If you have security cameras, you should be using Blue Iris. Plain and simple. Blue Iris is an incredible piece of software that allows you to view, record, and manage your home security cameras- right from your PC. In fact, the PC becomes the DVR- you record right to the hard drive. The software is compatible with hundreds of models of cameras from a wide array of manufacturers. You can view a list of tested cameras on their website here . It even works with the Nest Dropcam . I use several Dahua turret cameras, a few Samsung Smartcam HD Pro cameras, and an old Logitech Alert. And it just works…flawlessly.
My first attempt in the realm of home security cameras was a 4 camera Swann kit that I picked up at Best Buy. These were 600 TVL analog cameras and the kit came with a 500 GB DVR. At the time, it sounded like a good deal for the price. It didn’t take me long to regret my decision. The cameras were awful (one camera stopped working immediately, and 2 other cameras had the night vision go out), the DVR would lock up requiring constant resets, and remote viewing through the Swann app was a major hassle.
Blue Iris turns your PC into the ultimate home security camera DVR solution! View, record, and manage your cameras, even while away from home. Blue Iris supports a wide range of cameras from different manufacturers, so you're not tied to a single platform. It also has a companion app for mobile devices that works just as well as the desktop software. By using software-based motion detection, Blue Iris eliminates the need for expensive cameras. There's a ton of features that you won't find in typical consumer-grade DVRs. Documentation is excellent, as is developer support. Blue Iris is available in 2 versions: a lite version (single camera license) for $30, and the full version for $60. Both come with one year of email support. Visit the Blue Iris website .
Why Blue Iris?
Since Blue Iris is PC software (it’s not available for Mac OS X), it has a number of advantages over a dedicated DVR. It’s impossible to list every benefit of Blue Iris , but these are the most important reasons that I use it:
- Manufacturer independent. Blue Iris will work with cameras from more than one manufacturer. This gives you the freedom to build the system that works best for you, in terms of price and features. You are not tied to a single platform that may become unsupported at some time in the future (Logitech Alert, here’s looking at you).
- Reliability. An important factor in any home security camera system, from the cameras to the DVR, is reliability. There’s no sense in having a state-of-the-art security system only to find out that you don’t have video footage of an event when you need it. Blue Iris is top-notch software that will put your mind at ease, but you will need reliable hardware to run it on.
- Notifications. Whether you want to receive push notifications through the mobile app, send a text message, or send an email to yourself, Blue Iris will make sure you are alerted to any event that you’ve configured.
- Features. Blue Iris is a feature-rich piece of software. There are so many options, setting up a camera just the way you want it may be a little intimidating at first. You can create camera schedules, set up an automatic patrol for a PTZ camera at a specific time during the day, profiles to create different operating conditions for your cameras, motion and audio event triggering, the ability to export clips in .MP4 format, etc. These features are just the tip of the iceberg. See the below slideshows for screenshots to see exactly what Blue Iris is capable of. Given all the features, the documentation is outstanding, and developer support is even better.
- It’s an upgradable DVR. Blue Iris is the last DVR that you will ever need, simply because you can upgrade your PC at will. Running low on space? Replace the hard drive. Want a newer operating system? Go ahead and upgrade it. There’s no need to worry about outdated hardware, especially for custom-built PCs.
- Remote viewing. Blue Iris has a remote access wizard that will guide you step-by-step to set up a remote connection. If your router is capable of UPnP, Blue Iris can automatically get you set up. Once it’s done, you’ll have access to your cameras while away from home!
Blue Iris works with most stationary or pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras. Always do your research before you buy a camera to make sure it’s supported. The motion detection is software-based, so you don’t have to worry about needing a camera with expensive hardware. The Blue Iris motion detection works quite well. For cameras without optical zoom, Blue Iris supports software-based digital zoom.
With all of the advantages of using Blue Iris, there are a couple of disadvantages that you should take into consideration:
- Hardware specs. Blue Iris will consume your PC’s resources if you have a lot of high-definition cameras. You’ll need a powerful processor, a lot of RAM, a discrete graphics card, and preferably dedicated hard drives. I monitor and record 9 HD cameras, as well as convert and export all clips to another storage device. I have an Ivy Bridge Core i7 Extreme processor, an AMD R7000 series video card, 16 GB of RAM, and use several 750 GB hard drives set up in Windows 10 (64-bit version) as a Storage Space. Blue Iris is currently consuming 70% of the CPU, 3.2 GB of RAM, network usage is 27 MB/s, and hard drive write speed is 3.5 MB/s. You’ll need to be packing some serious horsepower.
