Moved to www.NetworkCameraCritic.com
For the budget minded, Zoneminder is open source NVR software to record from your IP cameras and allow you to view them from any web browser. The price, free, is alluring, but how well does it work and is it worth the money?
It’s been said that open source is free, like a free puppy. Zoneminder works, but it takes a great deal of effort to set it up so it depends on how much your time is worth. But as hobbiest know, the journey is half the fun. So let me take you on that journey.
Zonemineder runs on Linux and you can chose from different distributions but for the sake of compactness, I chose Ubuntu Server. The reason is it’s small, fits on one CD as others like SUSE or Red Hat take 2 DVD’s.
To install Ubuntu, you download the CD image (ISO) from here and burn a CD from it. You then boot from the CD and it starts the installation. Make sure you select OpenSSH and LAMP server towards the end as optional software. You then set a static IP address and reboot. You then install Zoneminder and access it remotely from any browser as http://<Ip address of server>/zm. More detailed instructions can be found by clicking here.
Once you have Linux and Zoneminder installed, the fun of adding cameras starts. Once added, they will appear on the home page which looks like this. Very simple screen with a list of cameras. You can view a camera by click on the name.
Adding a camera is not like most NVR software where you select from a choice of cameras, provide an IP address and an image appears. Adding a camera involves research on your part as you have to figure out what the URL is to retrieve a stream from your camera. If you are lucky and someone else has gone through the pain, you can leverage that from their forums. You can also ask for help on their forum. For example, for my ACTi cameras, I had to get the stream through this command – /cgi-bin/cmd/encoder?GET_STREAM. But let me show you a practical example. First you click on Add New Monitor to add the new camera. This takes you to a screen like this and I selected the options to make my ACTi camera work –
This pops up with this multitab window. The two most important are the “General” tab
And the “Source” tab where you define the critcal components like camera address, resolution and URL encoding needed to stream the image
Once you add all the cameras it actually gets easier. At this point, you may want to add motion detection so you can record events. This is done by creating motion detect zones for each cameras. The software itself monitors motion detection so the more cameras you add, the more motion detect zones, the more CPU it will take up. You setup the motion detect zone by click on the number (intially “1”) under the column heading “Zones” for the camera you want to set motion detect zone for. This pops up with a window like this –
Lots of information here, but you set the zone area by dragging the corners to create a trapezoid of the area you want to cover. Actually this is better than most software that only lets you select rectangles. You can see from this image I created two zones. You then fill in the options on the left for threshold and more.
To turn on recording for a camera, you click under the column “Function” for the camera name on the home screen and select “Modect”. You’ll start seeing events being recorded when you live view a camera. When it’s recording, the frame around the live image will turn red. For example, this screen shows the live view and all the captured events below. Clicking on a captured events will play it back for you.
This is what they player screen looks like. From here you can view and even export the video
A count of events is provided on the home screen for each camera at different summary levels like hour, day, week, month. Clicking on the number will give you a list of events
The last thing you want to setup is what Zoneminder calls a “Montage” which is a multi-camera live view. To set this up, you intuitively click on the upper right where it says “x monitors”. This brings up the group scnreen where you click on New to create a group of cameras you want to view.
To view a montage, click on “Montage” from the home screen and this is what a screen with 2 cameras will look like.
If you run into problems, the first place to look is in the logs. You get to the logs by clicking “Log” from the home screen
And lastly, there’s a lot of options and clicking on “Options” on the home screen takes you to this screen. It was too overwhelming for me so I didn’t change anything here.
There’s a lot of flexibility here but comes at the price of a lot of work to set this up. Once setup, it does record events, allows you to play them and works from any browser including those on smart phones. The cost of the product including the operating system is the #1 factor for using Zoneminder but it does require some Linux skills to install and a good amount of research and frustration to get cameras configured. It depends if you have the patience to take on the “free puppy”.