Setting Up a Netcam Watcher System

This article gives some tips for how to plan, set-up and test a Netcam Watcher system.

motion-detection-camera-protects-seniors-and-retirees.jpgAll systems are different so not everything in this article will apply to your setup. But we are happy to help you at any stage of the process - just contact us.

Planning

This includes figuring out how many cameras you need, what kind of cameras to buy. Also, what kind of PC to use, how much storage is needed and so on.


Cameras 

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Nowadays there is a bewildering range of IP cameras available, and it can be hard to figure out which ones to use. 


The first thing is to decide on your requirements :

 

-- which camera(s) need to be outside and which need to be inside?

-- do you use fixed or pan/tilt cameras. Or pan/tilt/zoom (which are more expensive) ?

-- what resolution do you need? Typically cameras go from VGA (640x480) up to multi-megapixel. Of course, normally the higher the resolution, the higher the price. But also with larger frames comes slower frame rates (all else being equal) and increased storage needs.

-- Connection : do you want physical network connections or wireless connectivity?

-- Power : Do you need POE (power over ethernet) or is power from a "wall wart" OK?


Once you have defined these basic parameters you are ready to go looking for cameras. You can contact us at this point and we can give you a list of cameras to look at.


You can also consider the two low-cost cameras that we sell.

Netcam Watcher PC

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It's very important that you use a PC that has enough CPU power to handle the load that your cameras will throw at it. Netcam Watcher is a CPU-intensive application - it takes a lot of processing power to decode images (from jpeg, mpeg4 or h.264) and to perform motion detection.

So, how do you decide if a particular PC is up to the job? Or, if you need to buy a new PC, which PC to get?

This can be a surprisingly difficult task. This is mostly because systems, cameras and your own requirements are all different.

For some people, 1 frame per second (fps) is great (e.g. if you are monitoring progress on a building site), for others, 1 fps is a disaster.

Then there is frame size - the normal frame size for many cameras is VGA. This uses 0.3 megapixels. Going up to HD, 720P resolution (1280x720) uses 1 megapixel, and full HD 1080P (1920x1080) requires 2 megapixels.

So you can see that one 1080p frame is equivalent to six VGA frames!


It's a good idea to decide what frame sizes and rates you deem to be acceptable. To give some idea :

- 5fps looks like jerky video;

- 10fps is getting smoother

- 20fps is full motion smooth video (broadcast quality is only 24fps).

So at this stage, you should know:

-- how many cameras you have (or will have)

-- what frame sizes-- what are your target frame rates

Now the next thing is to convert your frame sizes to "VGA equivalent" frames.

For example, if you want to run a camera at 720P, multiply the target frame rate by 3. For 1080p, multiply by 6

This lets you calculate the total "VGA equivalent" frames per second that you want the whole system to do. 

Here's an example:

-- 4 cameras. 1 is VGA, 2 are 720p and 1 is 1080p

-- target frame rate is 20fps

So the overall "VGA equivalent" frame rate is 20 for the first camera, 20*3, or 60 for the second and third cameras, and 20*6 or 120 for the last camera.

This gives a total of 20+60+60+120=260 VGA Equivalent frames per sec (VEFPS).

We find that usually the CPU is the limiting factor up to about 450-500 VEFPS, but once you hit that range, the network becomes the bottleneck.

This figure depends a lot on the compression that the cameras use - h.264 cameras will not saturate the network anywhere near as easily as MJPEG cameras. However, h.264 cameras need a little more CPU as decoding takes more cycles.

Now the next job is deciding on a CPU, or deciding whether a given CPU is up to the job. This is an inexact science, and this part is for guidance only, but it should give you an idea.

I find that a good measure of a CPU is it's Geekbench score. You can search for a particular PC or CPU in the Geekbench Results Browser and get an idea of the scores that a particular CPU can do.

Note that you will see a range of scores for a specific CPU - choose the lower figures as the higher ones are often obtained by enthusiasts who tweak, tune and overclock their CPUs.

Geekbench results for a CPU range (currently) from 1000 for an old Celeron to about 17000 for a fast i7

So, here's a rough guide of CPU score vs VEFPS

VEFPS Geekbench Score
<20 Any
60 2500
100 3500
150 4500
250 6000
450+ 8000+

Bear in mind that these figures relate to Netcam Watcher v3.3. Older versions (eg 2.5a and earlier) are slower (ie they need more CPU power for the same performance, up to a factor of 2)

Also,  h.264 and mpeg4 cameras need more CPU cycles to decode frames, so they need more CPU power for the same VEFPS

Other PC features

OK so that has the CPU sorted. The rest of the PC is quite straightforward:

-- use Windows 7 64 bit if you can. DO NOT use Windows 7 32 bit - this does not work properly with Netcam Watcher (and in fact has bugs with all sorts of software)

-- Netcam Watcher does not use a lot of memory. But the system can benefit from as much memory as possible as unused RAM is used as disk cache. Normally use 4GB or more RAM

-- There's no need to get a super-fast gamer-style video card as most of the features of such cards are not used (eg 3D processing). You may want to consider a video card that supports multiple monitors.

