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The FarWatch- Remote monitoring- "Live" pictures

The FarWatch family is explained more generally elsewhere. This page takes you into the details of how you can... easily... add images from a webcam or IP-cam to the information accessed via FarWatch. There are some thoughts on specific cameras near the bottom of the page.

If you visit either of the following FarWatch pages (which will open in new tabs or windows)....

...you can usually see an example of the system in action, although there are times when one or the other site is not online. Details in a moment. For the image, you need to scroll down the FarWatch page. If the image quality is poor please be advised that that is nothing to do with FarWatch. (That statement will be explained in a moment.)

DS025, the weather station shareware, has its own descriptive page.

On the FarWatch DS025Weather Stations with links above, "now" is at the right hand edge of the graph. The vertical gray lines are midnights, local time. The red/yellow in-winter slightly up/ down/ up/ down lines come from indoor temperature sensors. (Where the line is a saw tooth, it is because it is cold outside and the thermostat isn't very clever.) The more irregularly up/down red or yellow line is the outside temperature. The slowly drifting green line is barometric pressure. The magenta lines shows you the wind speed: When horizontal wind zero. Gently up: gentle breezes. Strongly up: Strong winds. Look for the on/ off/ on/ off pattern which ties to day/ night/ day/ night. Blue: Rainfall, working the same way. On one there's an indoor relative humidity record. The square waves at the top of each relate to things that can be "on" or "off". In one case I monitor the electricity flowing to the water well's pump. If it is pumping when the owners of that property are away, then might want the housekeeper to visit and check for a burst pipe, might they not!? (A program in development, FarWatchWatcher can automatically check FarWatch pages, and start an alarm if a temperature goes too low, or a water pump is running.)

But! This is meant to be about the video. Scroll down the page with the weather records, and you should see an image of a garden. If it is a poor image, that is nothing to do with FarWatch!... if I had a more expensive camera, you would see a prettier picture!

The image displayed comes from an IP-cam (or it may be a simple USB webcam... the IP-cam is playing up sometimes) on the same LAN as the FarWatch server, but the image may... or may not... be very up to date. OTHER software is responsible for the image. If you want to set up something to refresh that image, even as often as once a second, you can... but it won't be anything to do with FarWatch. Please read on!...

While there are lots of products to choose from, especially if you are only using a USB webcam, I am currently using WebCam Looker to capture that image. It is available for evaluation for 14 days in a fully functioning demo. It is packed with excellent features. It is reasonably priced. ($25, at 2/2010). If you didn't want the weather recording and display features, it could take care of most of what FarWatch does, without needing a PC running at the supervised premises! Very impressive. Because it is so feature rich, you will have to do a little thinking to get it all set up to match your needs, but I think it is well worth any effort you may have to make.

For my needs, WebCam Looker is good because I can tell it to take pictures of the garden only between 8am and 4:30pm. (I don't imagine that you want to see what the garden looks like at midnight?). It is also helpful that WebCam Looker uses the last good photo when the IP-Cam (a Linksys WVC54GCV, latest firmware, freezes up, as it does at least once a day.) And the system even copes well with the freezes: I have to restart the camera, but not WebCam Looker or DS025 (the software that prepares what FarWatch displays).

Whatever system you use to capture your images should have a way to select the compromise you want between image quality and file size. You can have hi-res if you don't mind big files, or small files if you don't mind marginal images. You can't have both! And good software (e.g. WebCamLooker) lets you adjust the balance between those two goals. (In WebCamLooker it is on an "advanced" tab.)

One last paragraph on WebCam Looker, and I will get back to FarWatch matters! I like WebCam Looker more and more as I explore it. I was able to do a basic set up quite easily... no steep first step on the learning curve. But every time I go back to it, I find new wonders! (No early plateau on the learning curve.) Maybe it isn't the first thing every user needs, but how cool is this?: you can tell WebCam Looker to generate an alarm, or record an image or video if it detects the cessation of movement! Most CCTV software has motion detection, as does WebCam Looker... but how many allow you, say, to watch a piece of equipment at work, and tell you if it stops moving?

