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Can I Use My Laptop As a Security Camera?

You use your laptop for everything from online shopping to Zoom calls. But did you know that you can also use it as a DIY home security camera?

That’s right. If you have a spare laptop lying around your home that you rarely or never use, don’t recycle it. Breathe some new life into it by using it as your home security camera. 

All you need is a laptop (or other compatible mobile device) or desktop computer and one or more external cameras or webcams, or webcams that have been extracted from old laptops. 

You’ll save yourself a lot of money, considering the average homeowner pays about $900 for professional home security installation. You’ll also gain added peace of mind knowing you can keep an eye on your property. Best of all, you can have your home security system up and running in just a few minutes. 

Read on to learn about the basics of how to do it and an overview of some of the best low-cost and free laptop security camera software options. 

What to Know Before You Get Started

There are a few things you should know before you download home security software. First, while all of them can operate on PCs, not all of them were designed to work on MacBooks and other Apple devices. If you have a MacBook or Apple mobile device, check to make sure that the software is compatible.

You’ll also want to know how to adjust your laptop’s power and sleep settings so it doesn’t shut the camera’s view off. Most security software will walk you through it from their interface when you first set it up, but it doesn’t hurt to learn how to do it manually. 

Can I Use an Old Laptop As a Security Camera?

Your laptop doesn’t have to be the latest model in order to run home security software. However, you’ll want to check the software’s system requirements first to make sure you can download it to your device. The good news is most of these companies are mindful that users may be running them on an older computer. Even if your laptop is a decade old there should be options for you. Keep in mind that newer laptops will deliver better picture quality. 

Many people like using the software to check out wildlife that passes through their yard, or as a baby monitor to watch their children or pets.

Lastly, while just about every modern laptop has a built-in webcam, you’ll want to invest in a few external cameras so they can be placed anywhere and so you can use the laptop itself to monitor the footage. If you plan on using multiple cameras, we recommend using IP cameras instead of USB cams as many computers cannot handle the load of video streaming from multiple webcams. 

If you really want to save some money and get in touch with your inner MacGyver, learn below how to extract the webcam from the screen of a used laptop and connect it to your current one. As this video also points out, you can also purchase webcams cheap online. The great thing about this option is that the webcams are highly undetectable and not so easy to remove when adhered properly to a ceiling or wall corner. 

Home Security Software Options to Try

Here are some popular home security software options to consider, along with their top features. 

iSpy

iSpy was founded in 2007 and is very popular with small businesses, but most of its user base consists of homeowners who use the software to monitor their home, kids, babysitter, pets, and neighborhood in general. The company claims its product is compatible with more cameras and devices than any other home surveillance software. All you need is a webcam or IP camera connected to your device to get started. 

Standout features include facial recognition, the ability to detect, record, track and highlight movement and customize movement detection areas, screenshot capture, and time lapse. Best of all, the software is free to use and you can add as many cameras as you like. Additional perks such as email alerts and secured web access require a paid subscription plan or annual payment. 

Although there’s an “i” in its name, iSpy is currently only available for PCs. 

Sighthound Video

Sighthound is a free security software for both Mac and Windows that’s been programmed to see just like the human brain and is compatible with most IP cameras and webcams. Set-up only takes a few minutes. Amazingly, Sighthound Video can distinguish between moving people, animals, and vehicles. While the company admits it isn’t perfect 100% of the time, you can set your email or mobile alert preferences to be notified of any movement by one, two, or all three of these. 

Sighthound also has a mobile app for your iPhone or Android device so you can continue to monitor your camera footage when away from your laptop or computer. You can also place your cameras on a schedule such as having cameras on one floor turn off at a certain time, or delay recording until you’ve left your home. 

Upgrading to the Basic or Pro versions of Sighthound gives you access to live support, remote access, and more. 

Yawcam

Yawcam is a Java based webcam software for Windows that is free and simple to use. Features include motion detection, image snapshots, text and image overlays, and ftp upload. Yawcam works with all modern usb webcams and TV-cards. It will email you photos of any motion alerts and it also offers multi-language support. While it doesn’t have as many features as other webcam software, many users love that it’s completely free of charge to use. 

Shinobi

Shinobi is an open source, user friendly CCTV solution that runs on both Macs and PCs. This surveillance software will delete video footage where no motion is detected, saving you file space. You can watch a full day of video using the time lapse viewer, record audio, and send video files automatically to a backup remote address. 

Shinobi was designed to be used in a browser, something that its competitors haven’t mastered yet. The company offers two versions of the software: a free community edition for personal use in a home or small office, and a Pro version for larger companies. 

What Else can I Use Home Surveillance Software For?

Using your laptop as a home security camera isn’t just for keeping an eye on any intruders or unusual activity around your home. Many people like using the software to check out wildlife that passes through their yard, or as a baby monitor to watch their children or pets. And if you’ve longed to be one of the ghostbusters, you can even set a camera up to capture any paranormal movement! 

What we’re trying to say is that even if you don’t think you need to convert your laptop into a security camera, you may just find a use for it by simply downloading software and following a few set up steps. You no longer need to let that old computerized paperweight collect dust.

About Deborah Bradley

Deborah Bradley is a woman in tech with 3 daughters. Deborah started as a programmer at IBM in the late '90s. Since then, she has worked in various tech-related roles and founded multiple businesses. After over 25 years in the technology world, she still thrives on discovering new and exciting innovations.

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