Low Cost IP Camera Notes


Board Cameras from Ebay

A work in progress.

Note that I use Linux for everything day-to-day, but have a Windows-7 PC for used one in a while for configuring something, and still have the old dual-boot Linux/Win-XP hard-drive from my laptop.

The Good

These cameras are reasonably cheap and once you get them working, they do a great job.  With the mechanical IR filter for Day/NIght and no IR LEDs they provide a reasonably good black-and-white night image with minimal background light such as moonlight or a distant street light.  The cameras claim to support ONVIF, so it should be possible to use them with other DVR/security software.

The Bad

Getting them working with anything but the provided CMS (camera management software) can be very difficult.  I don’t like the way the supplied software works.  You will have to leave a substantial PC running 24/7 to have a useful system.  It requires a Windows PC with the usual update, maintenance and reliability issues. The cameras etc. need Active-X controls and IE (lnternet Explorer).

Board Camera #2

ip board cameraIn May 2016 I bought 2 of these for a outdoor security application.  720P IP board cameras for about NZ$35 each.  I specifically did not want cameras with IR LEDs.  It’s very difficult to find a lower cost outdoor camera in a housing that does not have IR LEDs.  These board cameras have a mechanical IR filter for daytime colour and also reasonable night black-and-white operation.

Getting Going

The default ip address was 192.168.1.10 which conflicted with something else on my network that could not be changed or turned off.  So I set up a temporary stand-alone router/switch.  This also kept Windows and the camera setup software isolated from the internet.

I couldn’t get the update utility or CMS working on Windows-7, even with ActiveX enabled.  It always seemed to give errors or appear to work, but important bits were missing.  Eventually I put the old hard drive back in my laptop and booted Win-XP, which hasn’t been used in ages or updated in 6-8 years or more.  It’s easier to turn off all the protection etc. in XP than Windows-7 for someone who doesn’t use Windows.

Visiting the camera IP address makes IE install some Active-X controls and stuff (I’m not really interested in Windows) that was being blocked.  Once working you get a log-in page from the camera (admin + no password), and then on to a page provided by the camera that displays the video stream and menus for configuration.  It works at last.

Now to change the IP address and set a good password for admin.  I also created a group and user with the intention of allowing just stream viewing and snapshots.  But there are lots of options and it’s not very clear how to do this while leaving it secure. I’ll come back to this later.

Streams viewed using VLC look OK.  I haven’t worked out snapshots yet.

I will have another look at getting Win-7 and IE working to access basic camera configuration, because swapping the HDD and running the old Win-XP is very inconvenient.

Board Camera #1

ip security cameraI bought 3 of these from SecurityCamera-2000 in October 2014. SKU: IPA1551X-L42 – no longer available.  SC2000 are now a bit more expensive and often show no or limited stock.

It’s a  while since I last looked at these cameras so I will have to check the notes and get one out.

The image shows one of these cameras in a outdoor housing with 6-60mm manual lens and a control board handling POE, heater and cooling fan.

Zoneminder – ZM

I have mentioned Zoneminder before so will keep this brief.  Zoneminder is a free, open source Closed-Circuit Television software application for Linux.  I like it and hate it.  It does some things well and other parts just seem unfinished and almost working.  It may be better than I give it credit for, but the complexity and lack of current useful documentation make it a huge PITA.

I have been running a simple ZM system with several analogue cameras for years.  It keep popping up donate requests.  I would be happy to donate if it wasn’t so difficult to use or at least had some decent instructions available.  My plan is to replace the analogue system with a separate network and IP cameras.  The analogue system uses a 8-port capture board that works but has driver issues in Linux after major updates. It is also very CPU intensive, which doesn’t suit my ongoing work to reduce power requirements.  The conversion problems are:

  1. the IP cameras need Windows and IE to be configured – see rant below
  2. low-cost IP camera streams are all different and mostly undocumented by the manufacturers.
  3. ZM does not support ONVIF

ZM does support the video streams that are available from some IP cameras.  Accessing the streams varies between cameras and I don;t know how versatile ZM is at handling the differences – the documentation sucks.

Alternatives to Zoneminder

There are not many alternatives that run on Linux.  So ditching ZM would be a last resort.

I have looked at a standalone DVR.  It was a bit basic but operated with a screen, keyboard and mouse connected directly. But via a network it only worked with Windows, IE and Direct-X.  So anything requiring Windows is out.

Motion – may be worth having a look at for simple command line video monitoring.

ONVIF

This is a open industry forum trying to standardize the interface of IP-based security products – getting all types of security products working together.

For cameras, ONVIF could provide discovery, configuration and operation.  For these “ONVIF capable” cameras, how compatible or how much function is supported is unknown; again – no documentation.

There are Android apps that find and display video from some ONVIF capable IP cameras.  Typically, the app will scan the network and report the type of any cameras found.  You then supply access details and the app will display the video.

ONVIF is good in theory, but for a application like Zoneminder to support discovery and configuration of a variety of cameras is probably a huge job.

A bit of a rant

I hate it when things are more complex than they need to be because some moron thinks a fancy GUI is best.

Windows 7, 8 and 10 are going to break a lot of equipment that relies on proprietary controls, or with Win-7 you have to make your computer less secure to allow your camera system to work.

This ties devices to particular versions of one browser and OS and means that without better than average PC skills these devices will soon not be able to be maintained.

It’s just stupid lazy programming by the manufacturers.  They could provide a simple web page from the device that provided all of the configuration and user control.  It wouldn’t be pretty but it would be simple, functional, reliable and work with all web browsers well into the future.

Is the problem with managers, marketing, programmers or customers.  It seems that sales people and customers are more interested in having the latest flashy user interfaces than a simple reliable, get-the-job-done, process that will always just work.  Marketing and programmers are stupid enough to follow along;  probably at the insistence of management demanding a “better” product;  Better meaning a new user interface GUI.

The same thing is happening with apps, but that’s another rant.