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Creating a free to use CCTV system easily with an app and no PC

August 11th, 2016 by Paul Sandford

App-based CCTV ideal for small businesses and home usersIf you’re a small business or home user seeking a simple CCTV solution, you’d probably like to be able to mount your new IP camera in a suitable location, connect it to your network and then use a free app on your mobile phone or tablet to access live video and recordings whilst on the go. That’s it – safeguard your business or home with no complicated set-up and configuration. Some might call this approach “Plug and play”.

Until recently, it’s not been that easy and as a minimum, a PC was still required during the installation of the IP camera. Now it’s possible to do using just a mobile app and although we probably wouldn’t use the phrase “Plug and play”, the solution is certainly very straight forward.

Both Axis and Hikvision support this app-based approach and we’ll outline how to get up and running, weigh up each brand’s offering and consider the limitations.

How to get up and running

The method is basically the same using either an Axis network camera and the Axis Companion application or a Hikvision network camera and their Hik-Connect application.

  1. Install your camera and connect it to your network (using either a network cable or wirelessly if the camera can connect using Wi-Fi)
  2. Insert an SD card into each camera for simple on-board storage
  3. Install the relevant app on your mobile device – it’s free!
  4. Run the app and register your camera(s) with the app’s cloud based service
  5. Use your app to view live video and play back recordings

It’s the cloud based service that’s doing all the hard work here, removing the need for network or router configuration. If you want to visualise the set-up, picture it like this:
Illustration of IP cameras being accessed using mobile apps via a cloud based service

This solution allows you to record footage from your IP cameras directly to each camera’s on-board SD card, without the need for central recording hardware. This is a very simple and cost-effective set-up for a home user or small business.

Both apps include the basic features that you need for security monitoring. Camera based video motion detection alarms can be configured to trigger recordings and issue mobile device notifications. Recordings can be easily reviewed via a timeline and the user can also take a handy snapshot with the click of a button in live or playback viewing modes – ideal for quickly gathering evidence.

Axis Companion and Hik-Connect are free to download and available as iOS and Android apps, but which to choose?

Companion or Hik-Connect?

Examples of the timeline view to play back recordings in each app are shown below. In basic terms, both apps do essentially the same job and at first glance appear similar, but there are real differences between the brands.

Example of viewing recordings in Axis Companion application

Axis Companion application

Example of viewing recordings in Hikvision Hik-Connect

Hikvision Hik-Connect

Axis is a world leader in IP camera innovation – they just celebrated the 20th anniversary of introducing the world’s first network camera after all. This experience means their products are more mature; the cameras are proven reliable and the application has been developed with years of end user experience in mind.

Hikvision has increased in popularity in the UK over the last 18 months and although support is improving as the operation here is becoming more established, the offering is not as polished as Axis. The Hikvision products are relatively young in the UK and their reliability in the longer term is yet to be determined.

Ultimately, both solutions are suitable for a straight forward CCTV system that’s quick to get up and running and simple to use. If you’re looking for the peace of mind that comes with reliability and support, then we’d recommend Axis. If your budget is tight and you’re willing to give the new kid on the block a chance, then Hikvision’s lower price point will probably appeal, but remember the adage “You get what you pay for”.

Limitations and technical considerations

The app-based approach is great if you’re not technical or are simply interested only in capturing a view, recording it for a short period and watching it live when you need to.

It’s worth pointing out that the ease of setup in this approach is made possible through your camera making a persistent connection out to either the Axis service or the Hikvision service. It means your camera data is being transmitted across the internet (securely) whenever you want to view it but this may not be suitable for some organisations or individuals who need to understand exactly where their data goes.

There are limitations in functionality with the app-based approach and if you need to see detail in your cameras’ images, view at high resolution, record for more than a few days or watch more than one camera at the same time then you’ll really need a solution using a dedicated computer with a screen. For this, Axis and Hikvision offer free PC software with more features as an alternative to the mobile app – the Axis version is known as “Axis Companion video management software” and Hikvision’s PC software is known as “iVMS-4200”.

The PC versions are suitable for users that would like to configure settings in more detail and will also allow the use of a Network Attached Storage (NAS) for long-term footage retention. Note, we’ve used the Axis Companion PC software and it works well, but we have not tested the Hikvision software.

That aside, app-based setup and viewing is the fastest way to get up and running and perhaps the easiest way to make sure your CCTV cameras are always ready for viewing.

If you’d like further assistance choosing a suitable Axis or Hikvision camera to use with this app-based approach, just contact us.

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