Several folks have inquired as to what camera we’re using on our LIVE Feeder Cam so we thought we’d put together a little diagram of our setup followed:
It took us a good deal of trial and error when selecting hardware and configuration settings before we were able to get a nice high quality image streaming to uStream, but we feel our end product is a well regarded, quality stream that was well worth all of our efforts.
We initially ordered a weather-proof analog security camera with good IR (night vision) capability but quickly found the quality to be sorely lacking. The video was very soft even after fine tuning the focus and the automatic exposure had trouble balancing the constantly changing light around our feeders.
As a backup camera we had gone ahead and purchased the comparatively inexpensive Logitech Webcam Pro 9000. However, this small USB webcam was never intended for outdoor usage and required the construction of an external housing in order to weather proof it. To this end, we custom built a wooden housing (as seen above) and notched a slot for a replaceable piece of Plexiglas to slip into–just in case it is ever scatched.
Another issue was with the camera’s interface (USB versus Analog). Most USB devices are paired with relatively short cables (in this case 6ft) which do well when used in close proximity to the computer in which they are tethered but unfortunately our feeders are located much further away and required the purchase of a USB extension cable. Luckily we were able to purchase a 10 meter unpowered USB Extension Cable that reached just far enough for our purposes. To complete the connection and to keep the cable safe, we ran the USB extension cable through a small electrical conduit between the visitor center and the feeder cam housing.
While it was certainly a bit more of a process setting up the USB Logitech camera in an outdoor setting, the quality is vastly superior to the outdoor security cameras we have tested thus far.
A dedicated server is a key component in setting up a streaming camera such as ours. It is important to remember that video and video streaming can be a very demanding process and require a lot of computing power. We started off trying to recycle an old Dell Pentium 4 computer we had laying around the office but quickly came to realize it simply didn’t have the processing power to handle constant streaming video. Our CPU usage was running upwards of 90% on average and often peaking at 100%. This caused dropped frames and degraded the streaming quality significantly. We decided instead to order a new computer featuring one of Intel’s quad-core i5 processors and 8GB of ram. The new server averages around 8-20% CPU usage at any given time and has run steadily for months on end with zero dropped frames.
Software is also an important component in a streaming server environment and one reason why a computer dedicated solely to this purpose is important. If you start installing too many applications and multitasking on your server computer it could very well impact your streaming performance as well as cause system instability. Thus we are running a bare bones Windows installation with just the core and essential software applications needed to stream our video feed.
As to streaming itself, it was very difficult to decide which software package was the best choice for our purposes but we finally settled on Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder as it gave, hands down, the best image quality of any software we tested. That said, it does have its limitations and one of those is the inability to record video to the Ustream servers… However at this time, the quality trade off is so great we will continue streaming with Flash Media Live Encoder.
Of course equally important to software is the streaming service we decided to go with. There are many stellar pay-streaming services out there but only a handful of truly “free,” services. As we are a small non-profit organization we couldn’t justify the cost to pay for our streaming and decided if we are going to get this camera running we had to use one of the free services. Luckily for us uStream exists! While some people are turned off by their occasional advertising, they really do offer a high quality, unhindered product completely for free. We could buy a professional account and give people ad-free viewing, but again it costs over $500 a month and not an expense we can justify. Hopefully people understand how the advertisements help support the free service uStream is offering and continue to watch our camera.
The last key component to our server environment is internet connection. We knew before we even started looking into cameras or servers that we’d have to upgrade our internet connection. We were previously connected through Wild Blue’s satellite internet service which worked well enough for everyday email and web browsing but we knew it had no where near the throughput we would need to support a live camera. Unfortunately we are a little “off the grid” so to speak out here at Sabal Palm Sanctuary and did not qualify for TimeWarner’s Cable Internet nor the phone company’s DSL. We were told we could run a T1 line but the cost was again prohibitive.
Luckily for us a really great company has taken up residence in our area. VTX Communications offers highspeed broadband wirelessly over microwave signals throughout much of Brownsville and the surrounding area and luckily we had a solid line of sight to one of their nearby towers. Through VTX we were able to get a relatively affordable broadband connection with enough throughput to support our camera.
To give you an idea of our connection we have a 1024Kbits per second maximum upstream and are streaming at a constant rate of 650Kbps and at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels.
If anyone should have any additional questions, comments, suggestions or ideas please feel free to comment below or to contact us directly!