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WebCam Looker and FarWatch

Plus some IP-cam setup secrets

This page is here in an attempt to persuade you to try my FarWatch package... but in the course of that, I've published some research on various IP cams which you may find useful even if you don't try FarWatch.

FarWatch is my name for a package of mostly free applications which allow anyone with an always on internet connection... even without a static IP address... to monitor things at a premise from any internet terminal in the world.

The basic FarWatch system only requires a PC which you are willing to leave running and an internet connection. For about $40 you can add hardware to monitor temperature at the premises.

If you go further, and set up my weather monitoring software on the computer, you can monitor the weather... and much more.

Add a simple USB webcam and WebCam Looker from Felenasoft, (free to evaluate for 14 days, then $25 to license (at 2/2010)), and then you can view an image from the monitored premises from any internet terminal... without the heavy internet traffic and hard disk thrash that some systems require.

Table of Contents

.... of course, if the introduction makes this look like what you were after, just read on, without skipping stuff!....

Preface

An aside: Yes- You can buy IP-Cams with all of the FarWatch elements built in... but if you go that route, your solution lacks flexibility. And you don't have the weather/ premise systems monitoring, either. FarWatch can use an IP-Cam, and for very little extra expense you get more features, more control. You can also take a middle road: Set up an PC to do the serving, and use WebCam Looker to take care of some of the things that the full FarWatch would give you.

A "disclosure": I really struggled to get to where I am. Although I have used computers for many years, this project brought together several challenges. While I like WebCam Looker very much... so much that I haven't bothered to try the alternatives (yet.. despite having a licensed copy of an alternative product, which I bought during an earlier stab at these challenges)... While I like it very much, I do not mean to imply by anything that follows that I was able to set it up, just so, on the first attempt. And I am even now struggling with a few "little features" that I will one day bludgeon into submission. If you want something that will "just work", and read your mind, guess what you wanted, and do it your way.... then stop reading, and throw out your computer. Another reason I am persisting with WebCam Looker is that it has been around for a while. This is usually a Good Sign. Buggy software doesn't usually remain in the marketplace... unless it has a certain huge monopoly behind it, killing off any products that try to compete.

If you just want to "do it"... I have a page that is less theoretical and less comprehesive with instructions for getting started with an IP camera. Maybe that will be what you are looking for? I wish I'd had something like it when I started!

Perhaps I should also mention that my only connection with Felenasoft is as a customer. Yes, I like the product; yes, I've sent them feedback. No, I do not get a commission!

Moving forward....

Back to the central story.

In what follows, I am going to give you the details of setting up WebCam Looker to "play nicely" with FarWatch.

Note that the setup that follows meets my requirements. If you are looking for something similar, I would be surprised if WebCam Looker can't do what you want to do.

Start by setting up FarWatch and the weather, etc, monitor (DS025).

DS025 generates the web page which FarWatch serves to anyone asking for the state of the monitored premises.

The ini file of DS025 provides a way to specify a graphic to be included in the served page of HTML. I tend to call that graphic FWtmp.jpg. Totally independently of DS025, if what is in the file changes, then what you see when you "visit" the premises will change. For testing purposes, put an unchanging file in the right folder. (There's more on configuring DS025 elsewhere). When you've got FarWatch serving the static image, you're done with the FarWatch/ DS025 setup.

You don't, of course have to use WebCam Looker to create and update the graphic file... but I'm going to give you the details, in case you decide to try the tested answer.

(return to table of contents)

Before we go on... two things.... "My Goals", and "Naming of Parts"

For my goals, I do not want a video feed... and all of its overheads. I am quite content with a system which updates the image on the webpage once every twenty minutes. You could have a fairly high resolution new image every two minutes with what I will describe... but two new images per second would take some bigger changes. I suspect that the same hardware and software I am using can give you near video images... but I haven't gone down that path. One "frill" I have in my system is that the image "freezes" in the early evening. People checking my site in the night hours don't see a black rectangle. (Of course, I need only change the camera to an infra-red model, and I can show pictures through the night.)

