7-Mar-2004 (Sun)
Wherein you covet my new toy.

The restaurant space next door has finally reopened! Pizza and hotdogs so far. But at least they're open late...

I got a new toy: I bought a servo-mounted video camera. I'd been looking for the right one of these for a long time now, and finally found one that seemed reasonable, though it was way more expensive than it should have been...


Separated at birth?
It's a Panasonic WV-NS324 dome security camera, and it looks a lot like R2D2. The nice thing about this camera is that it has a normal video output (so it works with our video switcher and webcasts) but it also has a web server built in. All control of the camera's motion is via web pages running on the camera itself (this is cool, because the fact that it's controlled through HTML forms means it's moderately easy to script.) It also can spit out JPEGs over the net, though I doubt I'll end up using that part.

The most annoying thing so far is that the joystick-like control on the built-in web page doesn't work with Mozilla or Safari. Their HTML is coded for MSIE and for Netscape 4 (with layers) but neither Mozilla nor Safari support that, so it's hard to position the camera manually.

Once I figure out the right way to use this thing, it'll be able to take the place of, like, half of our existing fixed-position cameras. We'll be able to have mutliple different presets on the stage, for example, so that when bands are on, there will be a wider variety of close-ups and wide shots.

18 Responses:

  1. deveiant says:

    It took me a little while to notice that you'd superimposed R2D2 over the second picture. I thought it was like a transformer, and all the R2D2ish panels came out when it was fully-transformed. That would have made it even more covetable.

    I think maybe I played Final Fantasy 7 too much, and all those unfolding giant cannons have had a subtle effect on my psyche.

    • denshi says:

      I think maybe I played Final Fantasy 7 too much, and all those unfolding giant cannons have had a subtle effect on my psyche.

      Therapy, man, therapy.

      Hurry.

  2. idcmp says:

    this is cool, because the fact that it's controlled through HTML forms means it's moderately easy to script.

    You know you're when... :-)

  3. I take it this camera has a sufficiently-low lumens rating to function in the club?

    (That was the hang up on a bunch of other PTZ cameras, wasn't it, that they're CCD was basically non-functional in the light levels at the DNA?)

    How much too much money is this thing?

      • jwz says:

        The WV-NS324 claims 2 lux, and the Sony Nightshots that I'm using elsewhere (CCD-TR818) claim 0.7 lux in non-infrared mode, so I was worried. But they look about the same to me. I understand there's a lot of variance in manufacturers' lux ratings, since it's somewhat subjective what constitutes an "acceptable" picture.

        It killed me to spend that much on it, but as far as I can tell, a computer-controllable color low-light PTZ camera with analog output just cannot be had for cheaper.

        • ronbar says:

          Well, it is a very nice camera. The endless pan, the 10x optical zoom, and the built-in DSPs are excellent features.

          Personally, if I wanted that functionality, I'd just build my own servo mechanism with two stepper motors and a serially-controlled stepper motor controller, then put a regular camcorder with IR remote control on it. Sony's Digital8 camcorder is down to less than $400 and has lots of nice features, including FireWire video output, a nice wide lens for good low-light performance, and as an added bonus it can record in digital mode onto your old Exabyte tapes and record analog on your old analog 8mm videotapes too. Not that I'm trying to convince myself to buy one or anything...

          If you need super-low- or no-light recording and you want to use $40 video cameras, you can light the place invisibly to human eyes with IR filters over dimmed incandescent floodlights if you don't mind the greenish cast the video will have. You probably wouldn't, considering how much you use green on your pages. :)

          IR floodlights appear to human eyes like very dim, very deep red lights. They look pretty evil. You want to dim the bulbs to keep the filters from getting too hot, to extend bulb life, and to shift the light output toward red.

          • jwz says:

            All the camcorders I have in the club can do IR, and it's a cute gimick, but you wouldn't want to actually watch anything that way. It's too intrusive. IR means "black and white", which is pretty sad already; plus it also means "freakish miscoloration of random materials."

            I don't think your approach (camcorder, stepper motors, IR emitter) is cheaper than the WV-NS324. But (bonus!) it will certainly be less reliable.

            • ronbar says:

              Eh. I just like playing with electronics and building things.

              Using your own stepper motors and controllers plus a homebrew platform might set you back a grand total of $320.

              $200 for two motors and controllers
              $60-$100 for servo gearboxes
              $10 for half a 2x4 and half a sheet of plywood to build it with
              $10 for wood screws and wood glue.
              ----------------------
              $320 plus a couple days playing with electronics
              $400 for camcorder
              ----------------------
              $720 and two days more than the WV-NS324.

              If you can weld, it would cost maybe $15 more to build a metal platform instead of a wooden one. I can't and I don't have a welder, so I'd just use wood.

              I meant IR illumination for super-cheap cameras or no light; I meant to type "or" where I said "and" in If you need super-low- or no-light recording and you want to use $40 video cameras. The camcorder will not need IR illumination if there's usable light, which there is in your club when you have bands playing.

              It'll certainly be unreliable if you build it wrong.

              BTW, for the gutterpunks tagging and the drunks pissing on your door, you could trigger bright strobes with the configurable motion detection built into the WV-NS324. If you set it to trigger the strobes after more than about 15 seconds of motion that fills more than a quarter of the picture during the hours you're closed, that would probably get just about everyone either pissing or tagging, drunk or punk. IR illumination with no light in the doorway would make them think they were hidden from view at night even if they saw the camera.

              • zapevaj says:

                If you set it to trigger the strobes after more than about 15 seconds of motion that fills more than a quarter of the picture during the hours you're closed, that would probably get just about everyone either pissing or tagging, drunk or punk.

                Sure it would- in addition to people doing perfectly legal things, such as standing on the sidewalk in front of the DNA or feeding their parking meter.

                • ronbar says:

                  Not if it was calibrated correctly. When I looked at his front door pictures, he's got a pretty wide angle lens and it looked like anything moving in more than about a quarter of the pixels is pretty much in the doorway and bigger than a large dog.

                  But I admit the one-quarter thing was a wild-ass guess. If it did trigger on a few people feeding the meter or just standing on the sidewalk... well, word would get out to stay away from the DNA door after closing unless you don't mind being photographed for jwz's amusement. I'm just talking about light about as bright as a typical camera flash... nothing monstrous, nothing blinding.

                  • zapevaj says:

                    Okay, so if the light isn't blinding or disturbing, what's the deterrent? Catching them on camera? I seriously doubt any of the taggers or drunk pissing people would care.

  4. bazil says:

    Was this camera in use for the webcast last night, or do you use some other effect for the panning from shot to shot?

  5. I'm not from the big city so I don't know if anything would deter the urinating and tagging that you seem to have trouble with, but do you think it would be effective to put a big conspicuous screen visible to the outside so that people could see themselves?

  6. ronbar says:

    So you broke down and got a Mac, or were you using your girlfriend's Mac?

    • jwz says:

      We've been using Macs for office work since we opened, as I was completely unwilling to devote my life to training employees on how to use OpenOffice or whatever sad joke Linux has to offer as a purported replacement for the tools that they already understand.

      I refuse to blaze that trail.

      (This is not an invitation for whomever reads this to tell me how easy it "ought to be.")

      • ronbar says:

        Makes sense, considering your justified anger at Microsoft. I just thought you'd said before that you hadn't yet broken down and gotten a Mac.

        • jwz says:

          I don't use a Mac on anything even approaching a regular basis, but I guess technically I do own half a dozen of them. It's still a Microsoft-free zone, however.