How to Turn Your Laptop Into a Home Security System
While you’re hard at work, your laptop is just sitting at home goofing off. If you’ve got a Windows laptop with a webcam, you can put it to work as a home security system using iSpy Connect’s video surveillance software (www.ispyconnect.com).
iSpy’s basic software is free and open source for use with a laptop and one webcam on the same network. You can upgrade to various paid versions to deploy multiple cameras, get email or SMS alerts, and access mobile or remote Web dashboard controls. The Pro plans run from $7.95 (three cameras) to $49.95 (10 cameras) per month. If you prepay any of the Pro plans for a year or more, you also get 100 to 200 SMS free alerts, depending on how many years you prepay. Here's how to get set up.
What you’ll need:
- Laptop or PC running Windows XP or above (we used a laptop running Windows 7 Professional Service Pack 1)
- At least 2GB of RAM and 200GB of free hard disk space
- Download the 23.3 MB setup program (32-bit or 64-bit) from www.ispyconnect.com
Turn off your laptop’s sleep function
For iSpy to record video, your laptop must be powered on and awake. If your device goes to sleep or your battery runs out of juice, the software won’t run. To turn off the sleep function on your laptop’s display, follow these quick steps.
1. Click the Windows Start button and go to the Control Panel, then choose Power Options.
2. Choose "Change when the computer sleeps."
3. Choose Never in both the battery and power columns. (You can keep the same settings for your screensaver.
Here are the steps you need to get started with the free version of iSpy.
1. Download the correct installation package for your computer’s processor. To find out which type of processor your laptop has, go to the Control Panel and click System.
2. Unzip the file and double-click iSpySetup to start the installation.
3. Click Run when the Windows Security Warning appears.
4. Click Next through the wizard until you reach the last window. Make sure the checkbox next to Launch iSpy is checked and click Close.
5. Click the checkbox next to "Private networks, such as my home or work network." Then click Allow Access to continue.
6. Click OK to go through the tabs on the iSpy welcome screen.
7. Click Close on the Getting Started window.
8. Click Add on the top row of icons, and then click Local Camera. The camera setup screen might look a bit intimidating at first, but you don’t have to set all these options immediately. To get started, you’ll only need to set the following options.
Give the camera a unique name. You might want to name it after the camera’s location (“Living Room”) or the camera’s description (“Laptop Cam”).
Check the Camera Active box. Checking the box immediately turns on your webcam.
The Edit Camera window stays open but now you’ll see your laptop’s webcam behind it. You’ll see an image of yourself and the webcam’s light will come on, showing that it’s working. The bar under the image will also flash red to show that iSpy is recording.
9. Click Next to go to the Motion Detection tab. The default detector is Two Frames, which compares the last frame to the current frame. If something is added or missing from the frame, the camera will be triggered to record if the change meets the trigger movement threshold.
The Trigger Range determines how sensitive the camera is to movement. You can start with the Trigger Range set to the default of 20 > 100. To test the trigger, move your hand in front of the camera and watch the blue bar beneath the image. The vertical green line indicates the current minimum threshold while the blue bar shows the activity level of the action. When I tested it with the minimum set to 20, my camera ignored head turns, smiles, nods and slow hand movements. The camera caught all other quick movements at this threshold.
10. OPTIONAL: You can also set up motion detection zones on this tab. On the image in the Detection Zones section, click and drag a rectangle to limit motion detection to only that area of the camera’s view — for example, a doorway.
11. Click Next to go to the Alerts tab. Use the Add button to select what types of actions iSpy will perform if it detects a triggered movement. The actions will be listed in the large Actions box. In the example below, iSpy will beep the laptop’s speaker, maximize the program’s window, send a text message to a particular phone number, turn on the camera’s mic, send an email, and show the camera’s window.
Sending messages externally (like SMS, Twitter, or email alerts) is only available on paid plans.
12. Click the Camera tab in settings and clicking the ellipsis in the Microphone section to set up your laptop’s built-in mic.
13. Click New and click the >> button in the pop-up box.
The Microphone setup tab has many of the same options that you saw on the Camera tab. Click the Source ellipsis and iSpy should pick up your webcam’s built-in mic. Activate the mic and choose a name for it. Click Finish on the Mic page and then click Finish again on the Camera page.
14. Your basic system is set up now. To turn it on, go back to the home screen and click All On. The photos captured by your triggers are shown in the bottom half of the screen. Click All Off to turn off the camera.
15. Connect to the Internet and then click a thumbnail to view any of the triggered screenshots. iSpy will then open your browser and ask you to log into iSpyConnect with your ID and password. From there you can view your image at full size.
You can get a lot more advanced functionality from iSpy if you want to dig into their User Guide. In addition to video triggers, you can also set microphone triggers and set up scheduling to limit monitoring to certain times. You can also get plugins for things like license plate recognition, face recognition, text overlay, barcode scanning and more. If you choose one of the paid plans, you’ll get alert functionality and an enhanced Web dashboard which allows you to control and see your cameras from any device with a browser.
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