In our recent reviews, we've been looking at video surveillance hardware and software for the home and business owner. Following up on our recent review of Luxriot VMS, we recently had a chance to review Perspective Software's Blue Iris. We actually experimented with Blue Iris many years ago, and while we liked it a lot, we didn't find it to measure up to some other offerings. Since that time, Blue Iris has matured into a full-featured and powerful tool for video surveillance.
When you first launch Blue Iris, you'll need to add one or more cameras you want to monitor. This process is made simple by the fact that Blue Iris comes with preconfigured templates for many cameras. If your camera isn't listed, you can add it by entering the IP address or hostname for your camera and clicking the Inspect Now button. This will connect to your camera and populate the settings in Blue Iris with ones your camera supports. (You can also manually configure your camera if necessary.)
One thing we really like about Blue Iris is that there aren't additional license fees to add multiple cameras. Most other high-end software solutions will only one or two cameras. If you want to add additional cameras, you have to pay for an upgraded license or purchase additional camera licenses. We've never understood that kind of licensing scheme (and we hate it) and we're glad that Blue Iris allows you to add up to 64 cameras at no additional cost.
Once you've added one or more cameras to Blue Iris, you can configure an enormous number of configuration settings. All of these settings are neatly organized in the Camera Properties dialog by tabs so it's easy to find the setting you want. You can name your camera using a name that makes sense to you. You can also group cameras, something most often done to control access from the built-in web server (more on that later) or to trigger recording on multiple cameras when a camera detects motion. For example, you might group all of your cameras on the outside front of the house in an OutdoorFront group and trigger all of them to start recording if any of them detect motion.
The number of alert options in Blue Iris is mind-blowing, and when you consider that the software only costs $60 for the full version, you have quite an impressive value proposition.
Blue Iris allows you to add text overlays (such as the camera name and the date/time) to the camera feed. You can move the overlay to any position you choose, a convenient feature if text is difficult to read because of a particular image. In our testing, we did not use overlay from Blue Iris. Instead, we used the text overlay provided by our Sharx Security cameras since we were using Direct-to-Disc recording in Blue Iris. (We'll explain that later in the review.)
Blue Iris can record your camera continuously, at certain periods for a certain amount of time, or when motion triggered. (It can also record using a combination of these choices.) When you choose to record when motion triggers the camera, you will want to configure Blue Iris' settings so that you get recordings when needed without triggering a lot of false alarms. Blue Iris provides plenty of configuration options to allow you to get this just right, including the ability to mask out portions of the video screen that you don't want to trigger motion. This is a great feature if something like a flag blowing in the wind is present in your video. By masking out the flag, you can prevent it from triggering motion and filling your hard drive with unwanted video footage.
Blue Iris uses changes in the pixels that make up the image to detect motion. You can configure the number of changing pixels that are required to indicate motion by changing the Min. Object Size slider. You can tweak how much of a change in pixels is required to trigger motion by changing the Min. Contrast slider. The Motion/Trigger tab (shown in the image above) displays a smaller gray box within a larger and darker gray box to help you determine the settings that are right for you. The lighter gray box indicates object size and changes in size as you adjust the Min. Object Size slider. When Blue Iris detects a pixel change (motion), the inner box will light up in a green color. If the amount of motion reaches the size of the inner box, the color will change from green to red indicating that motion has been detected. The box must remain red for a certain amount of time (Blue Iris refers to it as the MAKE time) in order to trigger the camera and start recording. (You can configure the MAKE time as shown above.) Recording continues for the duration of the BREAK time. If motion re-triggers during recording, the timer for the BREAK time starts over. (In the above image, the BREAK time is set to 10 seconds.)
By the way, motion is only one way to trigger a camera. Blue Iris can trigger recording by audio, by direct I/O and from client applications. Once a trigger occurs, in addition to starting a recording, Blue Iris can also alert you by sounding an alarm on your PC, sending a notification to a mobile app, running a program or script on your computer, sending a request to a web service, sending an SMS or MMS message (which can even include a screen shot from the camera), sending an email message, making a phone call from a modem, or send digital output bits to a DIO device. The number of alert options in Blue Iris is mind-blowing, and when you consider that the software only costs $60 for the full version, you have quite an impressive value proposition.
