Most of the time, when we think about work-life balance, we have a working mother and a young child in mind. For nothing else can be as critical as the well-being of the child at home. So finally, one resorts to unlimited calls for status checks. But subconsciously, the worry stays.

On guard: Monitor your home from office

All you need is a spare computer at home (dabba, as I fondly call my decade-old desktop) and a regular webcam, and you can easily take care of things by setting up a basic home surveillance system, which can work as your personal closed-circuit television (CCTV) system. Once it is set up, you can then monitor live video from your home on your work computer over the Internet.

Obviously, you can invest money in a robust set-up with a quality CCTV system and network Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, or get yourself a dog, or hire a watchman. You get the drift. A cheap, no-frills solution to keep a check on a child or an ailing family member at home, or the need to monitor the main door for security.

Getting started

Connect your webcam to the computer and pick up one of the two alternative ways to set things up—use a Web service, or a software application, to capture and broadcast. And we’re done.

Although the purpose of websites such as is live-streaming events and personal broadcasts, nothing stops you from setting up your personal streaming. Set up the webcam at home through these sites and use the private broadcast link to watch the live streaming over the Internet.

Alternatively, you can use free applications such as WebcamXP or Windows Media Encoder 9 to stream the video to the Web. This method is more dependable and appropriate, but requires you to configure your broadcast and network settings. Also, this method allows you to use multiple cameras for a broader coverage area or to monitor more than one room.

You can also use this method (or the regular webcam software bundled with the cameras) to capture and record video. This is particularly useful if you do not want to actively monitor activities, but need the recording for security or housekeeping purposes, as in stores and office spaces. You can choose to record locally or upload it to your Web server via FTP.

Both Windows Media Encoder 9 and WebcamXP are available free for all versions of Windows. WebcamXP is free for home users with single video-source limitation. You can choose to buy the premium version at $59.95 (approx. 2,700) for additional features. Interestingly, third-party developers have also developed Windows Mobile and iPhone client apps for WebcamXP, which allow you to monitor the video stream on your smartphone as well.

What all the pros know

•Make sure the webcam you pick has a long cable so you can place it at an appropriate height to cover the room or lobby area that you want to monitor.

•Get unlimited broadband Internet. This one’s a must since video-streaming is a bandwidth-intensive activity, and a pay-as-you-go data plan would bump up your monthly bill.

•If it’s a desktop, make sure it has uninterrupted power supply to keep it on while you are away.

•If you don’t have a spare webcam, sweat not. Bring out the handycam that has been accumulating dust in your closet since your last Bangkok trip. It works too!

•Lock the computer when you leave. Kind of obvious, isn’t it?

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