For years we’ve run a system of Zoneminder on a small PC and 3 or 4 analog SD cameras via a PCI interface card. These few cameras put a huge load on the PC often overloading it when reviewing, searching or cleaning up.
For some time I have wanted to use IP cameras but until more recently these required Microsoft Internet Explorer with ActiveX and a custom CMS (camera management software).
This page is a look at the equipment I used and how I put it together. There are other brands and configurations, including more capable recorders and cameras as well as PC based software solutions and on-line cloud and subscription services. To be blunt – I won’t take part in a brand-vs-brand discussion – I don’t use cloud or subscription services – I won’t use a PC based software as they are mostly Windows based (I don’t run Windows) and won’t dedicate a relatively power-hungry and maintenance-heavy PC to the task. End of that discussion, sorry 🙂
Basic System and My Specific Modifications
The minimum system you would need is a monitor and mouse connected to the NVR. The NVR is powered by a 12V plug-pack. The NVR has a network cable connecting it to a network switch which connects to the cameras. The cameras can be individually powered (usually 12V DC) or powered from the switch using a 48-50V POE (power over ethernet) supply.
NOTE: camera power supply will depend on the cameras you have. For POE to work, the cameras must be POE capable.
I have several POE cameras connected to a POE smart switch which is connected to the NVR with a mouse and LCD monitor. It is all powered from 24V DC with battery backup. See below for more information follows.
Security and Privacy
This is my personal preference and you may see it differently – that’s fine by me.
The NVR and camera hardware is pretty good but I don’t trust and hidden firmware (internal programs) of any embedded device, from any company, Chinese or Western.
Therefore the cameras and NVR are not connected to our local data and internet network, but operate on their own isolated network. The disadvantage is that we can’t view the system from the internet, the advantage is that the NVR and cameras cannot connect to remote servers without permission and the outside world can’t get in. It also means that we don’t have to maintain high security passwords on all of the components.
I do have a small router to install between the camera network and the internet that can be configured to severely restrict traffic in and out.
Obviously: don’t install cameras or microphones in places that you don’t want to be watched. Consider also your neighbors privacy. Set up cameras so that they cannot view parts of adjacent homes that they do not want you to see. You can show your neighbors what the system is capable of and they may want their own. Within 2 months of the upgrade we noticed the neighbors car being tampered with and were able to alert them.
Long Term Stability
I want this system to be an appliance that last for years with little or no maintenance or updates. Therefore I’m not using PC software, web browsers or phone apps for setup or basic operation. Everything must be simple and self contained. Other than equipment failure it should work the same in 5 years as it does today – assuming I keep the spiderwebs under control. If it relied on a PC, browser or phone App to operate, it would likely need regular updates to keep it working and in 5 years could be running different programs and apps.
It’s only a couple of years back that you needed a proprietary Windows PC program and/or Microsoft Internet Explorer with ActiveX extensions to change a IP camera setting.
Low Cost NVR
It is now possible to get a low-cost mini NVR from China that supports 8 or more cameras depending on your choice. The NVR requires a hard-disk for storage – sourced separately, purchased locally. Be Sure to get a CMR drive and not a SMR drive – Western Digital Purple drives are still suitable. SMR drives are a more recent magnetic recording method that makes them unsuitable for intensive write applications such as NAS and Video – in my opinion, a PITA and useless for anything other than a home desktop computer.
I bought Two NVRs model N1008G5-V2 9-channel through Aliexpress and for original testing used a couple of old WD-Green 1TB drives which worked fine for the testing period but are being replaced with larger WD-Purple drives now that I know it all works and works better than I was expecting.
The NVR is a relatively small plastic box that you open up to install the hard-drive. Go easy on the screws into plastic, they will strip easily. Treat the hard drive with respect, it is the expensive part and delicate. The NVR as supplied has a 12V DC power supply, a wall-wart.
Locate the NVR and wiring where it cannot be easily tampered with or stolen.
I like that the NVR is self contained, needs no regular updates like a computer and uses relatively little power which adds up when running 24/7.
