Monday, 16 November 2009

The Mouse Ran Up The Clock

... or a least the Lilac tree. We've seen no hedgehogs for a while now, but the garden is not completely empty. We still have the odd mouse dashing around, but this was a new departure with the mousie climbing up the Lilac to investigate the bird box where the robins had brought up their family this past Spring.

Mousie may have been here before and we didn't notice, since there's no trigger on this camera due to the swaying of the branches. It seems he had a snooze for five minutes before leaving. Perhaps he's worried about his current nest getting flooded with all the rain we've been having lately.


  1. As a matter of interest, just how many cameras do you have, what type, and how are they connected to what?

  2. That little mouse looked like he was watching something.

    I never see any mice here, but with Elsa and the other cats they are probably wise to keep well away.

  3. Hi Kevin

    We have... about 20 cameras, although we can't record from all of them at once! We use 4-channel security DVRs to do the recording - we have four. They are sold by Maplin under the Swann brand, although they seem to be AVTECH - the last one I got from a security firm with a shop on eBay for quite a lot less than the others cost, even though we got those when on special offer.

    The quality is not great, but it's OK to see what the hedgehogs get up to, and we felt that we preferred quantity - there are lots of places for the hedgehogs to hide.

    The first cameras also came from Maplin, at half-price sale time. I have since tried other cameras, from various sources.

    All of the cameras are wired, so we have cables running round and across the garden. Not pretty, but I don't think the wireless ones support so many channels, and we'd be forever recharging batteries.

    The nest boxes have small indoor cameras, the outside ones are larger waterproof ones. All of the cameras have infra-red LEDs which turn on in low light. Since the cameras are really security cameras they are really set up for more distant viewing - 2-3m, so they aren't really in focus and they tend to over-expose with the short distances we use. The indoor cameras have screw-in lenses so they can be focused, but again at the short distances you can only focus on one point so most things are not sharp.

    The outdoor cameras would need to be opened up to focus them, which may break the waterproof seal, so I haven't quite risked that yet.

    I am looking at using IR illuminators off the camera, but the problem is you still need infra-red sensitive cameras. It seems the most of the cheaper ones at least are not sensitive to IR if they aren't fitted with IR LEDs.

    We suffer from interference on some of the cameras - I suspect it's because of all the mains adapters in the vicinity. We will be trying to sort out the spaghetti over the window - since the whole thing just grew by adding camera it's a real mess. As many of the cameras came with pre-made cables which are too long we also have piles of cables.

    We chose the DVRs as they can be viewed over the network, so we have the hedgehog PC (called Apricot after the hedgehog on the Aardman Timmy Time) displaying all four DVRs (with four images each) all the time. We spend more time looking at that than we do the TV.

    When the DVRs detect motion they send a still image to the PC, so we scan through the captures looking for action and then extract the videos. Unfortunately, they trigger for rain, leaves, spiders and anything else, so there are loads of false triggers. The recorders will record on motion, but with the false triggers it's useless.

    We leave the recorders running 24 hours a day - that way we get to see the daylight happenings as well.

    I have been experimenting with some lower-cost USB video capture units (about £12 off ebay!) and you get what you pay for. The image quality is quite good, but it will only record one of the four channels at a time. These are what we used for the tunnel cam and the boiler room cam. The biggest disadvantage is that the motion detect is useless, which means you have to do a manual scan of the video to look for happenings. We've about 500GB of videos still to look through in the dark winter nights. The tunnel cam was OK, because we could use the captures from the other cameras to tell us when to look.

    We also had another blind spot and in desperation resorted to using the normal DVD recorder. This gives the best quality, even on 6-hour long play, but you still have to search the whole video manually, and there isn't even a time display - we've 250GB of DVDs to search through as well!

    The cameras are also quite warm when the LEDs are on, and they seem to attract spiders very quickly. There can be some quite scary moments as a spider covers almost the whole frame.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Crikey, that is an awful lot of kit!

    Being a computer person rather than a camera one, do I understand that these DVRs receive camera cables in one end, and have a network cable coming out of the other to connect to the PC?

    And how do you securely receive all of those cables into the house without letting all of the heat out?

  5. It sort of gets lost amongst the computers!

    The DVRs are stand-alone units. Four BNC connectors on the back for the cameras (most of the cheap cameras use phonos, so you need adaptors!)

    There's a composite video output to connect to a TV via SCART for viewing the videos. There's also what looks like a VGA output, but isn't - it takes a VGA adaptor which costs about £40!

    There's also a network port, which connects to the network - ours go into a Netgear switch.

    You can then access the units via a browser (IE and Firefox work) and there's also a Java viewer, which is what we use. This lets you view what the recorder is seeing, either one camera at a time or all four. You can also remote control the units from here - fast forward, rewind, turn on/off the detection. It's a bit clunky - it emulates the buttons on the front of the unit - but it works. You can then back up videos of interest to a .AVI file on the PC.

    The recorders will record and playback at the same time, which is quite neat. The only trouble is that the captures show what's on the display, so if you're looking at a video when there's a trigger you get a picture of that.

    We have the viewers for all four units running on one PC, but the application is not very well written and the PC is running at 100% CPU all the time. I use a 2.8GHz P4 Dell I got off eBay for £30 (I'm a great fan of eBay) and it's OK - we do all the video captures to the drive (which I upgraded to 1TB). The DVR units will support up to five simultaneous remote viewers, so we used to have a copy of the viewer running on both of our "normal" PCs, but I now have a VGA splitter with two monitors on the Hedgie PC.

    You should be able to access the DVRs from the web with appropriate firewall settings, but if we are away we normally use LogMeIn Free to remotely access the PC. We use LogMeIn to work remotely anyway, and it's very good, providing the internet's not too busy.

    One of the windows in the living room is full height, with two large panes and a deep bar between them, so a couple of largeish holes were drilled through for the cables - the hedgehogs get priority.

  6. Thanks for explaining all of that. I saw words like "Netgear switch" and "LogMeIn" which are a lot more in my comfort zone :-)

  7. Blimey! I think I must be a luddite in comparison with my simple set up.

  8. But GL, at least you've got a camera :-)

  9. A really great video capture. I keep expecting to see the odd furry creature at night but none so far - maybe the night hunting cat has caught them all.