Going back for a moment to the image quality/ file size issue. There will probably be choices on that front buried in your camera's setup, as well. And then you have to make choices, again at several points, as to how often you want the scene captured, and on what criteria. Do you want an image every 5 seconds, or only when motion is detected? What part of the scene do you want "watched" for movement?

I like to create modular designs. All FarWatch is doing is creating a web-page you can access. Within that are up to three lines which, as I have them set at the moment, causes anyone visiting the FarWatch monitored site to see images which are stored on the computer the FarWatch server is in. OTHER software (and hardware) is responsible for placing that image in the file that FarWatch accesses. (The line which is currently set to display an image can be set to display a simple pretty picture, some text, or even put to more interesting uses. All of that is decided by the FarWatch site's administrator. (Even the "pretty picture" solution doesn't have to be "boring".... you can install separate software (from some third party) to periodically change the pretty picture presented on your FarWatch page. You could, for instance, tell FarWatch to display, say, "FarWatchPic.jpg", and then set up the OTHER software to periodically change what is in the file of that name.) In one installation, I have the file that FarWatch displays periodically updated from a different computer on the same LAN.

Sound like too much trouble to set up, if you are considering installing FarWatch monitoring? No! It is not too much trouble.. it SAVES you trouble. There are dozens of solutions out there, some of them freeware, for capturing an image from an IP-cam or webcam and storing the image as a file. Because of the way FarWatch is designed.... you can use any of those solutions!. You're not tied to FarWatch's ideas about image capture.

Please note: The "display an image" feature is a part of the optional DS25 element of the FarWatch family. On the other hand, if you are using the basic FarWatch idea to present some HTML of your creation, then there's nothing to stop you from causing that to present an image or video stream, is there?

Live video feed? This is "the next phase".... maybe. If you want to set up a live video feed which can be accessed from any internet terminal, maybe you would be better served with a dedicated product. But even then, I suspect it can be a part of FarWatch. Before I go for a live video feed, I am going to go with a "new picture from the monitored premises every 5 minutes." That is....

(My needs don't include any FarWatch. Remember to distinguish wants from needs!)

I have a lot of experience with computers and local networking, and even a little experience in matters of connecting servers to the internet. But my second foray into IP-cams, i.e. cameras connected by ethernet, be it only to your LAN, or beyond it to the internet was... a learning experience.

There are LOTS of ways to go wrong!

I've tried one piece of software extensively, and spent hours tinkering with two cameras.

The software is WebCam Looker, from Felenasoft; my experiences with that elsewhere... but a brief comment here: It seems to be my dream package: Great support, great features. Does What I Want... which may or may not be what you want... but if you start down the "images across the LAN or 'net" path, be prepared to work. There are too many different things which all have to be right before things will Play Nicely. Don't assume that something not working is the fault of the element you think is to blame.

In a moment comments and "how to"s in respect of some IP-cams. First a few general comments.

My preferred solution is to have my IP-cams on my LAN, a dedicated piece of software dealing with the feeds from the camera, and passing "digested" material onward in various forms and ways. Oh... and archiving to my hard disc the way I want it done.

I am, as I said, new to this, but in post after post I've read... hundreds so far in my quest for enlightenment... it seems clear that the IP-cam manufacturers expect you to take the simple route. (I'll explain that in a moment.) While I welcome the existence of the simple route, I think manufacturers should recognize that it isn't the only route, and provide more support in the form of the information about how their products work.

The simple solution: All of the "low end" IP-cams I've seen (the high-end ones are beyond my budget!) come with built in web servers. In theory, you can plug them into a LAN that has an always-on connection to the internet, and view what the camera sees from any internet terminal on the planet. Many have DDNS service support, to get around the problem of static IP addresses. (If you don't know what that is, you probably have one.) You don't need to have a computer running... just the camera, your LAN router, and your internet connection.

The "simple solution" will meet many people's needs... just as McDonald's does. If you like what they want to sell, fine. If you want options, you may be disappointed.

But fear not! If you have a server... and that's not (very) hard... (See my FarWatch solution)... your "menu" widens considerably.

When you first get your camera, or after doing a factory reset, try accessing it directly. You'll probably find that without adding any software to your PC, you can get into the camera over a wired connection by putting the camera's IP address into a browser. Try wretched Internet Explorer if lovely FireFox doesn't work... some cameras need ActiveX.