- It’s PC-based. One of the advantages of Blue Iris is also a disadvantage. Since it’s a PC-based program, it’s only as good as the hardware and OS it’s running on. If your system is not healthy, your security camera DVR could become inoperable.
- Mobile app isn’t free. I paid $10 for the Android version of the mobile app. It works well, and you have basic controls for operation of the cameras, including PTZ controls. It’s expensive as far as apps go, and I kind of feel like I already paid for Blue Iris once, so why do I have to pay for it again? Of course the answer lies in the fact that the mobile app is maintained by a different developer than the PC software, and the app developer doesn’t work for free. If you don’t want to pay for the mobile app you can still use the web browser on your phone for remote viewing, but it’s not as convenient as opening up an app.
Blue Iris comes in two different versions, a lite version (single camera only) for $30, and the full version for $60, which is capable of handling up to 64 cameras. As home security cameras become more common and the IoT industry continues to grow, it would be nice to have a price point somewhere in-between (say, a license for 10 cameras for $40).
Go to the Blue Iris website and download the installation file . The installer is a simple Windows installer, but if you need help you can view the slideshow here.
Click the button at the bottom of the page.
Click “Next”. Installation will take a few moments.
Ensure “Yes, I want to restart my computer now” is selected (it’s the default option so it should be). Click the “Finish” button. Your computer will reboot.
Now that you have your software installed, it’s time to start adding your cameras. Ensure that you have already installed your cameras and they are working correctly in a web browser. If you have any PTZ cameras , go ahead and set the presets now through the web interface before adding them to Blue Iris.
This can be a little frustrating at first if you don’t know what you’re doing, but hopefully the slides below will help you.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Give your camera a descriptive name. Then choose the correct type (IP camera in this example). Under Options you can enable audio now if your camera has that feature.
Next, type in the IP address of your camera and enter your camera’s login credentials. Choose your make and model, if available. The Video fields will automatically fill in (path, params, camera). If your camera isn’t listed, you can still add it if it supports RTSP. Select “Generic” under the “Make” dropdown menu (you will need to research the Path/Params yourself and manually add them).
Once you have a picture of your camera feed in Blue Iris, there are a few more options available that you may be interested in learning about. For some features, you will need to enable options in both the “Camera properties” as well as the global Blue Iris “Options”.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
You’ll start on the “General” tab. Blue Iris supports camera control through Amazon Echo! Notice you can disable your camera, or hide it on the Blue Iris main screeen. If you want to add your camera to a group, click “Select…”.
You’ll see the list of groups you’ve already added (if any). Give your group a name then click the “Add” button. Click “OK”. Groups are useful to view multiple, related cameras at once on the main screen, or for simultaneous recording (if a single camera is triggered, the entire group can record).
Back on the “General” tab, you can export and import camera settings. Useful for setting up multiple cameras.
Click the “Video” tab. Under Image format, if your camera supports multiple resolutions they will be available in the dropdown menu. If you want to force a lower resolution, check the “Anamorphic (force size)” box, then type in your preferred resolution.
If you want to set up a privacy mask, an easy way to do it is check the “Area of Interest (AOI)” box, then click the “Edit..” button.
Use the mouse to draw a rectangle for the area you want to monitor. You can only select a single area. If you need to finer control for a privacy mask, you can do it using zones, which will be discussed shortly.
Now you’ll only be able to view and record the selected area.
The “Video” tab also gives you options to flip (mirror) your images, as well as to rotate them (90, 180, 270 degrees).
Choose your maximum frame rate. The higher the frame rate, the more fluid the video and recordings, but it will also require more horsepower from your CPU and RAM.
If you don’t like your camera’s built-in overlays, you can create your own with Blue Iris. Click the “Edit…” button.
You can add both text and images. Click the “Add text/time…” button.
Blue Iris gives you quite a bit of leeway when creating your own overlays, including custom text, date/time formats, font/background color, and background opacity.
Back on the “Video” tab, click “Configure”.
