Home CCTV Server

Smart Home Diary

Home CCTV – I have had CCTV at home for 8 years now in one form or another. Over that time camera performance has increased, whilst prices have fallen.

Par for the course where most technology is concerned I suppose. A year or so ago I bought a Samsung CCTV switcher from eBay to view our cameras by modulating its output round all the TVs in the house.

Using its simple timer it switched between each camera at a set interval, while this worked it was frustrating as the camera you wanted to view was rarely the one that was on the screen at that particular moment in time. The eBay acquired switcher died a month or so ago and so the search for the “upgrade” was on.

Choosing a System – Thinking about the spec for the new CCTV controller, there were several important features I wanted.

  • Net Access – With our exchange finally being enabled for broadband I required something that would allow me to view the cameras over the Net.
  • LAN Access – I wanted to be able to view cameras easily from any PC around the house.
  • PDA Viewer – the ability to view live pictures on my PDA.
  • Recording – I wanted something that would record. Often our drive movement logs from HomeVision showed we’d had visitors, but we were unable to tell who. It would be great to have a recording to view on our return.
  • TV – I still wanted to be able to view the pictures on our TVs round the house
  • Be able to control PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) Cameras

From the list above it was clear I needed something very flexible, and the software was going to be as important, if not more so than the hardware. After some research, demonstrations and chats with existing users I settled on the GeoVision range. These cards are not cheap, but I was impressed by the array of features, especially the software. Over the years I’ve often regretted my economies. Purchases that seem “good value” initially, are often a let down. On the other hand the more expensive items I’ve purchased (Pronto and TiVo spring to mind) have provided years of enjoyment. So I’m hoping my GeoVision system will bring similar satisfaction.

GeoVision build boards that are capable of between 16 and 400 frames per second (fps) using the UK PAL TV standard. Prices range from around £80 for a single camera 16fps card to over £1400 for a 16 camera 400fps one!

The Purchase – I settled on the GV-650 card. This provides 50 fps, that is 50 frames in total shared amongst the cameras attached to it. I initially was going to buy the 8 camera version of the 650 card. However the 12 camera card was less than £40 more than the 8 camera one and leaves room to expand the system, so in the end I decided to purchase it instead.

A bulk buy of GeoVision cards and other CCTV equipment was organized by Stephen Jones of i-Home. The best prices were obtained from RF Concepts who supplied the GV650-12.

The CCTV Server joins the other
PCs in the Rack in Node Zero
(Click to Enlarge)

Building the Box
I wanted the CCTV Server to live in the rack with the rest of the kit. Having decided to build my “Node Zero” as a small space off the garage meant that cable runs were longer than they would have been had I sited it in the middle of the house. However, putting it there has proved to be the right decision. There’s a significant amount of noise created by the PCs already there, never mind this new one. Add to that the noise from the Network Switch and various other ancillaries and you can see it would have been horrendous in the middle of the house.

Starting to take shape
(Click to Enlarge)

Video capture is one of the most processor and disk intensive activities you can ask of your PC and it can highlight any hardware “issues” in your system. During my initial research I was advised by one vendor to purchase a specific motherboard for the system and I took their advice. The Gigabyte GA-8IK1100 is based on the Intel 875P: VIA Chipsets are a no-no for the higher spec GeoVisions. A useful list of other system requirements and recommendations is available on the RF Concepts website.

In a bid to ensure the stability of my system and guarantee the quality of the recordings I decided to over-spec the CCTV server I was going to build. I used quality components and the CPU and RAM were well over the recommended specification. The overall cost of the machine was around £1,165 (not including the OS or CD-ROM drive). A significant investment! The components, prices and links are listed at the bottom of this article.

I remember being quoted £1,200 for a 1gig hard drive to go with my first PC (a 486sx25). It was external and the size of a shoe box. The 160gig drive is a decent size and currently a great price at £60. No doubt it will look expensive in another 10 years.

