Many people like the idea of setting up a web-connected home-monitoring system to keep an eye on their house. But the value of such a system can be called into question.

London, for example, has over 10,000 CCTV cameras, but only three per cent of robberies on the capital's streets in 2008 were solved using video evidence.

Ultimately, spending £279 on a Logitech WiLife Indoor Security Master System won't stop anybody breaking into your house. All it can do is send you an email with an attached video clip so that you can see the joker who's run off with your stuff.

A DIY CCTV system does provide some peace of mind, however, and visible outdoor cameras can act as a deterrent in the same way that a prominently installed alarm can.

Motion sensors can also be over-sensitive, though, so you've got to think about where the best position for your camera is. Point it at a busy road and you'll be notified every few seconds.

The best solution is to install a camera in a room where you don't expect any movement during the day. Point it at a closed door and you'll get a warning message if that door is opened.

A home-monitoring system has uses beyond home security, too. For example, the Logitech system offers 'No Show Alerts', a feature that lets you monitor an area where you expect motion.

This can be used to alert you if something doesn't happen – your children aren't home from school by 4pm, for example. Or you could use it simply to check up on the cat if you're away from home.

Snooping options

There are some cheaper alternatives to the Logitech bundles. Home Camera provides a platform for you to access a video feed over the web. You can connect multiple web cameras and get alerts pinged out by email or SMS. Home Camera is free for now, but a year's subscription will eventually cost $15 per year.

The versatile Orb service also includes a webcam option as part of its content streaming features. The OrbSecure service enables you to record video, view the feed via any web-connected computer and be alerted when any of the cameras detects movement.

Thinking about camera placement reveals a problem with the cheaper webcam-based systems. If you want multiple cameras, you'll need to trail USB cables across your home. Wireless USB hubs are available, but they'll add around £100 to the cost of each installation.

The Logitech system solves this cabling problem by using HomePlug technology. A USB cable connects your PC to a plug-in Powerline module, while each camera plugs into the mains. Data is then routed over your home's electrical wiring. It's a tidy solution, but a pricey one: each extra Logitech camera costs £229.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for. But it helps to ask yourself how serious you are about home monitoring. If it's really just a hobby, one of the cheaper systems like Home Camera will satisfy your gadget cravings. The Logitech system would make an ideal monitoring system for small businesses – so if you're serious about this, it's worth shelling out.

The presence of HomePlug technology is particularly interesting because it hints at a connected future where such eagle-eyed products will be an integral part of home security and intelligent monitoring systems.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 282

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