Home Security

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts detailing my roll your own home automation and security system. A recently failed Insteon SmartLinc 2412N Network controller (the brains of the system) forced me to replace the device and provided the opportunity to add some components and address the issue of controlling everything from a Windows RT device. It turns out that the 24112N has been failing for many others, right after the expiration of the 2 year warranty and is no longer available from Insteon. As I was already invested in Insteon modules and devices, I didn’t want to start fresh with a different technology (and I was happy with Insteon), so I ordered an Insteon Smart Hub from Amazon (best price at the time that I ordered) as well as a pair of Insteon 79750 IP Cameras.

As with the earlier (and now discontinued 2412N) there are apps for iOS and Android (but not for Windows). I use an iPhone, so I have no problems controlling my devices from my phone. With the new iPhone App, not only can I control my lights, but I can pan and tilt my Insteon cameras.

insteon iphone app

Although I I can control the lights, and the Insteon cameras  as shown in the image above, I can’t control or view the D-Link cameras. Insteon has a beta web portal for remote/local management, but it sadly uses an unsigned ActiveX control (which also means the web site won’t work on an RT device like the Lumia 2520). The phone apps (and obviously the web portal) therefore depend on a vendor web site that I don’t control (as well as Internet connectivity). Unlike the 2412N, the embedded web server in the Insteon Hub does not offer controls. I also use a Nokia Lumia 2520 and I was determined to be able to use it for Home Security and Control. Bottom line, I needed better control and as important, didn’t want to depend on someone else keeping a server running.

 

Controlling the Lights from Windows/Windows RT

I found that Insteon devices could be controlled by passing parameters directly to a device from a web browser and found a great source for these commands. Note that in current versions of IE, you can no longer pass credentials via an http URL for security reasons, but sending commands without credentials does produce a prompt for them. I quickly built myself an app (which can be installed locally with a developer’s license) to control the lights with Microsoft Project Siena. To insure that I could use these controls both locally and while away, instead of using the local LAN IP, I used my DDNS hostname and the port that the Insteon hub uses (which is set up in my router’s port forwarding table).

The basic On/Off commands I used were:

On
http://[dynamic DNS hostname goes here]:25105/3?026218EF6C0F11FF=I=3
 
Off
http://[dynamic DNS hostname goes here]:25105/3?026218EF6C0F1300=I=3

 

I created a simple interface in about 60 seconds to control some lighting with Project Siena:

barbs siena app

It took less than 15 minutes to create this simple app which is now installed on all my Windows 8.1 devices. I can add Dim and Brighten commands as well. No one has uncovered any Scene commands, but for my needs, what I have now is sufficient for basic functions.

Viewing and Controlling the Cameras from Windows/Windows RT

The video formats for most of the currently available IP cameras requires an ActiveX control or stand alone app to render the video/audio feed. Setting up these cameras from a computer also sometimes requires installing an ActiveX control (some of them are unsigned and require permission changes in IE which I won’t accept). In many cases, once you decline the install, you can proceed with configuring the cameras, you just can’t view the video feeds. Most cameras (like my D-Link and Insteon cams) have a static image jpg feed; but a "live action" video feed is always the better choice, if available.

The original iPhone App for my original Insteon 2412N allowed me to configure non Insteon devices, so I was able to add the D-Link cameras and view from within the iPhone App. That is not the case with the new app for the Insteon Hub. Plus, once again, I wanted something to view the cameras in Windows 8.1  I decided on IP CamView for Windows 8. This app supports Pan and Tilt as well as Presets (on supported cameras). Note that the Insteon 75790 uses the same settings as a Foscam FI8918W. Once again, the trick to use this app remotely is to use a Dynamic DNS hostname as opposed to a local LAN IP.

