El Gato CamLink: Now in 4K

Remember the El Gato CamLink? I reviewed it in the summer of 2017 when it initially launched.  This week it seems that El Gato, now a division of Corsair, has released an upgraded version, CamLink 4K.

The new 4K models appears identical to the older model, but now accommodates 4k30 sources. It’s listed direct from Corsair for $129. At present it shown on Amazon for a whopping $249. That’s surely a launch-time anomaly.

There’s still no on-board scaling or compression, so my earlier observations still hold true. If it does what you need, it’s a nice, low-cost way to capture video.

For some folks,  it simply won’t do what they need. Those folks are better served by capture devices from Magewell or Yuan. Those companies offer more capable, and most costly, 1080p and 4K capture devices.

Mulling the approach of WordPress 5 & Gutenberg

While the pace has definitely slowed, this blog is rolling into its 11th year. That’s a long time running WordPress. Around 1,250 posts. I revisit this as WordPress 5 is about to ship, along with the new Gutenberg editor.

The Gutenberg editor is a major change and one not to be taken lightly. Or is it? I’ve been using the Gutenberg plug-in in WP 4.9.x for the past few months, just to get a sense of it’s significance. It’s ok.

It reminds me a lot of Squarespace, which I also use to run the Woodland Heights Civic Association web site. That site was built by someone else. I assumed the admin role when I joined the WHCA board in late 2016.

After years of using WordPress it took me a while to get used to Squarespace. It seems very constraining. I was accustomed to having a fine grained control of presentation. The block-based editing of Squarespace and Gutenberg are more Apple-like. Easy to layout pages and posts. High-level control. Want to do something niggly and specific? It may be that you simply can’t. There was a little learning to just let it go.

As ever, I am anomalous. I still like to write offline. Where I once used Windows Live Writer, I now use Open Live Writer. The fact is that Gutenberg does not interfere with this. OLW posts appear to Gutenberg as “Classic” format posts, which can be converted to the new block-based format.

From my cursory experimentation, it also appears that Gutenberg posts can be read back into OLW. At least simple things don’t fall apart right away. So far, so good.

The combination of OLW and Gutenberg are interesting. OLW is about writing. It’s simple. Productive. It doesn’t create a mess of HTML like MS Word. I especially like the ability to automatically add links based upon a library of common word or phrases.

Gutenberg seems to me more about manipulating page layout and using rich media. It’s especially easy to add and manipulate media. Move things around. Craft the presentation you want.

If you’re the sort (like me) who was accustomed to spending time creating media in support of posts, it’s not all that big a deal. However, if you did not have access to tools like Adobe Creative Cloud, the improved media handling could be transformational.

I would hate to write something feature length in Gutenberg. I’ve read that some people are upset at how Gutenberg behaves as a long-form editor. I can see that. I really don’t enjoy the web-based writing/editing experience. Its just not as responsive as a native application. And it can be troublesome if you fall offline.

I see that the release is imminent. Release the Kraken Gutenberg!

When can USB 2.0 actually be better than USB 3.0? Video Capture!

This has come up a lot recently and it’s a little counter-intuitive. There are times when an older video capture device, using USB 2.0, is actually better than new new one that leverages faster USB 3.0 or 3.1. The reason is simple, but not obvious.

Just a few years ago, USB-attached video devices had to cope with the constraints of USB 2.0 (480 mbps) so they often incorporated on-board scaling and compression engines. Remember that using uncompressed video USB 2.0 maxes out at 720p30. This is why that was, and remains, the de facto standard for video chat applications.

Their newer kin, with a faster USB 3.0 (5 Gbps) connection to the host, can pass an uncompressed 1080p60 video stream…so they usually don’t have as much on-board processing capability.

Consider as an example the El Gato family of HD60, HD60S and Cam Link USB capture devices. The first two of these devices look very similar, but the differences are substantial and potentially important.

El Gato HD60

We used an HD60 at Cluecon 2017 when we needed a last minute way to ingest an HDMI source into a computer. It worked really well. It has a USB 2 connection to the host. It could deliver YUY2 uncompressed up to 720p30. It could deliver 1080p30 using MJPEG or H264 compression. MJPEG has zero latency, so this is the preferred way to accommodate 1080p over a USB2 link. The UVC 1.1 standard, circa 2005, indicates as much.

While conceptually it was a UVC compliant device, the HD60 has a device-specific installable driver. This driver was installed with the El Gato Game Capture utility, which we used to verify the correct operation of the device.

El Gato HD60S

The newer HD60S looks so very similar. The primary difference being the USB 3 Type-C connection to the host. USB-C ports still being less common, many people would likely use a type-C to type-A cable to connect it to a USB 3.0 port.

