Video surveillance isn't just for governments. With a simple webcam, you too can keep a close eye on what's happening in your home or office. Developerinabox's iSpy is an open-source application that lets you connect to a number of cameras and microphones, monitor them for movement and sound, and automatically start recording whenever something interesting is detected. Although iSpy is free to use, some of its features (such as remote viewing) cost money. The free features provide plenty of functionality, though.
Getting started is easy: All you need is a webcam placed wherever you want it to be and a USB cable long enough to connect it to your computer. You can also use an IP camera connected to your network. iSpy connects to the camera and shows the current view. You can then define specific areas of the image iSpy should watch for movement, and set a threshold value for the amount of motion that would trigger automatic recording. If you want, you can also name the camera, configure the capture frame rate, and more. Then, just minimize the iSpy window and let it monitor the camera feed.
When you want to view the recordings, double-click the iSpy system tray icon, and up pops the window with a list of time-stamped thumbnails showing all of the clips the camera captured. Double-clicking a thumbnail plays the clip--it couldn't be simpler, really.
One area in which iSpy is lacking compared to competitor Vitamin D is search. Vitamin D has a custom search feature that lets you filter hundreds of captured clips down to a more manageable subset you can watch through. iSpy doesn't have this granularity, which means you may have to sit through quite a few clips until you find the one you're looking for. On the other hand, Vitamin D's free version doesn't let you connect multiple cameras, while iSpy lets you connect as many as you want. In fact, iSpy also lets you connect microphones for audio recording, and even import a map of your premises and specify where the cameras and microphones are physically located.
When adding a new camera, iSpy lets you set up motion detection sensitivity and trigger zones.
Some of iSpy's features, such as viewing your feed from any computer on the local network, require an online account with the service, which costs between $7.95 and $49.95 a month. Still, even without opening such an account, iSpy feels robust and provides lots of utility. If you have an extra webcam lying around and want to keep a closer watch on what's happening when you're away, you should definitely try iSpy out.
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