Stage 1 - Getting a live video feed from a nestbox to your computer
First of all you need to get a camera of some kind for your nest box, or buy a nestcam kit (nest box with a camera and cables included). I did the latter a couple of years ago when I bought a kit from Aldi (as shown above) for £39.99. The price this year is around £45. The kit allows you to plug the camera into a normal TV SCART socket if you just want to watch the nest in your house or into a DVD or video recorder if you want to record some of the action. I think the design has changed slightly this year and the price has gone up a bit, but if you hold your nerve about buying immediately, they often reduce them after a few weeks along with all the other bird feeding stuff. They might also sell out of course.
If Aldi doesn't have any left (because they only sell them about twice a year) you can always tryHandyKam.com who will have everything you need, but at a price. I'd personally stick with a wired rather than a wireless version as they're a lot more reliable and usually have a better quality picture, they don't need batteries in the camera (which will need frequent replacing) and they're cheaper too. The only downside is having to route the cables into your house.
As mentioned above, you can easily watch the video from the nestbox camera on a normal TV using the Aldi kit, and you can even record it on a DVD or VHS recorder. However, if you want to watch or record your birds on a computer, an extra bit of hardware is needed - a video capture device of some sort. You may be lucky and already have one of these installed as part of the graphics card in your desktop computer, just look for a yellow RCA/phono socket on the back or even the front of the case (many desktop computers now have these included as standard).
If you haven't got a video capture device, the easiest thing to do is buy an EasyCap USB video capture adapter, the sort of thing used for transferring VHS or camera videos to a computer. They're quite cheap at between £5 and £12 if you look around the web such as here on Amazon, eBay or similar places.
|EasyCap USB Video Capture Adapter|
Most video capture devices use the yellow RCA/phono sockets for input and so like me, you may need a female to female SCART adapter to get from the camera to the capture card. You'll also need a SCART to phono converter plug which has three phono (yellow, red and white) output sockets on it and a triple phono cable with the same colour plugs on each end - yellow is for video, red is for right audio and white for left audio Again these things are quite cheap on the web being usually less than £3 each. You can even get some of them in one of the many 'Pound' shops around.
- Plug the camera SCART into one side of the female to female SCART adapter
- Plug the SCART to phono converter plug in to the other side of it
- Plug the three coloured phonos of the phono cable into the correctly coloured plug sockets
- Plug the other end of the cable into the video capture device sockets using just the yellow phono if there's only one socket, otherwise match the colours up correctly
- If the video capture device is USB, plug it into one of your computer or laptop's USB sockets
A picture of my actual connections will appear here soon. If you can plug your camera straight into to your video capture device, you won't need any of the above adapters and cables.
Stage 2 - Making it available for others to view over the internet (updated from Version 1 in 2013)
The easiest way to stream video over the internet is by using a dedicated video streaming service such as the one I use which is called Ustream (www.ustream.tv). You need to register for a free 'Basic' account on their website and then follow the instructions for setting up a channel. The drawbacks with using this free service is that you do get adverts at the start and at intervals throughout your streaming session and you can't stream in HD quality. However, considering that it is free, I am prepared to put up with these limitations for the short period of time in the year that my NestCam is online. If I were doing this more seriously I would certainly consider paying for their 'Pro' service.
The Ustream website will recognise that you have a video capture card and camera attached to your computer, and so all you need to do is configure it through their webpages to use them. Other than the video capture card drivers being installed and working, no extra software is needed to do this - Ustream takes the video from your camera and encodes it so that it can be streamed from the video servers on their website. The quality of the encoding depends on the quality of video that is supplied by your camera and the bandwidth that is available on their servers at the time - this can vary throughout the day depending on how many videos are being streamed by the Ustream servers.
Another way of using Ustream is to supply their website with video that has already been encoded on your computer. This is method I use and I find it to give me slightly better quality than the first method, To do this you need to run encoding software on your computer and I use the free Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder (AFMLE). So AFMLE takes the video from my EasyCap video capture card and sends it to Ustream in encoded form. When you set up your channel there is a section where you can copy the two settings that AFMLE needs to connect with the Ustream service, You can also download a profile specifically for using AFMLE with Ustream.
So in a nutshell, I use an Aldi Nestbox with camera, connected to my computer via an EasyCap USB video capture card where I run Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder to send live encoded video to Ustream who stream it all over the world for free.
If you'd like any more specific details about how exactly I've configured Ustream and AFMLE, please drop me a line in the comments below.