Some "naming of parts"...

IP-CAM: An "ip-cam" is a device which can be connected to a local area network (LAN), and supply images (at least still, maybe still and moving) to a web browser, e.g. FireFox. These devices often are capable of much more, but for our purposes, that's all we need. And we don't need the camera's supplier's proprietary software cluttering up our PCs, either. Typically, you connect the ip-cam with a cable at least once, and then use a browser to go to a URL like http://192.168.0.2 to access the camera's control panel. There, you set various things like the resolution you want, and, if the camera has the feature, the settings for the wireless networking connection. You then disconnect the cable, and if all is well find the camera connected to your LAN by its wireless circuits.

With just an IP Cam FTPing to a server, and the free IrfanView, and the free VDub (both on Win7), I made an amusing 3 minute YouTube of the dreadful snow of "Spring" 2015 in coastal Connecticut. Well. It amused me, anyway.

WEB CAM: What is quite properly called a "web cam" in many contexts I shall call a USB-cam in what follows to underline the fact that I'm talking about the everyday "cam" that connects quickly, inexpensively and simply to your PC via USB. (Those of you new to computing don't know what a blessing USB is, compared to what went before. May you never have to learn!) When you first plug the camera in, some necessary drivers will have to be installed, but that is usually painless, and is often automatic. What you don't need are the various fancy "support" packages which are often bundled in addition to the basic drivers.

VIDEO CARD CCTV CAMERA: If you have been trying to move old VHS recordings from your tapes to your PC, you may well have a card or external device to make this possible. People with some forms of video recording cameras will also connect to their PC this way. The nice people at Pinnacle have a strong presence in the field. You can buy a fairly good CCTV camera which will plug into one of these cards from eBay for $40 (and some pretty rotten ones, too... but for even less, and even those will do for experimentation. They DO produce an image!) If you see NTSC or PAL or "composite" in the specs, you are probably looking at this sort of device, which I will call a "CCTV-cam" in what follows. Mention of "RCA connectors" also probably indicates one of these. If you don't mind connecting up some wires, you can buy the heart of this sort of device from Sparkfun (At 2/2010: $32 for a 640x480 color camera, or $35 for a 640x480 B&W with IR illumination built-in (for night viewing) (That camera works fine, too, for scenes illuminated by visible light, but the image is still B&W, of course.)

Speaking of CCTV-cams: It may seem to good to be true, but "baluns" do actually work. They let you sent CCTV images over "simple" wires. They require no power. I bought a pair for less than $6 from SmartNightGuard on eBay and have a signal travelling about 18m in just two wires of a piece of Cat-5 cable. (It is probably best to put the poser supply as close to yiour camera as you can, though.)(The SilentNightGuard description was "400m Anti-interference Passive Video Balun with BNC... NV-202N

DIGITAL I/O: Let's start with what this does not refer to: When I speak of a given camera having digital I/O (input and output), I am not talking about how the image is rendered. I am saying that the camera in question has places where you can connect external electronics or electrics. Such cameras can, for instance, set of an alarm bell when they "see" movement. They can be "told" to take a picture and email it, or store it, when, say, a PIR detects someone present. I have a page with more on IP cam digital I/O for you. (It will open in a new tab or window, so you can get back here easily.)

Further on CCTV cams: Ever better dedicated "video recorders" are appearing on the market. They are like the PVRs we use to record TV programs to a hard disk for playback later, but are designed for security cameras. Not as much fun as "making your own" system, with IP-cams, or other... but quicker!

(return to table of contents)

Oh dear... a digression: When I went to the Sparkfun site to look up that camera for you, I came across another lovely toy at the Sparkfun site: A very small (about 1 cm on a side!) 1.3 mega-pixel (1300x1040 pixel image) color camera from Toshiba with the standard data+I2C interface. Offers on-board JPEG compression. $10 at 2/2010.

