Friday, 3 February 2012

Installing IP Cameras

As a project for the Christmas holidays last year I set myself the target of installing a set of security cameras which would enable me to view the horses in their stable from a remote location. My basic plan was that I should be able to view the cameras all at once through my IPAD/2 and that ultimately my wife would have the same facility through a Smartphone.

Recorded below are my experiences; I can't say it has been easy, but it has been interesting and ultimately successful.

So where did I start? Well someone had tipped me off that Maplin stocked a fair range of Cameras, so after a little bit of Internet research I made an initial purchase of a Storage Options camera and a Netgear WIFI extender (some earlier experiments with the IPAD/2 had told me that the WIFI signal from the house barely reached the stable).

Why did I choose Storage Options? I think it came down to price, WIFI capability and looks. It later transpired that I could have bought the same camera for £30 less but I was pressed for time in the week before Christmas so mail order was not an option.

Getting the Netgear extender working was not straightforward, mainly due to me not understanding the instructions relating to interfacing with my router and I have to say their on-line help was superb and that was soon away. That gave me chance to concentrate on getting the first Storage Options Camera working.

Following the instructions enabled me to get the camera talking to my computer. I was even able to move from Ethernet to WIFI and I could see a picture on my IPAD/2. The catch was of course that this was happening locally, and if I tried to access the camera remotely via my THREE dongle, the camera was not accessible.

The instructions provided with the camera led me to my router, a BT Homehub, and the black art of port forwarding. Now I've got to be honest I've got used to downloading a Wizard, clicking I agree a few times and things working. So the idea of going into my router and using the Advanced Configuration settings filled me with a little dread. I wrote my port forwarding rule, attached it to the camera operating over WIFI, sat back and hoped. Unfortunately there was no change.

I put an e-mail into Storage Options and when this didn't produce a result I tried a direct call to their help desk. As we were getting close to Christmas by this time I am eternally grateful to "Bill" at storage options for his patience, talking me through the process without success until we got to the point he decided I needed to reboot the router. "You mean you want me to turn it on and off?" I asked "That's right" he replied so that's what I did and we had success.

There are at least a couple of great sites that can explain port forwarding much better than I can and if you're stuck as I was then a quick Google of "port forwarding" will help you understand the concept and how to find out you remote IP address. Basically your computer and devices have a different address around your home then they do when viewed from an external device. This was why I could see the image on my IPAD/2 when it was connected through the router, but couldn't see the camera through THREE as this was looking in from outside. The port forwarding linked the internal and external worlds through the router and hey presto we were in business!

That was the Thursday before Christmas; Friday was spent getting to Maplins at Hereford for three more cameras and the rest of the day was spent getting them up and running. This is more time consuming than complicated. The software feels a little bit unstable and I found I had to take everything back to basics, start communicating over Ethernet and then move to WIFI to add in the additional cameras. Storage Options provided two pieces of software, IP camera manager and IP camera finder and you do have to be prepared to go into advanced mode with the latter if you have more than one camera.

Christmas Eve saw me in the car park at Countrywide Gloucester watching and controlling the cameras at home via THREE and the IPAD/2. That was a definite Eureka moment even if I could only watch one camera at a time. It's worth pointing out that the Storage Options IP camera manager software did allow me to watch multiple cameras at the same time but this more advanced functionality was not available through the IPAD due to software compatibility issues.

I let things calm down over Christmas although I did a bit of research into IPAD/2 APPs which I could use to view the cameras. This generally involved downloading a free version, seeing if I could see the cameras through the APP, and when I realised I couldn't, moving on. The Storage Options web site claimed an IPAD APP was available and although I asked both Storage Options and Maplin, I never got a clear answer as to which one it was (and there are a lot!).

Perhaps this is where more research would have helped because it began to become clear that there a number of APPs for specific makes of cameras, and unfortunately Storage Options wasn't one of them. Luckily, and I think this just came through browsing forums and various web sites, I realised that my cameras and Foscam cameras were in some way related and basically took a punt that Foscam Surveillance Pro would work for me and I'm pleased to say that the punt paid off. The software, and the support he provides, is a credit to the developer Maurice de Bijl.

Foscam Surveillance Plus Apple APP

About the same time (between Christmas and New Year) I decided one camera wasn't working correctly so Maplin replaced it under warranty. I was getting a bit cocky by now with my port forwarding abilities but the addition of the new camera threw everything out and basically it was back to Ethermet and starting again.

The Storage Options IP Camera software works fine on the PC and I'm now exploring the recording and motion detection facilities. As I've said above this software performs less satisfactorily on the IPAD/2. The IPAD option no longer works and the mobile option which does operate only allows one camera to be viewed at a time. One big advantage of this software is that it does link to the fixed IP addresses provided with the cameras.

Did I mention fixed IP addresses? Apparently external IP addresses have a tendency of changing every time your router is rebooted and as you want to call up your cameras via this address if it changes you face the task of changing the settings in your external software to make the cameras visible again. This isn't too difficult if the address doesn't change too often (and you can work out what it has changed to), but a more elegant solution is to have a fixed external point that knows where the camera is regardless of the change in address.

When I first started using the Foscam Surveillance Plus App I used the standard IP addresses, but a question to Maurice's RUWEBIT website and forum plus a little bit of persistence gave me the clue as to how to use the fixed addresses supplied with the cameras with the APP. If you are setting out on this journey yourself it is worth visiting this site as it contains a wealth of information that Maurice has made available, basically to stop having to answer the same question time and time again.

So that's it; now, thanks to Storage Options, Netgear, BT, THREE, Surveillance Plus and Apple I can sit at a competition with one horse in the lorry and check on the one left at home. We can check on the boys before bedtime without going outside and we can watch telly with the IPAD/2 alongside and make sure they are all OK.

The final remaining task is to find my wife a SMARTphone and let her monitor the horses for herself. An android device might give me direct compatibility with the Storage Options software, or if it is an Iphone then I will use Foscam Surveillance Plus again. The deciding factor is apparently finding a phone that will fit in her jodphurs!

So not an easy or straightforward task, but a stimulating challenge and really well worth it for the added peace of mind the cameras provide. The quality and functionality provided for less than £500 is excellent.

Finally I would like to say thank you for the support I've received from Maplins at Gloucester and Hereford, Bill at Storage Options, Sandeep at Netgear and respect to Maurice at Ruwebit. Thank you.

Please note products and web sites are for information only and should not be seen as a recommendation of suitability in all instances. I can only say that, with help and application, they ultimately worked for me.