Better Ring Camera Alternative: DIY Guide with Synology & Hikvision IP Cameras

Ring & Nest cameras seem to be popular, but the lie with these products is that they are designed to make money from you endlessly. If the business model that Google or Amazon envision doesn’t work, your products will stop working.

This isn’t ethical computing, especially because of the privacy implications of 24/7 video in and around your house. Does Jeff Bezos decide how long to retain my footage? I can’t be sure anything I’ve flagged for deletion is actually deleted.

This is maybe the future the Free Software Foundation warned us about.

But it would be nice to be able to use modern surveillance to self-monitor our homes and belongings? You can do that – cost-effectively – and in a “Cloud Safe” way with modern hardware.

Our Cameras

Modern IP cameras – that is network cameras – are unlike anything you may have encountered before in the surveillance world. Forget everything you might know about CCTV. Modern IP cameras, like the Hikvision cameras in the video, contain powerful computational resources designed for motion detection, face recognition and more. This data does NOT need to even leave the device – almost all of these devices have on-board SD card recording.

The SD card recording space is limited, though, and it would be nice to centrally monitor footage from a network of cameras.

Cameras, containing a powerful computer, are maybe not the best things to give access to the internet though.

Enter Synology

The Synology has powerful software that can talk to a huge number of IP Cameras – not just Hikvision. Hikvision are not the least expensive cameras, and maybe they aren’t the best value, but they are (in my experience) the most reliable and mostly consistently high-quality.

I’m not comfortable with IP Cameras (or any device, really) being able to “phone home” and apply updates without my consent.

Synology has been very good about respecting user freedom and control; it is possible to setup remote camera access with the Synology while completely isolating the cameras from the internet.

The Surveillance Station software has a ton of cool features. But first, let’s do the setup.

Install Surveillance Station

Open the package center, and install. Make sure your Synology OS is up to date first.

Networking 101

Out of the box, the cameras come configured for 192.168.1.64 – that is every camera defaults to that IP address.

The Synology I’m using is the DS1618+ which has 4 built-in 1-gigabit ethernet interfaces. I have elected to use port 4 for the IP camera network.

Next, connect your Synology to the PoE switch in the video. Don’t worry, the PoE switch is smart enough not to try to power the Synology. If your PoE switch has a dedicated uplink port then use that.

It would help if you have a laptop to connect to the PoE switch as well. It is useful to use the laptop to access the web page interface of the camera so that you can set a password on the camera (highly recommended) and assign its IP addres.

I numbered my cameras: 192.168.1.1, 192.168.1.2, 192.168.1.3, and so on.

NOTE: If you are already using 192.168.1.xxx for your internal network DO NOT set the Synology port for 4 the same network. The Synology will not know whether to send packets for the 192.168.1.xx network through hte physical interface to your network or the physical interface to the cameras! Instead, pick another number like 192.168.25.254 … You will still have to set your laptop or another computer up at 192.168.1.250 (lets say) then log into the camera at 192.168.1.64 and change it to 192.168.25.1, 192.168.25.2, 192.168.25.3, etc which… once you change it… the camera won’t be accessible until you change your network back to 192.168.25.250 (or whatever) on your laptop.

If this is your first networking project – so sorry – it’s not as complicated as it seems and will be worth the effort to work through it.

Adding the first Camera

I have looked at the documentation for my IP cameras and see they come configured for a default IP of 192.168.1.64, so I have set the second nic on my computer with a static IP address of 192.168.1.50 and netmask of 255.255.255.0 .

The important thing to understand about that netmask is that it means that any devices plugged into the ethernet switch configured with an IP address with the first 3 numbers being 192.168.1.something and also a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 can directly “see” one another on the network.

Plug in your camera, and see if you get link lights on the network. Once you do, give your camera a few minutes to boot up.

