So last month I'm sitting in the office when I get an alert on my phone indicating the door bell at home had been pressed. Nothing unusual, as we often get deliveries during the day.
A few moments later a snapshot from my front door camera arrived by email, indicating this was not the delivery I was hoping for.
After a few minutes of searching my memory and not recalling any grounds for my arrest I got a text message from home explaining the official visit. Long story short, the next door neighbours (house immediately to the side) had been a victim of a burglary and the police wanted to know if our CCTV cameras record, and if we could check for any sign of the perpetrators that morning.
Fortunately, I've been evaluating the some of the new LiveHouse IP Cameras at home alongside my existing Foscams. It was a somewhat exciting to be using them to try and crack a case - and thankfully it wasn't my home that had been hit. In going through this exercise I made a few observations about the strengths and weaknesses of different cameras, as well as some pointers on how to best make use of them.
Tip #1 - Avoid Open Invitations
As it turns out, the neighbours house was targeted because they'd left the garage door open. Plug for our Home Automation products here, my Garage door closes automatically after 10 minutes and I can view the status and close it from anywhere in the world if required. Avoid scoring an own goal and making yourself an easy (and visible) target with Door and Window control.
Tip #2 - Not All Criminals are Fools (or maybe not)
This is an inference on my part and it could be down to good luck rather than good judgement. The criminals never entered the field of view of my cameras - they approached from the other end of the street. There are no other external cameras that I've seen in my street. So either they were lucky, or they were smart enough to avoid being seen on camera. If this is the case, then having visible surveillance on your home is definitely a deterrent.
Tip #3 - Get an NVR and Record Everything
My cameras are only set to generate an alarm recording if motion is detected on my property. Seems sensible to avoid generating alarms when someone walks down the street right? Well in trying to assist the Police on this case, I found myself looking for suspicious people on the street, cars pausing outside the neighbours house or anything else out of the ordinary. Fortunately, I have an NVR that continuously records all camera feeds in addition to storing the alarm recordings. Using this I was able to look for activity outside of my front yard that might hold the vital clue. Also, make sure your NVR can record at the maximum resolution of your cameras. Our LiveHouse NVR can handle up to 2160P 4K UHD, where most consumer models top out at 1080P.
Tip #4 - 1MP / 720P Cameras are a Waste of Time
This might be controversial, as a large number of budget IP cameras have 720P sensors, but having tried to actually use the footage to identify people and vehicles I'm prepared to make the call. Sure they still have the deterrent value, but unless someone gets within a couple of meters or parks right in front of the camera, you're not going to ID faces or read licence plates. I have 3 cameras monitoring the front of my house with 3 different resolutions:
Now, putting aside lens differences (the LiveHouse cameras have a motorized Zoom that lets you reduce the field of view and improve range), I can tell you that if you want to make out licence plates of cars driving past your house, you need a 4MP camera, and even then you might need to decrease the field of view slightly. The 2MP camera lets you read licence plates of vehicles parked in the driveway. The 1.3MP (admittedly furthest from my driveway) will only tell you if a car has a licence plate or not. By the time you're down to 1MP / 720P, forget it.
The temptation when putting in cameras, is to choose a wide viewing angle so you can see the entire area using fewer cameras. The problem is you're spreading your pixels across a wide area and as soon as you want to Zoom and Enhance CSI Miami style, you've got an image that looks like a Minecraft Map.
Now more Megapixels is not necessarily better, because the higher MP cameras aren't as sensitive at night. Consider this unfair comparison between our Livehouse 4MP camera and our 2MP model with the Sony Starvis CCD (seriously, these are amazeballs at night), but it makes the point. The 1.3MP is included as a baseline. All lighting effects are just the LED's on the cameras.
4MP (DNR Off) - Click on Image for Full Size
2MP - Click on Image for Full Size
1.3MP - Click on Image for Full Size
The 4MP image has more detail when zoomed in, but there's more visual noise in the dark. So here's my recommendation to you:
- Don't waste your money on cameras with less than 2MP (1080P).
- Get Varifocal (Zoom) Lenses, so your cameras can be adjusted to use pixels on only the area you want to see.
- Use both 2MP and 4MP cameras in your setup.
- 2MP cameras for immediate area around your home, and where night vision is more important.
- 4MP cameras where you want to make out faces or licence plates, narrow the field of view so you can read licence plates of cars driving by.
- If you're using 4MP cameras, consider ones with higher power InfraRed LED's to improve night vision. LiveHouse 4MP cameras have a 40M range, HikVision offer a 30M range on their equivalent.
- 2D and 3D Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) will also help cameras in the dark. Look for that in the specifications.
Admittedly we're optimising a view that's some distance from the front of the house, but if you can get criminals breaking into your neighbours houses off the street - then that's good for you too. Enlightened self interest.
But back to the original story - using the footage from the 4MP camera I was able to give the police the make/model/plate of vehicles that had gone past during the period of interest, as well as see a Blue Mazda Hatchback reversing out into the street when the neighbours weren't meant to be home. Unfortunately that was from the house next to them so not the perps - but shows the value of a decent spec camera considering that was 2 doors down. They were hoping to see a blonde woman in a black top, but if she was around she stayed out of the view of my cameras. I only had recordings of the cars and someone walking their dog.
At this time of year, with houses full of presents and lots of parcels being left on doorsteps, the criminals will be out there taking advantage of the ripe pickings. Avoid being a victim and perhaps save your neighbours too by making your house more secure with home surveillance and automation.
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