31 Jan

Same Awesome View, New and Improved Camera, Features, and Process!

Ok, now that I got your attention.

I had planned to debut the new webcam on New Year’s Day, but I didn’t so much get bogged down with the adding of the new camera to the mix as much as with the details of the look of the website and the automation process.  I wanted to get it as close to right as I could, and each time I would start to write something about some part of the process I would come up with a way to improve it.  For the past week or so, I have been playing with the look of the site, checking that the Automator process is functioning as it should, and making sure the place is nice and tidy for any new visitors. It certainly isn’t perfect.  Like everything else on this site it is “always a work in progress.”

A Bit of History

This post is going to serve as my return to the webcam world even though I have never really left it.  I started playing with webcams in the early 90s, using Logitech ball cameras. In 1996 I bought a VHS-C camera (yes, I still have it) and pointed out the window of my flat in Washington, DC. I had to come up with a way to transmit the image wirelessly across the room to where the Internet lived and my clunky old Pentium computer was tethered so I used RF wireless transmitters, and it worked.

Using the Canon Camcorder

Using the Canon Camcorder – notice window glare

I took short breaks from anything updating regularly until we moved to Vermont.  First a small cam pointing at the local fire department across the street from our tiny flat in Montpelier, and then from the window of our upstairs spare room — which we can the library — at our current home in Tunbridge, Vermont.

For nearly 7 years the webcam was powered by a Canon digital camcorder, which I hacked to run continuously simply by leaving a tape out of the unit. It was mounted on a big tripod which was precariously balanced on a 15-year-old flat pack shelf and an old portable case for carrying 45rpm records in the 70s.  Seriously. Due to the constant glare I had a black bath towel pinned to the window casing and draped over the camera like an old hooded camera from the 1800s.  The setup needed a firewire cable connected to a firewire-to-lightning adapter, and had to be physically connected to the iMac in my office.

The New Stuff

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The HikVision Camera

Since the start of 2016 the webcam is powered by a 4MP high-definition CCTV-quality security camera made by HikVision. I had originally asked Santa for a Foscam, but when I played with it shortly after its unboxing I was disappointed in it’s image quality when pointed out the window and it’s cheap plastic casing.  It was a glorified baby monitor, and I wanted more. So I did some more research and decided to forgo the pan/tilt/zoom feature I thought I craved in exchange for the high-definition camera that would showcase the amazing view we have here at our farm. I think I made the right choice.

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Example of HikVision image (screen grab from video)

The HikVision is mounted outside on a post on our front porch under the roof eave.  It is protected from the elements, but doesn’t need to be coddled. It is well-made of metal and fits in my hand.  It is a Network Camera which can be accessed via IP, but it is not wireless, so I ran CAT-5 from the camera, down the post, under the front porch and through the wall to the basement. In the basement the CAT-5 connects to a PoE injector and then to an Apple Airport Express where the signal is sent to the network.  I left some slack in the CAT-5 as I may eventually plug it directly into the main router. In addition to being configurable (on a Mac no less!) via an application — iVMS 4200 — it can also be configured via a web browser or the free iOS app — iVMS 4500 lite.

Example of IR night vision.

Example of IR night vision.

If, like me, you are a Mac user then iVMS 4200 is invaluable.  When I first started reading about the camera I eventually purchased, there was plenty of information about configuring the camera via Windows, but I wasn’t finding any OS X information at all.  Even the manual that came with the camera doesn’t mention that there is Mac software available on the camera maker’s site.  So I spent some time before the camera arrived instilling Parallels assuming I would need a little extra help configuring the camera. iVMS 4200 and a web browser were all I really needed, and that is a relief.

I am not going to go into all of the features of the DS-2CD2042WD-I (aka 2042), but some of my favorites are the 4MP image, the HD features, the complete control over the camera’s settings, and the infrared night vision.  The latter was actually an unexpected bonus, and has shown some interesting visitors to the property, but mostly deer.  The IR works really well with almost any light in the frame, and allowed me to even see the movement of the clouds at night when the lights on the barn (~500 feet away) on.  With the barn lights off, I can see cars going up and down the road, snow machines on Killington, and even stars moving across the sky.  Cool stuff.  I may have to put some solar powered lights in the yard for dark night’s when the barn lights aren’t on.

That’s it for this post.  In the near future I plan to write about the other software that makes the webcam possible, and the Automator script I wrote to automatically update the Daily Time-lapse feature.

One thought on “Same Awesome View, New and Improved Camera, Features, and Process!

  1. Brilliant article; especially as I have just purchased a DS-2CD2042WD-I and was feeling a little disconcerted when I started to read the manual.

    Thank you for pointing to the iVMS-4500 and the app, which I am sure will make the installation much easier.

    After such profuse thanks, could I be cheeky and ask if you would let me have the Automator script you have written.

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