After running the NVR for a while I decided that the main chip was getting a bit hot. The newer units are supplied with a heatsink fitted to the chip but mine was not. I attached a small heatsink and installed a small 40x40x10 12V fan to the circuit board. The small fan circulates air inside the NVR and will prevent hot-spots.
I wanted to run the NVR from a 24V DC supply (20-30V) so I installed a voltage regulator module and power lead with XT60 connector for convenience. This is because I have a battery-backed 24V power supply available.
The white-blue twisted wire connects 12V from the regulator to the main board, soldered on below the main DC power jack which is no longer used.
NOTE – IMPORTANT: you must set the regulator voltage before connecting it to the NVR board as it will likely be set higher than 12V and could damage the board.
The NVR with the 1TB Green hard drive idles at under 0.5A from 24V (about 10 watts) and peaks at almost 1A (about 20 watts) when busy.
Further NVR Improvements
We are coming into summer and it’s getting a lot warmer. The NVR housing does not have good ventilation even though I had slightly enlarged many of the side holes. The fan added to the main processor keeps it cooler but the ambient temperature inside the NVR gets too high – due to the processor, hard drive and power supply.
I connected a USB SSD to copy off some video. After formatting the SSD, the video went blank followed soon after by a loud bang and a flash from the NVR. The 12V regulator main chip had blown its top off. I’m assuming the additional load was too much, it overheated and failed. It should not have exceeded the 3A rating but it was running without a heatsink, which is recommended over about 1.5A. The NVR and SSD survived but the 4TB hard drive died. My fault for not improving it earlier.
Also added a 2A fuse on the output of the 12V regulator and three 15V parallel zener diodes that with luck will blow the fuse should the regulator fail again.
Zener diodes are not the best at this but all I had on-hand. 13V would be better but 15V should clip the voltage with some effect starting at about 16V and hopefully blow the fuse before the HDD fails. Zeners tend to fail short circuit which may help in this case.
NVR Firmware and User Interface
It works and is reasonably easy to operate once you work out a few basics. It does more than I was expecting.
There are some strange terms and references, probably due to translation to English.
The NVR is what makes the whole system function as a stand-alone system not requiring a PC, web browser or connection to a phone or on-line service. The first proper stand-alone system I’ve seen in years – since the big expensive systems of the 1990s.
How to use the NVR in detail would be a page topic all on its own and I don’t yet know enough about it. It really needs a video demo with screen capture and commentary. I may add a few details here as I work things out.
POE Network Switch and Cabling – wifi
The POE switch connects the cameras to the NVR and provides power to the cameras from a central power supply. There are smart switches and basic switches. A basic switch is good enough to connect cameras to the NVR. a 10/100 Mb switch is suitable for the 8-16 cameras of these small NVRs. Gigabit POE switches are overkill and more expensive.
This image shows a 10-port switch to which I have attached a voltage boost regulator that takes 24VDC in on the white cable and supplies 48VDC to the switch. Cameras are on the blue and green network cables (Cat5e).
Ignore the other wiring – it’s just part of the main network – not cctv related.
The purple network cable is on a non-POE port and connects to the NVR. The second non-POE port would normally connect to a router but as mentioned above, the camera network is isolated for security and privacy.
The smart switch I have is a bit of a problem for the basic switch down-stream. The smart switch will only supply power out when the connected device (camera) has been confirmed suitable through a handshake procedure. The basic switch doesn’t support this handshake procedure and therefore needs a separate POE power supply.
The DIY solution was to get a Foscam active POE splitter (just what was available locally at a reasonable price) and modify it to bring out the 48VDC to power the basic-switch. The DIY modification just attaches a couple of wires to the board and brings them out. The 5v/9v/12v output is not used.
For a POE system it can all be standard Cat5e network cable. I get this in a box of about 300M. The connectors are crimp type RJ45 8p8c. You will need a crimp tool and the ability to make clean-tidy connections.
Why Not Wifi
I won’t use wifi connected cameras. They rely on the wifi working reliably and in this area we have dozens if not hundreds of wifi networks and devices. Wifi can be remotely disabled if desired – jammed. Wifi cameras still need a power supply which involves some wiring.