How do you know your camera's IP address? Go into your LAN router, and look at the list of connected devices. The IP address will probably be something like 192.168.0.xxx where xxx may well be a low number like 3, 4, 5... etc.

Once your are "in", you can do things like setting the camera up for wireless operation. Give serious consideration to upgrading the camera's firmware to whatever the latest available is.

Turning to the promised comments on cameras....

Linksys WVC54GCA

Initial set-up: Must be done over a wired (not wire-less) connection.

This camera defaults to DHCP IP address generation. In other words, it will ask your LAN's DHCP server to give it an address, and it could be anything. The camera comes with a setup utility which will find the address, but you can avoid adding yet another thing to clutter registry, go wrong, etc, as follows. Go into the admin panels of your LAN router. Somewhere there ought to be a "View attached devices" list. After connecting the camera, and giving the system time to assign a local IP address to it, look at the attached devices list. The camera should be on it.

Once you know the address, e.g., type that into your web-browser, e.g. Firefox. The user name and password starts out as "admin" and "admin". (If these don't work, and you have a second hand camera, press the "Reset" button, hold it down for a while... 10 seconds?... LED should flash. Then release. Wait for unit and LAN to settle... may take 30 seconds or so. Try again. Sigh.)

One of the first things I do is assign a fixed IP address to any LAN-Cam. That won't suit every installation, but the pros and cons are beyond the scope of this guide!

To simply fetch a single image from this, I connect to the following, either from a browser (Firefox works fine), or from dedicated camera monitoring software such as WebCam Looker....

(You'll need to replace the numbers in the first part of that with the IP address of your camera.)

You may need to issue the following command to the camera once...

This should switch the output stream from MPEG-4 to MJPEG

After that you can access it with...

... but I'd try the "... snapshot.cgi" first. The other command may not be necessary.... and with my camera, the camera "froze" up at least once a day, when I tried to access it via mjpeg.cgi. Didn't matter if I used WebCam Looker or a browser. A simple power cycle of the camera would put things right. I think the camera was "frozen" the first time I used "...snapshot.cgi", and THAT worked, in spite of the mjpeg stream being seized up. (I was only "looking" perhaps once a minute.)

When the mjpeg stream is working, you should also be able to access the video stream with...

.. but that seems to "freeze" too.

In my hours of searching, I also found...

You will need to use the following to switch it back:

.... which you can try. I didn't. That post said "This (the first command) will disable the live view in the camera itself.", but I didn't find that to be the case. The post was quite old, but note that the first command is the one I gave earlier, which worked fine in Feb 2010.

For many years, the Linksys WVC54GCA was the recommended IP-cam of ComputerShopper.co.uk. (Around January 2010, it was replaced by the Solwise... but maybe for the latter's pan and tilt feature? ComputerShopper may have been looking for cameras which will do for you some of the things I prefer to use discrete modules for... the motion sensing, image archiving, dynamic dns services, etc.)

I found the image from the Linksys unit superior to that from the Panasonic BL-C20, which I discuss in a minute, although the BL-C20 was better at capturing low light images. The BL-C20, with the same "pixels" spec, and similar lens (view about 54 degrees wide) picked up less detail, and had worse JPEG jaggies.

Someone has registered http://wvc54gca.com, and is posting useful information there. I'm not sure who it comes from though. Caveat surfor.

Panasonic BL-C20

A predecessor of this, "long" ago was ComputerShopper.co.uk's favorite IP-cam.

To use it with something like WebCam Looker, the "magic code" is....

(I played with "standard", trying "hi", "HIGH", etc, to no avail. I sent a request to Panasonic for the URL to the .pdf for developers with the full .cgi reference which a forum post said existed. No reply yet, but it hasn't been many days.) (Yes, I did look for it, search for it, on their site.)

As ever, there is a "trick": You have to use your browser (Firefox is fine) to go into the camera's control panel (just browse to it's basic URL, i.e. for mine). Go into the "Account/Administrator" page, set it to "Allow Guest Users". You only have to do that once.

See my comments above, in the discussion of the Linksys WVC54, for my thoughts on the relative image quality of these two cams.

Another abrupt ending, I fear. These wretched "learning experiences" have been eating up time that should have been spent on other things!

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