# ping 192.168.1.64
PING 192.168.1.1 (192.168.1.1) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 192.168.1.64: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=1.23 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.1.64: icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=1.07 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.1.64: icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=1.46 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.1.64: icmp_seq=4 ttl=64 time=0.966 ms
64 bytes from 192.168.1.64: icmp_seq=5 ttl=64 time=0.997 ms

Then try to load the camera in the web browser:

http://192.168.1.64

It should ask you to set a secure password. This is a good idea! Set it, and save the password. You can write it down – these cameras will not be internet accessible (directly) but it still pays to have good password hygene.

For these cameras, you can check the firmware version and download the latest version if your camera is out of date. If you’ve chosen another brand of camera – that is OK – they will all work very similar to this one.

I am configuring this first camera as 192.168.1.10 – each camera should get a unique IP address. You can start with 10 and increment up. If you have a bunch of cameras, label it on the inside of where it is mounting.

I highly recommend getting your camera system setup “on the table” and the IP addresses set long before you install them. As each camera will have a home run of Cat6 cable (recommended for better RFI and lightning immunity). Leave it running “on the table” for a few days before mounting your cameras.

I highly recommend a PoE switch so that one cable will deliver data AND power to each camera. It is well-worth the expense in my opinion, and it makes it much easier for your cameras to run from an inexpensive battery backup in times of main power failure from your utility company.

Save, and your camera will reboot. Then try to load it in the browser again.

http://192.168.1.10

If everything is good, you’re ready to configure the camera in the Synology:

Load the surveillance station as in the video, navigate to IP camera and add the camera with the same IP address, username and password that you configured a moment ago:

I also highly recommend changing the format to H.265 or H.265+ if your camera supports it. H.265 is better for the reasons I explained in the video, not the least of which is the files are much smaller with the same quality and fidelity.

[ Test Connection ] Should load a test image from your camera and give you a green check.

Everything looks good. If you don’t see a green check or get an error, double check your username/password. Try to go directly to the camera in your web browser and make sure that you are able to log in. Finally, make sure the firmware on the camera is fully up to date. If all else fails, you CAN pick a generic camera from the Synology software – many, many IP cameras follow the standards pretty well and will work anyway.

For “known” cameras (cameras known to Synology) it will configure optimal options in the Web GUI on the camera totally automatically. You’ll see “activating” such as this while the camera is being configured.

image

Within synology, it is also possible to set storage limits and motion activated recording. I currently have 47gb of storage used by the PTZ camera for about a week of recording:

image

In terms of motion or “event detection” it is a good idea to be sure the camera is doing the event detection:

The synology software can detect motion, but it is not as efficient as the camera’s built-in algorithm. Some of these cameras can even be configured to trigger an event only when a face is recognized! This feature makes it very fast to scan through footage later looking for events. You don’t have to watch hours of footage where nothing has happened.

Another thing to double check is the quality. Remember the Ring? It’s 1080p.

These 8mp cameras top out at 3840x2160!

So the image clarity is much higher.

And, of course, a retention policy can be set so old recordings automatically expire.

image

The software is very well documented and very intuitive. I know of no open source alternative that is as feature-rich and well-put-together.

For your other cameras, repeat this procedure and be sure that the system works. I would let it run for a while to “burn it in” and make sure nothing fails fairly quickly.

That’s about all there is to it!

If you built one of these, or something similar, post some pictures for everyone else to see.

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Reserved

Great tutorial you have here!

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This is great.
With regards to your last point, double-duty NAS, do you have suggestions? A higher-end Synology, or rolling your own hardware + Unraid/FreeNAS?

I might have missed it, but I don’t recall any mention of the device licensing fees that Synology charges per device (camera). I believe Surveillance Station offers 2 devices by default, but will require the purchase of additional licenses beyond the first two. The licenses aren’t exactly cheap. Just something to take into consideration.

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Just wondering if anyone knows the latency of these cameras?
thinking of doing a robotics project with IP cameras but they’ve gotta be pretty much realtime

500-1000ms

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Ah good catch @garbledcode (Welcome to the fourms btw). Looks like depending on the camera will determine how many licenses are used up.

