Simple Setup
Network cameras come in both hardwired and wireless versions. Hardwired systems require you to snake cable through the wall, and once installed can't easily be relocated. Wireless cameras, on the other hand, are quick to set up and can be moved from place to place.

"If someone already has a wireless network, nothing more is required," says Trevor Bratton of Linksys, which manufactures a line of network cameras. If you're going wireless for the first time, you need to be aware of the potential for interference from cordless phones, appliances, even walls between the camera and the wireless router. Those can degrade signal strength and diminish video quality.

Once you've decided where to put the camera, make sure there is a power source there (or have an electrician install one). After mounting the camera—most come with the necessary hardware and mounts—follow the setup wizard on the CD–ROM that comes with it. The software will walk you through setting up your computer network and creating a unique user name and password, two essentials for ensuring that nobody hacks into your surveillance stream.

Watching the Playback
Network cameras record directly to your computer's hard drive. "They record just like TiVo," says Gregg Steiner, whose business of installing high–end home–video monitoring systems in Los Angeles has tripled in the last three years. To conserve space on your hard drive, you can set the camera to record only when it detects motion, leaving you with just a few minutes of video to sort through.

When viewing footage, the image can be as small as a 2–inch square or take up most of your computer screen. The smaller the video, the better the clarity, plus you'll be able to view several video feeds at once if you have multiple cameras.

It's worth noting that computers crash, which could prevent you from patching into your video feed until someone fixes it in person. By the same token, the entire system will go down if the power goes down. "If someone wants to break in bad enough, they'll cut the power, camera or no camera," says Steiner. But for peace of mind when you're far from home, an extra set of eyes is hard to beat.

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