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Best cheap hardware for Linux-based webcam system?
October 5, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

The makerspace I belong to has a webcam but the system doesn't work very well; it's just an iSight plugged into a Mac mini. I'd like to set up a dedicated headless linux box with a bunch of cheap USB cameras instead. Recommendations?

It's a social work space, so people are more likely to come visit if there is already something going on. I'm not trying to create a videoconferencing setup, just a system where people can peek in and see what's up and maybe get curious about whatever that thing is that so-and-so is working on so intently.

The problem with the Mac mini setup is that it depends on a little app which needs to launch at login, and this is really fragile when we have multiple people using the machine and sometimes not logging out before they switch accounts. I am imagining instead a cheap little "nettop"-style device tucked away in a corner somewhere with three or four USB cameras plugged in, each one pointed at a different work area. Every few seconds it would snap a set of pictures and upload them.

Since this is a non-profit makerspace my budget is of course approximately zero. I am comfortable with Linux but hate the endless driver-upgrade chase, so I want to pick whatever is likely to be the most normal, most supported, least funky sort of camera.

1) What sort of camera should I look for?
2) What is the right sort of software for this project?
3) What sort of super cheap dedicated linux box is likely to give me fewest setup headaches?
4) What sort of super cheap dedicated linux box is likely to sit in its corner and do its job quietly without any maintenance for the next several years?
posted by Mars Saxman to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
2) I've found VLC to be the easiest for streaming video. Identify the source, choose stream, pick your type, go.
posted by unixrat at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2011


I had not been so ambitious as to hope for streaming video, but that would be great if it is possible. What does VLC stream the video *to*? Would I have to set up the firewall so that outside browsers would connect to my local Linux box, or would the local Linux box be streaming up to the webhost somehow?
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2011


Zoneminder is exactly what you need, and it's not fussy about what you run it on. Just try their Live-CD on an old box - "anything from late Pentium 3 or Athlon XP generation of cpus will be more than enough for a setup capable of running 2 or 3 cameras depending on configuration."
posted by dirm at 6:27 PM on October 5, 2011


I would do more frequent pictures rather than video because pictures will be much higher quality for see who is in the area/what they are doing.
posted by 47triple2 at 6:35 PM on October 5, 2011


Mars Saxman: "Since this is a non-profit makerspace my budget is of course approximately zero. I am comfortable with Linux but hate the endless driver-upgrade chase, so I want to pick whatever is likely to be the most normal, most supported, least funky sort of camera. "

I've used Linux for like ten years now, but when I went about researching this for a skype interview, this is actually pretty easy these days. I bought a cheap logitech webcam from Microcenter and it works like a champ without any effort on Ubuntu.

Honestly though, I don't think you'll need anything beefy for this unless you're trying to establish a security archive. Unless your webcam is pointed at the parking garage open/full status sign, I doubt it will see more than one user at a time ever.
posted by pwnguin at 6:50 PM on October 6, 2011


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