Data Doctors: Keep an eye on your house while you're away - East Valley Tribune: Business

Data Doctors: Keep an eye on your house while you're away

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Posted: Saturday, July 19, 2008 6:15 pm | Updated: 11:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

 Q. What is the cheapest, easiest and best way to use video over the Internet to monitor my home when I'm away? - Mike

A. The ability to see what is going on at your home or business via the Internet with off-the-shelf products has never been easier or cheaper.

Q. What is the cheapest, easiest and best way to use video over the Internet to monitor my home when I'm away? - Mike

A. The ability to see what is going on at your home or business via the Internet with off-the-shelf products has never been easier or cheaper.

A whole host of companies have created various solutions for just about any need or budget.

When it comes to cheap and easy, one of the best solutions going is a wireless webcam that is designed to be accessed via the Internet, sometimes referred to as an IP camera. Most of them don't even need a PC to be accessed!

Today's basic wireless webcams are pretty sophisticated and include features such as the ability to send both audio and video and activate recordings (to your hard drive) or send e-mail alerts with snapshots when it senses motion.

More expensive units include features like pan/tilt/zoom that can be controlled remotely via the Internet or special lenses designed to work in low lighting at night.

Although these webcams are wireless from the standpoint of transmitting the video signal, they aren't completely wireless because they still need to be connected to a power source. This means that you will have to find camera locations that are near power outlets.

Once you have determined the locations, you'll want to decide how many cameras you want to install and monitor.

Some of the companies have software that will allow you to monitor up to 32 cameras from any Internet connection in the world.

The more cameras you want to monitor, the more complex the software and configuration will be.

Basic wireless webcams that have a stationary lens start in the $100 to $150 range, while units that have advanced pan, tilt and zoom options can range from $200 to $500.

Companies such as Linksys (www.linksys.com), SMC (www.smc.com) and D-Link (www.dlink.com) have a variety of products that include everything you need to get started.

If you want to install one of these webcams outside, you can add special outdoor enclosures designed to protect them. Some even include heaters and blowers (www.dlink.com), but again, you will need to have them near a power outlet.

Accessing these little marvels of technology from a computer that is connected to the same network is pretty straightforward.

You simply open a Web browser and type in the IP (Internet Protocol) address that was assigned to it at the factory, which will give you access to the tiny Web server that is built into the camera.

Accessing the camera from the outside world takes a little more technical skill because you have to open up a special port on your wireless router.

The instruction on how to do this varies from company to company, but a working knowledge of your existing wireless router is helpful.

If you plan to install a number of cameras around your house or business, my recommendation to you is to start slowly. Buy a single camera and install it so you can get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses.

Once you install the "test" unit and play with it for a couple of days, you can make a better decision about whether that particular camera has the right combination of monitoring and recording software for your needs.

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