How to Build a Computer for CCTV Surveillance
By Ryan Bauer
The high price of most commercial CCTV (closed circuit TV) surveillance systems has lead to the development of PC-based software that can turn your computer into a powerful CCTV system. The ability to use standard USB cameras eliminates the need to buy expensive security cameras. If you're willing to do a little work, you can build your own computer for CCTV surveillance that costs pennies on the dollar, without paying for the assistance of a professional. Your custom-built CCTV system can be configured to your individual specifications and requirements. Even advanced features such as motion detection and online video streaming are possible with modern software.
Choose the computer you will be using to monitor and record your CCTV feeds. Though the PC should have been built within the last 10 years, it doesn't have to be incredibly new or powerful. A second-hand computer is fine, just make sure it has enough available hard drive space to meet your video recording needs. If you wish to remotely view your cameras, you should connect them to a broadband Internet connection.
Find a secure location to install the computer system. You want it to be out of the way and in a location an intruder would be unlikely to notice. If it can easily be seen, someone can simply steal or destroy the computer, and all your evidence would be lost forever. On the other hand, you want the computer to be as close to the location of the cameras as possible, since you will have to run wiring to them.
Mount your USB video camera(s). You can use just one camera or as many cameras as your software will support. Regular USB webcams are perfect for surveillance duty. You may use USB extension cables to connect the cameras up to five meters (16.5 feet) from the computer. Beyond that, you will want to consider a USB signal booster to ensure a quality video feed. If you want to have multiple cameras at the end of your USB cord, a USB hub can be used to split the signal.
Install your surveillance software. You may choose to buy commercial products such as the Digi-Watcher webcam security package, or use a free or open-source solution such as the Dorgem project available from Sourceforge (see Resources below). When choosing your software, keep your individual needs in mind, such as how many cameras you are using, if you require remote access from another computer and if you need time scheduling functionality. Unless you want to record nonstop video footage, software with a motion-detection feature will keep your system from recording periods of time in which nothing changes, saving valuable hard drive space.
- Several webcam manufacturers make models that record in high-definition, are weatherproof, have wireless functionality, or that can see in the dark. Depending on what interference levels are at your location, you may be able to extend your USB cameras beyond the standard five-meter maximum. You can use an external drive, a CD or DVD or another computer to back up your video recordings on a regular basis. A battery back-up system is a good idea in case the power goes out.
- Don't put regular webcams in outside weather environments. Rain and extreme temperature can destroy cameras that aren't specifically designed to be put outdoors. Never use a laptop for a surveillance system. They aren't designed to be run for long periods of time.
Ryan Bauer is a freelance writer located in Ozark, Missouri. He has written numerous articles and books, including "How to Improve Your Credit Score 100 Points in 100 Days." Bauer is an experienced automotive mechanic and computer technician.