How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Access from Smartphone

Section 6: Access from Smartphone

If you have set up port forwarding and DDNS, you will now be able to install a mobile app and view your camera directly on your smart phone. This is a great feature that offers ultimate convenience: You can check on your house anytime, even when you are on the road.

My phone is a Google Nexus 4 running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. The mobile App I’ve been using to view my Foscam cameras is called IP Cam Viewer Basic, by Robert Chou. It is a free app with ads, but offers tons of features and is very easy to use. There is also a Lite version (only differs from the Basic version in the way it is upgraded – I believe) and a paid Pro version, which enables two-way radio, recording and a few other features. The author also has apps for iPhone and other platforms. At the time of writing, the IP Cam Viewer Basic has a 4.4 rating on the Google Play Store. Foscam Cam Viewer Rating

Here are the steps to install and configure the Android app for Foscam cameras:

  1. On your Android phone, go to Google Play and search for IP Cam Viewer Basic.
  2. Install the app.
  3. Open the app and go to Menu, Manage Cameras, and then click on the Add Camera icon (a plus sign).
  4. Select IP Camera, DVR, NVR. (you can also add other camera types such as a public webcam, for example).
  5. Enter a nick name for your camera, select Foscam from Make and then select your specific model. The app supports numerous IP cameras so make sure you picked the right one.
  6. Enter your Host/IP, which is the one you set up with your DDNS account.
  7. Enter your HTTP Port number.
  8. Enter your DDNS user name and password.
  9. These are the basic, necessary settings for your camera. You can go to More Options for image processing, ptz/control, record mode, etc.
  10. Test your camera and if you see the live video, click Save.
  11. Return to the Main Menu and click Settings. Here you can change some basic settings for the app, but one thing you definitely want to do is to set an app password. This way every time you open the Cam Viewer app you need to enter the password. A little inconvenience but it prevents unauthorized access to your camera feed. If you phone is lost or stolen, at least you know whoever has it can’t immediately view your cameras. One more thing: After you’re done using the app, click the back button to exit. Next time you will need to re-enter your password. If you just click the Home button the app is still running in the background and no password is required when you open it later. For more details on the app, please go to the author’s support website.
  12. If you have multiple cameras on the same network, all you have to do is to add each camera with its own name and HTTP Port. DDNS Host information remains the same. From the app you can access all the cameras in a matrix view, or one by one.
  13. The app provides full control of your cameras, including pan, tilt, zoom, as well as capturing a snapshot and sending it to an email address.

Foscam Cam Viewer App

Obviously there are other mobile apps that may be equally capable or even better, but I’ve only used the IP Cam Viewer so far and really have had no reason to try anything else.

Now to wrap things up:

To install multiple cameras on your home network, you basically follow the same procedure but assign a unique static IP and a unique port number to each additional camera. You only need to maintain one DDNS account to access multiple cameras.

In order to view all cameras at the same time, you have several options:  1. Use a mobile app like the one mentioned above; 2. Select one Foscam camera and add the others in its settings, then use Internet Explorer to access the dedicated camera; and 3. Use a camera management software, such as the Blue Iris Professional Surveillance Software.

Your Foscam camera settings can be saved into a backup file which can be reloaded to restore your parameters.

Home security cameras are convenient and extremely useful, but they do raise privacy concerns for both the home owner and the community. Make sure you understand the laws and regulations with regard to surveillance cameras. If you have the green light to install them, make sure they are set up and configured correctly. And finally, stay safe!

How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Remote Access

Section 5: Remote Access

At this point your Foscam camera can do virtually everything a surveillance system requires: It can stream live video to any computer on your home network. It can trigger on motion alarm and send images to your email, or record videos to a device attached to your LAN. It is even accessible from your smartphone, if it is connected to your home Wi-Fi. However, you still can’t view the camera from the internet. To enable remote access, such as using your computer at work or your cell phone’s cellular connection, you need to complete two additional tasks: Port Forwarding and DDNS.

