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Ask Slashdot: Is There a Modern IP Webcam That Lets the User Control the Output? 263

First time accepted submitter Tronster writes Owners of a local shop have a menu that changes daily and wanted an IP webcam to update an image on their web-site. After a frustrating 2 hours of a "Hikvision" refusing to behave, I threw in the towel and looked for a better camera to recommend. The biggest issue today is that the new webcams that come out don't support FTP, they all support sending images/video direct to a "private cloud" (e.g., Simplicam, Dropcam, etc...). Google has been no help; all the sites are either outdated in terms of ranking or the most recent ones recommend a Foscam. They previously tried one of these and it's image quality was too poor. While security systems and home automation has been discussed recently, I haven't found any recent discussions on webcams that give a user control of where the content is sent. Does anyone in the Slashdot community have recommendations, reputable sites that are up-to-date in rankings, and/or hacks to have control over some of these newer cameras?
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Ask Slashdot: Is There a Modern IP Webcam That Lets the User Control the Output?

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  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@jawth e s hark.com> on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:34AM (#48951431) Homepage Journal
    First of all, why not simply upload a PDF with the new menu every day? That is easy, and scriptable. (For example, copy finished menu in any format in a folder. This folder is polled occasionaly for new content, if new content is there, eventually convert (doc, docx, odt to pdf), and upload to FTP server. Done.)

    Second, you could just take a stock webcam, attach it to an RPi, let it make a picture, let's say every 15 minutes and upload it to the desired FTP server. 100% scriptable.

    Personally, I think this idea is ripe for abuse. Somebody is going to draw penises on the menu and it will be there on the site for all to see. Overthink your workflow instead of doing this.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Funny)

      by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:36AM (#48951443)

      Actually, I was going to draw breasts. Clearly your level of perversion is of a far baser nature than mine.

    • by frisket ( 149522 )

      Even better, have them type in the menu to whatever they use to create their PDF (presumably they do actually print menus to give to diners :-) but then turn that input into HTML and put it on the web.

      In any case, WTF do restaurants insist on publishing their menus as poxy goddessawful PDFs anyway? This is just pandering to the designer's pitiful little ego. If you want me to come dine, give me something I can READ, damn you.

      • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @01:46PM (#48952303)

        Actually the conversion between a free-form pagesetting layout and HTML is non-trivial - unless the printed menu is utterly simplistic there's likely to be a fair amount of work necessary to convert it to a non-hideous HTML document. So, since HTML is unacceptable due to increased costs your options are basically a bitmapped image, or something vector-based that can be zoomed. Which basically means either PDF or SVG, and an awful lot of software doesn't have decent SVG exporting, while there are plugins that allow any program to print to PDF, assuming they don't support exporting PDF natively.

        Moreover, the summary specifically says "shop", not restraunt. So there's a fair chance that their menu is in fact hand-drawn on a black/whiteboard without any printed copies. I know lots of bars and cafes that do that - printing out new menus every day wastes a LOT of paper.

        • by jandrese ( 485 )
          How complicated are you making these menus? Is it more than Entree Name, Description, and Price? Seems like exactly the sort of thing that you could whip up in 10 minutes with a little HTML generation and a style sheet. You can add some graphics and play with the fonts to pretty it up, but ultimately a menu is just a tabulated list--something HTML was designed from the start to display.
          • Right - On most menu's its the graphics, borders, headers, fonts, etc. that cause problems with HMTL export. Could you position them within an HTML table? Sure, sort of, up to a point But that requires that you design your menu based on the limitations of HTML - and why the %$#@! would you want to do that for anything that wasn't being designed primarily for the web? It's *painful*, straight page-setting software is *far* more flexible. And does your page-setting program offer an HTML export function

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You do realize that they are talking probably about chalk-on-a-board menus right? I'm sure the poster would have been smart enough to upload a PDF if there was any to begin with.

    • by jddj ( 1085169 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @01:14PM (#48952037) Journal

      Restaurant sites are what usability pros show onscreen when they want to get a belly laugh from the audience.

      The reason is that restaurants are focused on looks before usability. This leads them to use pictures of text, PDFs, and the hated Flash.

      Those technologies range from poor to complete fail when it comes to searchability, mobile adaptability, accessibility, and ability to select and copy/paste text.

