Home Automation - Wireless Camera Project
You all know that I'm a geek that fully wired his new house with
structured wiring (a fat bundle of two CAT5e, 2 Coax and 2 Fiber
strands). So I have every room ready with 100Mb Ethernet and access
to cable TV, and it should be easy to use some of that wiring for
cameras, right? At least I thought so. Reality was a bit different.
The network was easy to set up, but cameras? The choice is over-whelming, quality varies tremendously, and wireless is very attractive
because you do not have to mess with any wiring what so ever, or so
I thought. Yes, there are cameras that have their own OS and web
server built in which you can plug straight into an RJ45 connector.
But three or four of these 400 dollar devices did not fit into the
home budget, so the last two months I have been experimenting with
wireless equipment that was made available by the people from X10.
This is a set of three cameras, a transceiver, and a small box that
allows switching between the cameras. It came with software (called
MultiView) to display the cameras on my screen, and also another
piece of code aptly called WebView that interfaces with MultiView
so I can see these three cameras over the Web. The latter works via
a server that X10 makes available. Now I can fire up any machine on
the world, open the browser, go to the X10 site, type in my password
and get fresh snapshots of my cameras every 10 seconds. Pretty cool
but the road there had a few potholes.
The whole kit came from their demo equipment pool and I had no manuals.
However, we all know that "real men don't read manuals" so I started
plugging stuff in left, right and center and ran immediately into
all kinds of trouble. It was an interesting and educational exercise.
I now know more about wireless cameras than I originally wanted to
[grin]. X10 has all their documentation on their site. But that did
not quite explain my problems.
Soon I was on the phone with their tech support people. They were
fast, courteous but have a 10 minute time limit they can talk to you.
After that you have to call back and go into the queue again. Wait
times were about 5-10 minutes (and I have called at least 10 times)
so definitely acceptable, except for their "10-minutes-you-are-gone"
rule. My problem turned out that the little "switcher" they sent was
the wrong one for the transceiver and the two did not play nice together.
Once I got the right device sent, things went pretty smooth. The transceiver and the "switcher" both go into a USB port, the software sees
them and installs a bunch of drivers to make it work. I tested this
on a Dell dual CPU machine with W2K SP2 workstation on it. The install
process was not entirely without trial and error. If these drivers
have bugs they can bluescreen your system, which happened a few times
until I had the latest revs which worked OK. That was a few tech
support calls right there.
The MultiView software works, but has a few quirks you need to know
about. This is probably an RTFM problem though. For the yet uninitiated
among you, this four-letter acronym is often referred to as "Read The
Fine Manual" and sometimes, when things get hairy the word "fine" is
replaced with something less refined. MultiView shows a "live" preview
pane and four panels to the right with static snapshots that get
updated every 5-10 seconds. You can set this interval yourself but
faster than 6 or 7 seconds is not advisable. Switching the cameras
takes a second or so and if you want to make it run too fast,
MultiView gets confused.
MultiView also allows you to record these snapshots on your hard disk
but it will fill your space up with these pics in no time. Best to
set this option to "only save when motion detected". That's a lot
more efficient with disk space. Sometimes the switch command to get
from Camera 1 to Camera 2 does not work, and you have the same
picture in the snapshot frames on the right. What happens at that
time is that something interferes with the X10 commands.
Things that can interrupt the transmission of X10 power line signals
include: uninterruptible power supplies, some electronic dishwashers,
some computer power supplies, and lighting that puts off noise. This
is not typically a big deal, though there are things you can do to fix
it. Usually the easiest way is to find the appliance that's creating
the noise and plug it into a filter. It's also possible to install a
whole house filter/repeater, which "cleans" up the power line and
amplifies X10 commands so that they work better throughout the house.
Another problem you can run into is that the wireless signal simply
does not work through a wall. My outside walls are cement blocks, with
rebar inside them and concrete poured in from the top. This effectively
blocked the signals from a camera I had mounted on a tree which I
wanted to use to monitor my front door. Too bad, so sad.
This kind of configuration works well inside the home though, where
the walls are made of wood studs and drywall. I currently have two
cameras looking through windows, one on the pool and the other on our
driveway before the garage. The third is mounted on the doorpost of
my front door and shows the walkway. Here are shots how this looks
from MultiView and the same pics via the WebView software:
But do not try to use these cameras with insufficient lighting.
They simply go black when there is not enough light. Some other
webcams are better in this respect like the Creative Labs PC-Cam 300.
The X10 stuff is fun to play with if you are a medium to advanced
PC user. This is an affordable do-it-yourself solution if you want
to monitor your home, a children's room or a small business. The
cams require decent lighting and a reasonable distance from the
viewing area. For less than $300 you can view images from multiple
cameras on the same PC screen. And with WebView (an additional 80
bucks) you have remote access via the worldwide web. This is a lot
less money than professional security monitoring equipment and
reasonably robust once you have it working stably, but it has its
limitations. Fun to play with though and pretty cool when you can
show your friends and colleagues you can see what is going on via