The HD60S is capable of 4K60 capture (!) but does not have an onboard compression engine. So the capture or streaming application must cope with uncompressed video. That also means that when connected to an older host via USB 2.0 it’s only capable of 720p30.

If the host computer is resource constrained (no USB 3) the ability to deliver compressed video over the USB link can be a very real benefit. Similarly, an onboard scaler allows a capture dongle to accept 1080p60, while delivering 720p to the client application. There are times when this is also valuable. Typically, when you must use a client application that insists upon a particular video format, but the source delivers something else entirely.

El Gato Cam Link

These various considerations are why El Gato’s USB 3.0 connected Cam Link (reviewed previously) can be so cheap. It does essentially no onboard video processing.

That’s great if it does what you need. I used one at ClueCon 2018 to capture the 1080p60 stream from a BlackMagic ATEM switcher into my vMix host.

My i7-powered Airtop-PC is quite powerful and vMix is massively flexible, so the limitation of the Cam Link were not a factor. However, Cam Link not especially flexible. The older, USB 2.0 connected HD60 is actually more useful.

Update: A couple of people have refuted my claim that there can be an advantage to USB 2 capture devices over USB 3. I accept that the headline is a little click-baity. My intention was to highlight the fact that the new generation of USB 3 capture device did not do something that their older, USB 2 predecessors made commonplace. As a result, if you have an older, slower and/or I/O constrained host you might find that the new and supposedly better capture devices put you at a disadvantage.

Pixel & Pie – WTF Google!

Google Pixel (Very Black)

After carrying Nexus phones for years I bought a Google Pixel in December 2016. That was just after the Pixel 2 was released, so the older Pixel was priced well and still offered great performance.

I was very pleased with the Pixel until quite recently. The OTA update to Android 9 (Pie) in August has been a huge step backward. Since that update the phone’s battery life has been dramatically reduced. Where it once lasted all day with my typical usage, it now lasts only about 7 hours with only light usage. Further, the phone is often noticeably warm to the touch.

Being the inquisitive sort, I’ve done some experiments to try and find out why this is happening. There are no rogue apps running. Or at least the OS reports no app using more that 2-3% of battery power.

I put the phone in Safe Mode for a day so only the factory installed apps would run. Battery life remained abysmal. That suggests that the problem is not caused by an app at all.

I’ve come to believe that I’ve identified the source of the problem. It’s related to the Wi-Fi. If I turn off the Wi-Fi the battery life is closer to what was experiencing running Oreo. Turn it back on and it plummets.

Continue reading “Pixel & Pie – WTF Google!”

How-To: Using an RTSP Stream as a Source for a WebRTC application

This post arises from a question posed by someone via Quora. I’m not all that engaged with that Q&A platform, but this question seemed novel, so I offered an answer. I thought the answer worth sharing in a little more depth, so I offer it here as well.

The question was, “How can I use the RTSP stream from an IP camera as a source for a WebRTC application?”

There are two parts to solving this puzzle; (1) Connect to the RTSP stream and (2) Make it appear like a webcam to the client application.

Obvious Answer: vMix

At the outset, let me say that I would address this using vMix. vMix solves both parts of the puzzle handily. If this is all that you needed to achieve, the $60 Basic HD license would suffice.

Of course, you’d need to learn a little about the application, which is deep. To my mind it’s fun, but some might find it daunting. Further, vMix requires a considerable host platform. You’re not going to run it on trivial hardware.

Let’s just say that we’d like to solve the problem with less spending and requiring less knowledge overhead.

Less Obvious Answer: VLC & NDI Tools

VLC is the ubiquitous, open source media player. Available on all platforms it can play anything I’ve every wanted to open. Beyond files, it can open network streams. I’ve used it to listen to my local PBS radio station. I’ve also used it to watch video streams from our Grandstream surveillance cameras, as shown below.

VLS viewing RTSP stream

NDI stands for Network Device Interface. It’s a network protocol, developed by Newtek of TriCaster and Video Toaster fame, that allows low-latency, lightly compressed video to be passed over a gigabit Ethernet network. NDI is impressive, but I won’t wax poetic about that here.

Continue reading “How-To: Using an RTSP Stream as a Source for a WebRTC application”

A Novel Widget: fit-statUSB from Compulab

Here’s a cute new widget from Compulab, makers of my beloved Airtop-PC. A first glance, fit-statUSB looks like a very small USB memory key, but it’s actually a programmable color status LED.

Costing just $12 this wee LED looks like a serial port to the host computer. You can send simple commands to the com port to set its color, brightness, make it sequence, etc.

fit-statUSB

It’s easy to think of many possible use-cases. I can imagine a rack of gear where a servers process status is indicated by a front mounted fit-statUSB. When a critical process goes down the LED indicates this immediately, without requiring a sophisticated management or monitoring system. Just a few scripts.

Might be fun to play with one (some?) of these one day soon.