This brings up the same window you saw earlier when originally adding your camera. If you ever need to change any of the setup values, you can edit them here.
Go to the “Audio” tab. If you didn’t enable audio when you added the camera, you can do it now. If you want to enable audio for the Blue Iris mobile app, you must check the “Webcast audio” box.
Next is the “Trigger” tab. Notice the break time at the bottom of the window. This is how long Blue Iris will record when a camera is triggered. For motion detection I use the default values, but if you have specific requirements you may need to adjust the settings. Click “Configure…”.
You set the motion detection sensitivity here. Make time is the duration motion must be present to trigger the camera for recording.
You can also set up custom motion zones, exclusion zones, and privacy masks. Check the “Use zones and hot spot” box, then click the “Edit..” button.
You can have up to 8 different zones. The current zone is displayed with the green overlay, and other zones are shown in a dark green grid outline. The green indicates a motion zone, the clear indicates an exclusion zone where motion will be ignored.
To turn your exclusion zone into a privacy mask, check the “Black-out masked areas” box.
Now when you view your live and recorded footage, you will have a privacy mask.
Click on the “Record” tab. If you don’t want Blue Iris to record a camera, uncheck the “Video” box. Choose “When triggered” if you want Blue Iris to record only when an event happens.
Or you can choose “Continuous” to always record a camera. Keep in mind that if you choose this option on too many cameras you may max out your computer’s hard drive.
Choosing “Periodic, each” will record for the specified time. In this example, it will record 5 seconds of footage every 10 minutes.
If you select “Triggered + periodic, each” you will record a time lapse video when the camera is triggered. Could be useful for high traffic areas.
By choosing “Triggered + continuous each” the camera will record for the period specified after it has been triggered (same as “Triggered + periodic, each” but without the time lapse).
By setting a pre-trigger buffer, you can actually have Blue Iris record prior to a trigger event. Specify the amount of time before the event you want to be able to see in the clip. The will cause additional CPU and RAM resources to be used.
This option specifies file sizes. In this example, each file will contain 8 hours of video unless it reaches 4 GB first. After that, a new file will be created.
If you want to change from the default BVR file format, click the “Video file format and compression…” button.
I recommend the BVR file format. BVR files are only playable with Blue Iris, so you won’t be able to put them on a thumb drive and play back on another computer (unless that computer also has Blue Iris installed). But BVR files have the advantage of being able to be played back while the file is still being written to. You can always export a clip to another format (i.e., MP4) for playback on another device. I also recommend “Direct-to-disc” video compression to reduce the load on your computer.
Go to the “Alerts” tab. Here you can configure various options for what happens when a triggered event occurs. For instance, you could receive push alerts for an indoor camera group in the mobile app while you’re away on vacation.
On the “Schedules” tab, you can set individual schedules for your cameras. This isn’t a feature I use, but I figured I’d point it out for those who do wish to use it.
On the “PTZ/Control” tab is where you enable your camera’s PTZ controls. You can reverse the controls if you mounted a camera upside down. To use the preset feature, you first need to set it up through your camera. Blue Iris only reads the presets already set up in your camera. It cannot create them. If you click on “Edit presets…” you do have the option of renaming your presets or specifying web commands.
Using the Main Screen
The Blue Iris program has a nice layout, and the controls makes sense, making Blue Iris easy to use. There are several panes, as well as the individual camera frames. Right-clicking in different areas will bring up different context menus, but the options available in each menu generally make sense. See the slideshow below for more details.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Here’s the new layout. You can choose any layout you want. A white box around a camera frame indicates it’s the currently selected camera. A red box around a camera frame indicates it’s recording.
Tap the gear icon for group options. 1) The dropdown menu can filter by group or display all cameras. 2) Click the camera icon to show a large view of a single camera at a time. Use the arrows to navigate through them. 3) Auto-cycle through your camera groups. 4) Go back to multi-camera view.
Here’s what the solo selected camera view looks like.
If you have a PTZ camera and you’ve enabled the PTZ controls, these buttons will be available. If not, they will be grayed out. If you set up your camera by selecting the make/model, Blue Iris might enable these by default even for non-PTZ cameras.
For PTZ cameras, you can set up preset positions and name them.