Port Forwarding is simply a way to tell your router that an incoming traffic from the outside looking for this address (in this case it is you trying to view your camera) should be allowed and then directed to a given port number. This is typically done by going into the router’s configuration page and define a new rule for its firewall. For some routers it is simply done by entering your camera’s fixed LAN IP address and its port number which you selected earlier. The start and end ports, or external and internal ports as referenced in some routers, are typically the same. The Protocol is usually TCP or Both. Other routers may have a slightly more complicated process, but the general idea is the same. If you Google “port forwarding” plus your router’s model number, you will likely see many articles on how to set it up. For each additional camera, you need to define a new rule using the new camera’s IP address and port. See an example below. Foscam Port Forwarding

Foscam cameras have built-in UPnP capabilities to handle port forwarding, but the router is a much better place to do it. Although setting up port forwarding is a simple process, you want to make sure it is done correctly for security reasons.

We now move on to DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System).

Your camera’s fixed IP address starts with either 192.168 or 10. These are LAN addresses and are only recognized within your home network. To view your camera remotely, you need to know your WAN address. This is the IP address that uniquely identifies your home network to the outside world, simply speaking. If you are at home, go to http://www.whatismyip.com/ and your WAN IP address should be displayed on the Website in large font.

At this point if you use your friend’s network or your phone’s data plan, you should be able to access your camera’s login page by entering your WAN address plus the camera’s port number (i.e. http://66.102.15.255:8000). Changing the port number will allow you to remotely access other cameras.

There is only one problem: Next time you try to view your cameras remotely, you may or may not be able to. The reason is that Internet Service Providers typically assign dynamic IP addresses to their customers. This means that your WAN address is only temporary and will change, maybe once a day, maybe once a few weeks, depending on your ISP’s policy. So you can’t rely on it for remote access.

One solution is to pay your ISP for a fixed IP address. A more common solution, however, is to use a DDNS service. DDNS works like this: You sign up for an account at a DDNS service provider. You then select a unique host name and also choose a domain name provided by the DDNS company. So now you have a complete website address (ie. MyUniqueCam.dyndns.com:8000) that you will use to access your security camera remotely. Finally you will configure your router’s DDNS service so that every time your dynamic IP changes, it will automatically update the name server associated with your DDNS account.

Foscam Fi8910W Indoor Camera Foscam Fi8905W Outdoor Camera

Simply knowing the web address doesn’t allow a person to view your camera feed – your camera’s password is still required – but obviously you want to keep the address private and also choose a strong password to safeguard your DDNS account.

DDNS can be updated by your Foscam cameras as well, or by using software running on your computer. But the best place to do it is your router. And make sure you only use ONE device on your entire network to provide DDNS update.

There are still reputable companies offering free DDNS services, but the list is getting smaller and smaller. I personally use DynDNS and their service has been awesome. Unfortunately, DynDNS has stopped offering free accounts to new customers. Their Pro service isn’t too expensive and doesn’t require you to log in once a month to keep it alive, so it is still an option. Another option is No-IP.com, which appears to be gaining popularity quickly because of their reliable and free DDNS service. Foscam offers their own DDNS service but it is only free for the first three years.

How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Motion Detection and Image/Video Recording

Section 4: Motion Detection and Image/Video Recording

Now that your Foscam camera is fully functional, you can enable motion detection and have the camera automatically capture images and email them to you when motion alarm is triggered.

