Yes, free webcam surveillance tools do exist. Before going too far let’s define what we mean by “webcam video surveillance system”. It’s generally accepted that a video surveillance system, at a minimum, should allow you to do the following:
1. View a specific location remotely.
2. Initiate a recording, often initiated by motion.
3. Send notifications when interesting events happen.
There are obviously other more advanced requirements for reliability, video analysis capabilities, etc that would be needed for advanced video surveillance. Those are important but not what we’re talking about here (the subject “free” and “webcam” should already have made that clear).
Ok, so to the topic of the post – how do you get these 3 capabilities using a webcam? Webcams don’t offer any of those features out-of-the-box; they are “dumb” cameras that connect to a PC (typically) and generate video when instructed. So we need some software to do this for us.
There are two options for a webcam surveillance system, either use some PC/Mac software to achieve this, or use a cloud service.
Option 1: PC/Mac Webcam Software
Software like Vitamin D is an example of the former. It gets well reviewed and has a lot of capabilities, but the tradeoff is more setup is required and you’ll lose some of the benefits of a cloud service such as offsite storage of recorded events, etc (unless you integrate it with offsite storage of your own). So there are some pros and cons, and we’ll do an in-depth review of some of these software options in another post.
Option 2: Cloud Service
If you want to go the “no software” route via a cloud service, you’ll need a service that operates through your web browser (sticking with the no software philosophy). Camcloud offers one, but there are others. Using this kind of system, you’ll be able to:
- Have a motion activated webcam that will trigger when a motion event takes place. There should be some sensitivity settings for the motion detection to allow for a bit of flexibility.
- Be able to view your cameras from anywhere. Of course, remote viewing (aka live streaming) needs to be simple and you shouldn’t have to play around with router settings or configure your own web server if you want to do this with a webcam.
- Alert system that tells you when something interesting is happening (or has happened).
If you’ve got those three things, you’ve got a webcam video surveillance system.
What about the “free” part? Well, most cloud services provide a free plan option (we do, check out our plans and pricing page or sign-up to the right), and while storage and bandwidth usage will be capped, it should meet many people’s requirements for this kind of a system, and at a minimum is a great way to try out this kind of service.