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Setup a Webcam

How to setup a streaming web cam with Windows Media Encoder
How to setup a WebCam | Web Cam & Web Radio | Streaming Media Home

This document details how to setup a one to MANY WebCam/WebRadio station.  If you are searching  for a 1 to 1 webcam (video phone) then you should look into MS NetMeeting, which is probably already installed in your computer.  However, it's still always best to use a hardware solution like the DLink below.


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Measured Plans

 

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This is the same configuration used for Internet TV and Radio stations!

Recommended capture cards:
Remember, firewire cameras only require a firewire port and possibly a repeater.  You do not need a capture card with firewire cameras.


 

Firewire repeaters and cable:

Long SVideo cable:

 

 

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A 10Mb measured publishing point is included in all our
Business Web Publishing plans.  They also include other great features, like eMail collaboration, WhosOn and discounts on offsite backup services.
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On the surface, setting up a WebCam can be a very intimidating project.  The learning curve is short and the whole project eventually becomes a lot of fun.   This document is designed to help you setup your WebCam and signup for service from CNS. 

An example of the WebCam this document will help you build can be found at SunDiegoLive.com, a web cam of San Diego, California.

The basic setup of a WebCam is a single computer, acting as a Windows Media Encoder and a Windows Media service provider (WMSP).  Your encoder will send your stream to the WMSP, who will then cybercast your presentation to the world for you.  Services don't necessarily need to be as expensive as they might seem.  WebCams can be served from dedicated, measured usage or the new Media Server Bundles.  A media server bundle or a measured usage plan is usually the best way to start.  This will be discussed later.

Before you do anything, you must first decide on placement of your WebCam.  The camera should be pointed at a relatively interesting spot to keep your visitor entertained and at your site longer. (You can then insert paid advertisements into your video stream to generate revenue.  Don't forget to ask CNS about their geo-targeting advertising technology to maximize your advertising revenue.)  The camera should not be pointing directly into the sun at any part of the day - this is an easy way to destroy it.

If you are going to place the camera outside, make sure you purchase a suitable protective housing designed for outdoor cameras.  The housing should ideally have a heater and blower inside to keep the glass from fogging up.  You can usually find these, and the cameras to go inside them, from companies that sell alarm equipment.  A really nice touch to any WebCam is multiple cameras!  Ask the video equipment store for a automatic switcher.  You can then plug (usually) up to four cameras into the switcher and let them rotate every 20-30 seconds between different views.  It really makes for a spectacular WebCam.

Quality really shows when it comes to optics.  You definitely get what you pay for so do it right the first time!  I strongly discourage those cheap cameras that you can buy in computer stores or are commonly advertised as some sort of web cam package.  They usually don't have a nice lens or automatic aperture and are almost always a pile of junk with a flashy package.  Their white balance is usually off, as well, providing for color that just looks terrible.

If the camera is pointing outside then you should also get a polarizing filter to attach on the lens.  This will get rid of the glare and make the color saturation significantly better.  You can get a polarizing filter from any camera shop.  If your camera is moving (and auto-focusing), then get a circular polarizing filter.

If you are going to run an indoor camera, get yourself a nice home video camera.  Before you purchase it, make sure it will stay on without any tape in it and without turning itself off.  Many cameras turn off after about 15 minutes of idle time.

Although not mandatory, your picture quality will be much nicer if the camera has an SVideo or firewire output.  Firewire will produce the best possible quality - but you must setup a repeater every 10 meters on long cable runs. (garbage in / garbage out).   If you must then composite video is ok too.  Sometimes extremely long cable runs are limited to composite because anything else is just not practical, but try to work with SVideo or ideally firewire.

Another nice touch to an indoor camera is good lighting.  If your scene is going to be inside then try and keep from mixing your light sources, if at all possible.  Modern video cameras can usually do a fair job compensating for mixed light sources, but you can always see the quality in lighting that is done right.  Fluorescents are a terrible light source, unless you buy the special ones at 5600K and set the camera to outdoor.

The next step is to decide what kind of audio content you want to provide.  The sky is really the limit here.  You can plug a microphone into a sound card and send live dialogue, put CD's into the encoder and play them, or find yourself a good radio tuner and send the radio stations feed to your visitors.  Most radio stations won't have a problem with this as long as you cybercast their entire feed.  That is, you can't cut out their commercials and put your own in.  You can put your own commercials in front of the WebCam stream or maybe even at the end.  (talk to your attorney)

Think of the audio equipment as a entirely separate setup from which you will require a line level output.  This will plug into a mini jack at the sound card, on the back of the encoder.  If you are going to do any sort of mixing, I strongly suggest plugging the mixer (Radio Shack makes a good one) into the encoder and all other devices into the mixer.  Make sure you set 0 db on the audio meters of the mixer to match the meters on the encoder sound card software.  Don't go over zero!  Ever! You will clip your signal and make it sound really bad.  Compressed audio does not have nearly the headroom as analog audio does, so make sure you do not go into the red on the audio meter.

