Setting up cheap web-based Xiaomi & Yi home security camsPosted on: August 2, 2018, by : chowyn
With the penetration of broadband internet services in Malaysia, more and more household, especially those in the urban and suburban areas now have a reasonable stable internet connection. In early 2015 when I had to relocate alone to work and stay in Penang the thought of “keeping tab” the security of my house (450 km away) came to mind.
Having a security cam “keeping an eye” on the front of your house has a lot of benefits, but I did not figure out how this could be one of the benefits: capturing wildlife visiting my suburban neighbourhood!
In this article, I share my learning experience with Xiaomi Yi home security camera (and that of a similar one from Yi Technology). This type of home security cams will capture video (& most have “night vision” aka infrared camera). Of more importance, the Xiaomi & Yi cams that I bought are setup and linked to my smartphone. This allows me to use my smartphone to access the video captured or “live feed” from these webcams that are linked to the internet via the home-based WiFi.
After fully tested my first Xiaomi security webcam for a few months, I went on to purchase 6 more sets for the university college that I managed. The new found “eyes” allowed my staff and I monitor key locations of the campus and hostel more effectively. These gadgets also put the security personnel on higher alert.
Requirements for home security webcams
The followings are the requirements of a workable home security system based on Xiaomi or Yi security webcams:
- A stable WiFi network at the premises with a reasonably strong signal at the security webcam’s location.
If your WiFi signal is weak at the desired location, you will have difficulties connecting with the security webcam which I think must be able to connect to the server of Xiaomi /Yi to relay the footages (either live or from the memory card).
- Power supply / power socket to power the security webcam.
The cable provided is about 2 metres long, you do need to have a constant AC power supply although the cam is perfectly capable of drawing its power from a mobile phone power bank. If the location of the power supply must be weatherproof, so is the location for the webcam!
- A suitable spot to fix the security webcam that will capture any activities in the desired areas at the premises.
The webcam will have a camera angle of at least 110 degree wide, but it is important to site the webcam at appropriate height to capture activities in the desired area. If there is a light source nearby, it will affect the webcam infrared sensor at night, thus this must also be considered. I had to turn off the “night vision” of one of my security webcams because of the interference from “lighting noise” from cars etc.
- A smartphones installed with the appropriate app from Xiaomi or Yi Technology
This app is the “heart” of you entire security webcam system which you need to set up, access and control the security webcam. The same smartphone app can control more than one security webcam, provided these are of the same brand. That is, Yi Home app will not be able to control Xiaomi webcam and vice versa.
- A mini-SD card (at least 4 Gb, preferably 16 Gb) to store captured footages.
Although not crucial, it is best to have Class 10 SD cards that are fast enough for the camera.
- At least one home security webcam!
You will need to decide on budget versus ease of use in your choice of “international” or the much cheaper “China version”. (Please refer to the section below on how to choose)
China version & international version: what are the differences?
Like many consumer gadgets, the Xiaomi brand has a lot of made-for-China only versions of the security webcams that one can get from online platforms such as Lazada. While in most cases the technical specifications are more or less the same between the China and international versions, often the interface and the firmware of China version are “locked” to China only. As there is a big difference in pricing of these gadgets, often with the China version being up to half the price of the international version, many traders offer seemingly a good bargain online.
I had purchased both the China version and international version of Xiaomi Home Security Webcams. As I understand Mandarin and read Chinese, I was able to install the app and configure the China version of the webcam, but not without some difficulties (please read on for further details on this).
The Xiaomi smartphone app (Mi Home) can smartly detect where the security webcam is located and hence if you have a made-for-China-market-only version, you will not be able to configure it to use your home WiFi. Since these security webcams need to contact (and register) with Xiaomi’s server in order to relay the video & live feed to your smartphone, if you cannot configure it, you are not going to be able to use these China version webcam.
What’s the difference between Xiaomi and Yi Technology’s security webcams?
The scene is further complicated by the fact that there are both Xiaomi and Yi Technology’s security webcams in the market that look exactly the same (and yet they are different!). A search on the Internet revealed that Xiaomi and Yi Technology are related. Xiaomi invests in many tech companies and Yi Technology is one of these. Xiaomi often lends its brand to these new tech companies to better market their products.
Personally, I find Yi Home (the smartphone app from Yi Technology) a lot friendlier to use and I had no problem in configuring my Yi security webcam using this app on my Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 smartphone. This is a far cry from the struggle I had with Xiaomi’s “China version” security webcam. But both apps have very similar functionalities, one of which is to allow the sharing of access to the webcams installed by one smartphone with other smartphone users. Thus if everyone in your family has a smartphone, in theory you can share the access to these security webcams to each of them.
Problems of sharing access with iOS version of mobile apps
While the Android version of the mobile apps (for both Xiaomi and Yi Technology) work perfectly well with their respective security webcams, I experienced a lot of problems with the iOS version (for my wife’s iPhone). In fact this sasme problem was also experienced by my former staff who also used an iPhone. However my wife’s iPhone 6 could easily accept my invitation to connect to the Yi Technology webcam using Yi Home for iOS so that she could view the feed from the webcam I shared with her, we have no luck with the Xiaomi Mi Home version!
Hacking the made-for-China-only version
Before buying bulk for the institution I managed, I purposely bought a China version of Xiaomi Security Webcam so that my then Head of IT and Campus Services, KB could test out possible solutions. KB was able to download a firmware for the international version of the same model. We copied this onto the mini-SD card of my China version webcam and inserted this. After powering up the webcam, we were delighted to “convert” the made-for-China-only webcam into an international version that could work in Malaysia.
The only caveat to this hack is that the firmware is not to be updated, ever. If not, the webcam and the Xiaomi server that it will connect to will detect your region and the webcam will be rendered inoperable. The firmware is meant for this model : Xiaomi Xiaoyi Yi Night Vision 720P HD 8MP IP Camera WiFI Home Security CCTV Webcam; it may not work with other model. There are many solutions available, one just have to use trial and error to figure out which will be the best.
So which version to buy?
If like me, you are short on budget and have an adventurous attitude (and willing to muck around the PC, smartphone and webcam), then you could consider “going cheap” and buy made-for-China-only versions that are a lot cheaper. Of course there is no guarantee that you can hack the webcam from “China version” to “international version”. But it is no rocket science. If I can do it (without programming skills), I think it is just a matter for finding the most suitable firmware.
However, personally, I will advise, for simplicity on sticking to international versions to save all the headache. There is a Mi Store selling only Xiaomi marketed products in Malaysia (I visited one in One Utama Shopping mall) which sells international version of home security webcam (a more updated version too). Although the choice of models is limited, and the price is higher than if you shop online, there are knowledgeable personnel on hand to help you. And if the webcam does not do what it promises, you can always return it!