Testing MP USB Cameras for Video Surveillance

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Jul 25, 2010

A frequently cited downside of megapixel cameras is their cost. Even a 'cheap' megapixel network camera is $250 or more (compare that to cheap SD cameras which can be under $100 or analog cameras that can be under $50).

Recently, we were scanning online for USB cameras and were impressed to see how inexpensive even HD webcameras have become - less than $50 for a 720p HD USB camera. This piqued our curiosity and led us to buy a number of USB cameras from Amazon.

In this test, we share our results from tests of Microsoft LifeCam Cinema (720p) and Logitech 2MP HD Pro Webcam Pro 9000. We bought a total of 5 USB cameras plus (5) 5 meter active USB extension cables (to test maximum distance from the USB camera to a PC). We then integrated the USB cameras with a number of VMS systems.

In the video below, we overview our approach:

While our tests show that application is limited to small scale applications, we were impressed at the video quality and the relative inexpensiveness of using HD USB cameras for limited surveillance solutions.

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Key ********

Setup: USB cams were not difficult to setup, because of the plug n' play nature of USB. Consideration will need to be taken on wall or ceiling mounting, because of the non-standard mounts on most USB cameras.  In addition, a powered USB hub may be necessary if your USB bus is not adequately powered or if not enough free ports are available.

System **** :  On our 2.13GHz Intel Core2 Duo notebook, we were able to connect 4 USB cameras with active extension cables and record video at full resolution in the background, but the reported CPU usage was at 95%. Although system load was high, all 4 streams ran smoothly and exported video without problems. On the other hand, 95% system load caused issues with multi-tasking, so if your computer is not dedicated for surveillance, consider limiting the camera count to 2 - 3 units.

Bandwidth: We calculated the bit rate from 10 second sample clips exported out of a single USB camera, and found that the bandwidth can range from a simple indoor scene running at 3Mbps to a more complex outdoor scene at 10Mbps.

Daytime ***********: The daytime quality of both cameras are comparable to professional IP camera images. The Microsoft Lifecam and Logitech 9000 both excelled at outdoor and indoor daylight images, with the Logitech, being a 2MP camera, having a slight edge in clarity when compared to the Microsoft camera.  

Nighttime ***********: For both USB cameras, we had difficulty in making out facial details in an indoor environment with light levels at 1 lux and below, but at 1 lux, environmental details could be discerned.  Both USB cameras do not have a b/w mode or IR cut filter.

Third ***** *** *******: All of the budget VMS systems we tested had support for USB cameras, but the extent of support may vary by model/manufacturer. Most professional VMS systems do not include USB camera support, except for Luxriot's VMS.  Although Luxriot did support the Logitech, we were unable to get live video from the Microsoft USB camera.

Frame ****: Video from both cameras ran at 15fps when exported directly from their own driver applications. Results may vary depending on what VMS is associated (eg. On Blue Iris VMS system, both cameras ran at a maximum 10fps).

Product ********

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Microsoft ******* ******

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Logitech ** *** ****** *** ****:

**** ** **** ** $**.** ***, *** $*************, ** ******** **** *** ******** ***:

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 Hardware / ******** ***** & ************ **************

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  • *** **** ****** ****-******* *** ********** *** ******** *** *******, but **** *** ****** **** ****** *****

Image ******* ********

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******** *** ****** *****(**.* ** ********)

*** ****** *******:

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  • ** * *** ***** (* ***) ****** *****, ** *** Microsoft *****, *** *******'* ****** ******** *** ****** ** **********, but ******* ** *** *********** ** *******
  • ** *** * *** ****** *****, ** *** ******** ****, the ******* ** ******** ******, **** ********* *** ********, *** facial ******** *** ********* ** ********

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