Towards the bottom of the screen you’ll see a timeline showing you alerts (motion alerts in this example).
You can also search by date by clicking the calendar icon. You’ll get a calendar popup. Just select the date you want.
To go back to the default view of the timeline, click the clock icon.
There’s also a slider you can use to adjust the timeline. You can double-click anywhere on the timeline to view the alerts for that time.
When you double-click on the timeline, you’ll be shown the relevant cameras that have recorded footage for that time period. You have playback controls below the cameras, and the relevant alerts & clips on the right. You’ll also see the current live view of the active camera in the lower right.
The clips pane on the right normally shows you the most recent footage, but adjusts depending on whether or not you specified a time period. You have several icons here that allow filtering: 1) filter by alerts, 2) filter by clips, 3) filter by alerts you previously flagged, 4) dropdown to select All, New, Stored, Alerts, or Flagged clips, 5) calendar popup to filter by date/time, 6) filter by the selected camera, and 7) sort by ascending/descending date and time.
The calendar popup works the same here as for the timeline. If you have the camera icon selected, you’ll only be shown alerts and clips from that camera.
Right-clicking in the clips pane will give you various options for manipulating the file(s), including exporting single or multiple files. Double-click on the clip to open it up in the clip viewer.
Notice the two markers above the playback controls in the clip viewer. You can move them to select your start and stop times, and then export just the selected time frame.
You’ll see a row of icons in the lower right corner of the screen. These icons are used throughout Blue Iris. They are illuminated when: 1) Placing a call, 2) Posting images to your webserver/FTP server, 3) Sending an SMS or push alert, 4) Sounding an alarm, 5) Sending an email alert, 6) Recording a clip, 7) Motion is detected, 8) Any camera has been triggered, 9) A web server connection is active, 10) A warning message has been posted to the status window, and 11) An error has been posted to the status window.
The menu bar at the top gives you easy access to: 1) Camera properties, 2) Options, 3) Remote access wizard, 4) Status, 5) Snapshot, 6) Record Start/Stop, 7) Traffic Light Signal, and 8) Help.
Blue Iris Options
This is where you’ll find options that apply to the entire program. For instance, in “Camera properties” we saw a schedule for the individual camera. Schedule here will apply to all cameras, unless you chose to override it in the camera’s properties.
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
The “Clips and archiving” tab allows you to specify the hard drive that Blue Iris will write to. You have individual paths for the New, Stored, and Alerts folders. The default location is the C drive, so consider a hard drive or partition other than your Windows installation so you don’t lose your camera footage if your computer crashes.
You also have the option of exporting clips into standard formats that will be playable on other devices.
Choose your output format. If you use direct-to-disc recording, you can add the text overlay here (BVR file will not have this information). To change your encoder settings, click “Configure…”.
You can change the encoder settings here.
Go to the “Users” tab and click “Add”. If you’re going to be using the mobile app, you’ll should add a user with admin privileges so you can delete clips from within the app.
Create your username and password. The username is case-sensitive when logging in through either the web or mobile app. You can also specify the privileges this user will have.
Next is “Web server”. To access your cameras on the network or from the internet, click on “Remote access Wizard…”. You’ll need to decide on a port to use. The default is 81, but if you use that for something else (like another web server), you’ll need to change it here before running the wizard.
Understand that your video will not be encrypted unless you use another program (Stunnel). Your login credentials, however, will be securely transmitted. Click “Next”.
Blue Iris will create your firewall rule for you. Click the “Create/update rule” to automatically do this. Otherwise you will need to do this yourself in Windows Firewall. Once you get the green check icon, click “Next”.
Blue Iris will check for an internet connection. You should get a green check icon. Click “Next”.
Now Blue Iris test the web server (and firewall) to see if it can reach the web server. If you get the green check icon, click “Next”.
Here you should see your router’s IP address and your WAN (internet) address. You can double-check your WAN IP by simply Googling “what’s my ip”. I’m not sure why Blue Iris is giving me the red “X” icon, but as long as these two addresses are correct you can click “Next”.
If you’re not worried about the security risk that comes along with UPnP, you can let Blue Iris try to configure your router settings. Otherwise, you’ll have to manually do this yourself. If you need help with your particular router, go to www.portforward.com. Click “Next”.
