Can You Use Your Laptop as a Home Security Camera


CCTV has been a fixture in shops, pubs, car parks and other public spaces for well over a decade now. Yet, although we are now accustomed to seeing cameras on buildings and in public parks, not everyone has welcomed their widespread usage. For many people CCTV is intrusive: they see it as a blatant threat, and encroachment on their civil liberties and privacy. That opinion, it must be said, is now a minority view. For most other people CCTV has been a gamechanger. People value its reassuring presence and take comfort from the fact that should anything untoward ever happen, then the culprits or perpetrators will be more easily identified and eventually caught.

If there’s one problem though, it’s the cost of buying and installing CCTV equipment. Granted the costs of CCTV technology have reduced over time thanks to greater competition, but it still requires quite an outlay to get up and running. So, is there any way around this? Can you set up a fairly sophisticated home security surveillance system on a budget, or, at least, at a highly reduced cost? Well, the answer is a guarded yes. You can set up your own cost-effective webcam security system using a spare or little-used laptop and webcam. It will certainly do the job for you, but it won’t offer most of the sophisticated benefits of expensive tailormade equipment.

How to set up a home surveillance system using a USB-connected webcam or built-in PC/Mac webcam to protect your home

In this post we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • Free and Premium Webcam Security Software
  • How to set up Webcam Security Software
  • The advantages and disadvantages of using webcams as CCTV alternatives
  • Webcam security alternatives

Free and Premium Webcam Security Software

The first thing you’ll need to get the system up and running is a laptop/ desktop computer and webcam security software. With webcam security software you will be able to record and view live video content detected by the webcam. Webcam security cameras can also enable motion detection, email alerts and uploading videos to FTP. What’s more you’ll also be able to remotely access webcam security footage when you’re not at the property that is being monitored.

So, what Free and Premium webcam security software is available?

There are numerous software packages on the market, and as you would expect some are better and more user-friendly than others.

iSpy

iSpy software can turn a webcam into a security camera. It will allow you to detect sound or movement to provide basic home surveillance. The webcam security app is free to use, but if you want access to more sophisticated features, you’ll have to pay for the premium package. This will enable you to view recorded footage remotely. iSpy generally only works with the Microsoft operating system – Windows 7,8, 10 etc. The criticism most often levelled at the software is the poor video quality it delivers, but as it’s a free service it would be churlish to expect much more.

Yawcam

Yawcam is windows-based and free. Its webcam security software will let you view everything happening in your home or office. Yawcam’s motion detection capabilities are good, and it also supports FTP upload. Like iSpy, Yawcam has limited features, but as it’s a free piece of software that gives you the ability to turn a webcam into a security camera, then it’s unjustified to complain too vociferously.

Security Spy

Security Spy will let you use a webcam as a security camera on Mac systems. It can intelligently events in the home or office and send you alerts as they happen. However, the software is not free. It will generally cost between £30 and £80 depending on the number of webcams you choose to connect to.

Setup of Webcam security software

For all of the above-mentioned software packages you will firstly need to connect your webcam to your laptop or computer via the USB. If you are planning to run iSpy software, then you should note that you will need to keep the computer running all the time, so make sure you turn off the camera’s sleep function.

  • Position the webcam in a place that gives optimal video security coverage. The most obvious places to monitor are the front entrance to the property or other areas where you think there are vulnerabilities.
  • Run a long USB cable to your laptop or computer and connect the two units.
  • Install the webcam security software on your laptop or computer.
  • Add a local webcam security camera to the software and give it a dedicated name. Make sure you activate the Camera Active box to turn on your webcam CCTV camera. After connecting, view any recorded footage and adjust or change the angles of view until you are happy with the coverage and video footage.
  • Open the Edit Camera menu and you will be given a list of options with which to configure the webcam. These options, depending on the software, will include amongst other things: Motion Detection, Alerts, Recording, PTZ, Save Frames/FTP, YouTube, and Scheduling. The options you pick will be entirely dependent on your needs and requirements. You may not necessarily want some of these alerts all the time, so you can choose to activate periodic alerts instead at an interval of your choosing. 
  • Return to the home screen and turn the camera on. Once completed, you can view live videos and captured images at the bottom of the screen.

Advantages and drawbacks of using webcams in place of dedicated CCTV

Webcam security systems are a useless alternative for people who either cannot afford, or do not want to spend large sums of money on an IP camera system. Webcam security systems can be effective, if a little on the basic side, but they do have inherent disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Webcam security cameras can provide affordable, if limited, security surveillance for your home or office. 
  • Webcam-based home security systems offer a visible deterrent to would-be thieves and make your property less of an attractive option to intruders.

Disadvantages

  • Images and videos captured on webcam security cameras will not be as crisp and defined as those from an IP camera. The images will probably be fuzzy or slightly distorted and will unsurprisingly not deliver the detail of an IP camera with 5MP resolution. 
  • Webcam home security cameras will not have the same range of functionality as an IP camera. They will probably not be equipped with technology to capture night vision, so monitoring after dark is practically impossible without an external lighting source.
  • If you want round-the-clock surveillance coverage with a webcam, then you have to leave the PC or laptop running continually.
  • The areas where you will be able to place webcam security cameras are limited. Because they need to connect via USB cable to the PC or laptop, they are not suitable for external usage. 
  • Webcam security cameras are more at risk of hacking and can be susceptible to risk without your knowledge.

If you are serious about home security and can afford the initial outlay, then a professional IP security camera system is probably the choice for you. The system will provide clear and crisp 4MP/5MP images and video and be able to identify faces and number plates and deliver full night vision for 24/7 monitoring. However, it’s worth mentioning that with Apps like iSpy you can also connect to 3rd-party compatible IP cameras. This will allow you to build a centralised security camera system from which you can take full advantage. 

A real alternative for security-conscious individuals working to a tight budget is to combine webcam security cameras with more affordable, but effective IP security cameras around vulnerable areas of your property like your front door where the majority of break-ins happen. You’ll get better home security and peace of mind this way without breaking the bank.

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