Multi-output from the GeoVision Cards D-Type
(Click to Enlarge)

The recommendation is to create separate partitions for the OS and the video files. I created a 10gig partition for the operating system, leaving over 140gig free on the video partition. One user I spoke to has been recording for 5 months on the highest quality settings, using 5 cameras set to record only on motion. His recordings currently take up 110gig on his hard drive. Once the recordings reach the capacity of the drive, they will start to automatically delete the oldest ones to make room for the new ones. This should allow you to have an archives going back months in most applications. RF Concepts have a useful hard disk calculator to give you some idea of the space you’ll need. This is for constant recording though, so the space requirements for a movement based recording system are much much lower.

Building the PC was the usual simple task, the case is decent quality and has a lot of room for extra drives if required. I installed Windows XP Professional on the PC. The choice for these cards is Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000 Professional. I have found XP to be very stable and a joy to use so went with it. Drivers for the GeoVision card installed without a problem, the camera connected and the system was up and running very quickly.

Modulator (left) that feeds CCTV pictures
to all the TVs around house
(Click to Enlarge)

Connecting the Cameras – The GeoVision is supplied with 2 sets of leads. The D-Type outlets on the back of the card allow one set of leads for Cameras 1-6, plus two audio inputs, while the second lot of 6 cameras is attached to the second D-Type. Camera connections are via BNC plugs. If your cameras are supplied with phonos instead you can get a handy little BNC Plug to Phono Socket Adaptor – Maplins part Number FA11M.

We have a motley collection of cameras around the inside and outside of the house. For obvious reasons I don’t want to show them all, or give away some of the more covert positions, suffice to say they cover the property comprehensively. The system can also continue to record if the power is cut thanks to the monster UPS in the rack supplying the PC and the cameras. The little “board camera” monitoring the garage (beautifully mounted with Blu-Tak on top of a PIR) was less than £50. I bought it on a visit to Henry’s CCTV in London several years ago. The Mini Colour Cam was bought from Makro and the Dome cam was around £30 from a Chinese source via eBay. Those camera, like most of the others are wired back to node zero via a single CAT5 cable. This allows power as well as the video signal down a single cable. The exception to this is the larger cameras (see the “High Quality Low-Light Cam” picture below) which requires mains voltages for the screen heaters. For these camera we used coax cable (some CT100 left over from cabling the rest of the house).

Mini Colour Cam


Board Cam in Garage


Dome Cam


High Quality Low-Light Cam

In my experience it’s pretty much a case of getting what you pay for with cameras. The dome and board cameras are both low quality. The mini colour cam is ok as long as there’s good light, but once it starts to get even a little dark it gets very grainy and the quality drops right off. The big cameras in the housings though are superb though. They make it seem like it’s daylight outside during dusk hours. You can even make out some detail just with the light from a full moon on a clear night. I have recently got a Sony day/night camera from Lets Automate – one that’s colour during the day, then switches to black and white for low light conditions. I haven’t got round to trying this yet, but it does seem like the best way to go these days.

The TV out on the Asus video card was enabled and the composite signal fed into the modulator I had previously used with the Samsung switcher. This allows Channel 9 on every TV to view the desktop of the CCTV server which is setup with the GeoVision software maximised (screen shots coming in Part 2). Make sure to check out the “Taboo Channels” on your system before picking a channel to set your modulator too. See for http://www.kat5.tv/taboo.html more details, and download our little Taboo Channel calculator application from HERE.

So, the system is up and running. In a few weeks time I’ll report back with my experiences. Is the system stable? Does the record on motion really work? Is the software easy to use? What’s the meaning of life? All these and more will be answered in the next thrilling instalment of…HOME CCTV.

CCTV Server Parts List

CASE – Samcheer 4U 19″ Black Rackmount 300W ATX PSU – £140

CPU – Intel Pentium 4 “Northwood” 2.8GHz (800FSB) – £130

MOTHERBOARD – Gigabyte GA-8IK1100 – £90

VIDEO CARD – Asus V9520VS GeForce FX 5200 128MB – £65.00

RAM – 1 Gig of Crucial DDR PC3200, ECC, DDR400 – £170
HARD DISK – Maxtor DiamondMax 160Gig 7,200rpm – £70

CCTV CARD – GeoVision GV650-12 – £500

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