Blue Iris will now perform a final check to see if it can reach the web server from the internet. This will test your forwarded port. If it fails, go to canyouseeme.org and test your port. If it fails there, you didn’t forward the port correctly in your router. Once you get the green check icon, click “Next”.
You can test your mobile app by using the settings shown on this page. Remember, the username is case-sensitive, so “Adam” is not the same as “adam”. Click “Next”.
The final page of the wizard lets you know that your ISP given IP address may change at some point. You’ll need a dynamic DNS service to prevent this from happening. WHS 2011 works great for this, or you can subscribe to another service.
Back on the “Web server” tab, you can limit access by IP address to add security beyond a username and password.
You can configure Blue Iris to automatically start if your computer reboots on the “Startup” tab by checking the first box (Run as a Windows service). For ease-of-use, make sure you also check the “Require run-as Adminstrator” box. Finally, you can configure Blue Iris to keep your computer awake, but it would be better to configure this in Windows Control Panel under “Power Options”.
On the “Cameras” tab, you have a camera audio option. If this is unchecked, you’ll have to manually turn on your camera’s audio every time you view it.
Profiles are a way to automatically or manually apply schedules to cameras individually. You can configure them here by creating descriptive names and a time frame the profile will be active for when manually activated.
On the “Schedule” tab, you can enable a global schedule that will apply to all cameras. You can override the global schedule on a per-camera basis by enabling an individual camera schedule in “Camera Properties”.
If you want to get email alerts, you need to configure an address to send the alert to. Click “Add”.
You can choose from preconfigured email providers, like Gmail, or manually configure another provider. Simply type in your login credentials. Unless you have your own email server, just use your email address (email@example.com) in the “From email” field. Essentially, you’ll be sending an email to yourself using Blue Iris. You can use the “Test” button to verify the email settings. If everything is good, click “OK”.
If you use the Blue Iris mobile app, go to the “Mobile devices” tab. You’ll see all of your devices that have the mobile app installed. Highlight one to enable the geofence options.
You have quite a few options for controlling your cameras using your location, including triggering a specific camera or activating a profile or schedule. Click “OK” when you’re done.
You can also enable push notifications for each of your devices by checking the box.
If you want to receive emails or push notifications, don’t forget you’ll have to enable them for each camera. Go to the “Camera properties” of the camera you want to enable the alert for, then go to the “Alerts” tab. Check the box for the type of alert then click the “Configure…” button.
Setting Up a PTZ Auto-Tour Schedule
One thing I’ve found to be extremely useful is the PTZ auto-tour function of Blue Iris. However, I don’t need the camera to constantly scan during the day, only for late-night hours. Here’s a nice solution to accomplish this that activates an auto-cycle patrol on a schedule:
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Although it’s not necessary to rename a profile, it helps to give it a name for future reference. In this example, we’re using Profile 2 and I’ve renamed it “Auto-Patrol”. Set the temp time to whatever you need (6 hours = 360 minutes). Note: I’m not using Profile 1 for anything else, it’s what I’m using for my default profile (this is what’s going to stop the auto-patrol function). Make note of an unused profile if you’re already using Profile 1. Click OK.
On the main screen, select your PTZ camera then click the camera icon at the top of the screen, or simply right-click on the camera frame and choose Camera properties….
Next click on the Schedule tab and check the box for Override global schedule for this camera to activate the schedule controls.
Click the profile dropdown menu and select the profile you want to set the schedule for- our “Auto-Patrol” profile.
Select the timeframe each day you want the auto-patrol to be active for- in this example, I chose every day of the week, 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Next go to the PTZ/Control tab. Check the Auto-cycle patrol box, then click the Edit presets… button.
You must have the presets set up through your camera’s web page!!! Blue Iris cannot do this. Select the preset you want to include in the auto-patrol. Uncheck the default profile, Profile 1. Then select your auto-patrol profile, Profile 2 in this example. Profiles 3 – 7 aren’t used in my setup, but I could uncheck those too to prevent future conflicts if I ever decided to use them. Repeat for all presets you want to use.
Next set the dwell time. This is the time that the camera will stop for each preset. If you check Delay with motion sense, the camera will remain on that preset while it detects motion (regardless of the dwell time).
Uncheck your auto-patrol profile for any presets you don’t want to include in the schedule. Repeat for all unused presets, then click OK.
