Finding a Remote-Controlled Pan and Tilt Webcam
April 29, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I need a recommendation for a webcam with remotely controlled pan and tilt capabilities that isn't going to break the bank.

Recently, my gaming group has decided to investigate the possibility of making it possible for remote players to join in on our weekly gaming sessions. In order to accomodate this, we're looking at the possibility of adding one or more webcams to the mix. It'd be relatively straightforward to use a fixed camera, but it'd be really cool to be able to allow the remote player or players the ability to pan and tilt a camera to look around.

I've done some googling, and one of the problems I'm running into is that the items I'm finding tend to fall into two categories:

Category 1: a self-contained consumer solution that has pan and tilt capabilities, but doesn't appear to have any way of allowing remote control. Some 3rd party software appears available, but costs many times the cost of the camera itself.

Category 2: DIY solutions that involve a lot more soldering than I am comfortable with, and more circuitry than my fading EE minor skills from college are likely to be able to handle.

Category 2 tends to be a lot closer to the price point I want, but involves an awful lot of cases where you are exhorted to buy 5 or so components and wire them together -- not my strong point. Category 1 seems unlikely to work -- I don't want this to be $400 or more for a single setup, and the manufacturer-supplied software is not likely to meet my needs.

The ideal solution would be an off the shelf component with a USB connection and a published API. I have no problem writing custom software to control this -- and in fact, would probably prefer to do so, given that my own needs are likely to be different than anything built into an existing application.
posted by tocts to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps something like the Rovio? The downside is that it might be a little... distracting to feel a Rovio crawling around your feet and peering up while gaming.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2009

Response by poster: The Rovio seems a bit overkill. I'd really like to pull this off for $150 or less.

I'd go as far as saying that this doesn't even necessarily need to be a webcam, since I could easily attach one. Even if what I could find would be a USB-enabled pan/tilt platform on which I could mount a cheap camera, that'd work.
posted by tocts at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2009

Hmmm. In that case, tocts, I have a couple of suggestions... with the proviso that I have not used any of these personally.
  • There's the Logitech Orbit AF. That retails for $130 US
  • There's also the Creative Live Webcam, in the same price bracket.
  • If you want something a little more robust, I'd look for an AXIS model on eBay. AXIS tends to be used in professional environments, and has a price point to match, but you might be able to find some bargains. The 2130 model was recently replaced by the 213 PTZ (now with night vision, for extra remote sensing creepiness. ;-)
I hope this helps!
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2009

Check out the Panasonic BL-C111A: self-contained with its own web server, remote pan/tilt control, available for less than $150 on ebay. I have three of them, and aside from needing a periodic reboot, they work fine.
posted by hades at 3:56 PM on April 29, 2009

(And by "periodic", I mean "occasional". I don't think it's actually a predictable interval. And, come to think of it, ever since I gave them static IPs instead of letting them autoconfig via DHCP or their own weird "grab the highest available IP that's not already in use" scheme, I haven't had to power cycle them at all.)
posted by hades at 4:03 PM on April 29, 2009

Here is something to consider: instead of a having a camera that looks around have you thought about having two cameras? One trained to the board for the game you're playing and another with a wide angle lens (or set above and at an angle) so they can see the whole gaming table?
posted by JFitzpatrick at 4:45 PM on April 29, 2009

Having recently acquired a hammer, now everything looks like a nail to me, so apologies in advance.

That said, I just did a project which used an arduino as part of its solution. If you have an EE you'll find this no problem at all from a circuitry standpoint.

I used the arduino to run some LCD and LED displays, but anything you need some digital interfacing for it should be easy enough to do and reasonably cheap. In your case you'd need the arduino ($30), stepper motor controller ($18), stepper motor or two ($15 or $30), and whatever computer/webserver is providing the remote access.

Yeah, this is your category 2 BUT you can connect it all via pretty minor wiring and don't even need a breadboard - the arduino has little push-sockets for the few connections you need to make.

Computer to arduino is over USB and you can do something similar to what I did - a loop on the arduino that watches the serial (over USB) connect and does something based on 1-character inputs. In your case all you need is LEFT or RIGHT or UP or DOWN, assuming you handle 2 axis.

On the computer end you can do it very simply with Perl, and have the Perl called from the webserver. http://blahblah/ for example. Just call that via AJAX on the viewing webpage.

It's not off-the-shelf but you can use any old cheap & light (and they're all light) USB webcam for the video. If you can't get one free you can grab one for $30 no problem. Even adding that cost and $10 for some hookup wire you're well under your $150 limit.
posted by phearlez at 7:41 AM on May 7, 2009

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