The Need for Security Cameras
We recently had a couple of brand new bikes stolen from our back patio. The fact that some random person just waltzed into our back yard without us even knowing it creeps me out to no end. I had wanted to get security cameras for a long time but this was the catalyst that finally pushed me to do it.
After a lot of research, I settled on buying a set of four Lorex LNB4421 Power over Ethernet (PoE) IP security cameras. They are 4MP, which is twice the resolution of 1080p HD and since they are PoE, they don’t need to be located anywhere near an outlet. Plus, they don’t require any cloud subscriptions like most consumer grade cameras. And as a bonus, they are rated for up to 140 degrees F so they can actually handle the AZ heat.
Not being wireless does create a bit of a chicken and egg problem during the initial setup. That is, I need to see what the camera sees when I’m figuring out where to place it. But since they aren’t wifi, I can’t stream what it sees directly to my phone. And since my wired network is entirely inside of the house, I can’t connect to that, either.
So I need to know where the camera is to know where to run the ethernet cord through the attic but to know where to place the camera in the first place, I already need that network. Chicken and egg.
My workaround is to create a temporary wifi bridge. I start with an ASUS RT-N66U which has the notable ability of being able to accept 3rd party firmware. I installed the Tomato firmware and with that installed, I then had the ability to turn the router into a wifi ethernet bridge.
Put another way, the ASUS router connects to my primary wifi access point inside of my home as if it was a typical wifi client. Then, anything that plugs into its ethernet port will tunnel through it over wifi into the main network, thus essentially turning all of those hard-wired clients into wireless clients.
To make this work, I just plug in my TP-LINK POE switch into the ASUS (thus turning it into a wifi client) and then plug my camera into that. Voila, it’s now on the main wifi network and accessible everything!
I need to know the IP of the camera so its off to the main router. I find the right one using the MAC address, which is on the camera itself. The hostname isn’t reliable unless you are only setting up one camera.
With that IP, I login to the camera’s web interface. The default username and password for the Lorex camera is admin:admin. Thankfully, it does require you to change it after the first login.
For the rest of this post, I’ll be using the “admin” user but in reality, I’m paranoid enough to always create a separate unique and unknown user to use for any testing and putting a super difficult password on the admin user.
Okay, next up is the Video settings page. Make sure the Sub Stream is enabled with an Encode mode of MJPEG, for maximum compatibility. We’ll be using Mobile VLC with this and it can’t handle the default MPEG4 stream for some reason, but does handle MJPEG flawlessly. The lower quality doesn’t matter at all for the setup stage, so compatibility is key.
The final required information comes from the Network Connection page. Make a note of what the RTSP Port is — it’s 554 by default. Then copy off the format of the RTSP URL. Note the “subtype=1” in my example, here — that will be critical for testing in a little bit.
Armed with my custom monitoring URL, I fire up VLC on my iPhone and swipe over to Network Streams. I type in the URL that I copied off in the previous step and bob’s your uncle! I can now see a live feed from my camera directly fed to my phone. Handy.
Locating the Camera
Now we’re back to why I wanted to jump through all those hoops in the first place. It’s so I can figure out where to permanently mount the camera. I do this by having a live feed of what the camera sees on my phone and then mount that phone in a mic stand. I then move it from place to place until I find a location that has the coverage that I want.
I permanently mount the camera using some appropriate screws. The kit comes with some screws and drywall anchors but I’m going directly into lumber here so no need for those.
The live stream comes in handy again for fine tuning the angles before tightening them down.
Uncoiling the Cable
The camera comes with a 100′ length of Cat 5e ethernet cable all tightly wrapped in a coil. This has an amazing tendency to want to tangle up on itself, so I thought it was worth the time to try and uncoil it properly.
To do this, I put one end under a heavy weight and then let the coil spin freely on a pipe. As I walk away, the cable uncoils itself in the opposite way that it was originally coiled and it comes out straight.
This is extremely effective with romex electrical wire and even semi-rigid ethernet cable but as I discovered, not quite as effective with flexible ethernet like this. This method lessens the tangling after the fact but doesn’t at all eliminate it. It will still have a tendency to tangle between now and when it’s pulled into the attic.
So yeah, do not do it exactly like this. Instead, keep it on the coil until it’s time to actually do the attic pull. Have a helper hold the pipe (or dowel or rod) with the coil and to let is unspool in a straight line while you are pulling the cable up into the attic. It’s the same concept but just done at a better time.
Attaching the Cable
There are two distinct ends to the supplied ethernet cable and one hand has a very handy combination strain relief and sealing mechanism. Just screw it on and the connection is very tight and resists the elements. Very slick.
I’m pretty paranoid, though, so I took the extra step of also wrapping the entire thing in electrical table, just make sure everything is contained and snug.