Looks like 4 licenses cost about $199. (This is in to addition of the two free included licenses that come with your synology product)

I believe it is a one time cost as I don’t see any ‘subscription’ type talk in their FAQ.

More details here about what cameras are supported and how much licensing it takes.

Could you provide us the model #'s for the Hikvision cameras you used in the video?

I personally use Unraid with a ZoneMinder docker to manage my surveillance cameras.

ZoneMinder is free and open source (though they do beg for donations) and you don’t need to pay licensing fees per camera or any of that. Getting set up isn’t exactly the most user friendly experience but there’s lots of tutorials and videos online to help get you set up.

It’s very powerful and has lots of 3rd party plugins available to add things like AI powered detection but I haven’t messed around with that yet.

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At $50 a camera, this would add up really fast for most situations. It doesn’t seem to be that cost effective compared to a dedicated NVR from HIK

I really enjoyed this tutorial and video. I had no idea ip camera technology had gotten this slick. I do have a couple of questions having gone through it, though. First, what is the peak bandwidth that these 8mp cameras require with H.265 compression and what happens if the bandwidth is exceeded? Do they drop frames or hold onto them until network congestion alleviates? I found a couple of online calculators for network bandwidth from cameras, but they gave different results and didn’t explain how they arrived at their estimates.

Wendell also suggested shielded conduit for the cable runs but not shielded cat 6 cable. I didn’t understand why the shielded cat 6 was less preferrable. I’ve got an application in mind that would involve long runs of direct buried cable and I don’t think conduit would be very easy to cope with for that. Is shielded cat 6 better than unshielded cat 6 especially with lightning?

Did you do a wireshark to ensure that nothing was “phoning home”?

Some of the cheaper IP cameras, especially those of SUPER generic brands, (your AliExpress ones) phone home to a pre-programmed server before allowing you to view the video on your local network, essentially not pinging your NAS, but pinging a server in China first and doing data transfer to that server, THEN showing you the image.

They’re also the EASIEST in the world to compromise.

Edit: This is a general question to everyone in the thread, not really directed at anyone.

I don’t have anything connected or purchased. I’m just trying to figure out how many cameras I could put on a cable run. I’m interested in putting some cameras far off, maybe a half mile or more, on an IP extender link. The extenders are a bit restricted on bandwidth and I don’t want to run a huge amount of cable only to find I saturate the connection at the very time I need it.

Direct bury is probably fine but the soil around here has always failed me. I used the cheapest pvc and have had better luck. Keep in mind the 300 ft length limit also.

Bandwidth for h265 is pretty decent. With wired connections it’s a non issue … it varies a lot dpending on resolution and bitrate. At the highest end it can be 25 megabits or so

I’m looking to go a lot further than that with an ethernet extender. I found these guys https://ethernetextender.com/professional-grade-poe-extender/ and they market one of their products as having a range as far as 4100 feet at up to 300Mbps. It looks like some sort of ethernet to DSL bridge, but there’s not a lot of details. I don’t have any experience with that kind of thing and I don’t know how much of the time one actually reaches 300Mbps and how low it might go at any given time. I would hope it could sustain at least half that. I may give the company a call next week and see what they say.

If you have a “clean” 100mbps symmetric connection that’s perfect. It might also be worth doing some fiber transcievers with dc/ac bridges or not push Poe quite that far.

I was thinking about fiber as an alternative. I’d still have to run power lines for that, so power over ethernet looks like the lowest cost option if I can make it work.

I install CCTV and alarms for a living, Never ever direct bury. You will end up with water in you cables eventually. Which can kill your switch and or cams or both. (i have been out to sites to fix other techs cutting corners like this) put them in PVC Conduit and glue them. It also makes it safer from been dug up by mistake.
You can get over POE 100m with high end gear, I dont know if the clamied 250m distance inextendad mode works but have used this switch for runs that where aprox 130m with no issues to poe cams https://us.hikvision.com/sites/default/files/acc_ds-3e0318p-e_040119na_0.pdf
I’m not guaranteeing this and you should talk to a supplier first. but they have worked for me.

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https://streamable.com/bzez1

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