    1. Log into your camera’s configuration page.
    2. Go to Device Management and then Mail Service Settings.
    3. Using Gmail as an example, enter your full email address as the Sender.
    4. For receivers, I use the same email address to receive images. You can send to four email addresses.
    5. For SMTP Server I use smtp.gmail.com.
    6. For the next two fields I use STARTTLS and Port 587. Foscam manual indicates that Gmail only supports TLS at port 465 and supports STARTTLS at port 25/587.
    7. Check Need Authentication.
    8. For SMTP User enter the user name only, which is the email address without the “@gmail.com” portion. The image below from Foscam User Manual displays the full email address as the SMTP User, but I read that some people have problems with that setting. Either way is fine, I suppose.
    9. Type in your Gmail password.
    10. Click Submit (do this first before testing).
    11. Click Test to check the mail service function. If everything is configured correctly, you will see Test … Succeed. If it fails, double check the configuration and also your email settings.
    12. Report Internet IP by Mail is optional. Foscam Mail Service Settings
    13. Now we move on to Alarm Service Settings.
    14. Check Motion Detection Alarmed and more fields will appear just below it.
    15. Enter 5 for Motion Detection Sensitivity. You will need to play with this setting to figure out what is the best value for you. My experience is that I can’t tell too much of a difference between 5 and 10.
    16. Check Motion Compensation. This is supposed to reduce false alarms when light changes but it doesn’t seem to work very well. My motion alarm is still triggered many times when there is a noticeable light change in the environment.
    17. Check  Send Mail on Alarm. The camera will email you captured 5 – 6 pictures every time the motion alarm is triggered. This is why Mail Service Settings must be configured first.
    18. Foscam Send Email on Alarm

    19. If you want to upload images to your FTP server, you need to configure the FTP Service Settings first and then check Upload Image on Alarm. You also need to enter the Upload Interval (in Seconds).
    20. If you prefer to have the alarm on all the time, don’t check Scheduler (or check Scheduler and select Set All). Click Submit and your camera’s alarm will be set. Walk in front of the camera and check to see if you have received emails with captured images.
    21. If you prefer to set the alarm only during certain days and time periods, check Scheduler and manually define your schedule. For example, if you click 08, the little rectangles underneath 08 will turn blue, meaning that every day the camera’s alarm will be turned on from 8am to 9am. If you only want Monday to Friday, click on the individual blue boxes corresponding to Saturday and Sunday to clear them. Keep in mind that the scheduler is in 24-hr format.

    One other thing I did was to create a Gmail filter using my camera’s Alias. By assigning a unique label and sending them directly to archive, I now have all the camera-generated emails in one folder. This way I can leave motion detection on for a longer period of time without having to worry about them clogging up my inbox. The disadvantage is that if motion is triggered when you’re not home, you won’t receive the email alert right away because it doesn’t show up in your inbox. If you have a home alarm system it wouldn’t be a concern.

    To enable video recording on alarm, you need to specify a location to store the video files. A NAS (Network Attached Storage) or a dedicated hard drive connected to the router is probably a good solution, but I haven’t tried either one yet. If I do I’ll update this post.

How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Wireless Connection

Section 3: Wireless Connection

Both Foscam cameras offer IEEE 802.11b/g connectivity. If your router has wireless N, it is backward compatible to B/G. Newer generations of 8910 models provide B/G/N connectivity, which is even better. In order to establish wireless connection to the Foscam cameras, you must first find some key information about your wireless network.

  1. Log in to your router. This is usually done by entering the router’s IP address into your browser. If you didn’t change the factory default login information (you really should), you can go to the manufacturer’s website or your user manual to find the default user name and password.
  2. If you don’t remember the router’s IP address, try find your home network’s Default Gateway which in most cases will be your router’s IP address.
  3. In the router’s control panel, find something like Wireless Settings.
  4. Make note of your SSID, encryption method, encryption technique and share key (password).
  5. With your Foscam still connected to you PC through Ethernet, go to Wireless LAN Settings in Device Management.
  6. Check Using Wireless LAN.
  7. If your wireless network is set up to broadcast its SSID, you will see it in the list after running a scan. Simply click on it and the SSID and Encryption will be filled in. Manually enter your Share Key and hit Submit. If you choose to hide your SSID for extra security, you can enter all the information manually in the boxes below. For Network Type, Infra is more common than Ad-Hoc.
  8. Once the camera finishes rebooting you can remove the network cable.
  9. Use the Foscam Camera Tool or your router’s device list to find its new IP address, and log back in. You can re-assign a static IP address if you prefer.
  10. Now your Foscam camera is connected to your home network wirelessly.

