Niall’s virtual diary archives – Monday 20th October 2014

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Monday 20th October 2014: 2.40am.

So what weird contraption is this that I have built this weekend? It's basically a webcam on a tall stand ... the second picture shows its utility, and the third and fourth pictures show it in action where as you can see you get a Full HD high resolution 1080p picture, including in pitch darkness, and the fifth picture is actually Clara sleeping right at this very moment in a very dark room. Yes, it's a sort of fancy DIY video baby monitor, but I have good reason for the expense (about €200 incl materials) on a prosumer security camera instead.

The IP camera is a Hikvision DS-2CD2432F-IW (http://www.hikvision.com/en/Products_show.asp?id=9441, a review by a well known internet IP camera enthusiast is at http://www.networkcameracritic.com/?p=2236) and it costs about €170 which probably seems like a lot compared to the Foscam clones out there going for less than €50. However, instead of thinking how much more expensive than a Foscam it is, one really should be thinking how cheap it is compared to professional IP security camera which are usually €600 to €2000 or so each. While the 2-line Hikvision range makes many sacrifices to reach that price point, Hikvision are China's largest manufacturer of security cameras, they have models going right up to the very top end suitable for military and casino use e.g. delivering a 6MP resolution picture at 60 fps in 0.002 lux, that sort of thing. They are a major global provider of security cameras, albeit a bit of a price leader against Western incumbents.

As much as mine is nowhere close to that (mine is 2MP @ 30 fps in 0.07 lux with a lot of noise), because it comes from the same software teams you get a similar quality firmware with a really trouble free experience, unlike Foscam and especially its clones. The hardware quality is also miles better and much more reliable, and you get regular firmware updates and bug fixing with a multi year history of continuous improvement even to legacy models. That's where the price difference comes in - you are getting a similar featureset to a €1000 IP camera for less than a fifth of the price, albeit with much poorer quality optics. No wonder Hikvision's lowest end cameras are the darlings of IP camera enthusiast forums (yes, these exist, there's actually about three of them), and are extremely highly rated on Amazon.

One particular advantage of all the Hikvisions is that they are their own recording centre too if you want. Simply insert a SD card and configure it to record according to one or more of a long list of triggers, everything from a physical wire connection changing state through to some moving thing coming from direction A moving towards direction B which cross some line C at a speed between X and Y only on Wednesdays between 1pm and 2pm and weekends all day (yes, it's that flexible). You can have it email you on alerts, toggle a physical wire, notify your mobile phone, or even change a piece of XML served by an internal web server - this lets you hook onto it other software triggered by an event very easily. You can even specify which parts of the image are important and which not - it will then use the video compression bandwidth more intelligently. You can see this in Clara's fifth picture, her top half is in high detail, the rest of the image in poor detail.

My only real gripe for the price is that the UI design is awful with no logical or coherent design methodology, plus it has a steep learning curve where options in totally unrelated settings make other options in far away sections apparently not work, thus forcing you onto the pretty good Hikvision support website where they have a very long FAQ. Oh, my other gripe is that it cannot currently detect a noise event using its microphone. This surely is an oversight in the current firmware build as other cameras in the same range can do this. Other than those this is indeed a really great camera, it just works, right down to pulling videos from it are all in h.264 Main profile, so extremely compatible, and Windows, Linux and Mac software can all talk to the camera - VLC and mplayer will show you live feeds from it over the network for example. Obviously, the picture quality does suffer somewhat in very dark scenes even with the IR LED assist, but then this is not an expensive sensor, and you can just about make out Clara breathing which is why I wanted the 1080p hidef.

My particular model also has a PIR motion detector and a decent microphone + speaker which most Foscam clones don't, plus its Wifi is excellent so I can mount it anywhere. The PIR motion detector can detect a moving baby from a breathing baby, plus later on it can tell us when she has got out of her bed which audio based baby monitors cannot. The Wifi lets you place it without ethernet cabling (it has not only ethernet but power over ethernet support, very handy), though Wifi does introduce up to two seconds of lag in the feed, usually that's okay though as it's one way.

So yeah, fairly happy with the purchase and the solution. As Winter comes, temperatures in the house can drop to less than 10 C so we will need to add layers onto Clara when she naps (we usually use our bed for her naps, helps to keep her asleep). Extra duvet layers means increased risk of her trapping herself, and with the audio baby monitor you can't tell if a choking sound is her dreaming, her startling, her playing or her actually choking. This camera means checking on her is a few taps on your mobile phone and you know. Worth the peace of mind I think!
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