So far I have bought Besder branded cameras on Aliexpress from the Official Besder Store. They have been reasonably good to deal with and shipping of smaller packages by EMS has taken a couple of weeks – quick enough.
The Besder cameras have been easy to set up using the NVR and mouse through on-screen menu options. My network is isolated so I have just configured the network (camera IP address, gateway and DNS) and not worried about the user-name and passwords for now. At some point I will probably move all cameras and the NVR to a separate subnet and allow limited remote access from the internet while blocking internet access to the cameras – a future project.
The Besder product has been good but I have one complaint about the seller – I ordered two of a more expensive PTZ camera which they listed with DHL shipping and then sent it by Aliexpress Standard Shipping which is extremely slow (typically 8 weeks or more) to New Zealand and cannot be tracked. Had I known they would not ship by DHL I would not have bought them. So I bought two more PTZ cameras from another seller via DHL – which arrived in about 2 weeks – still waiting on the first two.
PTZ Speed-Dome Working
The first to arrive PTZ camera was identified by the NVR as HikVision. The simple method I had been using for camera network setup failed. After some time of trial and error I did get it set – not sure exactly how and not to the IP address I wanted, but it works.
The camera is working but I suggest sticking with Besder cameras and avoiding the big-name brands. I get the impression that the big brands are a bit more locked-down or “tweaked” to work best with their own systems. I’m not using PC software, web browsers or special phone apps for setup or operation so everything must be simple and standard.
Tools, Installation Tips and Workmanship
Installation is a huge variable. You can pay someone to do it for your or do it yourself – DIY. If you use POE cameras the installation cost should be lower – cheaper cable, easier to run, one central power supply. If you can run cables, a DIY install will save a lot of cash. If you are not confident to DIY, don’t go drilling holes in or hammering things onto your house.
To install a basic system yourself you will need some home handyman tools and some experience in their use. You will also need a RJ45 crimp tool and some crimp plugs – which are one-use only so get extras.
Do a neat job of the installation, wiring and connections. If it looks like crap it probably won’t be reliable.
Wherever there are metal-on-metal threads I use a small amount of copper grease. This should ensure that the weather won’t corrode or cease-up threads too badly.
Don’t leave connectors out in the weather, even if they are claimed to be waterproof. They may be water resistant for a year or two but will eventually get damp and fail, especially with 50VDC passing through.
This example is a temporary camera looking over the back fence into an abandoned property to watch the wildlife at night. Most rain comes from behind the camera. The cover is made from 3mm white foam-pvc board which is easy to cut with a sharp knife and straight-edge and glue using PVC guttering cement. This foam-pvc is very weather resistant, seems to be UV proof, can be painted and is cheap in large sheets.
Viewing From A Phone App
To find a web site or anything on the internet you need an address, which is like a phone number used by your web browser. Search for “what is my ip address” and it will tell you something like 184.108.40.206
When you look up mywebsite.com your browser asks the internet DNS system for the ip address for mywebsite.com then shows you that web site. The trouble is, you home ip address can change at any time, at the will of the service provider, making it a moving target for the phone app.
DDNS is a way that your router (or NVR) tells the world what your ip address is by giving you a dedicated web address like just for that purpose. Usually, you sign up to a DDNS service, get some details that you enter into your router (or NVR) then whenever a browser or phone app visits your dedicated web address you see your camera system. This DDNS service will cost you a bit each month/year.
There are other options like having a fixed or static IP address, but that’s another game to learn. DuckDNS has a basic free option but this is not readily supported by home routers or NVRs.
Approximate System Cost
These are approximate cost prices from several years ago (pre Covid) when I sourced the major components directly from China on Aliexpress.
- $200 – LCD monitor – bought locally
- $60 – NVR – 8 or 16 channel 4K
- $140 – hard drive 2TB – bought locally
- $30 – POE basic switch – 5-port+2 – get this and a POE power supply
- $20 – POE power supply – 50V 2A
- $100 – POE smart switch – 8-port+2 – inc. POE power supply – get the basic switch
- $50 – POE 2MP camera
- $100 – Cat5e cable, connectors and misc.
About NZ$750 for a 4-camera system
To be continued