some of the Sony cameras using Mozilla... So I know that works.
posted by esch at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2004

Okay, reconsidering wireless - if you remove that from the equation, do the answers change?
posted by Caviar at 12:11 PM on October 9, 2004

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