(Text taken and adapted from the Sparkfun site.)

Now... I don't know that this will "just work" if plugged into the FarWatch/ WebCam Looker system... but this does seem to be a very interesting device! Back to "work"...


Put your FarWatch/ DS025 work to one side for a moment.

Download and install WebCam Looker. Connect your camera(s). I have used the following set ups...

1) A Linksys WVC54GCA ip-cam plus a CCTV-cam connected through a Pinnacle video capture card.

2) A Panasonic BL-20C ip-cam plus a Logitech USB-cam.

3) Though I haven't used it with WebCam Looker (yet!... it "should" work with it!) I would also like to mention to you the Wansview NCB541W. (Link to details further down.)


Here be Good Stuff

For some reason, the ip-cam manufacturers seem to want to keep secret the "codes" for getting into their cameras from a simple browser, which is all you need to get into them with products like WebCam Looker. (It is not the only example of its genre.)

I've put what I've discovered in the pages listed below, one for each camera. If you know the URLs for other cameras... or have discovered that their images cannot be fetched from a browser, then do please get in touch.

If you don't have a Linksys WVC54, or one of the Panasonic BL cameras, and you're not using a video capture device (CCTV-cam), then check out the extensive notes at the site produced for the application called "Motion".

In every case, what you enter into your browser will be something of the following form....

http://TheCamsIPaddress/SecretCode

The "http://" is generic to the way we are accessing the device. What follows it is "the URL".

In a simple scenario, the "TheCamsIPaddress" will be something like...

192.168.0.254

... with the "254" quite likely to be different in your case, and even the rest of it may be different. You want to set the camera to use a static IP address.... which is different from having a static IP address for your connection to the internet (!). And you may have to fight with your firewall and anti-malware software to "get into" the camera, or "see" its answers. (Don't be alarmed if your anti-malware software asks if you want to permit an "outgoing" connection... if that connection is to your camera's IP address, i.e. 192.168.0.254 in my example.

Digression for a special case:

Let's say you already have even a tiny LAN up and working, say a router and a PC connecting through it to the internet.

And then let's say that you acquire a device which is already set up with a static IP address, using something different for the first three numbers in the IP address.

If you can reset the new device to a factory default which uses DCHP, that's the easy answer. (I'd be inclined to do a reset and... carefully... a firmware upgrade, in any case.)

If you can't use a reset to get back to DCHP, or to "the right" first three numbers, then you are, I believe, in for some "fun".

There may be a way out of your mess via changing the router's subnet mask from the usual 255.255.255.0, even if only temporarily. I haven't fully investigated that promising idea.

For now, the only answer I know is a bit fraught. It is contained in my detailed notes on the Tenvis Mini 319W

Aren't computers fun. Sigh.

End of Diversion.

Returning to...

http://TheCamsIPaddress/SecretCode

If you have got DDNS up and working for your LAN, have fixed the firewalls, etc, then instead of numbers for "TheCamsIPaddress", you will be able to enter whatever domain name is being served by your DDNS service.

Let's say your camera is in your LAN at 192.168.0.254, and your DDNS served domain name is FredsPlace.dyndns.org.

Sitting at a computer on the same LAN as your camera, you could put either of the following into your browser, and connect to your camera...

http://192.168.0.254/SecretCode

... or ...

http://FredsPlace.dyndns.org/SecretCode

Note, however, that in the first instance, you are talking directly to the camera... PC to router to camera and back again.

In the second case things are much more "interesting".

First an enquiry goes out from your PC to a DNS (not "DDNS") server out somewhere on the internet. That sends back the numbers which are right for FredsPlace.dyndns.org (as long as your DDNS server is doing its job, which is to keep the DNS service appraised of the periodic changes to what address your router is at, from the WAN's point of view.)

Then whatever you wanted to send to the camera goes...

