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DIY iPhone-controlled Home Security Camera for Less Than 100 dollars

Low Cost, High Tech Home Monitoring With a Dash of iPhone Coolness

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DIY iPhone-controlled Home Security Camera for Less Than 100 dollars

Foscam Surveillance Pro App

Due to a rash of break-ins in our neighborhood over the last several weeks, I decided to take the plunge and purchase and setup a couple of iPhone controllable security cameras in the hope that we could keep an eye on our house and be alerted should anyone try to break in.

There were dozens of options to choose from. I had three goals in mind that helped me to narrow down my choices.

1. Wireless Camera - The camera had to be wireless because I didn’t want to run any cables.

2. iPhone accessible – I wanted to be able to use my iPhone to view the camera whenever and wherever I wanted.

3. Motion sensing with snapshot or video to e-mail – Unless I was willing to watch the camera feed 24/7, I would need to have some type of motion sensing capability to alert me via e-mail when someone was trying to break in.

Armed with these requirements, I Googled away and finally settled on two cameras from Foscam . Foscam cameras got excellent reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Many folks were impressed by the low cost, build quality, and the features that these cameras offer. I purchased one indoor model (Foscam FI8918W) with pan and tilt capability (so I could remotely control what I was looking at) and an outdoor fixed position model (Foscam FI8905W) with weatherproof housing and enhanced night vision capabilities. The indoor camera was about $95, and the outdoor was $120.

Setup was not as straightforward as I would have hoped. Instructions were adequate but contained some very rough Chinese-to-English translation.>/p>

Even though the cameras are wireless, you must still plug them into your router via an Ethernet cable to perform the initial setup procedures. Once setup is completed, you can untether from the network cable and use wireless to connect to the camera. Both cameras featured WEP and WPA encryption as well as password protected user access.

To complicate things, I was using an iMac with an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station as my router. I had to do some digging in the AirPort Utility in order to find out what IP address my router assigned the camera when I plugged it in. You must know what IP address is assigned by your router to the camera because all of the setup is browser-based.

After the cameras were all setup and viewable inside of my network, I needed to make them accessible via the Internet so I could monitor the cameras remotely with my iPhone. This was covered in the manual for the most part, but I had to Google instructions to enable port forwarding for my specific router.

Port forwarding allows you to route incoming traffic (such as when you use your iPhone to access your camera) to a specific internal (non-public) IP address. If you want your camera to have a fully resolvable host name (i.e. yourcam.yourisp.com) instead of revealing your public IP address (which can change often depending on your ISP), then you will have to use a Dynamic DNS service such as dyndns.com.

Although the camera’s instructions covered how to enable Dynamic DNS, I didn’t want things to become too complicated initially, so I did not setup Dynamic DNS.

I setup all the camera features, including motion detection, snapshot e-mail, and camera admin password. It is extremely important that you set an admin password because you don’t want the world having access to your cameras. (Unless you’re into that kind of thing.)

On the iPhone side, I searched for and purchased an app called FOSCAM Surveillance Pro for $4.99 from the iTunes App Store. This app had good ratings and had the ability to directly control most of the camera’s features, such as the pan/tilt, motion sensor setup, and brightness.

Setup was extremely simple, and the app has a very polished feel to it. You can view up to six cameras at once in a mosaic window. Rotating the iPhone gives you a full screen view of the camera feed, and touching an area of the screen will cause pan/tilt capable cameras to follow the direction you are pointing.

There is no DVR function built into the app., but you can set up motion sensing and e-mail capabilities so that you can be alerted when someone gets within the camera’s field of view.

I set up a free Yahoo e-mail account to which to send the alarm snapshots. You must enter your e-mail provider’s Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) server information so that the camera can send mail out to you.

The only major problem I encountered was that I was unable to have the camera send an e-mail out despite having the correct SMTP server and port information. I have tried both Google and Yahoo mail with no luck. A search online revealed that many users shared my problem.

Since there is no onboard video recording capability, I downloaded a trial of a Mac surveillance camera monitoring software package called EvoCam. It costs about $30 and is full of features such as the ability to archive camera footage from multiple cameras, motion sensing alarm e-mail and video capture, and a slew of other capabilities.

Since the camera’s built in SMTP mail setup wasn’t working, I used the EvoCam’s alarm snapshot e-mail feature, which worked out great. The only downside is that your computer must be on with the EvoCam application open in order to perform alert and recording functions.

After working out a few kinks, such as setting the motion sensor sensitivity levels so that our friendly neighborhood squirrel population doesn’t set them off, the system seems to be doing a great job of alerting me to any cars or people entering our driveway.

Total cost was around $200. If you opt for a one-camera setup, then you could build it for less than $100. The beauty of this solution is that you can easily add additional cameras at a later time, as you can afford to, without a lot of reconfiguration.

To summarize, the major pros for this DIY iPhone-connected security camera setup include:

  • Low cost
  • iPhone accessibility and controllability
  • Ability to add additional cameras easily with minimal reconfiguration
  • No third-party monthly monitoring fees
  • High configurability when using EvoCam software for alert and video capture
  • Solid build quality on camera hardware

On the downside:

  • FOSCAM camera’s SMTP e-mail snapshot alert feature did not work (for me)
  • Configuring network connection required some mid-level technical know-how for port forwarding, Dynamic DNS , Wireless setup, etc.
  • Third-party software is needed for DVR functionality
  • The camera instructions were difficult to understand
  • Color accuracy was way off for both cameras tested with no known way to adjust them
  • Cameras did not feature optical zoom capability

One last thing: you’ll notice that when your pet looks into the camera, it will appear to have “demon eyes” when you view the camera footage. This is caused by the infrared light emitters reflecting off of its retinas. Your dog or cat is not actually possessed, although the jury is still out as to whether or not this is true for our cat Audrey.

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