Camera 1, Camera 2…

First: I hate using acronyms without definitions:

  • NAS – Network Attached Storage. Think “network hard drive”
  • SAN – Storage Area Network – Think “a network of hard drives”. Backblaze explains the differences nicely.
  • iSCSI Target – iSCSI is a way to mount a volume on a NAS or SAN to a server in a way that the server thinks the volume is local.

When I purchased my Synology DS1517+ in February 2018, I was immediately impressed with the capabilities of the NAS. While the original purpose was to have redundant storage for photos and an iSCSI target for my home lab server, the Synology has quickly expanded its role in my home network.

One day, as I was browsing the different DiskStation apps, Surveillance Station caught my eye. Prior to this, I had never really thought about getting a video surveillance system. Why?

  • I never liked the idea of one of the closed network systems, and the expense of that dedicated system made it tough to swallow.
  • I really did not like the idea of my video being “in the cloud.” Perhaps that is more paranoia talking, but when I am recording everything that happens around my house, I want a smaller threat surface area.

So what changed my mind? After shelling out the coin for my Synology and the associated drives, I felt the need to get my money’s worth out of the system. Plus, the addition of a pool in the back yard makes me want to have some surveillance on it for liability purposes.

Years in the making

Let’s just say I had no urgency with this project. After purchasing the NAS, a bevy of personal and professional events came up, including, but not limited to, a divorce, a global pandemic, wedding planning (within a global pandemic), and home remodeling.

When those events started to subside in late 2021, I started shopping different Synology-compatible cameras. As you can see, the list is extensive and not the easiest shopping list. So I defaulted to my personal technical guru (thanks Justin Lauck), who basically runs his own small business at home in addition to his day job, for his recommendations. He turned me on to these Reolink Outdoor Cameras. I pulled the trigger on those bullet cameras (see what I did there) in December of 2021.

I had no desire to climb a ladder outside in the winter in Pittsburgh, so I spent some time in the winter preparing the wire runs inside. I already had an ethernet run to the second floor for one of my wireless access points, but decided it would be easiest to replace that run with two new lines of fresh Cat6. One went to the AP, the other to a small POE switch I put in the attic.

The spring and summer brought some more major life events (just a high school graduation and a kid starting college… nothing major). The one day I tried to start, I realized that my ladder was not tall enough to get where I wanted to go. That, coupled with me absolutely not wanting to be 30′ up in the air, led me to delay a bit.

Face your fears!

Faced with potentially one of the last good weather weeks of the year, yesterday was as good a time as any to get a ladder and get to work. I rented a 32′ extension ladder from my local Sunbelt rentals and got to work. For whatever reason, I started with the highest point. The process was simple, albeit with a lot of “up and down” the ladder.

  1. Drill a small hole in the soffit, and feed my fish stick into the attic.
  2. Get up into the attic and find the fish stick.
  3. Tape the ethernet cable to the end of the stick.
  4. Get back up on the ladder and fish the cable outside.
  5. Install the camera
  6. Check the Reolink app on my phone (30′ up) to ensure the camera angle is as I want it to be.

Multiple that process times 4 cameras (one on each corner of the house), and I’m done! Well, done with the hardware install.

Setting up Surveillance Station

After the cameras were installed and running, I started adding the cameras to Surveillance Station. The NAS comes with a license for two cameras, meaning I could only add two of my four cameras initially. I thought I could just purchase a digital code for a 4 pack, but realized that all the purchases send a physical card, meaning I have to wait for someone to ship me a card. Since I had some loyalty points at work, I ordered some Amazon gift cards which I’ll use towards my 4 camara license pack. So, for now, I only have two cameras in Surveillance Station.

There are so many options for setup and configuration that for me to try to cover them all here would not do it justice. What I will say is that initial configuration was a breeze, and if you take the time to get one camera configured to your liking, you can easily copy settings from that camera to other cameras.

As for settings, here’s just a sampling of what you can do:

  • Video Stream format: If your camera is compatible with Surveillance Station, you can assign streams from your camera to profiles in Surveillance Station. My Reolink’s support a low-quality stream (640×480) and a high-quality stream (2560×1440), and I can map those to different Surveillance Station profiles to change the quality of recording. For example, you can setup the Surveillance Station to record at low quality when no motion is detected, and high quality when motion is detected.
  • Recording Schedule: You can customize the recording schedule based on time of day.
  • On Screen Display Settings – You can control overlays (like date/time and camera name) to use the camera settings or via Surveillance Station. The latter is nice in that it allows you to easily copy settings across cameras.
  • Event Detection – Like On Screen Display, you can use the camera’s built-in event detection algorithm, or use Surveillance Station’s algorithm. This one I may test more: I have to assume that Surveillance Station would use more CPU on the Synology when this is set to use the Surveillance Station algorithm, as opposed to letting the camera hardware detect motion. For now, I am using the camera’s built-in algorithms.

As I said, there are lots of additional features, including notifications, time lapse recording, and privacy screening. All in all, Surveillance Status turns your Synology into a fully functioning network video recorder.

Going mobile

It’s worth noting that the DS Cam app allows you to access your surveillance station video outside of your home, as well as register for push notifications to be sent to you phone for various events. The app itself is pretty easy to use, and since it uses the built-in Diskstation authentication, there is no need to duplicate user values across the systems.

Future Expansion

Once I get the necessary license for the other two cameras, I plan on letting the current setup ride to see what I get. However, I do have a plan for two more cameras:

  1. Inside my garage facing the garage door. This would allow me to catch anyone coming in via the garage, which, right now, I only get as a side view.
  2. On my shed facing the back of my home. This would give me a full view of the back of the house. This one, though, comes with a power issue that may end up getting solved with a small off-grid solar solution.

Additionally, I am going to research how this can tie in with my home automation platform. It might be nice to have lights kick on when motion is detected outside.

For now, though, I will be happy knowing that I am more closely monitoring what goes on outside my home.