My router is an ASUS RT-N16, running the open-source Tomato USB firmware. There is a very active community on the internet dedicated to the development of Tomato. Along with a powerful router like the RT-N16, it is a dream system. The wireless network is extremely stable and signal is fairly good even at the far corner of the house. For the outdoor camera, however, depending on its placement the wireless signal may not be strong enough.  In this case a WiFi signal booster would solve the problem. I use a Belkin N300 Dual Band Wireless N Range Extender and so far it has worked really well.

Foscam Wireless Settings

How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Basic Configurations

Section 2: Basic Configurations

The Foscam cameras rely on a web-based interface to change basic configurations and it is fairly easy to use. Although there may seem to be many steps, most of them are straight forward. Fundamental security measures are implemented here. This is also the place to fully test your camera before installation.

The process outlined below is nearly identical for both indoor (Fi8910W) and outdoor (Fi8905W) cameras. To avoid having to constantly block out my personal information, I’ll use some images from Foscam’s user manual for illustration purposes. These user manuals come with the camera on a CD in PDF format, and are very detailed and helpful.

  1. Install the IP Camera Tool (IPCamSetup.exe or IPCamera.exe) that comes with the camera on a CD. This is not really necessary since you can find the camera from your router’s device list, but it is easier to use this way.
  2. Connect the external antenna to the camera.
  3. Plug the network cable (included) into the back of the camera and plug the other end into your router. Even if you intend to use WiFi in the future, setting up the camera must be done through Ethernet.
  4. Power on. It take about 30 seconds for the camera to start up.
  5. Start the IP Camera Tool and if everything works well, you should see a camera named Anonymous along with its IP address. If the camera is not found, check connections first and then look into router settings (DHCP and Filter by MAC Address are good places to check). Occasionally your firewall settings may block the camera as well.Forscam IP Camera Tool
  6. Right click on the camera and you will see basic properties, network configurations and a few other utilities. You can indeed change a few camera settings here but I’d rather go to a web browser and do everything in one place.
  7. Double click on the IP address to start your browser (or type the IP address directly into the browser’s address bar).
  8. The web interface offers two log-in options: If you use Internet Explorer (IE), choose the ActiveX Mode. If you use Chrome, Firefox or Safari, choose the Server Push Mode. This is important. I use Google Chrome so the following are all based on the Server Push Mode.
  9. The factory default user name is admin, and there is no password. So you definitely want to change the user settings once logged in!!!
  10. The first screen after logging in is Device Status. Click on Live Video and you should see a live feed from the camera. For IE users, you may have to download ActiveX Control for the camera to work.
  11. Go to Device Management and change basic configuration settings. Don’t forget to submit or save after each modification. Sometimes the camera may have to reboot for the new setting to take effect; don’t unplug the power cord when the camera is restarting.
  12. Change the Alias “Anonymous” to something easier to remember.
  13. Change the Date and Time. You can also select Sync with NTP Server or Sync with PC Time, and choose Daylight Saving Time if it is applicable.
  14. Go to Users Settings to change the default user. Choose a new user name and a strong password, and make sure the role is set to Administrator. You can also add additional users as Visitors or Operators, but it is optional. You must have at least one administrator.
  15. If you use IE browser, you can add multiple cameras here and will be able to monitor up to nine cameras at the same time. Since I use Chrome, I’ll do this using other software or a mobile app.
  16. Move on to Basic Network Settings. First uncheck “Obtain IP from DHCP Server.” Basic-Network-Settings
  17. Since I have several cameras to install, I would like to assign a block of static IP addresses just for home security use. So I manually changed the camera’s IP Address here.
  18. Then go to your computer’s Control Panel, Network Connections, Local Area Connections, Support, Details. You will see a list of network settings. Copy the Subnet Mask, Gateway and DNS Server addresses to the camera settings. If you don’t see a DNS Server, just use the Default Gateway information. (Alternatively you can go to a command window and type “ipconfig” to get all the IP addresses)
  19. Change the Http Port to something different than 80, such as 8000. All the cameras use 80 as the default port, so you definitely want to change this (and don’t use ports such as 21 and 25 which are reserved for other purposes). If you have multiple cameras, you can assign them 8000, 8010, 8020, etc.
  20. If the IP address and/or port number is changed, the new address must be used to access the camera after a reboot. For example, you need to type the address plus the port number (such as http://192.168.0.109:8000) to get back to your configuration page.
  21. This completes the basic configuration process. Keep in mind that your camera’s IP is still a LAN (Local Area Network) address, and can only be accessed from within your home. You can’t, for example, view your camera with your smartphone’s cellular connection. Not yet, that is.

