How to Use Your PC & Webcam As a Motion-Detecting & Recording Security Camera
By David Weedmark
If you would like to use a webcam to record video or act as a motion detector for surveillance purposes, you have several options. There are a variety of software solutions that enable you to use your computer's webcam as a surveillance camera. You can also use network-based webcams that can be placed almost anywhere in your house that are manufactured with motion detection and video surveillance in mind. Whether you're adding software to your current webcam or buying a network-based webcam, you can record video, get snapshots when motion is detected via email notification, or even watch your camera's live feed from a smartphone.
If you want to use an existing webcam on your computer to detect motion and record video, there are several software solutions available, including Yawcam, iSpy and Zone Trigger (see Resources). Software solutions detect motion by comparing changes from one video frame or picture to another. To use these programs, the computer needs to be on so the software can monitor the camera. You also need a decent webcam that is compatible with the software. Cheap webcams don't provide the sharp images required to detect changes from one frame to another or -- just as bad -- will register changes in pixelated images that haven't really changed at all.
Several companies now make affordable network cameras designed for recording video and detecting motion. Instead of hooking them up to your computer, they connect to your home network with an Ethernet camera or via Wi-Fi. These cameras come with their own software that allows you to select when to record video, when to detect motion, and which areas in the camera's line of sight to check for motion. Once connected to your home network, you can view the cameras anywhere you have Internet access and a Web browser.
Scheduling is an important feature found in most webcam surveillance software and network cameras. You can schedule when the software should record and when it should be used as a motion detector. If want to use a webcam to record anyone trying to use your computer, you can drag the software's shortcut into your Windows Start menu. This enables you to turn off your computer, knowing that the surveillance software will start as soon as the computer is powered on.
One of the chief benefits of using motion detection on a webcam is not having to constantly watch your video feed. If you purchase software for your current webcam or buy a more comprehensive network webcam solution, you can set it up to send you email alerts when the motion detector is activated. To keep from spamming yourself from false alarms, you can schedule the camera's alerts for specific days or times. You can also configure the camera to detect motion only in some areas of its line-of-sight and to ignore other areas (like a nearby window). Once you set up your email, the software will take snapshots and email those to you whenever motion is detected. You can then access your feed remotely over the Internet to see what's going on.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.