      Please, use HTML text instead. It's not hard to format it beautifully with CSS, and you'll be helping patrons find you, paste the address into their contacts or GPS, share favorite stuff with friends, and get a dollar out of their hands and into yours.

      • by firewood ( 41230 )

        Restaurant sites are what usability pros show onscreen when they want to get a belly laugh from the audience.

        The reason is that restaurants are focused on looks before usability. This leads them to use pictures of text, PDFs, and the hated Flash.

        Those technologies range from poor to complete fail when it comes to searchability, mobile adaptability, accessibility, and ability to select and copy/paste text.

        So instead the site designer creates a solution supposedly more far more "usable", and rides off into the sunset with a new slide for her presentation. But since no one actually working at the restaurant day-to-day is computer savy or has any time for keyboarding stuff while cooking or waiting on tables, the menu gets way out of date (until some waiter's kid who knows how to use the computer comes by), and the highly usable accessible searchable search result returns a bogus menu from last month.

        With a cam

        • Somebody likely typed the menu.

          Strikes me that a quick web form to copy I paste the text is a lot less elaborate than maintaining a webcam for the purpose. But that's just me.

          Good usability pros don't "ride off into the sunset" before testing to make sure the solution works well for all stakeholders, including those who must maintain the content without help.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tronster ( 25566 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @03:18PM (#48952915) Homepage

      First of all, why not simply upload a PDF with the new menu every day?...

      ...another task is the exact situation they want to avoid and see technology as a solution.

      For those comments about defacing; it's not a small menu off to the side, or in front of the shop, it's a 6 foot tall menu board in the main area (it's an ice-cream shop) which is already updated daily (or a few times a day if they run out of a flavor and cross over to their next batch, etc...) Once a camera is in place, showing the menu online is something they just don't have to worry about any more - updating the menu board updates its on the web.

      • The pdf (IMO it shouldn't even do pdf, but should create an html page.) should be an automatic result of wherever they update their menu. There should be no extra steps from their point of view. If you mean the extra step of having to create the workflow process which does it, you're doing that anyway by writing crazy ad-hoc webcam software.

  • Is it too hard... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lordfly ( 590616 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:35AM (#48951437) Homepage Journal

    ..to snap a photo of the menu with their smart phone and upload it to a website every day? Most restaurants around here do that.

  • Motion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@@@gdargaud...net> on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:35AM (#48951439) Homepage
    Use any webcam or USB connected camera and 'motion' a Linux FOSS tool that lets you program picture taking any which way you want.
  • Because (Score:5, Insightful)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:39AM (#48951451)

    You're looking for a "webcam", stop looking for a "webcam" and you will find what you want.

    • This, absolutley this, I'd mod you up if I had the points. A webcam is specifically designed for streaming video, usually at horrible low resolution that would make a menu unreadable.

      What the questioner really wants is just an easy way to snap a single photo with a decent digital camera and upload it to the website, preferably without requiring any technical knowledge on the part of the photographer. I'm sure there's a smartphone app to do that, probably several.

      • by Tronster ( 25566 )

        Immerman: If you know of an App, please pass on the word. The key is that it needs to be triggered if there is motion (when the board is updated).

        koan: I thought of a iPhone or Android that could do the trick but would need to find a piece of software that can activate with motion, and FTP the image up to a site. Webcams are essentially build for this, with both video and images. The problem is, the older ones have horrible resolution. The newer webcams look great (720p, 1080p, good sensors, etc...) but

        • Motion detection is a horrible idea. It just needs to be set to snap pics as often as they normally change the menu (or have it be triggered manually in a simple, push-button fashion).

    • Re:Because (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @03:05PM (#48952825)

      You're looking for a "webcam", stop looking for a "webcam" and you will find what you want.

      Bingo. These festures are easily found on most modern IP security cameras. And the bonus is they can be configured remotely after initial setup. Mobotix is the high end brand, Axis is high quality....and lower end brands may fit the bill as well.

      • by Tronster ( 25566 )

        This is fantastic; hadn't come across Mobotix or Axis.
        Will check them out. Thank you.

        • Mobotix has its own web server right on the camera. I'm sure others do but I'm not familiar. Mobotix is a awesome camera, great quality, but $$$$$$$.
        • by ColaMan ( 37550 )

          Try VivoTek as well, they make some nice 5MP units with good optical zoom - meaning you can mount the camera a good distance away and zoom into the menu board.

