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Using Your Webcam for Surveillance

by Wei-Meng Lee

Webcams are useful for videoconferencing, but videoconferencing has not really caught on. So if you own a webcam, you know that most of the time it is lying around gathering dust. But if you have a webcam, you can put it to better use than videoconferencing. In this article, I will show you how you can set up your webcam as a surveillance system using the appropriate hardware and software.

The Hardware

Obviously the first piece of hardware you need is a webcam. Webcams come in all shapes and sizes, so you need to choose one that fits your specific security needs. If you want to use your webcam to monitor activities on your front porch, or in your antiques room, you might want to get one that is small (see Figure 1) so that it can be hidden from sight. You may also need to get an USB extension for your webcam (most webcams today use USB for communication) so that it can be connected to your PC if it is situated at a distant location.

Note that the maximum length of an USB cable is five meters and for anything beyond that you need to have an active-repeater cable. Check out your local cable shops for the length of cable you need and ensure that your webcam works in that range. For more information about USB limitations, check out this FAQ.

Figure 1. Hardware needed
Figure 1. Hardware needed

The Software--webcamXP

Once your webcam is properly set up and connected, you need a good piece of software that can turn your webcam into a monitoring agent. For this, the webcamXP Pro is a very good candidate. For this article, I downloaded the webcamXP Pro Trial v2.16.568x BETA--a 21-day trial edition. After the trial period you can purchase the license for $99.95 .

When webcamXP launches for the first time, it will help you to set up your computer for broadcasting over the internet (see Figure 2). This step is necessary for those of you installing webcamXP behind a router and who want to view your webcam through the internet. In a typical setup, your computer may be connected to the Internet using a router, which uses NAT (Network Address Translation) to assign local IP addresses to computers in the network. When you're on the internet and want to access the webcam behind a router, you need to configure your router for IP forwarding. Refer to this help page for instructions on how to configure some of the most common routers in the market.

Figure 2. Configuring webcamXP for internet access
Figure 2. Configuring webcamXP for internet access

The main windows of webcamXP are shown in Figure 3. You can monitor up to 10 webcams, represented by the squares numbered from 1 to 10.

Figure 3. The main windows of webcamXP
Figure 3. The main windows of webcamXP

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