Surveillance and Ubiquiti Video

My upcoming new office and home-lab space has inspired me to review some of my past technology choices.  The first review comes in the form of video monitoring.

The setup I’m using at my current home involves a NightOwl 16-camera DVR with cheap BNC cameras.  I was very pleased with it until I went to extend or even check for software updates… then I hit a serious brick wall!  I learned it is basically a cheap DVR that hasn’t been updated in, at least, a decade.  Well behind the curve for this tech geek.  Time to upgrade!

I began my research where I began… a DVR, but this time I’d have it professionally installed.  Well… the cost started to pile up very quickly.  At the end of the quote, each of the 7 cameras were going to cost $450 each!  That is insane!!  Back to the drawing board.

Having a fondness for networking, I started researching IP cameras again.  I’ve played with IP Camera software before (Blue Iris) and figured if I ever started over, I’d go that route.  My research quickly brought me back to them as a possible option.  I also discovered that my Synology NAS had a plugin Surveillance Station.  Ultimately I realized that IP Cameras were the direction I wanted to go and this was perfect timing for our new home construction.  I switched from the DVR/cameras to purely Cat6 network drops.  IMG_0065Tons of IP Cameras had PoE capabilities so I wasn’t concerned with powering them.  On the plus side, IP Cameras may range in price… but even the best options are below $450 per camera.

After research, I ordered a camera I thought had all the interesting features… A Ubiquiti Unifi G3 Dome camera.  Picked for the fact that it was an IP Camera, Wide angle lense and PoE.  Initial review… I am blown away by this camera, quality and features.

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It all starts with their software.  It requires either one of their NVR devices to connect, record and manage the camera or a Windows, Ubuntu or Debian computer running their NVR software which is free.  I installed it onto my workstation since I’m currently evaluating… and connected to the camera almost instantly.

I installed their iOS app and it was effortless to point it at my workstation where the NVR software was running and start viewing the camera.  This software blows NightOwl out of the water and well it should as NightOwl’s app is old as dirt.

I have only scratched the surface of what this camera and software can do… but I will be modifying my network diagram to include a custom built Ubuntu 1U server with DVR hard drives to run the NVR software locally.  Plus side, is the Ubuntu server I’m designing can be managed from my Tanium infrastructure and all the benefits that goes with that are included with this setup.

As a treat, here are a few of the images I captured from the iOS software after connecting to the Workstation NVR.

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How to Produce a Webcast… part 5

Video Mixer

In part 4 of my how-to series, I spoke about mixing various audio sources together.  In this one I will describe how to mix your various video signals together with the mixed audio to produce a final product.

Once again, due to intensive research, I discovered a wonderful product which does exactly what I’m after.  According to their website:  “VidBlaster is a state-of-the-art live video production tool” and I would totally agree.  This single tool replaces tens of thousands of dollars worth of physical video mixing equipment into one very easy to use piece of software.  When used on an appropriately fast computer, you can produce Full-HD LIVE broadcasts. 

During the first episode of Week In Review, we had spent too much money on needed audio and video equipment that we were broke.  But by our second episode we had enough capital to purchase the Home version of VidBlaster.

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As you can see from the image on the right, our home version limits us to 7 modules.  Based on the hardware we have, here are the seven modules we chose and why:

  1. Preview allows us to monitor the signal output.  This is similar to the “headphones” connector on our audio mixer.  Since we want to produce a 720p broadcast, our preview window is sized appropriately.
  2. Audio is a module which we designate the audio source that will be feed into the broadcast.  I have chosen the rear Line In blue plug on my sound card since that is where I have the Main output of the mixer going.  We can monitor the sound level with this module and modify it as needed on the fly.
  3. Streamer is used to link our broadcast to our uStream LIVE broadcast channel.  It only has Start/Stop buttons with additional options under the right click menu.  These include our username/password and our chosen LIVE broadcaster (uStream in our case).
  4. Recorder, this module is used to capture our broadcast to a video file for later post-production within Windows Live Movie Maker (covered in part 8 of this series).  This module also includes some basic controls for starting/stopping and saving our broadcast.  It also has an option for uploading the video, but I want to add starting and ending credits which I do in post production because of the Home Edition of VidBlaster I own.  Once we have enough to purchase the Professional Edition we can add our starting and ending credits within the live broadcast itself.
  5. Camera 1 which I have configured to pull from the Microsoft Cinema camera pointed at David’s location.
  6. Camera 2 is configured to pull from my other Microsoft Cinema camera which is pointed at my location.
  7. Camera 3 is configured for Screen Capture mode.  Since we have the 7 module limitation this module changes based on how our broadcast is planned.  Currently our co-host Eric doesn’t have a computer and we are using our Skype to call his cell phone.  This configuration allows me to display YouTube videos, websites, or anything else I can call up on it on a LIVE broadcast.

Our upgrade plan is pretty easy to guess.  The Professional Edition of VidBlaster increases the module limit to 25 and with these additional modules we will be changing the configuration and adding new modules.

