LAN Camera Technology Offers New View
It is pretty safe to assume that most THG readers have used some sort of a Web camera. Most readers would probably say that Web cameras are used for video conferencing, and that is currently the main use for these devices. And, while video conferencing is indeed an excellent use of PC camera technology, other uses are possible, as well.
Web cams connect to a computer via a USB port or a parallel port, in most cases, and a type of video conferencing software, such as NetMeeting or CuCme, is used to send pictures or video to the person on the other end of the call. Of course this limits the possible applications, as the camera must be connected to the PC.
So, what if you decided that you want to use that spiffy Logitech USB Web cam that you got for your birthday last year (currently collecting dust in your bedroom closet) as a security camera? First, you would need to select one of a variety of types of Web camera security applications. Take a look; there may be just such an application on the driver disc that came with your birthday gift camera. The 'down' side to this solution is that the camera must be fairly close to the computer so that the cables will reach. With the camera basically sitting on top of your computer, it could capture a flattering image of a crook stealing your computer system, and store that image on the stolen computer's hard drive. However, this doesn't present a very effective security system when the thief's picture is available only on the stolen hard drive.
In order to have an effective security system, what is really needed is a camera that doesn't have to be attached to a computer, such as a camera that can be mounted to the ceiling of the room it is watching. If the camera is detached from the computer, the camera will provide a 'Web server to stream' video, so you will be able to view all that it captures. The next obstacle is connectivity. You could string a number of USB hubs together, but due to the theft factor mentioned above, you don't want these to be physically connected to the computer. HPNA is an option, but a better solution would be Ethernet, or perhaps 802.11b wireless. Another feature that could be useful is an external trigger or two, as well as an external output. The ability to use your broadband connection at your home to view the status from any of your other cameras by using the Internet is another feature that adds value.
While this technology has existed for some time, it is only now that this network-based camera technology is coming into its own. With the continued advancements in this type of technology, as well as the lowered cost of the components that make up these products, this is becoming a viable option in the consumer arena.
We will take a look at the possibilities of this technology and at these "network cameras" in this article. While security is perhaps the leading application for which these devices will be used, there are other options, as well. Imagine being able to hide one of these cameras in your house to monitor how well your babysitter is interacting with your children, or (using a weatherproof housing) placing a camera outside to keep an eye on your children while they are in the backyard. At the touch of a button, it is possible to go to a specific Web page and see what the camera is seeing. Some cameras allow you to zoom, pan, and tilt the camera right from within the Web interface, to provide more control over the viewing area. Some cameras will even email pictures to you, at scheduled intervals that you specify, so you can view them at work or even on your Web-enabled cell phone.
While this technology might be considered 'elementary' by some security professionals, it is obvious to us that there are still many useful applications for it. The ability to access your camera across your broadband connection from any place in the world is amazing technology. However, because this product arena is so new, growing pains are bound to exist until product maturity is achieved. In the meantime, to help you experiment with this technology, we will look at four different network cameras that take varying approaches to providing a network accessible 'eye.'