I will be moving soon to a place of my own and since an empty or single occupancy house is a signal flare for burglars, I’ve began to experiment with the notion of a home CCTV system – or more specifically an IP camera system. The benefits are threefold. First, I can check up on the place when I’m not there. Second, I can record any burglars to help a police investigation. And third, I can see if the person ringing my doorbell is a friend or an Avon rep.
The IP camera system can be set up using a cheap webcam or two that are accessed using any browser as the camera feed is streamed over the Internet. There are dozens of Android apps available to view IP cameras but I will be incorporating TinyCam Monitor into my home surveillance system because of its features and free price tag.
A quick note to those unfamiliar with IP camera systems: Basically, you rig up a webcam to stream live video through your router. During the set-up you can make the network private opting for a username and password. Then, you can enter the IP address into any browser URL bar, sign in and view the feed. There’s hundreds of easy manuals online along with even more instructional videos on YouTube.
TinyCam Monitor comes in both a free and pro version. I’ve found that the average person wants to set up a simple system for as cheap as possible so for the most part I’ll focus on the free version. I will discuss the few extras the pro version offers a little later.
Eager to test it out, I fired up the live cameras from the homescreen. As standard, there were a few public cameras already set up from across the world. I was surprised by the speed at which the cameras loaded on my 3G connection. Within a few seconds, high quality camera feeds littered my screen each with a decent frame rate of around 8fps.
The free version allows you to view up to four cameras at once when in horizontal mode. My setup was a measly two-camera one so I used two other public cameras to test it out. Again, the app had no problem handling the streams. If one camera slowed down or cut out for a second, the others remained live and unaffected.
Adding a camera is easy. You simply select ‘Manage Cameras’ from the homescreen, hit menu then ‘Add Camera’. There are dozens of fields there of which only a few need to be filled out such as the IP address, username and password. If you’re using expensive real IP cameras which support tilt, zoom and pan, you can select your model from the thousands supported by the app. This will automatically set things up so you can control the camera during view mode.
Some features of the live view that I liked were:
- Swipe to change camera: this makes checking up on your property quick and easy.
- Fast access: it takes around five seconds to pick up my phone, start the app, select live view and wait for the cameras to load. This makes seeing who’s at the door a breeze.
- Support for camera control: although I use simple webcams at the moment, there may be a time in the future when I will require a more complex system. The ability to control those sophisticated cameras from my phone is awesome.
- WebCamXP Support: it lists WebCamXP, one of the most popular ways to set up a simple webcam over IP system. This means you don’t need to invest in expensive CCTV equipment. A cheap Logitech webcam will suffice.
- Automatic Camera Switching: you can set it up so that every few seconds or minutes the camera will switch allowing you to place your phone on a table beside you and keep an eye on things while you work on something else.
So, with all these cool feature available for free – and without ads! – is it worth buying the Pro version? Well, for me, it isn’t. I also wouldn’t recommend it for anyone considering a basic home setup. You can view four cameras at once on the free version and have sixteen installed and accesible by switching pages.
However, if you’re a business owner with plenty of CCTV cameras, particularly those over several different premises, then I recommend upgrading. You’ll be able to view much more cameras which would be even better on the larger screen of a tablet. You also get unlimited camera numbers so you can view each camera on all your premises.
The pro version also allows you to scan for cameras on your home network with no manual data entry, making it ten times easier to set up your system.
Overall, I loved this app and it’s definitely going to form the heart of my system once I move houses. It’s extremely functional, didn’t crash once and contains some surprising features which other apps charge a small fortune for. There are still some features that I would like to see such as the ability to pinch zoom, tap a camera to enlarge the view and a few other functional items. But overall, TinyCam Monitor prevails above all others in features and power.
I think TinyCam Monitor has set a standard here for home surveillance. An app like this, which not only promises what would have been a pipe-dream a few years ago, but actually delivers on those promises is frankly awesome. What’s more, the developers seem to release major updates every couple of months making the app even better than it already is.