  1. Camera 3 will be configured to screen capture mode and has our Skype caller displayed full screen.  They are displayed on my 3rd desktop screen which points towards David so he can see our guest directly.
  2. Camera 4 will be pointed at my 2nd desktop screen also in screen capture mode.  This 2nd screen will be used for browsing webpages and such LIVE.
  3. Player 1 will have our opening credits video which was post-produced a few weeks ago.
  4. Player 2 will be used for our closing credits.  Likely these are produced for each episode since we don’t know who to thank for various content and our guests.
  5. Player XX, these additional players will be used for various videos used during the broadcast.  If we want to display a YouTube video, we will use a utility to download that video and have it on my hard drive and preloaded into a Player module.  The reason for this is it will put less of a strain on my internet connection which every bit of is needed for a good quality upload to uStream.
  6. Video Overlay 1 will be used to hold our customized title graphic for David.  It basically contains his name and job description for display at random times during the broadcast.
  7. Video Overlay 2 will be used for my customized title graphic.
  8. Video Overlay 3 is destined to hold the customized title graphic for our Skype guest/co-host.
  9. Video Effect 1 I will use to combine both Camera 1 and Camera 2 in a side-by-side or Picture-in-Picture format.  This module has nearly a dozen different formats which I may setup additional Video Effect modules for.
  10. Video Effect 2 is used to combine Camera 2 and Camera 3.
  11. Video Effect 3 is for Camera 1 and Camera 3.

As you can see, our limitations force us to find creative ways to produce our broadcast.  If you’d like to help us overcome these limitations, please donate to the Week In Review show.  All donations will go to improving the quality of the show and keeping us online and broadcasting.

Cost Sheet

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At this point you have all the tools to produce videos and broadcast them LIVE for less than $700 + tax.  From this point forward we will focus in on hosting services (parts 6, 7 and 10), as well as post production (part 8 and 9) and lastly publicizing your new show online using social networking tools (part 11).

How to Produce a Webcast… part 2

Video Cameras

We got off to a good start with my previous post (part 1) about choosing the right person to Host our webcast.  In this post, I’ll talk about the camera I’m using, why I chose it along with upgrade options we’re looking at if the show really takes off.

For the start of our new show Week In Review I chose to use the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema for a few reasons.  image

The first and most important for any new venture is price.  I took a trip down to my local Wal-Mart, I live in NWA and there’s a Wal-Mart every 10 miles… literally, and browsed around the electronics department.  No one in NWA can beat them on the price point, although everyone can beat them on selection when it comes to computers and computer accessories.  Anyways, I picked up two of these cameras at the low low price of $79 each.  I was under a time constraint and with the launch of the show just weeks away, I wanted time to configure, confirm and possibly return if necessary whatever I chose to sue.

The second reason for this selection is the widescreen High Definition video it produces.  I wanted to produce a high quality 720p video production and our local options are limited.  I did my research online and of the options I had the LifeCam Cinema fit the bill.  I brought it home for testing and everything worked better than expected.  The video was so crisp and clear I had to go change my shirt cause I noticed I’d spilt some of my lunch on it earlier today.

imageHere is an image of my first test.  It was directly being compared to an old webcam I was using before and demonstrates the higher quality of the broadcasted image.  Click it to view it larger and see the clarity the LifeCam Cinema provides over my older HP standard definition webcam.

The next qualification for this camera was if it would be compatible with the video mixer software I chose called VidBlaster.  I’ll go into greater depth about this software in part 5 of my series.  On a side note, the video mixer software can only accept one audio feed.  This meant that if I was using more than one camera, I could not use the microphones from each.  As a result I needed to buy an audio mixer in order to supply the mixed audio from multiple sources.  I’ll discuss further about the audio mixer in part 4 of my series.

During my research I discovered many options available for supplying the video I want.  Some were much pricier than the option I chose, however some of these are in my upgrade plans if the show takes off.

A possible upgrade path for our video equipment will include a few different pieces.

HD Camcorder:  The one I’ve researched with a reasonable price range for ourimage size production is the Canon VIXIA HF R20 Full HD Camcorder.  This $340 camera has the HD quality we’re looking for and the portability we’d like to add to the show.  We can use this portable camera to film events, then play them during our LIVE broadcast and edit them in during post-production.  Combine this with the compatible WM-V1 Wireless Microphone and we can capture HD video and audio easily when remote on location.

HDMI Capture Card:  This PCIe computer card will convert the HDMI computer signal from the camera to digital video imagethat VidBlaster can use as a video feed.  The device I’m looking at is the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro HDMI card.  At $189 at the time of research, this price fits perfectly into a reasonable upgrade budget.  Other options on the capture card can be found over at BH Photo Video.  If I’m looking to have 2 Camcorders, I can simply purchase a second capture card since I have several PCIe card slots in my video mixing computer.

