Broadcasting your lizard

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You may have noticed our own efforts of streaming webcams here on the wiki, and we thought we'd share our tips and techniques with you to help you broadcast your own lizard - or anything else, for that matter - live over the internet. There are three main stages: software (how you stream your video), hardware (what you stream it from), and web access (how others find and view your video).

Contents

Software

In this section, we will concentrate on a few of the most popular free software solutions, although there are many commercial alternatives available. The main thing about software is that you feel comfortable with using it, tweaking it, and setting it up properly (and sometimes setting up the communication between your software and pieces of hardware, such as your router, which stand guard between it and the outside world). The best thing to do is usually to try them all and see.

All the software listed here is free to use, and has no hidden surprises; although there are plenty of alternatives for other platforms, such as Linux, this article deals exclusively with Windows-compatible software. The UroWiki admin, filecore, has personally used all of these services and methods at one time or another. The three main types of video stream software you will encounter are neatly covered by the following three applications:

Ustream

A Skype video call in action
Website: ustream.tv
  • good for large audiences
  • easy to set up and use
  • can be accessed from anywhere via a web browser, such as Firefox
  • software runs in foreground (on the taskbar, either via a web-based widget or Ustream Producer)

WebcamXP

Website: webcamxp.com

  • good for large audiences
  • requires a bit more setup (forwarding ports in your router - you can find guides for most routers on portforward.com)
  • can access it from anywhere via a web browser, such as Firefox
  • access can be restricted with usernames and passwords
  • includes more advanced features such as statistics
  • software can run in background (in system tray, or hidden)

Skype

Website: skype.com

  • best for a single person's access
  • only works via Skype; no web access, and requires a second Skype account and an installed Skype client
  • can be set up to be private - only certain users can connect in, and the client answers automatically with a video call
  • doesn’t require technical setup but needs options tweaked appropriately
  • software can run in background (in system tray)

Hardware

There is a variety of webcam hardware available, and it's outwith the scope of this article to list or review them all. In general, there are two main types. The only real criteria is that the minimum resolution should be 640x480, and the minimum framerate should be 30fps (frames per second). Although you can buy cameras with lower resolution and framerate than this, you will be stuck with either a very choppy, poor quality picture, or else a very, very small one.

USB webcam

An example of a wireless PTZ-capable webcam
This is a basic, off-the-shelf webcam which plugs directly into your computer. These are usually very cheap.

IP/network webcam

Example: via eBay.co.uk

  • good for large audiences
  • requires a bit more setup (forwarding ports in your router, etc)
  • can access it from anywhere via browser
  • access can be restricted with passwords
  • serves itself to the internet; doesn’t require computer to be on or take any computing power
  • is more expensive than basic USB webcam
  • can be wireless, making it easy to place in or around the terrarium
  • usually has PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) options, allowing remote control of the view

Web access

If you don't have the time, skill or money for a proper domain, but don't want to use an IP address (such as 123.456.789.012) to access your camera, then you have a few other options. Ustream lets viewers access the video stream via their own website. For home serving - WebcamXP, or an IP camera with its own web server built in - then the easiest recommend solution is to sign up at DynDNS.com for a free dynamic domain name (DDNS).

A brief explanation of DDNS

Each computer (and most other devices) connected to the internet have an IP address, as noted above. This is what your street address would look like if it was entirely postal codes, geographical coordinates, GPS positions. It's technical data, very accurate, but hard for most non-technical people to grasp (and even the nerds can't remember them all). However, it does uniquely identify your computer so that other internet users can find it. A domain name is simply a nice, user-friendly 'address' which silently points other users at your IP address. Some internet service providers (ISPs) will randomly give you a different IP address every time you switch your computer on; this is where the 'dynamic' part of the name comes from. You can get a small program from DynDNS.com called the DynDNS updater which connects to the DynDNS.com website and tells it what your IP address is right now. This way, when people put your DynDNS web address into their browser, it's always pointing to your computer - no matter what your IP address might currently be!

So what is your DynDNS web address?

On the DynDNS website, you'll find their full list of domains; whatever name you choose simply goes in front of it. A good example might be if you chose "cuteomastyx" as your site name: you could have http://cuteomastyx.ath.cx, or http://cuteomastyx.hobby-site.com, or perhaps even http://cuteomastyx.dyn-o-saur.com - that last one is a pun on the dyn in dynamic, but it's quite appropriate for lizards too (dyn-o-saur, dinosaur, lizard, get it? Groan).

Motion detection

Selecting alert zones in a motion detection program
One of the handiest uses for a webcam - apart from letting your friends and family see your amazing and beautiful pet - is to keep an eye on it yourself. If it's ill, or suffering some other form of stress, for example, you can monitor to ensure that it's eating. To do so, you must use the motion detection facility of your software (this will vary from software to software, but certainly WebcamXP, listed above, has this ability). Simply, you select an area within the camera's field of vision: for example, the food bowl and the surface around it for several centimeters. This is the alert area, and any motion happening within this zone will cause a number of possible things to happen, which are user-selectable. Options vary by software, but common possibilities include:
  • automatic video recording
  • taking a series of still images
  • uploading images by FTP to a location on the internet
  • sending images or video clips by email
  • alerting the user by instant message (MSN, Skype, etc)
  • alerting the user by SMS (text message)
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