iSpy Open Source Windows VMS Tested

By: Sarit Williams, Published on Oct 18, 2013

Open source software has had a huge impact on the web and IT, with solutions like Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, Wordpress, Firefox, Audacity, VLC, etc., becoming major forces.

However, in video surveillance, that has not been the case. The most well known open source offering for VMSes has been Zoneminder, which is Linux only and stopped development for 2 years.

Open Source vs Open Platform

Now, open source and open platform may sound similar but they are not the same. Open platform is typical in surveillance, implying that the software can work with third party devices (e.g., cameras, access control, intrusion, PSIM), without major restrictions. However, open source goes much further, making the source code for the VMS publicly available for re-use and modification.

Nonetheless, many in our industry still confuse the two - see IFSEC Global's unfortunate misreporting of Milestone open sourcing their VMS (Milestone is open platform, not open source).

iSpy Open Source VMS

Another open source VMS solution, named iSPY, has emerged. Not only is it actively being developed, it runs on Windows machines, making it easier for most consumers / low tech users. The two of them make iSPY a very interesting VMS to consider.

Testing iSPY

iSPY is easy to use and install.  Moreover, it offers advanced features, such as maps, system logs, Mobile apps, License Plate and Facial Recognition plugins. However, many of the advanced features such as Thumbnail/Timeline searches, and mobile apps all require a monthly subscription to use outside of LAN.  In addition, adding cameras may be a hit or miss with the slew of RTSP and HTTP links the VMS provides. 

If you are looking for a VMS for home use or small business with less than 20 cameras than the cost is very reasonable at $8 USD per month (fee per server, not per channel) with no SMS texting or a yearly prepaid subscription of ~$75 USD which includes 100 SMS credits. Otherwise,you can use iSPY completely free on the LAN with no Remote accessibility at all or any of the advance features.

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Key Advantages

For an Open Source platform it offers several advanced features that can rival paid-for VMSes such as Xeoma targeting consumer/small business users. It offers both 32bit and 64bit native installations.

  • Pricing: No fee for software or camera licenses with a local install and access. However, basic VMS features such as timeline mode search email alerts, rules execution and SMTP require subscription. Costs range from $8 USD/month for one iSPY's server to $90 USD per month for 15 servers. 
  • Camera Support: auto discovery or manual- over 1000 models including Axis, Arecont, AD, and more via RTSP or HTTP, including ONVIFdm
  • Enterprise Mangement: Manage/Host several servers via iSPYCentral with a 7 day trial. Access is ~$260 USD per site license to manage online. (These fees do not include ANY cloud storage, just ability to host multiple site management).
  • Search/Investigations: VMS offers scalable Timeline view searching across multiple days and months, calendar mode, color coded for motion with a histogram of motion activity in video.  Thumbnail view also available. (These features are basic, but they require subscription with iSPY)
  • Live View: Cameras include realtime FPS, date and time overlay. There is CPU and RAM indicator as well as PTZ controls.
  • Software: It offers all of the standards such as time stamp, privacy masks, motion detection (motion zones, sensitivity), time-lapse, pre/post buffer, layouts, logs, 2 way audio (Foscam and Axis) and maps.
  • Mobile apps: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 (Exacq also offers Kindle Fire) browser based apps.
  • Clients: web client (Google Chrome, IE 9, Firefox and Safari.), Windows 8 integration and local client.
  • Extension Plugins: License Plate Recognition (7 day trial, each license after is ~$165) facial recognition, alerts and object count, Text Overlay, and barcode recognition integrations. 

Subscription Based Video Overview:

Web Server Configuration:

Key Disadvantages

There are several structural disadvantages.  The inability to run as a service; requires software to always be running to access remotely as well. And file Export is limited to one camera/one file at a time for both subscription based and free version. Moreover, server side motion detection is not available.

In addition, there are other missing or weak areas:

  • Updates: Export configurations and cameras before each Software update- or all will be lost.  Time consuming to recreate even for a home user with 4-6 cameras only.


  • User Management: Security is only available via web subscription and is extremely limited to either read only or full access in addition to an awkward Access Mask option to block certain cameras.
  • Security: One click export to YouTube is a security concern if this is a corporate environment or not.
  • Subscription Required: iSpyConnectMobile apps, SMS, MMS, Twitter alerts, exporting to YouTube, Email alerts, sharing, and Remote access. 
  • Support: Support is available to subscribers only and is limited to via email; Developer is located in Australia which is +8 GMT. Otherwise searching through forums is slow and response time will vary. 

  • Language: Australian English is used and the lingo is not video surveillance standard terms or U.S. English. (may not be an issue for novice home or small business users.)
  • Ads: The Web site, which includes the user manual as web pages, and the iSPYConnect access is full of annoying ads- even after subscribing, they'll appear in certain areas.
  • Exporting: Exporting is limited to downloading full .mp4 videos or uploading to Youtube (private or public) only, in addition to snapshot JPEG images in the free version (subscription is required for such a basic feature).
  • Playback: Relies on VLC as a local player, or installation of MediaPortal integration. Otherwise defaults to Web Viewer requiring Flash and online access.

Playback Options Video:

  • Adding cameras via RTSP or HTTP may be confusing to some- not sure which link to choose out of many possibilities.

Adding Cameras Video:

Test setup

We used the 32bit installation on Windows 7 (Version  The install package is available as either a .exe (460KB) or an MSI (19.2MB) small packages for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8.  In addition .NET 4.0 pre-requisite will be installed if needed- the full install process took ~3 minutes from beginning to end.

We were able to easily connect and add an Axis P1344, Arecont and YCAM via the provided RTSP and HTTP links. 


iSPY is small compact Open Source VMS that offers the basics needed for both live and playback for the low end singular user.  It does however, lack user management features in order to appeal to large, multi location businesses. The subscription costs, although negligible compared to mainstream VMS costs and yearly support agreements, has the ability to scale.  With the add on of plugins and continuous development it can become quite useable for multi location organizations. 

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Comments (7)

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Video links seem to be having issues. I get sent to a login page when I click on any videos.

Thanks Jon. Should be fixed now.

how about the PC test platform spec(CPU & RAM)?

it would be perfect the only problem of this vms is that it is extremly unstable.

Thanks! This was very interesting to read.

A correction to Zoneminder being undeveloped. Ity seems like they just released a minor update: ZoneMinder - Downloads

We did not say it was 'undeveloped'. We are aware of the recent minor update(s). That's why we phrased it specifically, "Zoneminder, which is Linux only and stopped development for 2 years." It's good to see they have resumed development after the 2 year absence.

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