01/12/2015

Webcams are very appealing for time-lapse capture or live broadcast. They offer the best image quality for your dollar. This is because you often already have everything you need. And if not, a good camera goes for $50-100 and a Mini PC such as the Intel NUC for around $300. You end up with a reliable, full featured broadcast station.

What you need

  • A computer. Any old PC or laptop will do. For new setups we recommend using an Intel NUC or similar.
  • A USB webcam such as a Microsoft LifeCam Studio or a Logitech C920/930e.
  • A waterproof housing for your camera if mounted outside.
  • A high quality USB extension cable, if going over 3m (10ft) an active repeater cable is recommended and maybe required depending on video resolution or camera used.
  • VideoVelocity to record/broadcast the imagery to Teleport and/or record locally to your PC.

The camera

A good webcam offers best image quality for the money, and can provide many years of reliable service.

  • Preferably, only use webcams with 1080p (or better) sensors. Unlike most, these webcams are built with image quality in mind.
  • Logitech or Microsoft webcams are recommended.
  • All of the suggested models below allow for tripod mounts and are study in design.
  • The Logitech C930e is new so we can't attest to its reliability. However we have Microsoft LifeCam Studio running for 2-3 years now, in very humid environments without any downtime.
  • The LifeCam Studio has a 78° diagonal field of view, the C920 is 78°, while the C930e is 90°.
  • In terms of image quality, best to worst it's C930e, C920 then the LifeCam Studio.
  • Some C920 units may not be able to focus at infinity, and may require opening it up and rotating the lens clockwise 1/3 turn.
  • Turning off auto focus is recommended in most situations to prevent any image jitter from frame to frame. On the LifeCam the auto focus likes to wonder a lot for example.
  • The C930 is recommended because less CPU resources on the PC are required to run it.
  • The color quality and sharpness is very comparable between these models. Choose based on the required field of view more than anything.

The computer

This is the key component that will enable your webcam to record and broadcast video. The key aspect here is reliability and more reliability. You don't want this to be restarting or crashing on you, requiring physical access to the box to get it going again. So only use proven stable hardware.

  • Any reliable laptop or ATX computer will do. If it can run Windows 7 smoothly, it's capable of running VideoVelocity and recording at 1080p with a webcam.
  • If you're building a dedicated system, consider using an Intel NUC available here on Amazon. It's designed for scenarios just like this and is highly configurable.
  • Turn off Windows update, auto installation, the updates can be downloaded but installation will be done manually by you when you're read to restart the box.
  • Enable remote desktop, this will let you monitor the system and perform any updates to it when needed.
  • Remove any unused PCI or USB connected devices, these may cause problems and draw power.
  • Make Windows auto-boot and enable 'Start with Windows' in VideoVelocity. This will ensure that in case of power failure the system will auto start recording.
  • In the BIOS power configuration, enable 'Always on power'. This will make sure the PC is always on when connected to AC. This is important.
  • Publish using a Webcam, IP Camera or a DSLR for high image quality

The cable problem

USB has a length limit of 5m, and in practice, for camera use it's more like 3m. To overcome having to place your PC right next to the camera an extension cable is used.

  • You can use a simple extension cable if it's less then 3m long. Anything over that we recommend an active repeater USB cable.
  • Only use high quality cabling and HUBs.
  • Placing an AC powered USB hub at the end of your extension cable may improve camera performance and stability if you're having problems.
  • For distances over 3-5m an active repeater USB cable is required. Quality cables like those from SIIG are recommended.
  • Use electrical type on all connections if you're wiring is exposed to weather. You can also then spray the connections with a 'leak-seal' product to ensure moisture does not get inside.

Weather proofing

For optimal image quality you don't want the camera behind standard window glass, it causes a washed out image. Placing it outside solves this problem but creates another, moisture and heat exposure.

  • A webcam is small enough to fit into almost any underwater camera housing. Drill a hole for the USB cable and seal it with silicone sealant.
  • One option is to simply spray the entire camera, (except the lens) with a 'leak seal' product. Do this in multiple coats. This will create a moisture barrier that is sufficient for most environments.
  • If working in hot climate, use a larger camera housing and place a PC fan with intake and exhaust holes to cool the interior. This can be part of the secondary enclosure mentioned below.
  • Spray the exterior of the camera with black or reflective paint to reduce heat from the sun.
  • You can also place the camera in a secondary enclosure that freely lets air (and some rain) pass to prevent the camera itself from overheating in the sun. Something as simple as a 2L pop bottle with the ends cut off will do. Mounted this secondary enclosure independent of the camera to prevent wind from shaking the camera. This secondary enclosure also provide basic rain protection, so you're less likely to see rain drops stuck on the lens glass.

The software

VideoVelocity will do the rest. It will capture from the camera, on a schedule and stream HD frames to Teleport.

  • Simply install VideoVelocity time-lapse capture software on your Windows 7/8/10 PC (XP works but is unsupported).
  • Run it and select the 'publish live to Teleport' project type. It will start your webcam and you're ready to record or stream.
  • Make sure to check the notes in 'The computer' section above, to make your system ready for reliable, long term capture.
  • In the 'Input Webcam..' section, selecting YUY2 for the 'Stream type' and the lowest frame rate possible, is recommended to lower CPU usage.

That's it! You now have a reliable, high image quality (given the low-cost) broadcast and time-lapse recording setup.

Let us know what works for you and what doesn't!