Saturday, July 20, 2019

July 2019: More Monitoring – with CCTV

A Typical Robust Wired Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) Architecture
Having made good progress on a remote monitoring project for Ghost Rider (LINKwe had also decided to take the next logical step and pursue another significant and closely related boat project: visual monitoring via cameras in a closed circuit configuration.  (Admittedly, the words 'logical' and 'boat' don't often collide in the same sentence...indulge us on this one.)  And once again we wanted to go as wireless as possible so as to avoid tearing up the boat trying to run cables all over the place.

The most common visual monitoring objective on a vessel like Ghost Rider is to have remote but real time camera views into the engine room while underway; it’s comforting (and something of a safety factor) to be able to see what’s going on down in the engineering spaces without having to leave the pilot house helm station.  Secondarily, having some visual view of the boat on a smartphone while physically separated from the boat is a nice security complement to the remote sensor readings we had installed for battery, shore power and bilge level status.  While it would also be beneficial to have the equivalent of a “back up camera” when executing a stern-in docking maneuver, this system would not satisfy that function.  Those typically require a reverse (mirror) and wide angle orientation that require a separate and more specialized camera device.
What We Aimed to Accomplish with a Simplified Wireless CCTV System
Such CCTV systems are preferably included during the build phase of the boat – cameras can be positioned and powered as needed, and that’s the time to be routing the hard-wired cabling formerly associated with high resolution video transmissions.  But lately retrofitting such a system had been getting a good deal more practical with all the advances in wireless (Wi-Fi) security systems.  Nevertheless, achieving reliable wireless video transport with multiple sound-proofed bulkheads to penetrate and various deck levels to traverse was not necessarily a given….that would take some research and testing, and perhaps some luck.

To be clear, this was not intended to be just the popular home security doorbell camera architecture – those are typically cloud-based with a handy but very small smart phone display (think “Ring”, “Blink”, etc.) and a reliance on some external connectivity (Internet, cellular, etc.)  In subtle contrast a CCTV (closed circuit television) system relies mainly on an internal network where remote access is a nice-to-have or secondary benefit.  Our basic requirements consisted of: (1) weather resistant IP cameras connecting to the boat’s existing wireless (2.4/5.8 GHz) LAN; (2) wired (AC powered) cameras to avoid battery powered device issues; (3) cameras with decent resolution (1080P) and low-light capability; (4) at least one dedicated and integrated onboard video display; (5) NVR/DVR recording and playback; (5) optional Cloud/Internet access to captured video; and (6) a price point under $400 USD for four cameras.  Note that we did not care much about PTZ (pan, tilt & zoom) as we viewed that as an unnecessary complexity and cost based on our planned placement and usage.
The Contents of the Cromorc Wireless Camera System Package

Based on the foregoing, and after considerable time snooping options and online reviews, our initial system choice was a Cromorc™  package (LINK). It included four wireless IP bullet cameras (with AC power plugs), a 10 inch dedicated display monitor attached to a compact NVR, the latter sporting an Ethernet port for LAN connectivity plus an HDMI output for an additional display monitor.

For the trial portion of the project we started with three cameras – two in the engine room and one in the pilot house.  (This particular system supports up to eight cameras.)  Initial setup and configuration were amazingly easy….Rick just plugged in the cameras, then plugged in the NVR to its power outlet as well as to the boat’s wireless router via a Cat-5 Ethernet patch cable.  And as soon as the system was booted up it ran through an automated configuration utility requiring a few mouse clicks, and we could see all three camera displays on the included display monitor.  After testing the camera unit signals in the engine room with doors sealed and the engine running we were pretty sure we had a good solution.  Rick then added an HDMI cable connection between the NVR and the ship’s existing PC monitor for an optional (and larger) second display.
The Four Camera Display (Only Three Active)....on the Left Side of the Pic is the Ship's 17" PC Monitor,
on the Right Side is the 10" Monitor that Came with the Cromorc NVR Device.
After all that the only relatively challenging tasks started – finding good places to permanently mount the cameras and providing for their AC power cord runs.  We ended up with two cameras in the engine room along its centerline, one forward and one aft, plus another in a back corner of the pilot house.  We also tested remote camera access via the included smartphone app  and a web browser – which also worked as advertised, giving us an additional remote security tool to complement the remote sensor devices now also in place.  Rick still has to tidy up the AC power cord run for the pilot house camera, but doesn't anticipate that to take long.

For the $300 USD outlay (via Amazon, LINK HERE) we were quite pleased with the Cromorc wireless camera system.  Connectivity setup among the cameras and the NVR/monitor unit was dead nuts simple.  (In that regard the review at this YouTube LINK is quite accurate.) Displays were crisp (technically only 960P vs. 1080P but still quite good), including surprisingly good low-light shots in a blacked-out engine room.  And our limited testing to this point has demonstrated very good transmission signal strength using the 2.4 GHz wireless spectrum, even from deep within a sealed up engine room.
A Single Camera Display....This Low-Light Shot of a Darkened Engine Room Impressed Us With Its Clarity
Same Single Camera Display for the Forward Engine Room Camera but with Full Lighting
Other Competitors Considered
Other camera system brands were considered but they are far too numerous to list; just Google “wireless CCTV camera systems” and you’ll get the idea.  Rick had been performing online research off and on for about a year, and the number of options were - and still are - dizzying. Given the volume of competition, it’s a reasonably safe bet that some of those others might have worked nearly as well.  But given our initial success with the Cromorc system we didn't feel compelled to find out.
The Red Arrow Points to the Aft Mounted Engine Room
Camera, the Black Arrow to the One in the Front.
What's Next
Mounting the fourth camera - if and when we determine a good location for it - will be an entirely separate project. Having a spare camera on hand isn't a bad idea, either (although you can buy more if needed at around $50 USD per camera.) But longevity and durability will take more time to ascertain. 

Thus far we've only performed limited testing of the system's recording and playback capability with its included terabyte hard drive, but that looks promising so far.  It records everything by default, but that is easy enough to modify or just disable depending on your preferences.  The system also supports motion detection recording and alerts, and we proved that works, too, although we need to get educated on the best way to configure that.  While you have very granular control on when the camera records based on motion, the alerting function (via email over a Wi-Fi Internet connection) is either always-off or always-on....making it very easy to spam yourself.

Some Screen Shots
Here are some application screen shots for accessing the boat's cameras remotely, both from the  web portal as well as the included smart phone app.
This is the Browser-Based Portal for the Camera System Although It Seems to Run Only in IE & is a Bit Buggy.  Better
to Use the Included Smart Phone App (See Below.)  The Top Two Views Are in a Completely Dark Engine Room.
An Android Smart Phone App Screen Shot.  Best Used When You Have
WiFi Access, But Does Work Via Cellular Data if You Don't Mind
the Rather Significant Data Plan Usage.
Another Android Smart Phone App Screen Shot
And Another Full Screen Shot from the Pilot House Camera via the Phone App
A Screen Capture of What the "Motion Detection Alert" Email Looks Like When We Set That Up for the Pilot House.
It Appeared to Be a Little Too Sensitive on Default Settings. That Feature Will Require Further Tweaks & Testing.

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