Setting up your own webcam

Posted On 2009-08-19 by FortyPoundHead
Tags: Tutorial 
Views: 1516

Setting up your own web camera is easy: all you need is a computer, the cam itself, webcam software which will do the broadcasting, and an Internet connection.

Streaming Video vs. Still Images

The first decision you have to make before putting your camera live is if it will show streaming video or still images. If you have visited a webcam directory such as and looked at a few cams, you have most probably noticed that some of them show a continious stream of live video, while others refresh the page in your browser and show a different picture at a pre-set time interval. The first flavor, the streaming ones, are without doubt more attractive to a viewer, but can you support such a camera? If you have a broadband Internet connection, and you can afford setting aside much bandwith for your camera to stream, the answer is yes. If not, you'd better stick with the still image camera - that will make the proccess lighter for both you and your camera's viewers, and such a connection can work without problems even if you access the 'net through a dial-up connection. Also, this will give you the chance to show the world images with higher picture quality - larger and without grains, - although those images won't be moving the way they do on TV.

It is also important to consider the image size of the shots being taken by your webcam: the greater the image, the lower the refresh rate. A 640x480 pixels image can be great looking, but it can be great trouble for users with slow Internet connections, especially if the refresh rate of your camera is set to an interval such as 3 seconds. Take a look at the options of the broadcasting software that came with your webcam, and think of how different options that it offers would look on other people's computers. If you have friends and relatives living away from you who have Internet access, you could ask them to test your camera. Set it to different combinations of image size and refresh rates, and ask them to look at it and tell you how it looks. This way you could have some great fun with your camera even before you show it to the public. In case you don't have people to experiment with, keep the following tips in mind: a reasonable image size can be 320x240 pixels if refreshed every 20-30 seconds. If you want the picture to update more often, try with an image size of 160x120 pixels. Using that, you can have refresh rates of up to 10 seconds. If you stream live video, try to keep an image size of 160x120 so slow Internet connections can see your webcam without problems.

Methods of Delivering the Webcam Shots

Client Pull

This method is the most popular, designed to show single snapshots from the webcam. It is the most easy method to set up, and the one that works perfectly for dial-up Internet connections. It also won't take much bandwith from your connection, so you'll still be able to surf the web, get e-mail, and other things while your webcam snaps shots. However, you won't be able to serve live video feeds with this method.

This method is usually accomplished with an FTP connection that sends the last shot captured by the WebCam to the site hosting your web pages.

Server Push

This is the most resource-consuming method, and thus, the least implemented. You should use it if you'd like to stream live video from your cam to viewers. It has its limitations, some of which are:

It requires a high bandwith connection. You must put a limit to the video stream for each user connecting to it.

You can't use a dial-up connection for this method. If there is a firewall in your network, it can disallow you to use this method, or can limit you in some way or another. Only the most recent browser versions support server push.

To set up a server push webcam, you'll need a fixed IP (dynamic IP's are also possible, but you need more resources) and server push software. How to Refresh the Image Once you've decided which kind of webcam you are setting up, you need to decide how to make it refresh the image.

To get the latest shot captured by the camera, your viewers will have to reload it (usually by pushing the F5 button on their keyboard), unless you add some extra HTML, Javascript code or Java applets which will autoreload the picture after a given period that you can define. (This does not apply to the server push method, since it is continously streaming a video feed).

META Tag Command

Altough this is the oldest method of refreshing a webcam image on a web page, it is in use in many places, and works perfectly. This way of refreshing is done via a little HTML code.

There is an HTML tag than can make a page automatically reload after a period of time (in seconds) is reached. The syntax for this tag is as follows:


At the interval in seconds, the browser will reload the current page, and do it over and over again until the user closes it. The most significant disadvantage of this method is that the whole page is reloaded, so a heavy graphics site will be a pain to reload on slow connections and will result in high bandwith usage.

If you decide to use this method of refreshing your image, keep in mind that some old browsers don't allow an image to automatically refresh after some reloads. To work around this bug, add the following code to your page's HEAD tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Expires" CONTENT="Tue, 01 Jan 1980 1:00:00 GMT">
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Pragma" CONTENT="no-cache">

JavaScript Refresh

If you don't want to make your viewers wait for the whole HTML page to refresh, you can use the JavaScript language to make just the image refresh. Note that the visitor of your webcam page will have to enable JavaScript in order to see the image changing (nowadays, 90% of the audience does have JavaScript enabled).

Java Applets

Java applets are small programs embeded inside a web page, which load the webcam images freeing the browser form that job. There are hundreds of Java applets for this purpose available online, such as OnlineCamera Java Viewer. You can put them anywhere in your webcam page and they'll refresh the image for you, without refreshing the whole page, just the image.

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