Say you are a new parent whose relatives live far, far away. What if you could easily allow family to see your child doing basic things babies do without jumping on a plane? After all, grandmothers can never see enough of their grandchildren. Imagine how many cool points you would get if your mother-in-law in Chicago could watch your son sleeping (or sleepless) in Seattle. This post is a walkthrough of how I setup a webcam over Owen’s crib that can be viewed using any popular Web browser from anywhere on the Internet.
Let’s begin with the end in mind. Below is an image showing the final result. This is an actual screenshot from the webcam exactly as it was delivered to my browser. I think Owen knows when he is being watched. 🙂
The required equipment turns out to be quite simple if we make the following assumptions about your home network.
- You have a high-speed broadband connection (>1 Mbps up). This is true for most cable modem connections. Otherwise, call your ISP and request an upgrade.
- You have a wired or wireless router/modem that allows you to connect several computers to the Internet. Otherwise, get the equipment from your ISP or visit Best Buy and tell them you want a wireless router.
With the assumptions out of the way, the complete equipment list is as follows:
Yes, that’s it. No fancy computer or other electronics. No crazy HDMI, DVI, SCSI, IEEE-1394 or other expensive cables.
Before celebrating, you should know this is not your average Instant Messaging, MySpace or eHarmony webcam. This is a commercial-grade network camera often used by businesses and municipalities for asset monitoring and security. That means you get turnkey functionality, high quality and unsurpassed flexibility at a higher price point. What’s the damage? The Axis 207W runs $350 on Amazon. I paid $242.25 after shipping using eBay. Both prices are at the extreme of what one would typically pay for a consumer-grade USB webcam. However, you don’t need a computer or any special software to run an Axis network camera or to allow multiple people to access the camera at the same time. A single Axis camera is is also much cheaper than the roundtrip airfare it will save you and your MIL.
NOTE: Be sure to get the 207W model which supports wireless and wired connections.
Once you follow the included instructions to get the camera connected to your network, configuration is straightforward.
- Connect to the camera using your browser (e.g., http://192.168.0.123)
- Can you see the video? If not, check your equipment and connections.
- The Axis IP Utility can help determine your camera’s IP address.
- Click the Setup link and login as admin.
- Under Basic Configuration –> Video & Image
- Create user accounts
- Require passwords for access (optional)
- Set the date & time.
- Select the video size and quality. I chose 480×360 with a compression level of 15.
- Enable the date & timestamp. This step is optional but it lets viewers know what they are seeing is real-time.
- Under Live View Config –> Layout
- Choose ‘Motion JPEG’ for the default video format
- Chose ‘Java applet’ for the default viewer for IE and other browsers.
- Under System Options –> Network –> Basic
A couple notes regarding the steps above.
- I found motion JPEG with the Java applet produces the best quality images. This does mean your visitors will need to first install the free Java runtime to access the webcam. Make sure you have them uncheck the Yahoo/MSN Toolbar installation option.
- Remote webcam access requires changes to your firewall to allow visitors outside your network to access the camera sitting in your home. This is beyond the scope of my walkthrough but Axis provides instructions for configuring your home router for an Axis network camera.
Now you have a multi-user webcam that can be moved around as your child grows and needs (NannyCam?) change. How well does it work? In a word: great. Don’t take my word for it. Check out a public Axis camera running in Kiruna, Sweden. Yes, Sweden. You can also check out a list of public Axis cameras throughout the world.
But wait, there’s more. We eliminated the computer on the webcam side, what about for your visitors?
If they own an iPhone or iPod touch they can purchase Axis Cams by EyeSpyFx from Apple’s App Store for $4.99. With that program any Axis webcam can be viewed whenever their device is connected via 3G (iPhone only) or Wi-Fi (iPhone and iPod touch). You should check out TotalControl for your Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Android device.
Leave a comment if you have questions or encounter problems.