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The idea of LambWatch was inspired by Hencam. After seeing the interest in Hencam, we thought that people might also be interested in watching the random goings on at a small farm on the Yorkshire / Lancashire border too; and so LambWatch was born! This page contains a bit of background information about LambWatch.
The camera is situated at Marlfield Farm and spends most its time overlooking a field known as "the House Meadow"; a field that slopes down to the valley bottom where it meets a small stream which flows into the village. During the day, the camera points west, meaning that you could catch some really nice sunsets during the Summer months. The camera is currently fixed to a tree trunk and can be rotated through 180 degrees to cover other fields including "the Rushy Field" and a garden close to the farmhouse. We sometimes put a sheep into the garden when we need to keep a close eye on it which could be for various reasons such as a difficult birth resulting in the mother being very ill and requiring treatment and attention. The garden is a bit like an "intensive care" unit and we will be focussing the camera on that if it ever gets occupied.
As well as lambs and sheep, you could also spot our free-range hens pottering around in the grass as well as pheasants, birds and squirrels! When there is not much happening, there is usually a blue tit or two on the nut feeder to keep you entertained! Keep your eyes peeled for the woodpecker which visits the feeder from time to time on a daily basis! It's great to receive messages of "sightings" from our viewers when they spot something of interest on the webcam.
There are many ways in which you can help to support the Procters who care for the lambs and other animals at LambWatch. Many of the ways you can help support us are free of expense to you! For more information, visit our support page.
Below is an extensive description of how LambWatch was setup in case you are thinking of doing something similar! You might need to grab a cuppa tea while you read through all this blurb but here goes...!
1. Developing the site itself
This took about a week or so to get the site up and running with all the bits and bats included. I am a web developer so knew what I wanted from the start which helped a bit. It is now quite a "heavy" bandwidth site though - mainly because of the cam streaming but also there are a few little hidden tricks and treats going on behind the scenes to improve the user's experience. For example, if the viewer were to load the homepage only and never touch the computer again, the screen would change throughout the day without any prompting at all - the weather updates, the latest shoutouts update, the events and the news snippets on the homepage all update without page reloads. Even the "scenery" updates without a refresh - it will change from night time scene at night (moon and darkness) to sunset view at sunset time and daylight scene during the day automatically. The sunset and weather data all comes automatically from an XML feed which it retrieves from a server on the Weather.com website - no hardware is involved and the weather it uses is the weather for nearby town of Skipton. The website uses this data to decide what scenery to show and also to show the weather bits at the top of each page.
2. The chat room (view)
New Feature!: Now you can post a message in the chat room by SMS text message from your mobile / cell phone! Simply text "lambwatch yourname yourmessage" (without the quotes) to 447786202321 (exactly) and it will appear on the chat / shoutouts!
3. Hardware used
This is all the stuff I used for the current setup. It all came from Maplin. If you are considering using Maplin to source your equipment it would be great if you could use our affiliate link as a little thank you.
I could really do with an extra 16m for the camera to make the cable lengths the same. The extension of the mic is longer than the camera so there is a lot of dangling cable at the mic / camera end on the cable. I could, if I had the guts, cut the extra 16m for the mic in half, leaving 8m each for the cam and mic and then it should all stick together with a bit of solder but I am worried it will all go pear shaped! You will also need a solder kit to solder the audio board wires to the wires on the Camera PSU and cable kit for the microphone... make sure you get the colours right! It can be a bit tricky and requires a bit of thought - the colours vary according the cables and hardware but I am sure you can work it out!
4. Connecting it all together
Everything plugs into the DVR Guardian at the PC end: the camera gets plugged into one of the YELLOW video inputs on the device and the audio gets plugged into one of the WHITE audio inputs (there is scope to plug 3 other cameras into the remaining 3 video inputs and another mic but I haven't done this yet and wouldn't know how to get all 4 inputs on a website at this stage but sure it is possible - the DVR guardian is designed for CCTV really so that's why you can plug in multiple things. For my current setup, 3 yellow video cables are left dangling and one white audio is left dangling. The other end of the USB DVR Guardian is a simple USB port which happily plugs into your PC's USB 2.0 port :)
5. Installing Software
You then need to install the software for the DVR guardian from the provided CD (or download from Internet). You also need to sign up with Camstreams (http://www.camstreams.com) and register with them - providing information to them of the location of the webcam (IP address etc). Luckily for me I am on a static IP address which means my IP address doesn't change so Camstreams know that my stream is being streamed always from my IP. For non-static IP addresses you can use a service called "no-ip.com" (http://www.no-ip.com/) to generate a virtual static location which you can then configure camstreams with. Patrick at Camstreams is very helpful if you have any Camstreams related questions (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you do have any contact with Patrick, it would be cool if you mentioned that you found out via LambWatch ;). Once you have registered, you need to download CamStreams's software for broadcasting - just the standard download is fine. You will need to set the settings in camstreams so that it is pulling video and audio from your DVR hardware and not some other source. You can tweak the software more to enable recording of live footage (i do this incase somethin interesting happens for the archive - bear in mind that if you are recording footage you will need to consider hard disk space!!!) and you can tweak contrast/ brightness etc in the DVR software. Check the hardware provider's websites for more support on their software.
6. Booting it all up and broadcasting!
Getting it going to broadcast on the net with this hardware is very much a trial and improvement process... you WILL need a LOT of patience unless you are lucky and get it right first time but I spent hours just getting the thing to work! The software isn't that brill (DVR Software that is - Camstreams is fine) and you will need patience. Once you have got it working in Camstreams software you are ready to go live! The next steps are specific to this exact setup and may vary if you use slightly different hardware. To actually get the thing broadcasting on the Internet, this is what i do....
A weird process I know but I think it works because the DVR software kicks the webcam into gear which is why you need to launch it to get it going. Hopefully then you will be broadcasting something on the net! Give it a minute before you test it on the website as it needs to "buffer" the video.
7. Pricing and Costing
Everything is free except for the hardware, the broadband connection, the website space and domain etc. That is quite a big "except" too though... the hardware probably all came to about 300 pounds ish and the broadband is 30 pounds a month. You can use a cheaper set up if you intend on using an inside camera (I had to chose one that was weather proof), or if your camera is going to be close to your PC (don't need any extensions). The software either comes with the hardware or is free (at time of writing!). Camstreams is currently offering their service for free which is absolutely great because they must have to dedicate so many resources to it! Camstreams do handle all the connections which drammatically reduces my bandwidth which is great - thanks again Patrick at Camstreams!
8. Things to think about
Broadcasting audio and video is a lot more consuming on bandwidth than just video... something to think about if you pay for broadband and are limited to just say 20Gb per month before getting charged extorionate fees.... Something I learned the hard way and ended up paying 50 pounds for a single month's broadband! Have sorted that out now. Which leads me onto the next point in that obviously the comptuer that is running the software needs a good intenrnet connection at all times (at least broadband I would say) and the computer must be left on at all times..... I'm not keen on doing this electricity wise but c'est la vie! Another thing to think about is that in our case, the finished product is an awful tangle of wires and waterproofing stuff so beware for that! Our setup looks awful behind the scenes and it would be really nice to get a professional cable job done to make all the wires look a bit more tidy outside from the house to the camera. It looks very messy with a mix of white and black cables all strung together with patches of duck tape along the way! The wires just get fed through a slightly open window in the room where the PC is.
That's about it I think - all in all there is quite a lot happening really behind the scenes to generate a simple fun little site like LambWatch!
We hope you enjoy viewing the webcam. If you have any comments at all, please feel free to use the form on the contacts page.