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How to turn your webcam into a surveillance cam

When you’re walking out the door for a vacation or even just a normal workday, it’s easy to be thinking about what’s ahead, not what you’re leaving behind. Sure, you locked the doors, but what if you want to check up on your home while you’re gone?

Most people don’t think about setting up a monitoring system until they’re already out of the house.

An internet-enabled security camera will do the trick, but most people don’t bother buying and installing one, even though I recommend it. Take a look at some of the great security cameras available in my store.

If cost or complexity is holding you back, I have a less-expensive solution. You probably have a webcam for your desktop or laptop computer, which means you already have almost everything you need for serious spy-grade home surveillance (when you and Fido simply can’t be there to secure the home front “old school” style).

Instant webcam to surveillance conversion ‘ingredients’

OK, so you’ve decided that webcam home surveillance is not a bad idea. (Who could blame you?) So then, what are you going to need to make this happen?

Good question! For starters, I want to assure you that there are some very good and FREE software and apps that can make this a breeze. Here are two options that will satisfy needs for both Windows and Mac users:

Sighthound (Windows, Mac) – This allows you to record when motion is detected. What’s more, it can tell the difference between people and objects. Sighthound will even allow you to detect movement in critical areas like doors and windows as an extra precaution.

iCamSource (Windows, Mac) – This free download works with almost any webcam. What’s really nice about it is it lets you connect and take a look from any gadget with iCamSource software installed. So, if you leave your laptop behind for surveillance duty, you can just jump on your mobile device for a peek, just as often as you like. Note: The iOS and Android apps cost $5 each. Another note: They’re worth it.

Before we move on, for Windows folk, there is one more option that I like. iSpy is a free, open-source camera viewing program with almost limitless possibilities. And it’s always offering new features and improvements, like being able to activate any number of connected cameras by motion, sound or schedule.

It even comes with amazing value-adds like loitering recognition, license-plate recognition, motion tracking, time-lapse recording and more. However, it is a bit more complicated to set up than other options I’ve listed. As with everything else in life, there are always trade-offs.

But what if your computer doesn’t have a webcam? Well, you can buy one. Don’t forget it works great for video chat with friends and family when it isn’t pulling surveillance duty.

What you need to know before purchasing a webcam

There are so many webcam options out there, you need to decide what you want it to do. Once you get an idea, there are tons of great buys out there for any budget. So, here’s a boiled-down list of the things you’ll want to consider:

  • Image quality – This includes resolution, but it also means frame rate and – especially with this surveillance idea – auto-focus as well. Look for a video resolution of at least 1280 x 720 (720p HD). A lower-resolution webcam may also be fine if you don’t need crystal-clear imagery, but avoid anything less than 640 x 480.
  • Night viewing Beware. Inexpensive webcams often have low-light recording problems. This may be a surveillance deal-breaker. Slightly higher quality (OK, more expensive) webcams have better low-light sensors – something you should think about.
  • Motion sensing – This is a webcam-gone-home-surveillance no-brainer. More sophisticated webcams have more settings so you can actually dial in on the “type” of motion you want to look for. Some will even allow you to increase sensitivity with respect to a critical area in the view field. Of course, the software I mentioned above can add this to a webcam that doesn’t have it.
  • Pan, tilt and zoom – Found on more expensive webcams, these features will allow you actually look around a room from a distance rather than just see what’s in front of the camera. This isn’t needed for smaller rooms, but if you’re keeping an eye on a large family room, it might be worth it.

Of course, a full-featured webcam is approaching the price and features of an internet-enabled security camera. So, if you’re looking at the high-end webcams, take a look at security camera options as well.

When one webcam just won’t cover it

Aside from the obvious option of using more than one webcam, you may come to the realization that your home or business really should have a dedicated surveillance camera or system in place. Are there too many points of entry to cover with one camera? Do you have too many valuables stored, which warrants the expense of extra protection? Could you benefit from the visible presence of an outdoor camera to deter would-be menaces?

If any or all of the above scenarios touch a nerve, then perhaps a more sophisticated system is just what the doctor ordered. Multi-cam surveillance systems often come with weather-proof and night vision cameras so you can monitor your home inside and out.

To take your home security a step further, consider getting a dedicated system like SimpliSafe. You can build your own customized home alarm kit and even integrate SimpliSafe’s camera add-on for home surveillance from anywhere.

If you are a Kim Komando Show listener, create your own SimpliSafe home security kit now and get 10 percent off your order!

You may think full webcam surveillance is too much for a home, but I assure you it’s worth it.  And on the plus side of all this, you may wind up with some really good footage of falls, fails and other funny moments.

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