Main View IP CamView:

ip cam main view

 

Detail View IP CamView showing Pan and Tilt Settings and Preset drop down menu.

ipcam camera view

Home Security and Access to Features using Windows/Windows RT

If you’ve read my earlier Home Automation/Security posts, you know that I’ve been using Blue Iris to manage my IP Security Cameras as opposed to setting up each individual camera for alerts, email notifications, etc. etc. and great scheduling capabilities. It certainly meets my needs. There have been lots of updates – nearly weekly – to the Blue Iris software and it supports nearly every IP Camera on the market. While there was no listing for My Insteon cameras, but they use the same settings as a Foscam FI8918W, and Blue Iris works perfectly with my Insteon and my D-Link cameras.

blue iris pc

Blue Iris can be accessed over the web via browser (and DDNS), but also requires an ActiveX control. I had been using RDP to the host desktop from my Windows RT devices. After searching the Windows Store, I was surprised, but pleased, to find a program called Blue Iris Companion.

Blue Iris Companion in addition to viewing live camera streams, shows alerts and recorded clips.

blue iris companion

Viewing a single camera in Blue Iris Companion provides an interface for PTZ commands and presets.

blue iris companion detail view

All in all, I’m extremely happy with my upgraded Home Automation/Security System.

I’ve recently written 5 posts about "do it yourself home security". Another piece of the puzzle I wanted to solve involved home automation, both for security and convenience. I’ve had some X10 lighting controls here for a while, but X10 is not 100% reliable and integration with a home network involves expensive third party software.

So I started looking around and doing some research on the other technologies like Z-Wave, UPB, Insteon, etc. One of the biggest issues I had with X10 (and Homeplug) was that I reside in a multi electric phase home where it was nearly impossible to send signals through home wiring (even when filtering power strips and UPS units were removed). Insteon had some interesting capabilities with dual band (RF and home wiring), phase coupler/access points and had some reasonably priced hardware. Another plus was that there are a few iPxxx free apps available to control Insteon enabled devices, both while at home and while away from home. I spent a fair amount of time at the Smarthome website deciding which components to order.

I ended up with an Insteon system that included a network control module, two access point/phase couplers, and several lamp/appliance control modules. I have web browser access for complete control from anywhere in the world, and I can set a schedule to turn lights on and off for security or convenience. I can dim lights for home theater use, and I can turn devices on and off from my iPxx devices from anywhere.

 

That comes in handy when I arrive home after dark, have armfuls of groceries and no spare hands or light switches. I simply turn on some lights from the car. 

I’ll be adding a couple of posts his week with the details of the equipment and configuration.

I mentioned viewing my cameras in Smartvue for iPxxx devices in a previous post. I actually posted some details on how to do this and determine the right syntax for your particular camera some time ago. This includes a link to the iCam web app that interactively helps you determine the syntax. Thought it was worth mentioning in this series on DIY Home Security. I also wrote about viewing my cameras from inside WMC.

The components I used for displaying the output of my cameras in the Windows Media Center interface are:

  1. an MCL file
  2. a PNG file for the Extras Tile
  3. an HTML file
  4. a background image file for the HTML file (I used a PNG file)

I’ve updated the MCL file and the PNG for the camera and authored an HTML file that I’ve copied to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories\Media Center\Media Center Programs. For the background color, I added a PNG file that I created. Now I can see the output of my four cameras on a single screen inside the Windows Media Center interface. You’ll find sample source code at the end of this post.

My Cameras on the main level Extras Menu is shown in the following screen shot:

wmc.cam1

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In Part 3, I wrote about setting up dynamic DNS and port forwarding for my cameras and desktop controller as well as authentication for all exposed web servers. Once this is set up properly, camera output can be viewed in real time, any time I want to check in on what’s happening chez moi. If I were to get a motion detection email alert, I could immediately recheck camera output from all my cameras.

 

The Blue Iris web controller Windows software that I selected is viewable from any web browser. It detects mobile use and presents an iPxxx interface when I access it from my iPhone or iPad. I’ve added the URL to my bookmarks and to my Home screen on my iPxxx devices. Here is what I see from my iPad after I enter the proper credentials (since authentication was set up):

 I can select an individual camera from the drop down menu or just tap a camera to see a larger view.

I added a bookmark for the Blue Iris web server and also added it to my iPad and iPhone Home Screens for easy and fast access.

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