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My Take – Using your mobile camera as a webcam

A couple of weeks back Chris Kranky offered a post where he explored this topic in some detail. It’s a good idea. Well worth exploring since common, and especially built-in webcams, are so bad. He tried a handful of iOS and Android apps on various handsets. It was a good experimental series.

I’d like to add a slightly different take, using a couple of additional apps that have crossed my path. In particular, I’d like to highlight NDI as a technology that’s very useful in this application.

What is NDI?

According to Newtek:

“NDI® (Network Device Interface) is a low latency IP video protocol developed especially for professional live video production, and is supported by an extensive list of broadcast systems from many manufacturers.”

NDI Camera

Newtek has offered two different NDI Camera apps. The original (no longer offered) which I bought for around $20, leverages full-bandwidth NDI. Full-bandwidth NDI offers the best image quality, and lowest latency, but requires massive bandwidth. It can work very well used when on a robust Wi-Fi network.

NDI Camera Julio

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Notes from The Big Texas Freeze & Blackout

The week of Feb 15th was extraordinarily tough here in Houston. As you probably know, we had an unusual cold spell that took the area into single digit temperatures. This caught the state’s electric industry entirely by surprise, taking about 35% of electrical generation offline. So vast tracts of Texas were both cold and without power for several days. Eventually, also without water.

We certainly felt the cold. Our 100 year old Craftsman Cottage was simply not built for this kind of weather. We were fortunate to have gas appliances, including a natural gas-fired fireplace in our living room. We closed of portions of the house to minimize the area we needed to heat. Put an air bed in the living room and did the best we could.

After Hurricane Ike (2008) we were without utility power for about three weeks. This motivated the eventual purchase of a portable generator. We bought it used from a neighbor who was tired of it taking up space in his garage. For several years, it sat idle, occupying a corner in our garage. They’re like that.

This one recent week in February we got to know Genny really well. We came to admire some of her capabilities and a few of her quirks. These lessons are worth sharing.

As you can see, Genny is a Predator (in a nice way) which is a brand sold by Harbor Freight. She’s pretty beefy, rated for 8,750 watts starting load, and 7,000 watts continuous load. That’s not that 14 KW that I had calculated necessary to run out entire household, including central air conditioner, but it’s still quite a lot of power.

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Tech we have deployed for Halloween

It started back in 2002. My wife brought home a large inflatable spider, something new for the exterior decor at Halloween. I struggled to find a way of using it that seemed appropriate.

In the end, I decided to give it context by building suitably large, lit spider web in the font yard. It spanned the gap between the house and a very tall Loblolly pine in the corner of the yard.

The children came in droves, and were filled with awe. They left with candy, and it was good.

Every year we try something new. We occasionally drop something that didn’t work quite as well as we hoped. This year I’d like to highlight a few things we’ve used that work very well.

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Dicaffeine: Using a Raspberry Pi 4 to Display an NDI Stream

The past couple of years I made a lot of use of an NDI-based video-over-IP strategy in producing the live stream and archival sessions for Cluecon in 2018 & 2019. One of the things involved in that production was displaying an NDI stream, produced in vMix, to a pair of local projectors.

Given budget constraints, I opted to use a pair of SFF Windows PCs running Newtek’s NDI Studio Monitor. I selected some used Lenovo M73 Tiny, which cost me about $200 each on Ebay. With an i5-4570 CPU and Intel HD Graphics 4600, they did the job well enough, each delivering 1080p30 to its associated projector without issue.

Lenovo M73 Tiny

Given additional budget, I’d have opted for BirdDog Mini NDI adapters over the little PC’s. These little FPGA-based devices can be set to decode or encode. Also, they can be powered over Ethernet, giving added flexibility, but at a cost of $500 each.

At the time, there was no way to decode NDI on an device with an ARM CPU, like the Raspberry Pi. That has recently changed. Dicaffeine is a new NDI player for Raspberry Pi. The basic version is free and I’ve been tinkering with it for a couple of weeks.

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Awaiting a New Laptop

After 6 years with the Lenovo X1 Carbon (Gen 2 circa 2013) I’m seriously considering a new laptop. In truth, the existing X1C still does most of what I need. The display is getting dimmer. The battery life is shorter. It’s short on ports. The 256 GB SSD feels a bit constrained, but it remains a basically functional machine.

My experience has been so good that I would buy another X1 Carbon (Gen 6), but Lenovo has thrown me a curve in the form of the X1 Extreme. It’s an enhanced model that include more; bigger display, more ports, more potent CPU, and most significantly a more capable nVidia GTX GPU. The second generation of the X1 Extreme is about to be released, which has my purchase plans temporarily on hold.

The discrete GPU is a real benefit to anyone who does any kind of live streaming. My favorite tools, vMix and OBS, can both leverage the hardware H264 encoders on a GTX card, offloading a ton of work from the CPU.

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