Home security is something that everyone cares about, but setting up systems to keep you safe can be costly and complicated. For example, CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera systems can cost hundred or thousands of dollars to buy and install. They require tonnes of wiring, drilling through walls and unsightly monitoring and routeing equipment.
While that may make sense for a business, home users usually need something simpler, more affordable and less obtrusive. Which is where the “IP” camera comes into play.
The best IP cameras on the market can easily take your home security system to the next level.
“IP” is short for internet protocol, which basically means that the camera can communicate in the same language as other internet-connected devices. This usually means it connects to other systems by using WiFi or an Ethernet network cable. The same ones you’d use to connect your gaming console to your internet router or other internet gateway device.
This is different from the connection system that CCTV cameras use, which send an analogue video signal down a wire to a receiver, where it may be recorded.
IP cameras are very popular these days and are almost always part of a smart home security system.
So if a CCTV system sends the video signals to a receiver, where it may be recorded by a special DVR system or (in the old days) to videotape, what does the IP camera connect to? Your router or gateway is not the end of the road, but simply a middleman that connects the camera to whatever needs to make use of it.
The camera is available on your local WiFi and wired LAN network, which means that you can access and use it in a variety of ways. For example, if you have multiple IP cameras you may have a special piece of software on a computer connected to the same network. Each camera is registered and the computer can then record the footage for later review.
You can also access the camera feed from an application on your smartphone or tablet — if the maker of the camera has provided one. Alternatively, it’s usually possible to use a third-party application if you are mixing different brands of camera.
Up in the Clouds
IP cameras are not limited to the local network either. If you have a connection to the internet you can access them through a web service or, if you set your router up correctly, directly without an intervening step.
In general, that’s not recommended unless you know exactly what you are doing. Sometimes the cloud-based camera service needs you to pay a subscription fee and with others it’s free. Either way, this will allow you to access the camera system when you are not home through your internet connection. This is one of the most powerful functions of an IP camera and one of the main reasons they are so popular.
Don’t Be Alarmed
Another useful function of IP camera software is that you can often link them to an alert system when a sound is detected or motion is seen. Basic IP cameras do this by marking our zones in the picture that should be watched for any changes. This lets you deactivate parts of the picture where a pet is likely to walk or curtains will blow, to give but two examples.
If the IP camera has a microphone you can also often set a level that the noise should not exceed and then also get an alert. So if some nefarious people break a window you’ll know immediately wherever you are.
There are now also artificially-intelligent smart cameras such as the Nest IQ, which can even recognise faces.
Hooking it Up
IP cameras are generally much easier to install and use than CCTV cameras. You usually don’t need much in the way of tooling and unless you insist on using wired network cabling you don’t have to take on the arduous job of drilling holes in walls or routeing cables through the ceiling.
Before you go and mount or place your WiFi camera in its final spot, you’ll have to set it up first. In general, there are two ways to do this.
If your router and the camera both have WPS button, you can usually get them connected to each other by pressing both buttons as their manuals instruct and waiting for all the lights to go green. That’s the gist, but different devices may have alternate riffs on this idea.
The most reliable way to get the camera working is to connect it to your router with a length of ethernet cable. There is usually a short fly lead included in the box for this very purpose. Here are the general steps:
- Connect the camera to power
- Connect the router and camera with the ethernet lead
- Check the manual for the camera’s local IP address
- Use the browser on a computer or other device on the LAN to connect to the camera
- Enter the camera’s IP address in the browser
- Enter the default username and password
- Adjust the settings of the camera (e.g. WiFi password)
You’ll have to do this once for each camera and again if you ever change your WiFi details or reset the camera for some reason.
Since the camera uses WiFi it only matters that it is within the WiFi footprint of your home. If you have a large home then you may have to use a WiFi repeater or (if you want to be forward thinking) a WiFi mesh such as Google WiFi or the Devolo Gigagate.
In or Out
Finally, make sure that you use the right camera for the location. Cameras are explicitly made for indoor or outdoor use, mixing them up means putting a camera in harm’s way when it rains or overpaying for a camera placed safely indoors.
Getting in on the Action
IP cameras make a whole lot of sense in this world of constant danger and anxiety about our safety. You’ll want to think carefully about your camera choice and find the best IP camera for you. IP cameras also introduce risk in the form of privacy concerns, so you may also want to invest in a secure router like F-Secure’s Sense for that extra peace of mind.