          We used to run mobotix exclusively, and their cameras are now in the low to mid-range in performance, but still high-end in price.

  • Pie (Score:4, Informative)

    by CurryCamel ( 2265886 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:42AM (#48951475) Journal

    Finally, a proper use case for the Raspberry Pi. And in its natural habitat at that!

    • Re:Pie (Score:5, Informative)

      by unrtst ( 777550 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @03:36PM (#48953039)

      Agreed! However, I've read this far and have not seen anyone actually answer his direct question.

      So: D-Link DCS-930L:
      * about $30
      * wired or wireless network
      * IP camera
      * 640x480 (may be low-ish, but should be enough for a menu if properly framed in the FoV)
      * FTP client support

      If it was me, I'd just have them write the menu twice:
      1. on chalkboard
      2. on a form that updates the webpage (or just in a markdown doc and have that uploaded; or in something else and have them export to pdf and upload; etc)

      They're already having someone write it by hand on a chalkboard whenever it changes. That takes WAY more time than writing by hand on paper, and both take longer than typing.

      If they *really* need the fully automated chalkboard-to-web solution, then the Raspberry Pi is a perfect solution. You could also use any old or new mini pc (zotac zbox; asus eee box; chrombox; etc) + any camera or webcam you want. Install linux and "motion". Have motion upload new images when the image changes, or use a cron job to schedule it (ex. if they turn the lights off at night, you probably don't want motion to upload a black snapshot). You could also combine the two - enable motion during the day and disable it at night via cron but use it to decide when to upload.

      Maybe this is "too much work". As others have pointed out, there's more than one way to skin this cat. Cheapest and most readily available and very simple would be to have them take the picture with their phone and upload it. This could be tweaked an any number of ways as needed. For example:
      a) write a mini app to do this. This would hide the file renaming, ftp settings, etc, and it's just be a button to take a picture and a button to say "ok, upload that". Writing apps is like that is REALLY easy.
      b) save the photos to dropbox or upload to twitter etc. Then, server side, script it to find the most recent when displaying the menu.
      c) Just tell them how and write that on a piece of paper for them to follow: take picture; save it; go into ftp app; select it; rename it to "menu.jpg"; click upload

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:42AM (#48951479)

    I'd go with a Raspberry Pi (35$), either with a camera module [raspberrypi.org] or a no-infrared module [raspberrypi.org]; a small shell script will do, google for it!

  • Sharx (Score:4, Informative)

    by hawkeyeMI ( 412577 ) <brock&brocktice,com> on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:44AM (#48951493) Homepage
    The Sharx brand cameras are expensive (~$280) but have many great capabilities built in, including dumping to a NAS and motion alerts with emailed snapshots. I've run them in some capacity for over five years with no trouble. My only complaint other than price is that the UI is not always very self-explanatory, and they refuse to post PDF manuals on their site, so don't lose the (extensive) paper manual.
  • Try this (Score:4, Informative)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @11:51AM (#48951521)


    It is a regular pocket camera that can connect to wifi and email photos. It might work for you. Have the people pick the camera up, take a picture of the menu, press the email button, and then have the website poll the email account every 10 minutes for a picture sent by the address associated with the camera.

    A little messy but I think that is the way to go. It does require people pick the camera up and do that every day. But is that a problem?

    • by Tronster ( 25566 )

      Thank you. May not work as the existing camera mounts are from the ceiling; not easily accessible... still worth checking out; perhaps there is a hack.

  • Since you don't like the quality of Foscam, how about an old Android phone? I own a Foscam and had no problems with the quality, so I assume you want a higher resolution. Any old or cheap Android phone will likely have a high enough resolution. Combine that with something like autocam [google.com] and write a small script that ftps the picture (have never tried autocam so I'm not sure if it is OK...). The phone will have wifi etc. all build in. You might needs some creativity to mount it to a wall.

  • Mount it where you need your "webcam". There are free webcam apps for Android (and probably for iOS - none, that are any use anyway, for Windows Phone). As long as you don't need PTZ, these are actually really good. You can port forward through your router and remote control them too - turn flash off and on, etc. And they do support uploading JPEGs. I have an old Galaxy S3 keeping an eye on my back yard.
  • The Axis M-1004W supports an FTP location as the recipient for an event. An event can be scheduled for a specific time of day. It supports 720p resolution.