Setting up WiFi connection, motion detection and remote access from the internet will be discussed in more details later on. Other configurations are either not necessary or not applicable in my case, so they are left disabled (unchecked). For example, ADSL Settings are for internet connections directly through an ADSL modem (without a home router). UpnP is used for Port Forwarding, but it is much better to leave that task to the router. DDNS is necessary for remote access, but the router can handle it as well.

How to Set Up Wireless IP Cameras for Home Security: Overview

Section 1: Overview

After two homes in our quiet, suburban neighborhood were broken into recently, I decided to install a few cameras around the house to scare burglars away (hopefully). I already have a home alarm system, which is apparently not enough: In my neighbors’ cases it took more than 30 minutes for the police to arrive. By that time the thieves were long gone. So I figured even if a camera is not enough of a deterrent either, at least it can capture some images and videos to assist a police investigation.

I did some research and eventually purchased Foscam wireless IP cameras: Fi8905W for outdoor surveillance and Fi8910W for indoors.

Both cameras offer advanced features such as night vision, motion detection, image/video capture, email and FTP upload on trigger, remote access from smartphone and the Internet, etc. The indoor camera also has two-way radio and pan/tilt capabilities, while the outdoor version is equipped with 60 IR LEDs for long range night vision and a 4mm lens for wide angle viewing. The downsides? They are still relatively complicated to set up, and image resolution (640 x 480 Pixels) can be better. In addition, both cameras use MJPEG video compression instead of H.264, if that is important to you.

Foscam Fi8910W Indoor Camera Foscam Fi8905W Outdoor Camera

To configure the cameras properly and take advantage of their full capabilities, you may have to deal with not only the cameras themselves, but also your router, ISP (Internet Service Provider), DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System), NAS (Network Attached Storage), as well as your PC and smartphone operating systems. So I won’t even attempt to write a comprehensive guide, not to mention that some of the settings make me dizzy too. Instead, this is simply how I managed to set up my security cameras. It is more about the necessary steps, rather than technical details, that are required to build a working surveillance system. The good thing is that these Foscam cameras are very popular on the market. If you search hard enough, you will most likely find solutions to your specific problems on the internet. You do want to be extremely careful , however, because one mistake can indeed open up your home network to the entire world. So proceed with caution.

How to Watch Chinese TV Online Using XBMC

XBMC is a fantastic media player that can handle most video and music formats. It also includes many add-ons to watch TV online. Being open source, XBMC is free and is compatible with Windows, Mac and other platforms. If you don’t have Dish Network or a dedicated set-top box for watching Chinese programming, using XBMC with CNTV can be a handy solution. CNTV (China Network Television) is provided by China’s official broadcasting company CCTV, and I’m sure there are other add-ons for different languages.

Quality-wise CNTV on XBMC is very good, although it highly depends on the speed of your Internet service. I’m using Time Warner standard 10MB down with Turbo Boost and can watch most stations without any problem. Obviously it still can’t compete with Dish’s Great Wall Package in terms of PQ and ease-of-use, but for occasional viewing, XBMC is hard to beat.

Below is a step-by-step tutorial for setting up XBMC with CNTV:

Continue reading “How to Watch Chinese TV Online Using XBMC”

Set Up a New PC Part III: Install Software

With the SSD in place, it is time to start installing software and drivers, beginning with Windows 7.

