In these paranoid times you never know who’s watching. It could be you.
The reason for this little attention grabber is we just got a new surveillance camera for review. It’s the Sentinel Vision SafeScout, a US$200 box that can notify you or someone else by cell phone, e-mail or pager, that something or someone is mucking about. No computer is required, and a remote control key fob can be used to set off a siren if you’re within 50 feet.
We’ve looked at several surveillance cameras in the past couple of years, and the advantage of this one is ease of setup. Take it out of the box and plug it into a wall socket and phone jack, and you’re almost in business.
The next part is to register the camera and its alarm system with the company. It’s an extra US$20 a month to send alerts for up to five recipients, and more fees are added for additional services.
For these fees, the device will tell you when family members or employees arrive or leave, set up a 24/7 alarm center to manage alerts for you, and notify the police — though not all police departments will accept home and business alarm calls.
On the downside, the camera is neither small nor subtle. It weighs four pounds and is about the size of a bedside clock radio. It has to remain in one place and covers an area of only about 70 degrees in front of the lens. It is assumed it will be used to cover an entranceway and that’s about it; 40 feet is the outer limit. The camera does not record full motion, but simply takes five snapshots of whatever sets it off.
Since it gets its power from the wall socket and has to connect to a phone jack, it’s out of commission if an intruder cuts either one of those lines. This is a problem for any line-powered surveillance camera, though some have battery backups. The SafeScout US$20 monthly fee means adding US$240 a year to the price of the camera. Use it for a few years and you’re in for a thousand or more. Web site: www.mysafescout.com.
Other eyes and ears
If you do a Web search on surveillance cameras, you will come up with hundreds of links. The range of equipment is enormous, and prices seem reasonable to us. Many of these cameras, including some of those below, can use infrared to take video in the dark.
D-Link (www.dlink.com) has small surveillance cameras that can be controlled remotely through the Internet. They have built-in microphones and can pan, tilt and zoom to survey a scene. Unlike the above-mentioned SafeScout, which takes a few snapshots when triggered by motion, the D-Link cameras take full motion at 30 frames a second.
The cameras are wireless and transmit sound and pictures that can be captured on many cell phones and lots of handheld computers. Range is about 100 to 150 feet, though that can be increased with repeaters you can buy from many electronics suppliers.
The sound and motion can be transmitted to a Web site through any of several devices that can access the Internet. Software can be set to send you a phone or e-mail notice, and you can tune into the Web to watch and hear what’s going on. Some of the cameras can let you both listen and talk to anyone in their range: “Cousin Jonas! What are you doing here at this hour?”
All motion detection is controlled by software. The software lets the user transmit sound and motion surveillance in encrypted form, so only you can see and hear it. You can monitor up to 16 such cameras at once on a computer screen, but it gets expensive. Prices range from US$100 on up. Here as anywhere, browse the Web for your best deals.
Plustek (www.plustek.com) sells a remote control surveillance camera, with microphone, for US$129. It too can be controlled from the Internet and can be used to pan, tilt and zoom over a scene. It is not wireless, however, making it vulnerable to a cut cord.
Actiontec (www.actiontec.com) has a full-color wireless camera with microphone for US$200. The camera can be accessed from any Web browser and can be set to send e-mails to up to five recipients if it detects any motion. It can also be set to record sound and video during a pre-determined time period, and can transmit that to a storage drive.
The mother lode for remote-controlled surveillance systems for the home and small business is probably Smarthome (www.smarthome.com). The range of equipment is staggering, and it has a catalog where you can browse through all of it.
This goes way beyond cameras and hidden microphones, and includes all sorts of remote-controlled devices. One of its neatest accessories is a wristwatch with buttons that can turn devices on and off from a distance.