If all of this seems a little confusing, don't worry. Once you play around with them a little, it becomes very clear. You can also click the Help button at any time to access the incredibly detailed user manual for Blue Iris. When you do, you'll get documentation on the screen you were viewing when you clicked Help, so it's very easy to find out what a particular setting does.
The Profiles feature in Blue Iris is an indispensable feature that really sets Blue Iris apart from other surveillance software we've tested.
Another one of the great features in Blue Iris is the Profiles feature. Blue Iris provides up to seven different profiles, and each profile can contain different settings for just about everything. Profiles are useful when you want different settings on different days or different times of the day. For example, maybe you don't want to record one or more cameras during the day, or maybe you want to have different motion trigger settings for some cameras at night because IR illuminators are causing motion triggering to be too sensitive. By configuring different profiles with the settings you need and scheduling when those profiles are active either for a particular camera or globally, you can very easily achieve such complex configurations. The Profiles feature in Blue Iris is an indispensable feature that really sets Blue Iris apart from other surveillance software we've tested.
When Blue Iris is recording clips, it can re-encode them to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video or to MJPEG. However, doing so is going to require CPU cycles on your PC. If you're running a PC that meets Perspective Software's minimum requirements for Blue Iris, you'll be fine. If you're trying to cheat and you're running Blue Iris on an underpowered PC, or if you're encoding HD streams from multiple cameras, you might end up with a lot of CPU usage. (Blue Iris shows you CPU usage at the bottom of the screen so you can keey an eye on it.) One great way to alleviate high CPU when encoding video is to use Blue Iris' Direct-to-Disc (which technically should be Direct-to-Disk) feature. This feature will record the stream from the camera directly to your disk, negating the need to re-encode. Direct-to-Disc does have the drawback of not allowing you to add overlays to your video, but if your video camera provides that feature, that's not a big deal. In our testing with two HD cameras on a modest PC (one that doesn't quite meet the recommended minimum system requirements), we were able to reduce CPU from 100% to under 80% by using Direct-to-Disc when recording two simultaneous 720p streams.
Blue Iris can run as a Windows service so that it monitors and records your video even if no one is logged into the machine. In this configuration, running the client application allows you to configure settings and view video clips, but you aren't required to keep the client running in order to record your video. Video clips can be viewed from within the client application, but they can also be exported so that you can share them with others or archive them in a different format if you want to.
Along the bottom of the Blue Iris interface is a timeline of events. Blue Iris uses this to show you when alerts were triggered. Different cameras can be color-coded so that you can tell at a glance when a particular camera was triggered. A view of clips appears along the right edge of the screens. You can choose to view all clips, clips that you've flagged, or just clips that were recorded from an alert.
There isn't a client for installation on a remote PC (which is really a shame), but Blue Iris does come with a built-in web server that allows you to access cameras and recorded clips from a remote machine, even over the Internet. The web interface works with just about any browser (including Microsoft Edge on Windows 10), and it makes it easy to get to your video when you're away from home. Personally, we'd prefer a remote client, but we can understand the complexities of developing a remote client for multiple platforms. The web server allows you to configure usernames and passwords for access, and you can control both how long someone is allowed to remain logged in and how long they have to wait between sessions. You can also schedule their access times, and of course, you can configure all of this using Blue Iris' Profiles feature so that, for example, someone can be locked out from viewing cameras on the weekends or at certain times.
In addition to the web interface, there are also Blue Iris applications for smartphones. We used the iOS app called, aptly enough, Blue Iris on an iPhone 6 during our testing and found it to be a well-designed and powerful way to access Blue Iris from a smartphone. The iPhone app is developed by a third-party and not Perspective Software, so it will cost you an additional $10, but it's well worth it if you want access to Blue Iris when you're away from home. The developer updates it often to add new features and it's a well-reviewed and solid app.
We've really only touched the surface of what you can do with Blue Iris in this review. We encourage you to download a copy and try it out in your environment. Play with all of the features. Run some tests with different profiles and alerts. We think that you'll end up as impressed as we were by this amazing application.