Broadcasting your lizard
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).
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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
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.
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
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).
- 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)