Network IP Camera - Looking for these specific features - and I can't believe i haven't found one yet!

Posted on 2009-02-24
Last Modified: 2013-11-08
Ok, I'm trying to do what I "think" is not that complicated or unique with a network camera... I want to monitor the status of a large industrial panel with many gauges, status lights, warning indicators, etc.  It's about 30 feet wide, 15 feet tall, and has a total of about 8 things that need to be checked every hour or so.  

I figure "I know, i can install a wifi pan-zoom-tilt camera on the opposite wall, about 30 feet away, and schedule it to zoom into each of the 8 gauges one at a time, perhaps 1 every 10 minutes", take a short video plus a jpeg snapshot, and email both to two different email addresses - each used by different blogs which display on a website designed to display the status of this equipment.

My budget is about $500 for such a camera, or camera + software.

I naively thought that most network cameras, with all of their brains and configuration capabilities, would easily handle such a schedule and customization.  Sadly, after spending about a week researching every imaginable network camera vendor, i have yet to find a single camera that seems to be able to do all of these things.

Frustratingly, i've found that each camera can do some, but not all of what i need - some are missing this feature, some are missing that feature, but none do it all.


Email - the most troublesome feature of most cameras.  Most only send email of images, not video.  

The Linksys WVC200 only sends video, not images.  

All D-Link - seems D-Link (and many other camera makers) have not noticed that most ISP's block outbound connections on port 25 (in an attempt to reduce spam).  That means you can't send email to an external SMTP server using the default port of port 25.  Virtually all email providers know this, and allow users to send email using alternative ports.  Virtually all email applications know this, and allow users to specify what port they want to use to connect to the SMTP server.

Problem is, most camera makers must be relying on a similar build of the actual OS that runs their cameras, as most of them don't let you select what port to send email using.  they just use the default of 25, and fail miserably.  Sure, you can override the default port for every other protocol - HTTP, streaming video, even FTP, but not SMTP.  crazy.  

Perhaps a higher-end router (Cisco, etc) can do PAT (port address translation?) where outbound connections on port x get translated in the router to port y.  That does not seem to be a feature of SOHO routers (linksys, dlink, netgear).  If this is actually possible, i'd certainly like to learn about it, as it's something i currently don't know how to do.  Port-forwarding is inbound-only, so even though you can specify different ports for external and internal, doing so doesn't affect outbound connections (to my understanding, anyways).

Scheduled PTZ - seems all PTZ cameras i've looked at in the < $3000 range do let you identify a list of positions by panning around, and can then patrol between them, they ALL just go through the list of locations until they reach the end of the list, and then stop.  Useless.  

I understand that cheaper cameras are not designed for continuous, 24x7 movement as their motors would wear out quite quickly.  But come on... can't move to position 1, wait 10 minutes, move to 2, wait 10 minutes, etc.  Or do all 8 positions, taking a picture at each one, then sit still for an hour or two.  A warning like "Don't exceed x number of repositions per 24 hour period with this camera or you'll wear out the motor."  I'd be ok with that.  

Bundled or 3rd party software:  

I've looked at numerous crappy webcam programs (willing webcam, webcam 1-2-3, webcamxp).  All have really bad interfaces, are unstable, and don't do any of what i've listed above.  Little bit of motion detection and FTP, but no scheduled PZT, no email by definable port#, etc.  

Bundled software does recording and/or live viewing only.  That's of no use to me.

3rd part high-end software - don't know, but i'm sure well out of my price range and may still not have these features.

If anyone can suggest a camera that does what i'm looking for, i'd be most appreciative.  Alternatively, a camera with 3rd part software would do.  In which case, the camera could be either a network camera or a tethered USB camera (but of good enough resolution to see small gauges at a distance).


Question by:dnorman2005
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    Assisted Solution

    by:Mohammed Hamada
    Why don't you use a camera and hook it up to a network HD ?

    LVL 23

    Expert Comment

    by:Mohammed Hamada
    LVL 25

    Assisted Solution

    It's not really that surprising,  low priced IP camera's are pretty limited.  While the hardware could likely do more the basic interfaces are made to keep people out of trouble.  After all customer service calls cost money.  So for example,  the PTZ 'patrol' cannot be looped because it would be too easy for a  customer to set one up moving 100% of the time and burn it out real fast and cause potential warranty issue.

    Many cannot send video clips as they lack enough memory to buffer a clip to send.

    Pretty hard to do the job for under $500 though with some work on your side I do think you could come close.

    I would suggest taking a look at Vivotek camera's,

    Since you have looked at a lot of camera's you may recognize some of these.  Vivotek is an actual manufacturer and you will find their camera's relabeled to linksys, dlink, 4xem, trendnet and others.  When you get the Vivotek models they tend to be more flexible than the branded versions.  Vivotek also provides a free SDK for doing custom stuff.

    The features of the various PTZ's are slightly different (degree of optical zoom, speed etc) but the overall software features and interface are quite similar.  I believe all these units will do both snapshot AND video clip to email.  Some (maybe all) do allow you to set the SMTP port,  I think newer lines eg PZ7111/121 but not the PZ6111/121.

    While these units are capable of using timed triggers to look at a preset position and take a video/nsapshot etc.  I do not think they can handle 8 triggers of this type.  Unfortunately I do not think you can trigger a multiposition patrol either.

    The good news is that Vivotek provides you with full control of camera functions through a CGI interface and gives you the documentation to use it. (This is what you likely do not get with the branded camera's  though it may be valid for branded versions)  So you can setup a script to send the commands move the camera,  take pictures and video's etc.

    Vivotek does also provide a software package though I do not know what it can do.

    The PZ7151 and PZ7131 I think are around $400-500 range with the PZ7111 heading up around $800 range.  The PT7135 model does not zoom and has a fixed 4mm lens which probably cannot give you a tight enough shot.

    Another camera which would do the whole job would be the Axis PTZ units.  Axis cameras run a stripped down linux and they provide full access so you can execute scripts or custom programs right on the camera.  The 215 is the least expensive PTZ model and is around $1000.

    Shop around but here is a variety of units with prices,
    LVL 5

    Assisted Solution

    by:Billy Roth
    I havent used one in about a year and i no longer have the software, but i previously used a panasonic camera similar to this one .  Here is the manual that shows the software .  They come with a decent software interface and remote web based interface with a license for a single unit for cheap.  I dont remember the full features of the software but It seems like it would be able to do many of the things you mentioned with a few seperate web apps.  The caveat is that if you want to run multiple cameras from the same software you have to pay licensing fees or buy thier multi unit control box.  In your case you only need to use one camera it sounds like, unless you cant figure this out and have to run one for each gauge, ouch.  I believe to make this work you would need to create a web app to send a signal to the cameras control to choose to move to the preset positions at the given times most of these cameras can store up to 8, and then you would need another app to capture the video and images at those times and email them.  Ok thats a lot of work now that i think about it.
    LVL 3

    Expert Comment

    i never had a task similar to yours, but looked at Hawkins cameras.
    Networked, i think you can pick up tilt/pan/etc.
    The model i was checking was able to upload videos to ftp server, i would think emails wouldnt be the problem.
    LVL 9

    Expert Comment

    by:My name is Mud has some of the features you want (e-mail, ftp, stream, ptz control), and it can be told to do other things if you know perl... it has a steeping learning curve if you don't know linux... not so good on the documentation thought but it is a good overall program...

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