    If you want anything higher then 1024p, you're probably no longer looking for a webcam.

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      Just spend $3 on an ebay webcam from a laptop, rig up a USB cable, and use an IP Webcam program.

  • by BenFranske ( 646563 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @12:03PM (#48951611) Homepage

    Even my $20 basic D-Link (DCS-930L) IP enabled camera has FTP upload capability. I'm pretty sure the very similar TP-Link one does as well. These are not really as hard to find as the OP suggests. If you spend a few minutes looking at most of the companies that have been doing cameras for more than a couple of years you'll find plenty with FTP upload capability. Just stay away from the overpriced ones with clever names e.g. "Dropcam" and stick to something more basic. If you do want to spend some money and get a much better camera go for a commercial one like an Axis.

  • All Foscam/Loftek cameras I've played with allow for the image to simply be retrieved as a JPEG from the camera by accessing an HTTP URL with a username/password in the query string. (Sometimes in a streaming/server-push manner, but I assume there's a way to change or work around that)

    From your question, I don't quite understand what you're trying to do with FTP, but Foscam/Loftek+wget should give you the flexibility you need. (Before buying, I recommend consulting the Zoneminder wiki/forums, as cameras tha

    • by Tronster ( 25566 )

      The end goal is to have a web-page that displays the image; FTP is just a way of getting the image to the page.
      The Foscam they tried did have FTP build in but image quality wasn't up to snuff.

      Thank you for mentioning the Zoneminder wiki/forums; that seems to be a good source of information from people having utilized the equipment they talk about.

  • Not webcam (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Livius ( 318358 )

    I've seen restaurants use photos of the menu taken from a phone or even a serious camera, and it looks amateur. Webcam is unlikely to look better no matter what you do.

    If this menu is done daily and looks professional in the restaurant, it should be professionally done on the website, such as a PDF. If the menu is just a chalk board that someone updates by hand, possibly several times a day, then a photo should be fine, but even then you should take a proper photograph from close up and upload it.

    • It's an ice cream shop. If it's like my favorite ice cream shop, that menu can change 3 times in one hour as the ice cream as ice cream is used up and new ice cream taken out for use, or as some of their dozens of flavors run out near the end of the business day.

  • This would dead simple with a raspberrypi and pi camera module. Cron takes a still shot (raspistill -o filename.jpg) every 5 or 10 minutes. Rsync over ssh to your website via cron every 5 or 10 minutes. Create a nice looking webpage that displays the image. Since the image name never changes your web page is updated as soon as the new jpg is uploaded.

  • It sounds like the owner is writing a menu on a daily basis, and may be updating the menu during the course of business. Webcams has crappy resolutions, digital cameras tends to get "lost", more so when more than 1 person is using it. So, why a camera? My work has one of those digital whiteboards (yes, I know they're more expensive than a webcam), but I imagine it's possible to write once and then pressing a button, a snapshot of what is written on the whiteboard gets uploaded to the proper place?
  • Which Foscam? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xolotl ( 675282 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @12:32PM (#48951719) Journal
    Saying "they tried a Foscam but the quality was too poor" is like saying "they tried food but didn't like it". Which one? Foscam make dozens of models up to at least 960p (I haven't checked their range recently), I find it hard to believe they won't work for this (or at least any worse than the other manufacturers' cameras).
  • by MrP- ( 45616 ) <jessica AT supjessica DOT com> on Sunday February 01, 2015 @12:42PM (#48951769)

    I've had no issues with TRENDNet IP cameras.

    They support FTP. And can be controlled easily enough. I have a couple scripts at home that face it outwards when I'm at work and against the wall when I'm home. And it FTP uploads to my site.

    Then I set up 2 at work similarly.

  • Ubiquiti Networks [ubnt.com] make some decent cameras [ubnt.com] with a whole bunch of decent features including fetching a snapshot with an HTTP request. They are designed to send their video output to their DVR software (which is actively supported on Linux) but in practice if all you need is to access still images over HTTP and video over RTSP then you can set up the control software on your laptop, fire it up once to configure the camera and then switch it off and the camera will continue to run without the DVR.

