Testing the iCam VMS / iPhone App

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Aug 28, 2010

Home video surveillance systems are quickly getting a lot better and a lot cheaper. A good example of this is an application called iCam that has recently been in the news for helping a homeowner detect a burglary in real-time. Here is the news story.

While the news story is interesting, we think the press has missed the overall value and technology that iCam is offering. In this report, we share our findings from our test of iCam via web browser, iPhone and iPad. We are impressed. At a $4.99 one-time cost, not only is it a viewer, it records video and provides 'plug n play' remote access. We are tracking over 20 managed/hosted video offerings. iCam compares very favorably both in price and performance. While there are a number of important limitations for iCam, home surveillance users are likely to find significant competitive value in this offering.

Compare to our test results of 3 iPhone/iPad video surveillance applications to contrast iCam's approach with other applications. Contrast to our test results of Milesone Go, a free VMS offering.

Recommendations

The iCam mobile application and iCamSource server software is a strong fit to provide "piece of mind" to a household or small business. The greatest benefit is from the free live remote viewing through a web browser, with the option for further functionality (through purchasing the app) at a really low cost.

For a home user, we recommend the iCam application because of its low cost, simplicity in installation, and functionality. We previously reported on the use of USB cameras for surveillance; The iCam and iCamSource server will make an appropriate VMS solution because of its integrated USB camera support.

The same recommendation is given towards its use for a small business, with the caveats that the camera supports and a maximum of 4 cameras and the limitations of the motion detection feature are appreciated.

Key Findings

Setup: The iCamSource and iCam mobile app setup process is moderately easy. The server software install is a simple task, but associating multiple cameras is a slight challenge (to add 4 cameras, 4 instances of the server software must be opened).
 
Remote Access: Remote access functionality is easy to configure- no manual port forwarding or firewall configurations necessary. Install the iCamSource server software, establish a username and password on the interface, then input the information on the iCam mobile app to access the video stream.
Motion Detection Performance: The iCam's motion detection is very basic in functionality. The software judges motion upon the differentiation in pixels. If the camera is pointed at a highly complex scene, the end user will be bombarded with motion detection notifications. There is no option to establish exclusion zones; The only detection configuration is a motion sensitivity bar. Moving the slider to its least sensitive setting only slightly reduces false positive motion events, but conditions like fast lighting changes and moving vegetation set off constant alerts. 
 
System Startup: Automatic system restart upon reboot may be a complicated process depending if a single camera is connected or multiple cameras are used.

General Performance: In our tests, it took approximately 6 seconds from our subject going into a camera's field of view to the motion alert popping up on the iPhone. Within 6 seconds, a user may miss viewing the subject live from an alert; We recommend leaving the recording function on, so a user may investigate the alert by calling up the recorded images.

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Overview

We tested the iCam application on an Apple iPhone 4 and an iPad with connectivity through AT&T's 3G cellular data network. In addition, we installed the iCamSource server software on a Windows based desktop PC.

Key Points:

  • Server software installation is required and is compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems (2.87 MB download)
  • System only supports the MJPEG codec
  • The iCamSource software sends video directly to iCam via a peer to peer connection, so the video data does not go to any third party server
  • Server software may run in the background (in the taskbar), but does not run as a service
  • Remote viewing of live video may be accessed over the web using a computer and a web browser that can accept signed Java applets (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome)
  • If connecting multiple webcams / IP cameras, multiple instances of the server software must be executed
  • Associating IP cameras must include the full URL of the MJPEG stream (the developer provides support to find MJPEG URLs on supported IP cameras)
  • Recording, push notifications, and motion sensitivity settings on the phone app overrides the related settings on the server
  • System does not support continuous recording- only recording upon motion
  • For recorded images, iCamSource supports a maximum storage size of 10 GB per camera
  • iCam supports streaming of one way audio, but only with webcams
 
Price
 
The iCamSource server software is available as a free download. This provides free remote viewing of live video using a web browser (just download, install, and setup a username / password in iCamSource and access the developer's iCamWeb portal).
 
The iCam mobile app is sold directly online via Apple's iPhone App Store for $4.99 USD. This provides extra functionality of live video, viewing recorded images, and receiving push notifications upon motion detection.

iCam iPhone Interface Overview

The following screencast examines the functionalities of the iCam app on the iPhone 4.

Key points include:

  • The iCam app only supports landscape view (00:12)
  • The login/password that was established on the server software is entered (00:23)
  • A 4 camera matrix view is displayed by default (01:00)
  • User may remotely toggle recording and push notifications (01:30)
  • Motion detection sensitivity may be configured remotely (02:01)
  • Webcam microphone audio is streamed to the iPhone's speaker (02:33)
  • Upon detected motion, iCam will send push notifications to the iPhone screen (02:54)
  • Push notifications come with the purchase of the app; No additional or recurring cost for functionality (03:07)
  • The "View Motion Events" button allows access to recorded images (03:52)
  • User can either play the clip in sequence, or select a specific frame using the controls below (04:20)
  • A frame may be saved to the iPhone's camera roll (04:39)
  • Recorded images may be remotely deleted by swiping the item and pressing "Delete" (05:00)

iCamSource Server Software Setup

In the following screencast, we examine the iCamSource software, and explain the configuration steps involved in the setup process.

Key points include:

  • iCamSource is the server software that will stream camera images to the iPhone (00:20)
  • iCamSource supports USB / Firewire webcams and IP cameras (00:45)
  • To enable remote access, establish a login and password on the interface (01:04)
  • Software only supports recording upon motion (01:41)
  • The iCam app overrides the motion detection settings on the server (02:03)
  • The system stores the sequence of JPEGs from a detected motion (02:18)
  • The camera stream will appear on the iCam application without any manual port forwarding or firewall configurations (02:37)
  • The iCam app supports up to 4 cameras, but a single instance of the server software can only associate 1 camera (03:03)
  • Open up multiple instances of iCamSource to associate additional cameras (03:18)
  • All iCamSource instances may be run in the background (03:44)
  • To associate IP cameras, the full URL of the MJPEG stream must be applied (03:59)

Auto Starting iCamSource After Reboot

We mentioned in the overview that the iCamSource server software does not run as a service.  The lack of this functionality is a challenge if the operating system reboots, because the iCamSource will not auto start upon login.  According to the developer, there are two workarounds to this issue:

1. If a single camera is used with the system, create a shortcut of the iCamSource executable, and drag it to the Windows startup folder.  When the operating system reboots, the iCamSource will re-initialize.

2. For multiple cameras, the process is more complex. A batch file must be created that includes command line parameters for each associated camera. The developer provides a detailed explanation on the creation of the batch file in their forum post.

Viewing Live Video Over the Web for Free

The following screencast explains the process of using iCamSource and a web browser to access remote live video.

Key points include:

  • Live video may be viewed remotely on a computer with a Java supported web browser (00:05)
  • Enter the login and password information established on the iCamSource server (00:41)
  • Camera view may be shared using the provided link (01:00)
  • Remote viewing over the web is available at no cost (01:14)

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