8. Install Windows

Insert the laptop battery, connect the power cord and power on the computer. Since the BIOS was already set to boot from the CD/DVD drive in Step , Windows installation should start automatically. If you forgot to load the installation disk, you can do so now and restart the laptop.
The entire process of installing Windows 7 took me about half an hour (maybe less since I was doing something else at the same time). Near the end I was prompted to activate Windows and I chose the phone option. The automatic voice system guided me through the process: I provided the OEM Windows product key and in return received an activation code. The only problem was that the system couldn’t understand me saying “I’m finished,” and insisted transferring me to a live operator to restart the process. At that point my computer was already showing successful activation so I simply hung up.

Continue reading “Set Up a New PC Part III: Install Software”

Set Up a New PC Part II: Install Hardware

Upgrading a laptop’s hardware isn’t as easy as for a desktop, simply because there isn’t much room to work around. But replacing the memory modules, hard disk or optical drive is fairly straightforward. Memory has been quite cheap for a while and is the most cost effective way to boost your PC’s performance. Solid state drives (SSD) offer numerous benefits compared to traditional disk-based drives, but at a significantly higher cost. However, over the past six months SSD prices have steadily drifted lower and are now at a very affordable level. Some of the highly rated 128GB SSD’s, such as Samsung 830 and Crucial M4, are often on sale for under $100. The one I got is a 240GB SanDisk Extreme, which also has great reviews on Amazon and other places. The optical drive, usually a DVD burner, may be upgraded to a Bluray burner or even replaced with a second hard drive. However, I’m not planning to replace the internal optical drive anytime soon and if a need arises later on, I’ll just use an external one.

5. Prepare SSD

SSD has been a hot topic in the tech world so there are plenty of guides on the internet on how to prepare and maintain solid state drives. Here is one, another one, and yet another one. They are very useful but can be over complicated for my case: I simply don’t need data migration, disk cloning or  things like that. After reading through many informational articles and forum discussions, I only did a few things to my SSD:

  • Update firmware. This is considered a necessary step even though it carries some risks (anytime you flash firmware something could go wrong, although unlikely). This is particularly important if your SSD has some known issues that have been reportedly fixed by new FW – all this information can be found online by searching for the specific model of your drive. To upgrade firmware, I downloaded and installed the SanDisk SSD toolkit. By putting my SSD in an external enclosure and connecting it to my old PC, I was able to examine the SSD using the toolkit. It turned out there was indeed a new version of firmware released just a few days after my specific SSD was built. So I went ahead and saved the new FW into a USB flash drive – the toolkit would then make it a bootable drive. Still on my old PC, I changed the BIOS boot priority to USB. Upon restart, the software found the SanDisk SSD and completed FW update in just a few minutes. For more information on this particular SSD, here is a very detailed benchmark report. Continue reading “Set Up a New PC Part II: Install Hardware”

Set Up a New PC Part I: Get Started

There are basically two ways to migrate an old PC to a new one: Clone the entire hard drive and copy it to the new PC, or set up the new PC manually and then move old data over. Since my old desktop has too much junk and a 32-bit Vista, I won’t bother cloning its hard disk and will just start fresh with the new laptop.

1. Burn recovery disks

The first thing I did after firing up the laptop was to generate recovery disks. Most PC manufacturers don’t ship the disks anymore, and instead will happily sell them to you. But it is easy to burn the DVD’s on your own. These disks will restore your computer to its factory state after a hard drive crash or corrupted operating system.

Lenovo’s pre-installed ThinkVantage software has an option to create system recovery disks. The program will instruct you to load blank media and guide you through the process. The first disk is a bootable repair disk, and can be either a CD or DVD. The second and third must be DVD’s to restore your system to factory condition. After installing new operating system and other programs, you can choose to create another set of disks that contain an image of your entire hard drive. This way you don’t have to re-install everything again if you later have to replace the hard drive. Continue reading “Set Up a New PC Part I: Get Started”