If you want to monitor your home remotely with a security camera, using a wireless network camera is the most permanent way to do it. You can make do with a standard USB webcam (or use your iOS or Android device as a webcam), but wireless network cameras are easier to position and they're designed for the task. In this how-to, we'll walk through the process of setting up a wireless network camera and using it for home monitoring.
For this how-to, we decided to use the D-Link DCS-932L ($150) wireless network camera, which you can connect to your network via ethernet or 802.11n Wi-Fi. Of course, specific setup instructions differ from camera to camera, but we've found that many of the basic features that you'll want in a wireless network camera are similar for most models.
Step 1: Find the Right Place for Your Wireless Network Camera
Before you start configuring the camera, you should try to decide where to put it. The main limitation here is the power cord: You'll have to place it fairly close to a power outlet, or you'll have to use an extension cord--meaning that you probably won't be able to position it in an elevated spot without leaving unsightly power cables dangling from your walls.
You'll also want to test your network connection from the spot where you want to place the camera. The easiest way to do this is to grab a laptop, put it in the spot where you want to put your camera, and see whether you can get a reasonably strong wireless network connection from the laptop. If your laptop struggles to load basic Web pages over Wi-Fi from that location, you can bet that your wireless network camera won't be able to upload a constant stream of video from there.
If you're concerned about your camera's wireless network reception in the spot you've selected, you can use a Wi-Fi stumbler app like InSSIDer or NetStumbler to see whether any nearby networks are running on the same channel as your home network. If your neighbor's wireless network uses the same channel that yours does, the competition can make it harder for your Wi-Fi devices to connect to each other. Run the stumbler app. If you get strong signals from other networks on the same channel as your network, change the wireless network broadcasting channel in the setup interface of your wireless router to something that your neighbors aren't using.
Step 2: Configure Your Wireless Network Camera
These directions are specific to the D-Link camera that we're using. If you have a different camera, the setup process will vary, but it's likely to be quite similar.
Start out by plugging the camera into a power outlet close to your Wi-Fi router. Connect the camera via ethernet to your router (if your wireless router has a built-in ethernet switch in it) or to a connected ethernet switch. Alternatively, if your router supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), plug the camera into a power outlet, open the D-Link setup wizard on the included CD, from a PC connected to the same network as the camera, and press the WPS button when the wizard tells you to.
Once your camera is plugged in, navigate through the setup wizard provided on the CD. For the setup wizard to work, your PC will must be on the same network as the camera. Depending on the version of your software and on your network connection, everything might be running just fine by the time you reach the end of the wizard. On my first attempt, though, I couldn't get the camera to connect to the wireless network or register with D-Link's Web-monitoring portal, Mydlink.com. Instead, I had to update the camera's firmware and run the wizard a second time, using the following instructions.
First, run through the whole wizard and see whether the first attempt works. If it doesn't, click the Camera Settings button at the end of the wizard setup process to grab the camera's local network IP address. Open the camera's configuration page in a Web browser by typing in http:// in your browser bar and pasting the camera's local network IP address. From there, I logged in, using the administrator login and password that I had specified during my first trip through the setup wizard; clicked Maintenance, Firmware Upgrade; and updated the camera firmware to the most recent beta that D-Link had on its website (currently hosted here).
Once I updated the firmware, I stepped through the setup wizard again, and this time everything connected just fine: I could remotely view the camera via Mydlink.com without a problem.
Step 3: Set Up Your Wireless Camera's Motion Detection Features
Now you have a working wireless camera, and you should be able to view whatever it's filming from anyplace where you have an Internet connection, either with Mydlink.com or with the camera's Web UI. But unless you plan to be at your desk monitoring the camera feed 24/7, the "always on" functionality isn't particularly useful. That's why most wireless network cameras include support for motion-tracking features that respond to sudden changes in the scene--such as someone walking by the camera--and send the images to you via email or FTP.
You can usually access these email- and FTP-alert features through the camera's Web-based configuration interface (the same one that we used to update the firmware above), though some manufacturers may include desktop software for you to use instead.
For this D-Link camera, open the Web interface and click Setup. Then click Motion Detection from the side menu, click Enable, and specify which blocks in the image you would like to monitor for motion. This ability to define what motion will trigger the motion detection software to activate the camera can be particularly handy if you're worried about setting the camera off too often. For example, if your camera faces a window with a tree visible outside, you can exclude the regions where the tree might sway in the wind, so you won't get email notifications every time a stiff breeze blows through (while still including the area that a potential intruder might pass through when breaking in at that window). Once you're done, click Save Settings.
Next, let's set up the camera's auto-email feature. Click Mail on the left-hand side of the page to get to the configuration page. Here, you'll need to find the right settings for your email provider--at right, I've filled out the settings for using Gmail's SMTP server, which you can find at Gmail's "Configuring other mail clients" help page. Next, check Enable emailing images to email account, and check the Motion Detection radio button to set the camera to email you images every time the motion detection sensor is set off.
Now you have a wireless network camera set up with basic surveillance features that make it perfect for monitoring your home, children, pets, or snack fridge at work. Have your own tips? Leave them in the comments!