VHS Library Pi Security Camera





Introduction: VHS Library Pi Security Camera

About: I love the design and ambition of vintage technology, and the usability and potential of new - my passion is bringing the two together.

This is an old VHS Video Library case that's now providing a perfect home for a Raspberry Pi security camera. The case contains a Pi Zero and the camera peeps out through the spine of the fake book. It's a really simple build with an old-world look and a practical modern purpose!

Step 1: In the Library

I was given these old VHS tape library cases by my mother-in-law last week, she was having a clear out and thought they might appeal to me, knowing my love of converting old technology. It turned out they were just what I needed to house my pi zero security camera! Well I say security camera, it's more to keep an eye on the cat really.

I wanted to keep the build as fun & simple as possible, and managed the whole thing in about an hour.

The first job was to cut a hole for the camera in the spine of the case - it's quite thin plastic on either side but has a layer of cardboard in between to make it more book-like. I just used a drill and tidied up the hole with a craft knife, but I'll probably use a hole punch if I make another one as that would make a much neater hole. As the camera bump protrudes right into the hole and the case closes up behind it I didn't need to do any more to hold the module in place.

I mounted the Pi Zero inside the case using self-adhesive cable tie mounts, running tiny plastic ties through the mounting holes in the board to secure it.

After that all I needed to do was cut a slot in the case for the camera ribbon, and another one at the back for the USB power cable. I also cut some ventilation holes in the rear, and that was the hardware side complete.

Step 2: Software Setup

For the security camera software I used MotionEye OS - I tried this for our "front door" camera last year and have been really impressed with its stability and features.

Once I'd downloaded the image and flashed it to the SD card using Etcher I realised there was a problem - I'd used my only usb-to-ethernet adaptor on another project and would have no way to log into the MotionEye interface to set up the WiFi. Looking through the wiki however I realised you can preconfigure the WiFi connection by just adding a text file to the SD card - somehow I've never tried that with a Pi before, it worked great!

Once the SD card was ready it was just a case of popping it into the Pi, folding the case closed and finding a good spot for it on the bookcase with USB power nearby - the rest of the configuration could all be done via the web-based interface.

There are loads of options for video frame rates and resolutions, I settled on 1024x768 which is a good compromise given the Pi Zero's capabilities, and also uses all of the camera area as it's in 4:3 format. There are also great choices for uploading captured images and videos to cloud services like Google Drive, very useful if you don't want to set up port forwarding and a dynamic DNS but still want to access the files remotely.

Step 3: Finished

This was a great little project, not the fanciest or most complicated but lots of fun and practical, it's reassuring to be able to check in with the cat when we're away from home.

I've always wanted to find uses for old VHS tapes (I did make a tape dispenser out of one) and it was nice to give at least one of these relics a new purpose.

This sort of library case is probably found mostly in landfill now, but with some fiddling you could achieve the same thing using an old VHS tape - there are plenty of those still around!

If you like this project and want to see more you can check out my website for in-progress project updates at bit.ly/OldTechNewSpec, join in on Twitter @OldTechNewSpec or subscribe to the growing YouTube channel at bit.ly/oldtechtube - give some of your Old Tech a New Spec!



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    10 Discussions

    Does it bother anyonee else that the books are neither alphebetized by author nor title?

    2 replies

    Aha! They are normally (and have stuff crammed on top) - rejigged them for a better photo. And to include the Pi book my other projects are in!


    Warrick (President OCDCSNZ) [OCDC Society of NZ]

    Knowing that my technical skills are meager, it would have helped me to understand the project better if you had labeled the components and shown a bit more detail. Also, I failed to see a source for power input but infer from the text that data storage is on the SD card. If my inference is correct, what format does the SD card use for images? Is it the same as, say, a digital camera?

    Thanks for the 'ible'. I've got a couple of 'spy' cams from da-bay that I might try to put into play.

    1 reply

    Apologies I forgot to annotate the images - it's literally just a pi zero, camera module and ribbon cable though. This build uses a USB wi-fi adaptor but the recent (Zero W) boards have this built in, which is handy. Power comes to the Pi via a micro USB cable, the zeros are less fussy than the full-size boards so it's just plugged into a standard USB mains adaptor. The images are normal jpeg format, and can be accessed from the web interface, it also gives the option to convert them into a timelapse video, which I've had some fun experimenting with today!

    For this build just the standard Raspberry Pi camera module, with an adaptor ribbon cable to connect it to the Pi Zero.


    10 months ago

    Great idea! Is the Zero Pi strong enough to run MotionPie without problems?

    2 replies

    Thanks! Yes it works well, takes a bit of fiddling with settings depending if you want great reolution or smoother video - very stable though, my other one has been "up" for 3 months with no issues at all. Works just as well with a usb webcam too, which I didn't expect.

    When the police release security footage of a suspect who robbed the bank/convenience store/farmer's market, I'm always struck by just how terrible the resolution is - I probably couldn't pick the suspect out of a lineup even with the video in front of me. With this software, is it possible to achieve smooth video to capture the overall activity, along with a handful of high-resolution stills for identification?