Updated May 28, 2019
A few years ago, my wife and I decided that we needed a modern Internet-enabled CCTV security system. We didn’t know much about home security or cameras at that point. If we were not DIY-enthusiasts, we would have probably gone the Easy-DIY route and bought a pre-packaged IP camera and NVR kit.
Today, we have a DIY CCTV home security camera system that we chose and set up ourselves based on months of research. It is ultra-reliable and has high-end features such as interfacing fully with our HomeSeer HS3 home automation system, yet is very affordable.
We often get questions about our DIY CCTV setup, such as how we are able to view our home security cameras securely from anywhere in the world. So we thought we would share our journey with you, our readers.
We will list our security camera setup and how we are able to safely and securely connect to our home from just about anywhere. Also we will go into not just a list of the different devices that form the system but also how they all come together to help us achieve our specific security goals.
Our Home Security goals were:
- Be able to simultaneously view multiple cameras on a single screen. This could be from a tablet while indoors and from our mobile phones and laptops remotely.
- Be able to record motion-detection clips and have the option to at record at least 2 weeks worth of 24/7 video footage.
- Be able to inform my home automation system whenever motion was detected so that I could take action such as turning on lights
- Get motion detection alerts by email with snapshots within seconds of the intrusion.
- High enough resolution to get a clear picture at day or night.
- Online security is paramount so we need a fully local solution. No cloud-reliant stuff for us! We do not want to port forward cameras or activate P2P leaving the entire network vulnerable to hackers and botnets.
- Push notifications – a nice to have if it doesn’t compromise network security.
- The system should be flexible enough to grow and change according to our evolving needs.
- All of this should not break the bank!
The End Result
Here is a screenshot of how we live-view our IP cameras from our laptops and on the TV:
We can also access the cameras from our smartphones using either the tinyCAM Monitor Pro app or QNAP’s VMobile to access the NAS NVR’s clips archives.
Whenever motion is detected by any of the IP cameras, the QNAP NAS informs my HomeSeer HS3 home automation system. HomeSeer can then turn on lights, play a siren alarm, send me video clips, anything I can think of really. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to link QNAP Surveillance Centre and HomeSeer.
This step-by-step guide shows you how to connect QNAP Surveillance Station to Homeseer HS3. Eventually I plan to write how-to guides to replicate my entire smart home system setup.
Now let’s see what the security camera system part of our home network looks like.
Our DIY Home Security System Network Setup
A topology is a representation of how a system is connected together. Network topologies may be either physical or logical.
A physical network topology shows the actual physical layout and the connections between different elements. A logical network topology shows how they are functionally linked to each other. The topology above is a logical representation of our home surveillance network.
We have three Hikvision IP cameras, and a Reolink C1 Pro recording 24/7 to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) system from QNAP. NAS devices today are much more than just network storage, they are more like mini-servers.
Generally they run their own Linux-based operating system that is accessed through a web browser. Common uses for a NAS are centralised network storage, as a backup target, as a VPN client/server, and as a DLNA server for streaming your media across the house to multiple devices.
The Intel-based QNAP TS-253A NAS we use has multiple roles as well. The main role is to be our DIY NAS Network Video Recorder (NVR).
This is possible using the NAS’ built-in Surveillance Station software. So the QNAP records full resolution video streams from my 3 Hikvision cameras and a Reolink C1 Pro to its internal hard drives. You could get a dedicated NVR but as I said, we had other uses for the NAS.
As mentioned in our goals above, we didn’t want to forward ports from the cameras to the Internet. The alternative to forwarding ports from the camera to the router and exposing them to the Internet, is to create a VPN connection to your home network so that you can dial in securely. For this you need an Internet-facing device in your home network that can act as a VPN server.
Most modern routers can do this, but since we use an ISP provided DSL modem-router this is not an option. So the second role for our QNAP TS-253A NAS is as the VPN server for the entire home network.
The QNAP software has a built-in VPN server that supports all the major VPN protocols. I chose the OpenVPN protocol as it is widely accepted as the most secure protocol at the moment. All others have been compromised either by the government or by hackers.
Our ISP’s DSL modem-router is physically the center point of the network as all the devices are connected to it either directly or through switches.
The QNAP’s OpenVPN port is forwarded to this modem-router. No other port forwarding is present. The modem-router is configured with Dynamic DNS (DDNS) and so is always accessible from the internet using a friendly name, instead of the public IP address which ISPs change every so often.
We use a VPN client on our Android phones or laptops to connect to our home network via OpenVPN, the QNAP NAS acting as the OpenVPN server for the entire home network. This lets us access all our network resources as if we never left home, live-viewing and reviewing recorded footage is so easy.
Accessing the security camera system while at home
The QNAP NAS Surveillance Station can be accessed either via the web interface or the Windows QNAP QVR client software that you saw above in the screenshot. The tinyCAM Monitor Pro app on our smartphones are all configured using the local IP address of the QNAP NAS and Hikvision cameras. At home, we just open the app and it simply works. No fuss. No hassles.
Accessing the security camera system from outside the home
Outside our home network, I simply need to connect to the VPN server (running on the the QNAP NAS), and all the apps and the QVR client on the laptop simply continue to work. This is the detailed process: So I use the OpenVPN client on my laptop or phone to connect to the NAS. Once connected, my PC is virtually part of our home network.
So our Hikvision cameras are not directly exposed to the Internet. Our QNAP NAS is, but this is a far better option because the QNAP is built for this purpose and has attack defeat measures such as IP exclusion, automatic IP bans based on rules etc. which the cameras simply don’t have.