Both the Camcorder and the Capture Card(s) will provide us with remote recording capabilities.  This won’t make us LIVE on remote, however it is a good start in that direction.  Another benefit gained by these two devices is the ability to have 3 in-studio video sources.  Now we can have a nice widescreen zoom able video feed from our studio couch when we have guests.

Cost Sheet

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Next we’ll look at the options I chose for capturing audio from my host and his in-studio guests.  Be sure to join us for part 3.

How to Produce a Webcast… part 1

imageI’ve gotten back into the video game.  Years ago I had a web show called RootSync which I produced on a shoestring budget.  It worked well and had nearly 24 episodes (full season in TV terms).  Since then several things happened, I got a “real job”, divorced my Ex, closed my business, found a wonderful new wife, upgraded my job, upgraded my house, now I’m upgrading my broadcasting capabilities.Avatar

My latest venture into webcasting is a News Review called Week In Review.  I’ve worked hard on this show technically and have added so many new technically interesting features to make it happen.  Below is a short list of technical things that need to be learned and sorted out:

  1. Our Host and general theme of the show.
  2. Microsoft Cinema HD USB cameras for capturing high quality video.
  3. Wireless Label Microphones from RadioShack for capturing our hosts audio.
  4. Using a Xenyx1002B audio mixer to bring together both label microphones, Skype audio, and my computer’s audio then feeding them into VidBlaster for broadcasting.
  5. Utilizing VidBlaster for mixing multiple video sources together, broadcasting it over to uStream, and recording it for later post-production.
  6. uStream for the LIVE aspect of our show.  Broadcasting occurs every Friday at 7pm CST and uStream helps us broadcast LIVE.
  7. YouTube for the hosting of our episodes that have been post-produced.
  8. Using Windows Live Movie Maker for Post Production.
  9. iStockPhoto for royalty free videos, pictures and images.
  10. WordPress for hosting the main website which ties it all together.
  11. Publicizing our show by utilizing social networking like Twitter, Facebook, IMAutomator, etc…

I will be going into depth on each of the above technical aspects of the show and hopefully by the end of my Webcasting series you’ll have the knowledge needed to produce your own Webcast.

Our Host

A very important part of any new Webcast web show is your host.  The host must be interesting, insightful, and knowledgeable on the topics to be covered.  It helps if your host has the time to research and find the stories or topics that they would like to talk about in a way that would interest an audience.

David Smith3For my latest Webcast, my friend David will be hosting the show while I get to focus on the technical stuff.  David is a long time friend and has tons to talk about.  He has an actual PHD, he has lived and worked in L.A. during the riots, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Rome, and has ended up in Northwest Arkansas.  His extensive knowledge about a wide array of subjects makes him a very interesting listen and I believe the world would be better with his views shared.

David and I have been meeting every Friday for dinner ever since I can remember.  During our Friday dinners we’d talk about how our weeks have gone and what has happened in the world during the week as well as how those events would effect our lives here in Northwest Arkansas.  A few months ago we decided to record our discussions and share them with everyone and a new show was born.

Now that we have our host and the general theme of the show, it’s time to focus in on the technical aspects.  In part 2, I’ll discuss the video hardware used during our show.

Internet Cameras… We’re talking Enemy of the State stuff…

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If I told you that there are literally thousands of publicly accessible cameras that you could pull up on your computer right now… would you believe me?

A little Google search, inurl:/view/index.shtml, shows us only one brand of public IP Cameras.

I tell you this because of my current project that i have recently had a lot of success with.  My goal is to setup cameras through out my apartment in order to monitor what goes on within it.

What I’m wanting is three very basic things.  It took me a few days of research to verify that they were possible.  The first thing I wanted for my camera project was the ability to use my web-cam along with network IP cameras I will purchase over time.  I wanted to be able to access all of the cameras the same way… which meant that I needed a computer software to turn my USB web-cam into an IP Camera, or at least act like one.  The second thing I wanted was to have a software package that will display the video feeds from all my cameras on one 20” LCD I have in my office.  This LCD will work exclusively to display the security system.  The system itself, using this software would act much like a DVR and record the video feeds to a file on it’s hard drive.  Lastly I wanted the ability to view the cameras remotely on my iPhone.  IMG_0001

I was very happy to find that all of this was possible with two pieces of software.  One is called IP Vision Pro, and is an iPhone app available through the iTunes App Store for only $24.99.  This application gives me the ability to  watch and control IP Network Cameras which are publicly available over the internet. 

The second software package I would need is called w5_mainWebCamXP.  I will be using the Pro license because it has the ability to have unlimited number of cameras, among other very useful features.

This software not only connects to IP Network Cameras like the IP Vision Pro software, but will also turn my USB web-cam into an IP Network Camera as well. 

WebCamXP also has the advanced features of those expensive monitoring programs like DVR functionality.

Now that the software is out of the way, I can focus on cameras.  When I have additional camera research I’ll be sure to post it here…