Disk Storage

Like CPU sizing, working out how much storage to have is a fairly complex subject. However, storage is cheap nowadays - a 2TB disk sells for around us$150. And a new PC nowadays usually has at 
least 6 SATA ports, so even allowing one for a DVD, you can easily and cheaply outfit a PC with 10TB of disk storage, a feat that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a few years ago.

So my advice is to load up your PC with as much disk storage as it will take!

But here is how to estimate how much disk space you will need.

Firstly you need to answer the basic question: how long do you want to retain recordings for? 

Another thing that greatly impacts the disk space requirements is motion detection. Most people use Netcam Watcher's motion detection feature. This reduces disk storage by up to 90% as you only 
record frames where motion occurs.

Here is the procedure for calculating disk usage:

1) Record a test clip from one of each type of your cameras. Set NCW to "record every frame". Record for exactly one minute.

2) Note the file size; multiply by 60 to get the hourly disk use.

3) Now you can calculate the usage for all your cameras, per hour.

4) It's a simple matter to multiply by 24 to get the daily usage, and by your retention period to get the total.


Example : 20 cameras, each VGA, retention period 7 days


1) Test clip for one minute : 62524KB = 62MB

2) 62x24=1488MB (or say 1.5GB) per hour for one camera

3) 1.5x20 = 30GB per hour for 20 cameras

4) 30x24 = 720GB for 20 cameras per day. Or 720x7 = 5TB for 20 cameras for 7 days. 

BUT : These figures are if you "record every frame", 24 hours a day! Even then we are talking about $450 worth of disk storage. For almost 400 million frames!

If you use motion detection it's likely that your space requirements will only be 20% of that figure, or 1TB. How much you can expect motion detection to reduce your space needs depends entirely 
on your situation - whether you are monitoring a busy street or a high security area with few visitors.

Setting Up

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Cameras

How you set up your cameras depends on the type of camera, and instructions should come with the cameras. 

However one thing to watch is how the IP address of the camera is set. Often the default is "DHCP" which means that the IP address is assigned by the network controller, usually your router. 

This is NOT what we want! Why? Because if you power off/power on your camera the controller may give it a completely different address. And we want the address to stay the same (otherwise Netcam Watcher will not be able to find the camera).

The solution is to set the IP address to STATIC. Actually it's a good idea to let it be assigned an IP during setup, then to make that IP static, thus ensuring that the address you choose is available.

PC Side

Setting up Netcam Watcher is fairly straightforward. Download and install. Enter your registration code and restart.

Now, before you start setting up cameras, you need to decide on a "camera folder" .. this is where your camera definitions will be stored. Do this:

1) Do File >> Select Camera Folder
2) Enter folder like "c:\cameras"

You will have an empty camera folder to put your cameras in.

Now you can define your cameras. Do Edit >> Create New Camera and enter the details. Repeat for each camera.

Also you may want to set up one or more of the following:

-- Alarms (Alarms menu)

-- Schedules ( Edit > Schedules )

-- Motion Detection Settings (click on motion bar, bottom left)

-- Recording Retention Settings  (Edit Cam, Recording and Saving panel )

-- Archiving and Backups ( File > Preferences, Archiving and Backup panel )

AlwaysUp

We strongly recommend using AlwaysUp to control NCW. It restarts NCW after a crash, or if someone stops it. It starts NCW after a reboot. And it can notify you of these events.

How to set up AlwaysUp is described here

When to set up?

Possibly the most important thing when setting up a system : Do not leave until the last moment.

Leave at least a week, ideally two weeks before you need to use the system in anger. If you do 
not follow this advice then it's quite likely your system will not work as you expected. 


This point is related to another often overlooked part of setup : Testing.

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Testing

If you want your system to work properly you MUST test it.

Here are a set of tests that are the minimum you need to perform to verify that things are working as you expect.

-- Basic Recording - if possible, walk in front of each camera and then check that you are recorded properly. If it's not possible due to location, pan or tilt the camera, or simulate movement some other way.

-- Try to close Netcam Watcher - does AlwaysUp restart it OK?

-- Pull the power lead out of the PC (simulating a power cut). Plug the lead back in. Does the PC boot up properly, run Netcam Watcher and start all the cameras? Are the cameras recording OK 
after this?

-- Power off each camera and power back on. Do they continue to record after a couple of minutes?

-- Power your router off and on. Does the system recover OK?

Finally..

If you have any problems or questions, we are here to help. Contact us with any issues.