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Setting Up A Streaming WebCam

Setting up a streaming webcam –a camera which displays a live video feed 24 hours a day for either research, entertainment or surveillance purposes - can seem intimidating but the learning curve isn’t as bad as it may appear.

With a little money and effort, you could have your own live feed online and broadcasting to viewers worldwide.

The basic setup of a webcam includes a 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 broadcast your presentation.

Microsoft’s website offers a searchable database of service providers, located here: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/service_provider/service/default.aspx or you can source your own online by using the term ‘WMSP’ in any search engine.

After choosing your provider, the next step is setting up your equipment. Here are a few useful tips to get started:

  • If you intend to use the camera indoors, it may be best to buy a camcorder that will record without tape and has the option to run continuously – many video recorders will automatically shut off after 15 minutes of idle time. Also, camcorders with SVideo and firewire outputs typically have better quality streams than £15 webcams that are designed for video chat programs.
  • Decide where you want your camcorder.
    • If it’s outdoors, make sure your webcam is protected from the elements, passers-by and never pointing directly at the sun.
    • If the camera is indoors, it should be in a situation where it cannot be obscured, as well as having adequate lighting.
    • Try to avoid placing your webcam in a room with fluorescent lighting which can cause poor picture quality and colour distortions.

Setting up an ideal location for your camera can be time consuming, but the effort will pay off if it prevents you from moving your equipment several times, or worse – replacing a damaged camera.

  • Point the webcam at an interesting spot – if you are watching the behaviour of an animal, the webcam should be positioned where the animal frequents and is most active. Most people want to see something in motion.
  • If practical, using more than one camera will give your video feed more interest. Viewers prefer alternating perspectives. A normal timed video switch can support up to 4 cameras and change automatically between views every 20-30 seconds.
  • If your camera is indoors and pointing outside, it is worth investing in a polarising filter for the lens. This will reduce glare and improve colour in your feed.

After you have set-up your webcam, it will be time to plug it into your designated computer. The encoder will require a reliable broadband connection with at least 150k upload speed. It is also desirable to have a static IP address.

Check to see if you are enrolled in the appropriate package with your internet service provider before broadcasting your streaming webcam. Normal home plans will not support 24 hour webcam feeds and can result in a breach of your service contract. So, you may need a gaming or multimedia service package to support your live webcam.

Almost any modern PC will be suitable as a video encoder but obviously the faster the computer, the better the stream. It is advisable to dedicate the computer you chose to only handle the video encoding; processing too many tasks on your encoder computer will result in degradation of your webcam quality and is the most likely cause of frozen webcam feeds.

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