THE MAGAZINE

Worth a Look: A Web Camera for Surveillance

By Peter Piazza

High-tech surveillance technology was once the domain of large, well-heeled organizations blessed with teams of security and technical personnel. But that’s changing.

Now, setting up a surveillance network—including motion-activation sensors—is as simple as plugging a Web camera into a computer’s USB port. That means that even the smallest company can have big-league surveillance measures.

Inside Out Networks offers a host of solutions to help keep an eye on assets. I tested their Watchport/V camera and motion-detection software on a 40-gigabyte laptop running Windows XP. The software, which installed quickly and easily from the CD, required only a restart to get up and running. The camera was immediately recognized after I plugged it into an open USB hub, and moments later I was watching images from the camera using the Watchport monitoring software.

The software is simple and intuitive. Advanced settings allow camera feeds to be monitored or to trigger an alert in motion-detection mode. I selected this latter option, set it to zoom in when motion was detected, and configured an audible alarm. At a distance of about seven feet, the camera detected movement as slight as a finger wagging, and the audible alarm went off.

The event was also captured for review. However, instead of video being saved, which can quickly eat up storage space, a series of JPEG images—beginning a second or two before the alarm was triggered—is saved, as is a log of alarm event information. Green crosshairs pinpointed, and the image zoomed in on, the source of the movement.

The camera is of good quality and could be used for badge photos as well as surveillance. It can record at 30 frames per second in a variety of resolutions, and at less than 1 lux, it performed fairly well in a low-light setup. An optional lens package that includes close-up and wide-angle lenses is available as well.

Inside Out Networks makes sensors that fit the system as well; these include temperature, water, and humidity sensors (which were not tested).

Particularly useful is the ability to have alarms sent in a variety of ways. For example, they can be sent to a pager or e-mail address, and the system can be configured to give remote workers access to the video and alarm images so that, for example, a network administrator would know if conditions inside a server room indicated a potential problem.

Pros. Very easy to set up and install, even for those who are not computer-savvy.

Cons. The camera needs to be connected to a computer, which means you’d have to leave the computer at the place under surveillance.

Where to get one. Online retailers like CDW sell the camera for $179. At the time of the review, the company was giving away the motion-detection software for free.

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