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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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Birddog Redefines NDI-to-HDMI on the cheap

A little over two years ago, I surveyed the various tools that could be used to display an NDI stream on a monitor or projector. In staging Cluecon 2018 I had used a couple of Lenovo M73 Tiny computers running Windows and Newtek Studio Monitor. There were other options, but the most accessible dedicated hardware solution was the Birddog Mini, which cost around $500.

That post has proven to be quite popular. In fact, it needs to be revisited in the light the latest announcements from Birddog, which happened just this week. Newtek’s launch of NDI 5 allowed Birddog to announce a set of new products and services, including Birddog Play.

Birddog Play is a small dedicated hardware device designed to allow playback of an NDI stream at a monitor or projector. It ticks literally every box I can think of. And it does it for just $150 USD!

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Videomaker Reviews the NewTek NDI HX-PTZ1 Camera

Not long ago I openly admitted that I wear the rants in the family. This goes along those lines. It was inspired by the Chris Monlux’s review of the NewTek NDI HX-PTZ1 Camera published January 14th by Videomaker Magazine. I found this review to be deeply disappointing, and I’d like to tell you why.

First, take the time to read their review. I’ll wait. And you need the context.

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NDI-to-HDMI on the cheap?

There is no question that Newtek’s NDI is rocking the world of video production. Whether in corporate video, educational video, live streaming or low-end broadcast, it allows a transition to IP transport that’s profoundly attractive in many ways.

NDI delivers high quality video at very low latency, under one frame of video. A 1080p60 NDI stream requires at most around 150 mbps. This is ideal for production applications, which are quite separate from transmission/delivery, where lower bitrates are preferred and some seconds of delay is tolerable.

ClueCon NDI Feed on Monitor

In the early days of NDI, if you needed to view an NDI signal on a monitor that required a Windows PC running NDI Studio Monitor. This is an application that can pick the stream off the network and display it on a monitor. It has some nice features, like the ability to overlay a second stream (picture-in-picture) and show audio metering.

I used this approach at Cluecon 2018, with a very small PC purchased just for the task (pictured above.)

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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.

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Observations of the vMix 17 Public Beta

Last week saw the release of the vMix Fun Time Live Show for March which was punctuated by the public release of a beta preview of vMix 17. The official release of vMix is being timed to coincide with the annual NAB Convention, which is April 16-21 in Las Vegas.

In the middle of 2015 vMix replaced Wirecast as my preferred desktop video production software. vMix is effectively a production switcher. It allows me to combine various audio and video sources in real-time, the results being sent to a Hangout-On-Air or recorded to disk. It handles webcams, graphics, animations, video capture cards, live desktop capture and even PowerPoint files with ease. Further, it does so while being less hardware intensive than its competition.

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