Because you’re setting up an auto-patrol schedule, you really don’t know what position the camera will end up in. It might not be the preset you want. To fix this, go back to the Schedule tab. Click the Event schedule… button.
Check the Enable box, then click the Add button.
Choose a time after your auto-patrol schedule. Check the profile you’re using as your default profile for how you want the camera to normally behave. Finally, choose the preset you want. Click OK.
You’ll see your newly scheduled event. Click OK.
Finally, click OK to close out the camera properties dialog box. This is when Blue Iris saves all the changes you just made. Your auto-patrol schedule is now ready to go!
Clearing the Computer Clutter
Blue Iris has a built-in function to remove recorded clips from your hard drive . However, if you convert files for storage somewhere else, you may run into issues with that hard drive filling up. Fortunately, Windows comes with a little-known utility that’s been included with every version of Windows since Vista. It’s called Forfiles, and that’s what we’re going to use to remove files after they expire (files older than 60 days in my example):
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Blue Iris doesn’t monitor the folder for converted clips! This is where Forfiles will come into play.
To get started using Forfiles, open Notepad from the Start Menu. Do not right-click on the desktop to create a new text file. We need to make a .bat file, not a .txt file. Now let’s examine the syntax. forfiles -p “E:\Converted Camera Recordings” creates a path to the directory where Blue Iris is storing the converted clips. This is one of the most important parameters. Keep in mind that quotes are required if your folder name has spaces.
The -s switch isn’t completely necessary in this case, because I don’t have subdirectories in the folder. But if I chose at a later time to export clips to separate camera folders, I would need it so I left it in there.
The -m switch is a search pattern, and the * represents a wildcard. In this case it searches for any file with any file extension. I’m only exporting .mp4 files to my converted clips directory, but every once in a while other files end up there. This takes care of loose ends.
Next is the -d switch. This is an important one. This is what’s monitoring the dates in the folder (specifically the last modified date, which is the same as the conversion date). You choose how far back to go by the number of days, so the “-60” means mark all files older than 60 days. Without this switch, Forfiles would match all dates, thus deleting them, which is not what we want.
Another important one, the -c switch. This is the command you want to execute. The default command is “cmd /c echo @file”, which would just cause a command prompt to open with the name of the file (again, not what we want). To delete the files, we need to use -c “cmd /c del @PATH” (quotes required). A command prompt will open to delete the files.
Now that you have your full Forfiles command in Notepad, click File -> Save As. Choose All Files in the Save as type: dropdown.
Choose a directory- Documents on the C drive will work just fine. Give your file a name. Ensure you end it with .bat to make the correct type of file. Click Save.
You could just double-click the .bat file whenever you needed to clear up space, but there’s a better way. Go to the Start Menu and start typing task scheduler. Click it when it pops up as a suggestion.
Under the Actions menu in the right-hand pane, click Create Basic Task….
The Create a Basic Task wizard will open. Provide a name and a brief description. Click Next.
Next, choose how often you want to check for old files. We’ll use Daily in this example. Click Next.
You can choose to delete the files every x number of days, or just keep the default value of 1. Click Next.
Start a program should already be selected. Click Next.
Use the Browse… button to navigate to the .bat file you created earlier. Click Next.
Verify everything is the way you want it then click Finish. You will now automatically delete the files based on the parameters you specified!
Blue Iris is great software. It’s a little intimidating at first because of the sheer number of options that are available. So basically the same thing that makes it so great is what may drive many people to look for a different solution. However, most of the options are for people who really want to get the most out of their cameras, but aren’t necessary to configure.
Recording a large number of HD video streams is no small task even for an Intel Core i7-powered computer. If you just have a handful of cameras that you want to record when motion is sensed, you can probably get away with a Core i5. You might not be able to comfortably use any other heavy programs like Photoshop though. You could always record an SD stream, but what’s the point of buying an HD camera to record and view it in SD? I would say any more than 5 cameras and you’re going to want the best processor you can afford.
I would definitely recommend a standalone computer to run Blue Iris. Not only will this help with Windows’ resource management, but it will also reduce the likelihood of the computer being infected with a virus.
If you want to use your computer as a DVR and want reliable security camera software, I can’t say enough about Blue Iris !