Your camera will then send the "answer" to your request back via the same route, skipping the "find numeric address" step.

Whew! But if you understand that, you can better understand why something isn't working. Always try the direct access (via numeric address) to a device first. Once you have that working, you can tackle fixing any problems you may have with the extra steps involved in remote access.

And when you have all of that working, test your setup from a computer NOT on the same LAN as the camera... some routers are "clever" enough to see what you are up to, and skip the "go out on the net" part. But get access from a PC on the same LAN working first, before you do the ultimate test.

Still on the subject of the TheCamsIPaddress part of...

http://TheCamsIPaddress/SecretCode

You must type the "http://" part if you are using Internet Explorer... at least through IE 10, or it will say "Cannot Display", or similar, even if everything else is right. You will sometimes get away with leaving it out for a place you have already visited, as the computer's "auto complete" may "translate" what you've entered to the equivalent, with the http://. This may be particularly true if you are using a non-standard port.

And it is probably best to use Internet Explorer for working with consumer grade IP cameras. Many will "work" with Firefox... but not give you all of the features that you can have if you allow Internet Explorer and it's ActiveX controls. The cameras are particularly prone to fail to display images with non-IE browsers. (Often text-based setup tasks work fine. And often there are ways to see images, but as a series of jpeg snapshots... but "get fancy" after you have established that it works "the easy" (for the camera's programmers) way.)

And for a final point on the subject of the TheCamsIPaddress part of...

http://TheCamsIPaddress/SecretCode

I should have called that "TheCamsIPaddressAndPort".

If you enter...

http://192.168.0.254/SecretCode

... then the system will treat that as....

http://192.168.0.254:80/SecretCode

The ":80" bit says "use port 80". Port 80 is the standard port to use for HTTP.

But you will probably be able to change the port the camera uses, and you will need to do so if you have more than one camera on the LAN, or if you already have some other HTTP server on the LAN at port 80. (The camera is an HTPP server, if you didn't know that. That is why you can "talk" to it with a web browser.) Let's say your other HTTP serving device is on 192.168.0.100.

If you were only going to communicate with the devices across your LAN, you could have them both set to use port 80....

http://192.168.0.254

... and...

http://192.168.0.100

... would take you to the other device.

But as soon as you start wanting to access both devices via the internet, you will need to give them separate ports. Let's say you decide on 80 and 81. Then you'd be able to use....

http://FredsPlace.dyndns.org:80

... would take you to the camera, and...

http://FredsPlace.dyndns.org:81

.. and get the device you wanted. (Once you've got your router's NAT set up properly (^_^) of course.)

I will use 192.168.0.254 for "TheCamsIPaddress" in the discussions that follow. Remember that you will almost certainly need to change that, if only the "254", on your system.

Moving on from what you put into the browser, at last...

With most ip-cams, there will be some "setup" work to do. That's things you "tell" the camera once, by sundry means. Once it has been set up, there will be the "secret code" to mutter. Remember to separate the "secret code" from the "http://TheCamsIPaddress" stuff with a "/". More "/"s may be part of the "secret code". ("Secret code" is just my quick way of saying "the latter part of the URL". So there it is, if you want a more formal nomenclature.)

One last general point: As scary as doing firmware upgrades is... and you should be (moderately) scared... I would recommend that you seriously consider doing a firmware upgrade of any camera, especially if you bought an elderly eBay bargain. Not only will you be spared fighting with things that weren't right in older versions of the camera's firmware, but you will protect yourself from the remote but serious possibility that something nasty has been put into the camera by an evil doer. Your camera will be able to see things that are important to you. It probably has a microphone. You will probably turn off your firewall at least once during the fight to get it working, and you will probably tell your browser that you "don't care" that the ActiveX control the camera wants to use is uncertified. Hmm.

(return to table of contents)

Links to notes about specific cameras

Each of the pages listed says a bit about the camera's features, to help prospective buyers, and then tries to help you with the details of the "secret codes", for those of you who have one of the cameras.