You are now ready to setup a computer to act as a Windows Media encoder.  This encoder must be plugged into a broadband Internet connection with at least 150k reliable upstream bandwidth available.  A static IP address is not required but desirable.  You should also subscribe to  a business plan or one of the gaming plans that the cable and DSL companies offer these days.  These types of plans nicely accommodate for the  bandwidth requirements of the encoder.  The web cam in the San Diego demo uses a Cox Communications cable modem on the Cox performance gaming plan to send its media stream to a dedicated Windows Media publishing point on the web cam service provider's (CNS) network.

Most any modern Windows PC will work as an encoder.  The faster the computer, the busier the scene can be because the encoder will be able to process data more efficiently.  I do not recommend sharing this computer with any other tasks - make it a dedicated Windows Media encoder and nothing else.  Windows 2000 workstation or Windows server seems to run the best, NT/2000/XP will work just fine.

For analog video capture (composite or SVideo), use a decent audio card and a Happauge video card for the video capture.  The USB version supports both audio and video capture on the same device.  For firewire cameras, make sure the computer working as the encoder has a firewire port.  You can install one if necessary.  Remember - you must use a firewire repeater every 10 meters (32 feet), but the picture quality will be clean - the best possible.

You CAN setup multiple capture cards/devices and switch between them with the windows media encoder - a live switcher.  The more capture devices you add the faster the computer you will need.  Use a new PC for anything beyond one camera input.  Dual core CPU or greater.

As this computer will be plugged into the network 24/7, I strongly recommend purchasing a cable/DSL router, such as Netgear or Linksys. These units have built-in firewalls, preventing unauthorized users from shutting down your encoder or using it as a zombie to levy DoS attacks on the net.  This will also let you share the Internet circuit with other computers in the area.

Next, install the latest Windows Media Encoder software. Setup a custom profile with three bitstreams.  Use 100k, 56k(3) and 56k(1), WindowsMedia 8, 10k mono audio at least.  This will provide a really nice stream to broadband users, while still sending a quality picture to dial-up visitors.

The growing cell phone web cam audience should not be ignored.  Viewers from these devices are growing fast so don't get left out over something as silly as not taking the time to build a simple page for these special viewers.  Designing a site for cell phones is as simple as keeping in mind the screen size is 240x320 when you develop the html pages.   Keep your content 'light' so page loads are quick.

Cell phones will generally watch your webcam at either 100Kb or 70Kb.  They can easily tune in at the dial-up speeds if cellular service is terrible.  Be sure and test your picture from a windows mobile cell phone, such as Verizon XV-6700 and palm trio (my personal favorite by far is the Verizon XV-6700).

Here is a list of good places to start when building your ideal profile:

340Kb stream: 80%, 320x240, 14fps.
282Kb stream: 80%, 320x240, 14fps.
166Kb stream: 80%, 320x240, 14fps.
100Kb stream: 80%, 320x240, 7fps.
56Kb(3) stream: 75%, 320x240, 4fps
56Kb(1) stream: 50%, 320x240, 2fps

These are only starting points.  You will have some trial and error to do here as you optimize the data rate for your specific scene.  CNS will help you optimize your encoding profile as soon as you're ready. 

You're almost ready!  The final step is to signup for service from CNS.  Here is where you can waste money if you're not careful - you need to choose the best service plan very carefully.  Dedicated plans are billed by maximum simultaneous viewers, without regard to how much data is sent to those viewers.  Measured plans are billed by total data traffic usage.

If your webcam has a steady stream of visitors for more than 230 hours/month (~57 hours/week), you will be better off on a dedicated plan.   Most webcams are not this busy and will be served more cost effectively from a measured use plan or media server bundle, with careful attention by the webmaster.  Dedicated plans only pay for bandwidth capacity (max simultaneous viewers), regardless of the amount of data actually transmitted.

Media Server Bundles benefit because they have the actual windows enterprise control panel available to them, along with a large suite of available streaming servers for ANY purpose.   However, they have not been tested with loads greater than 10Mb. Usage greater than 10Mb/sec (bursting) should use a measured or dedicated plan (or be prepared to fully test it).

You can estimate costs of measured plans (including Media Server Bundles) by total viewers/month and their average viewing time.  Measured plans also let your webcam burst more bandwidth during peek usage periods then what a comparable dedicated plan might allow for.  For example, if your webcam receives 10,000 viewers/month and they average about 5 minutes each, then you're only transmitting about 38.98GB/month.  This can only cost about $100/month for ~49 simultaneous viewers @109Kbps.  Maximum costs can be controlled by specifying a maximum number of simultaneous viewers when you subscribe to the publishing point service. Please visit our streaming media estimator to help determine which service plan is best for you.

A 10Mb measured publishing point is included in all our
Business Web Publishing plans.  They also include other great features, like eMail collaboration, WhosOn and discounts on offsite backup services.
[READ MORE]

Signup for WebCam service from CNS and you will have completed your setup.  Insert the Windows Media player code into your page.  CNS will provide you with an ASX file to link to.  Be sure and include the Windows Media icon and link it to the Windows Media Player page.  This will help users who may need to install or upgrade their player.  There is even a version out for Mac users!

Please send your questions or comments about this article to me through CNS support.  Please mark your message "ATTN: Barry Bahrami".  You can also click 'live help' at the top of this page (when available) to reach someone who can assist you with getting setup.


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