Drilling the Access Hole
I used a 5/8″ spade bit to drill a hole into my attic and then started feeding the plain end of the cable up into it.
The idea was for me to go into the attic and just start pulling the already uncoiled cable through. I hadn’t yet learned to keep the coil intact until the last possible moment so this particular pull (the first one) was unnecessarily difficult.
Up in the Attic
And here’s where I’m mentally psyching myself to go up into the attic. It’s mid-October at this point and so the temperature is quite a bit lower than earlier… but it’s all relative.
This is what my attic looked like that day using my thermal camera. Each of those pretty colors is a different temperature ranging from 140 degrees to 165 degrees. That’s 63 to 73 degrees for the metric inclined. Gak.
What’s it like up there? Just imagine being in a sauna the entire time but you’re not naked; you’re not sitting still on a bench; you’re breathing through a respirator; and are slogging through loose insulation.
In all seriousness, heat stroke is a very real danger up there so after almost passing out cabling the first camera, I took a lot of preventative steps for all the rest. That includes shorter trips; trying not to move as much; going later in the evening; and using portable fans.
Yeah, this first run was no fun at all. My house has a hip roof so every camera is installed near an eve, where the roof gets extremely narrow. That meant that I had to get flat on my stomach and inch as close to the eve as possible. My face is buried in insulation the entire time and so visibility is terrible. A respirator was a must even though that restricted airflow combined with the hot humid air made it difficult to breath. Yeah, no fun at all.
I did have a helper untangle the cable from the outside. This proved to be critical because no matter what, that cable would find some way of tangling itself up if I tried to do everything completely on my own.
In all of the rest of the runs, I attached the end of the cable to a 5′ length of rigid 12 gauge wire. I then pushed the wire up through the hole into the attic. This essentially pushed the end of the cable several feet into the attic rather than pooling near the eve, like pushing the flexible cable on its own did. That allowed me to get within kneeling distance of the eves for all the rest of the cameras. It’s incalculably better to be kneeling in the attic than lying flat on your stomach, all buried.
Back outside, I made sure to staple the exposed cable in multiple places to keep it secure. I think it was around 90 degrees at this moment but boy did that feel good.
I try to keep my equipment closet future proof so that means using conduit to bridge the gap between it and the attic. I use 2″ PVC as smaller diameters are too future limiting.
Pulling the Cable
Getting multiple ethernet cables through the conduit is trivial with a pull cord, so the first step is getting the pull cord installed. I have a full video on doing that here. In short; attach a bag or balloon to the end of a pull cord and just suck it through the conduit with a shop vac. Simple.
That first pull cord should be considered a “starter” cord. The idea is to attach any cable you want pulled through the conduit to the existing pull cord and to always include a new length of pull cord with the bundle.
In this case, I have four ethernet cables for the four cameras I’m starting out with. I’m using “official” pull cord material but honestly, most types of string would work just fine.
Everything is bundled together and then I make sure to wrap everything together using electrical tape. I try to narrow it down to a point, as much as possible, to make it easier to pull.
The more lines you have in a conduit, the more you’ll need some kind of lubricant. There is an insane amount of friction and heat caused from the friction with cable jackets rubbing against cable jackets over any notable distance. I’ve had cable runs in the past without lubricant that were physically impossible to pull as-is, but that worked trivially when done with lubricant.
I’m really liking the foam based lubricants now since they are far less messy than the gels but still do a fantastic job. I just spray some into the conduit opening and the idea is that the cable will lubricate itself as it goes through. It works very well.
All that done, I’m ready for the actual pull. I have a helper down below slowly pull on the starter pull cord while I’m up in the attic guiding the bundle through and making sure it doesn’t tangle. It’s very straightforward.
I stuffed a scrap piece of memory foam into the conduit to seal it off in an effective but temporary manner. I can always remove it later when I pull through additional cables.
That’s it for the attic! Finally!
I now have the taped up cable bundle down where I want it, so it’s a simple matter to strip off the electrical tape and then put aside my starter pull cord for any future new conduit runs.
I then plug in the four cables into my power over ethernet switch. It’s very satisfying to see each of the cameras come online one at a time, after all that.
And that’s it for the physical installation. They are now available over the network so all further works is going to be a software level. Stay tuned for a comparison between iSpy, Blue Iris, and Zone Minder.
Lorex LNB4421 PoE IP Security Cameras : https://granworks.com/amazon/lorex-lnb4421-cameras
TP-Link TL-SG1008P PoE Switch : https://granworks.com/amazon/tplink-poe-switch
Klein 500ft Pull Cord : https://granworks.com/amazon/klein-pull-line
Klein Foam Lubricant : https://granworks.com/homedepot/klein-foam-lubricant