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Network Video Cameras

Traditional video surveillance systems (using cameras and VCRs connected via A/V cables) can be useful; however, video cameras that specifically support Ethernet or Wi-Fi typically work better when using a computer to view or record the video. Instead of having to purchase non-standardized equipment that may not work among different manufacturers, the video feeds of network video cameras travel through your existing network. Some video camera systems (for instance, the D-Link DHA-390 solution) use Powerline networking to send/receive the video through standard electrical outlets.

Network video cameras (Figure 4 shows one from Hawking Technologies) let you keep an eye on your employees, children, or buildings from a web browser or software on any computer connected to your network—or anywhere in the world via the Internet. Some systems even support media players on mobile phones, so you can view your video feeds right from your cell phone. You could also set up your equipment to record video feeds to your hard drive or network-attached shortage (NAS) drive. In addition to surveillance, many cameras let you stream live video of your location to your website for the public to see, which is similar to a webcam setup.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Hawking Technologies Wireless-G network camera (HNC290G).

One major specification you're likely to reference when shopping for network video cameras is the video quality or compression method. Many cameras support Motion-JPEG for higher-quality video and/or MPEG-4 for smaller file sizes, which doesn't bog down your network as much. If you want to shoot video in low-light conditions, you'll also want an infrared (IR) filter. Viewing and recording in total darkness usually requires a compatible IR lamp or illuminator, which can bump up the cost another $100 or more.

Most network cameras—even consumer or home grade—have a motion detector feature that records a video clip or takes a snapshot and sends it to your inbox, so you can keep an eye on your location after hours. Many video cameras also stream audio with the video feed from an internal microphone on the camera. Additionally, most include pan/tilt/zoom functions so you can control the camera remotely to see what you want to monitor. More expensive cameras typically support multiple lenses for shooting specific environments, outdoor enclosures for mounting outside, and even a speaker output so you can communicate remotely with people near the camera.

Setting up network video cameras is usually straightforward, using the manufacturer's directions. Often you'll need to install software that will help you set everything up, and the camera will include viewing and recording functions for your PC.

Consumer-grade network cameras such as those in the following list cost anywhere from $80 to $150:

Higher-quality, business-class cameras such as the following can run from $250 to $700:

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