Compro IP60: Detail at Compro IP60 guide.

Linksys WVC54GCA and WVC54GC (no): Details at Linksys WVC54GCA guide.

Panasonic BL-20C: Detail at Panasonic BL-20C guide.

Panasonic BL-C101E: Detail at Panasonic BL-C101E guide.

Tenvis Mini319W: Detail at Tenvis Mini319W guide. This IP cam seems fairly "modern" and to have sold well at Amazon, up to February 2014. It didn't pretend to be "fancy"... but I found it a pain to work with, and seriously flawed. Details in the guide. When I started work with this camera, my LAN was based on 192.168.0.xxx... but the camera was supplied with a static IP address in place. In the 192.168.1.xxx range. I discuss implications and cures for the resultant need to change the IP address from 192.168.1.xx.

TP-Link TL-SC4171G/ TL-SC3171: Detail at TP-Link TL-SC4171G guide. The 4171 has pan and tilt. The TL-SC3171 doesn't, but is similar in most other ways.

TP-Link NC220: Detail at TP-Link NC-220 guide. A nice, new... well compared to many of my IP cams, often bought second-hand, inexpensive camera from a source I'd had good experiences with. Sigh. Not as nice as I'd hoped. A good basic "watch someplace on your LAN" camera, maybe. Details, and some setup help.

Wansview NCB541W: This is very similar to cameras with different model numbers from: Wanscam, Foscam, Storage Options, Shinntto, Tenvis, and no doubt others! Bah!! Details at Wansview NCB541W guide. Despite my frustration with the "cross posting" of the device, I have to admit it works pretty well, has good features.




So much for the cameras... on now to the software setup...

In both cases, the USB-cam was only connected because I'm human, and wanted "a bit more". It was only used to watch for motion, e.g. a postman coming to my door. It snapped pictures when it saw motion, and stored them on my hard disk. WebCam Looker has, as in most areas, a range of options open to you in respect of how much disk space it will use, and what it will do when that space is full. It can then just wait for you to make decisions, or it can be set to "wrap around", and over-write the oldest images whenever new things come along. Typical of why I like WebCam Looker...

To use WebCam Looker the way I am using it.....

First....

You set up your "sources". Each of your cameras is a "source". In my case, the USB-cam camera was "discovered" by WebCam Looker without me having to do anything clever. The CCTV-cam was "discovered", but I had to make some settings. In particular, although the source type ("Device") was correctly detected, I had to go into the details, and "advanced details" from there, if memory serves me. Eventually I reached a place where I could change the "Crossbar" settings. I had to make the input "VideoCompositeIn" for my camera. I also needed "YUY2, 720x526, 25fps". (That seemed to work as well as the 29fps that another application was using.) Those settings, I think, arose because I had a "PAL" format camera. In the US, you will probably have "NTSC" cameras. After you make what you hope are the right settings, and click the "ok"s to get back to the main screen wait for a bit for the preview to come up... perhaps 10 sec.

Once you have added a source, by the way, you cannot change the sort of source it is. If you make a mistake there, you just delete the offending, unsatisfactory source, and start again to set up a source for the camera that you want to add.

Sorry... back to what we were doing before those little digressions....

Next.... marking

You have various options for "marking" things at different levels. I like to keep things simple, so I applied my marks at the most fundamental level; I applied them to the sources. In particular, I put a date/time stamp on each. If you have two sources, if you put the mark for one at the left of the image, and the other at the right of the image, you can still see both timestamps even when the images are overlapping.

What to do with the image stream....

Each source, at any one time, can be connected either to "Preview only" or "Continuous" or "Motion Detect". That's the simple statement of What Happens. There is a twist to that, which we will come to later.

