Big Bother Can See You Now: Part 1

Big Bother Can See You Now: Part 1

I have been mulling the idea of CCTV for some time. But when I answered the front door to a policeman a few weeks back, I think my mind was made up.

He had come to tell me that our next door neighbour had suffered an attempted break-in the night before. Our front doors are slightly secluded, due to our garages jutting out from the front of the houses. Her front door (identical to ours) is on the other side of the garage to my front door, and is only about 3 metres from where I was asleep at the time.

So I began my research.

What type of system?

I’ve always kept an eye on the kinds of systems stocked in places like B&Q and Maplin and on sites like Amazon. But they’ve never really seemed up to much.

Generally there are three broad categories of CCTV systems: analogue, HD-SDI and HD-IP. It’s the first of these three that seems to be what most retail stores tend to stock, and I guess it is seen as a bit more ‘consumer friendly’.

Analogue uses composite (phono) cables and is very cheap. By it’s nature, it’s limited to pretty low quality images. The image is usually specified as consisting of a certain number of ‘TV Lines’ (TVL). The reference point most familiar to us is standard definition (SD) television: 720 pixels wide by 576 pixels tall. Typical figures quoted in the specs are usually in the region of 600-700TVL, so not even up to SD standards. But some are as low as 460 or 480 lines.

However, of course, these days we are all much more acquainted with HD (or higher!) images on our TVs, tablets and phones. And of course from a CCTV point of view, the clearer the image, the more chance there is of identifying someone up to no good. In fact the Home Office has published recommendations as to the resolution required to potentially legally identify someone from CCTV footage.

HD-SDI uses a special (professional) video cable called SDI, so there’s an obvious need to run cables to each of the camera sites from the video recorder. Whereas HD-IP uses good old fashioned CAT5 cable (or even the twin and earth house wiring – more on that later) so it is both cheaper and easier to install and much more open-ended for future upgrades or expansion.

What’s it for?

I spent a considerable amount of time considering exactly what it was that I wanted the system to achieve. I did a screen grab of my house/street from google maps and placed some cones on top of the image to get a rough idea what certain cameras (ie different fields of view) would possibly see from different positions. Because we have balconies both front and back, it meant I needed to have cameras watching those doors too.

Viewing Angles

Using an image from Google Maps and some lines set at 78 degrees to estimate the viewing angles of the proposed cameras.

 

So I decided I would have one camera on the front of the garage covering the drive (and therefore the car) and the access to the front door. Then on the first floor I would place another camera facing the opposite direction watching the first floor balcony door, the access to the front door and the bit of the drive not obscured by the garage. This way there would be no way of approaching the front of the house without appearing on one (or very likely both) of these cameras.

On the back of the house I would again have one camera higher up covering the balcony and door and another at first floor level covering the patio doors. Again, criss-crossing each other so they cover all approaches to the back of the house.

I decided it would be prudent to build the system up one camera at a time. It seemed nonsensical to buy all four at once, and then have them sitting around for weeks before I can install them all. (I don’t have a great deal of free time!). Plus a more measured approach would allow me time to adapt the system as I learned more about the components and how best to put them to use.

Where from?

So I found a quite a few suppliers of HD-IP equipment on the net. Some of them supply only trade customers, but many also sell to regular punters and tinkerers. The one that stood out for me was hdcctv.co.uk. Their site is pretty clean and they have a whole load of really useful videos embedded from their YouTube channel. Which to me is a great idea, why not show your products (and the results they achieve) off to your potential customers?!

They stock an interesting range from Xvision that seemed to potentially fit my needs. Getting everything from the one manufacturer and the same supplier seemed to be the sensible way to go. I did have some deliberations as to what field of view I would require from the different cameras. But in the end I opted for the XC1080V, it’s got a 78 degree field of view (that’s quoted, I’ve not measured it), and is water tight, vandal resistant and very compact.

The diminutive XC1080V

The diminutive XC1080V (that’s 93mm)

 

 

In order to record and monitor the images I needed an NVR, so I also ordered the XRN0808E, which is a dinky little box that simply plugs into your network and your TV (well, you also need a mouse and a hard drive).

The Xvision XRN0808E

The Xvision XRN0808E

The order shipped that day and I received it the next.

Testing, testing…

I decided to get everything all set up in the living room before I began drilling any holes anywhere. What I hadn’t realised is that the camera has a metal housing. So it feels reassuringly heavy and solid. I found a way of wedging it up on it’s side so it could see something, and then plugged everything in. Nothing worked for the first hour or so. But then I started actually thinking about the problem.

I was using some of these TP-Link powerline adapters that I already had installed in the lounge for the BluRay player and a spare one I found lying around. Turns out one of the adapters had died, and adding insult to injury, the HDMI input I was using on the back of my AV receiver wasn’t handling the HD signal from the NVR properly. So when I managed to dig out another powerline adapter and used a different HDMI input… we had a picture.

Well not quite, I had to set the devices up first so they could talk to each other.

By default the NVR uses the IP address 192.168.1.188, as do all the Xvision cameras, so you need to plug the NVR in first on it’s own.

It’s then pretty straightforward to log in and change the IP address to something sensible on your network. I have the first 150 addresses set aside from DHCP so I popped it on one of those. The only requirement is that there are 8 spare addresses above it as the NVR will automatically assign the cameras to these addresses.

Then you can plug the camera in and get the NVR to automatically find it and set it up. Then we have a picture!

 

In part 2, I get the drill out…