Also the VPN server allows me to access the date on the NAS without hassle – my laptop or smartphone will think that they are in the local network. So all network drives automatically re-connect and the experience is seamless in terms of recently used files etc.back to menu ↑
Full Equipment list
We set ourselves a challenge of putting together a modern Internet-enabled CCTV security system at a reasonable cost:
Hikvision DS-2CD2042WD-I (Backyard camera at 2MP resolution, 6Mbps bitrate and 10fps):
Hikvision DS-2CD2142FWD-IS (Dome for front yard at 3MP resolution, 6Mbps bitrate and 10fps):
Hikvision DS-2CD2542FWD-IWS (Mini-dome for front door at 4MP resolution, 6Mbps bitrate and 10fps):
Amcrest 1080p ProHD Indoor Pan-Tilt IP camera used as a baby monitor
Reolink C1 Pro Indoor Pan-Tilt IP camera used as a baby monitor
Please note that some QNAP NAS models come with only a license for 2 channels in the Surveillance Station app instead of the 4 channels included with the QNAP TS-253A. If you want to record more the included free channels, you will have to purchase additional licenses.
Network Attached Storage (NAS)
QNAP NAS TS-253A with a 3TB WD Red hard drive (WD30EFRX):
You could go the EasyDIY route of using a standard IP camera and NVR kit or the ProDIY route of using a NAS for recording video streams from your cameras. We were attracted to the NAS option because a NAS can do a lot more than just be a dumb external hard drive.
NAS offerings from the major vendors such as Synology and QNAP have extremely powerful software running on them that makes them more like computers. So we use the NAS as the NVR, a VPN server, backing up our laptops, phones, and as a DLNA server.
The QNAP TS-253A we chose is an affordable yet powerful NAS that is the hub of our surveillance system and an integral part of our home automation system. From my round-up of the best DIY NAS NVR options, you can see the choice was between the TS-253A and the Synology 416play.
We settled on the QNAP because it had slightly more powerful hardware, more features such as HDMI out ports, and 2 extra camera licenses over the Synology 416play. Both Synology and QNAP are great brands and both claim to be able to send push notifications to their respective mobile apps, but I haven’t tested this on our QNAP NAS.
Update: QNAP has released a brand new free NAS app called QNAP QVR Pro which grants you 8 IP camera channels regardless of how many channels your NAS originally came with. Here’s a rundown of QVR Pro and how it compares to QNAP’s standard Surveillance Stations software.
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) Switch
The TP-Link TL-SG1008P Gigabit PoE switch that powers the cameras is required, it also connects them to our gigabit modem-router provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Read our review of this capable little switch.
Netgear 8-port Switch
You can never have enough Ethernet ports! The Netgear GS-308 8-port gigabit switch is an unmanaged switch. This means there are no settings to configure, it is truly plug and play. It has a sturdy metal chassis, auto-sensing 10/100/1000 Mbps port support and excellent real-world performance.
It also has LED activity, link speed and status LEDs per port. I have been using it for over 6 months now and it has been super reliable. Highly recommended plug and play switch for setting up your home surveillance network!
External IR Illuminators
Two basic IR illuminators for the backyard and 12V power adaptors that have lasted nearly a year now and are still going strong. These are of the 60 degree coverage variety, and you can also get wide-angle illuminators.
For Ethernet cables that run outside the home, I recommend using cables that are designed specially for this purpose – outdoor heavy-duty burial-grade CAT-5e or CAT-6 Ethernet cables.
This will ensure that you do not face issues with the cables such as breakage, little animals chewing the cables etc. Ensure that the cables are 100% pure copper and not the cheaper and inferior Copper Clad Aluminium(CCA) variety.
A CyberPower BRICs BR650ELCD (Line-interactive UPS – 390W/650 VA) to protect and power the entire system (13% load for all the above kit + a couple of other devices). I got a cheap yet reliable UPS which is officially compatible with the QNAP NAS.
If the power fails or supply voltage is outside the tolerance, it informs the NAS which is programmed to shut down gracefully. I also have a schedule to turn it on automatically every morning, which ensures the NAS will turn itself on the next morning if the power fails and it shuts down.
I believe the UPS has paid for itself. On several occasions, the NAS has informed me that it had shut down as instructed by the UPS.
32GB SD card for the Hikvision 2132F-IS IP camera above. 64 GB SD cards should also work but some cameras are a bit picky about which 64GB cards they will accept.
Make sure you use at least a Class 10 speed card so that you don’t suffer from dropped frames in the recordings. I use the SD card to record motion detection alert clips. This is then yet another location where the clips are backed up.
The QNAP NAS comes with a free standalone NVR application, the QVR client. It supports all the features a good NVR has and it works very well.
We use tinyCam Monitor PRO app on Samsung Galaxy E5, Samsung Galaxy A5, HTC One M7 and a Nexus 7 tablet. The tablet is our dedicated IP camera monitoring screen.back to menu ↑
Storage capacity needed for QNAP Surveillance Station:
Initially I recorded all my 3 external IP cameras 24/7 at 6Mbps bitrate and 10fps. This meant that the 1.5TB I had set aside was good for 8-10 days of CCTV footage for all 3 cameras put together.
But I have since realised I don’t really need 24/7 recording and that replacing hard drives every year is no fun. Modern surveillance hard drives are rated for no more than 1 year of continuous operation. So now I just use alarm recording which places markers on the timeline so that I can jump directly to motion events.
The amount of storage you need depends on the quality and frame per second settings. After 3 years of experimenting with various quality settings, I have settled at 2Mbps and 6fps as we couldn’t see any improvement with higher settings.
I have also set the Surveillance Station app on the QNAP to use only 1.5 TB (out of the 3TB available). So it automatically overwrites older recordings to maintain the 1.5TB quota. You can also specify number of days instead.back to menu ↑
We hope this article gives you an insight into how you can set up your own DIY home security camera system. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch through the comments field below.