Preview Only

In preview only... for our initial purposes... you simply see on the screen of the PC running WebCam Looker whatever is being fed to WebCam Looker from the sources you have set up, and turned on. (There's a little "source on" check-box on each source's settings page). Quite sufficient for many users' needs! An easy, affordable way to multiplex four, or even more, cameras onto a single, live display.

Motion Detect

I set my USB-cams to Motion Detect, and sent still images only, not video, to the archive when motion was detected. A tip for you: Do not "watch" the whole of the image for motion. Watch just the "middle" part, additionally excluding anything you wish to. The reason for this is that if you monitor the whole scene, you will get pictures of the nose of someone as they come into view, whereas if you'd taken the photo a moment later, by setting the detection area to be the "middle" of the image, you would see the whole profile when the nose invades the monitored region.

Setting up the motion detection routines went quite simply.

Don't imagine you're seeing a rough edge if the "detect here" areas flicker from time to time as you monitor the display. They flicker to say "We counted what just happened as 'motion'".

Continuous

The sources (except if switched off, of course) send a "continuous" stream of images to WebCam Looker. This is not the sort of "continuous" we're talking about here.

When a source is set to "continuous" mode, it is continuously sending images to the hard disk of the PC. Note that the source can re-sample the scene on one schedule, say once every two seconds. This would give a near real-time display on the monitor. But if that is more data than you need to store, you can set the "continuous mode" to post a new image to the hard disc only, say, every 5 minutes.

You can post those images to the hard drive in either or both of TWO places:

1) The archive. This is a WebCam Looker managed folder. You can access images in the archive almost as if they were on a video tape, with the time the image was recorded displayed, and buttons to go forward, backward, etc.

2) To a destination of your choice. In my case, that destination is the file FarWatch/ DS025 will be using in the web page which you can access from afar. All sorts of other clever things are available, but I'm not sure if it is from here that you access them. At the moment, my WebCam Looker is undergoing a test, and I don't want to upset that by going into my settings pages... sorry!

Baldrick's Clever Plan....

So far, so good? Lots possible already. But now we get clever... even if it is at the cost of a little dip on the "obvious/ easy to use" meter.

When we are using the (record) continuously mode, the system does just that... it records an image as often as we asked it too... I used "5 minutes" in my example above. And it does this... continuously.... 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while power lasts!

To get fancier, we proceed as follows:

Almost entirely separate from what we've discussed so far is the Scheduler.

On the main setting page, if you have a source selected, you can click on the Scheduler button. That opens up a window where you can set all sorts of things. For my needs, I said I wanted to use the same settings as I had for that source in "Continuous" mode... but just between the hours of 6am and 7pm. (I could also have specified a range of dates, and/or restricted things to specific days of the week. Did I mention that WebCam Looker is very flexible??)

So far so good. There's just one little "trick" to be aware of....

Once you have set up both the settings under "continuous" and under the scheduler, you then set the source to run just in "Preview" mode! Some of the settings under Continuous will be noted when the Scheduler turns things on. By having the source set to "Preview Only", you don't get recordings 24/7, which is what would happen if you had it set to "Continuous". I suppose you could say that "Preview Only" is "Preview- plus- anything- scheduled- by- the- scheduler". And you have to grasp that the scheduler will look at the settings made under "continuous".

But! Having grasped that, the program does a great job of managing the cameras and recording from them, as I wanted things done.

While it wasn't what I needed, you can also set the system to go into motion detect on a schedule. Each source's behavior can be programmed separately.

Whew! Thank heavens for Google.

Whatever you were looking for when you came here... I hope you have found it! And I hope you don't have to discover by yourself quite as many things as I had to. It is a pity that there are so many things to get right, and that many people won't make it to their hoped for destination... but that's computers for you, isn't it?


One little bit of humor to end with. The following appeared in one discussion I read while researching the above...

"This is an excellent camera. I used it to watch my children at home from my office. I have four of them and recommend to everybody."

Is that children or cameras of which he has four? Four of each, maybe?

(return to table of contents)




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