    Of course, as

  • StarDot Technologies [stardot.com] webcams run Linux. I have root access for my camera, and I have modified the various shell scripts in the camera to send images where I want them to be sent. In my camera FTP is supported.
  • CHDK loaded on a cheap used canon powershot camera, connected to a RPi via USB. CHDK script to take a picture hourly at your desired resolution, ptp it to the rpi, which you write a small cron job to sftp/rsync/ftp to the server with the correct filename. $200, heck, $100 if you shop around (Saw a Canon A530 on ebay for $15!) and some time doing the setup. Non-trivial time, mind you- but it'll do exactly what you want with a fantastic picture quality.

  • HikVision are not my favorite camera to use and prefer Axis or a ton of others, but they all do the same job.

    What is with needing FTP?

    You should have the corporate site web page that pulls up an image from the HikVision IP camera. That camera is password protected and will only pay attention to the web site or your programming IP address. Could do live feed or update on whatever schedule you want.

    It sounds like the main chef wants to hand-write the menu and doesn't want to do it any other way, and you are

  • you want a "modern" camera that will "support FTP?" No modern *anything* should. And seriously, what the hell sort of process is this that you'd do this this way? If the menu changed, then someone typed the new one. Instead of saving as a doc, save as a pdf - boom, there's your pdf. You seem to be making a convoluted process just to bill them 10x as much as they could pay, to create a complicated pathway which will be expensive and non-intuitive to maintain. Is this a job security thing?
    • by synaptik ( 125 ) *
      And what if this is one of those chalkboard menus, and they are wanting to recreate that vibe on their website?
      • And what if this is one of those chalkboard menus, and they are wanting to recreate that vibe on their website?

        Smartphone picture to twitter or instagram and website include of latest post.

      • A lot of people have mentioned this, and I think the proper reply is: If this is they way the restaurant management is thinking, then they are misusing the web, not understanding what the customer really needs/wants, and are not going to be successful.

        As somebody else said up above, restaurant web sites are often terrible because they value form over substance. My favorite sites have a PDF of the menu, or an HTML menu available. The menu on the web site should be accurate, up to date, readable, accessibl
  • The nineties called.
    They want their coffee-cam back.

  • I've got a couple TrendNet TV-IP862IC [trendnet.com]. They support 720p H.264 video, and speak FTP and (crucially for my application) Samba.

    Caught me a burglar with 'em: he came in, poked around, noticed the camera and ripped it out of the wall, but not before the camera sent his picture to the SMB fileserver hidden in a closet. Police recognized him, picked him up, and he confessed to a string of burglaries to support his heroin habit.

  • I would look first at the camera that you want. Let the store take a picture and upload that to the website. I bet the quality will still be too poor, depending on how large the board is they write it on.

    A chalkboard or whiteboard is a differnt medium then a website. Much will also depend on the lighting of when the image is taken. The handwriting of the person who wrote it and so on.

    I often am unable to read the board when I am in a restaurant.
    Again, these are two differnt mediums and I am not sure if it w

  • What about something that I've thought about? Using a cheapie Android phone (i.e. pay as you go, can get an LG Fuel - rootable - for $10 on sale from time to time). Obviously only if you're really into digging into coding if you want absolute security, but I'm sure there's something out there perhaps pre-packaged in an app to do what you want. I've thought of this as a sort of hacked-together security system for home just to upload video of anyone coming and going from the house. And yes, I know it's no

  • Axis webcams permit loading a single jpeg, using one of several tools, none of which include their super fancy "look at the webcam" web app.

    For example, using the *nix command "curl" gives you a jpeg of what's currently being watched, presto, no grief, no complications.

    What you -do- with the jpeg is very much up to you.

    I run multiple cameras looking out of my residence, and stuff them into motion jpeg files on a terabyte disk. I use a cron file to change files on an hourly basis, and with the number of cam

  • I just tried google and found D-Link [dlink.com]that has an FTP client and http+https So you could let the website access the camera for updates. Bit of scripting should solve it.

  • That's all you need. If you want a better quality image than a cheap USB webcam, use the Raspberry Pi camera, but a $5 USB cam works just fine if you don't need a high frame rate -- and if you're just pointing the thing at a menu, you only need one frame a day ;). The software is FOSS [sourceforge.net], and works just fine on the r-pi. I use such a setup to monitor my 3D printer from elsewhere in the house. If you need fine-grained control over who connects, well the Raspberry's running linux, so go nuts.

    Although that

  • Any IP camera that provides a URL to return the current still frame as a JPEG can be easily used for this. Write a script to grab the screenshot periodically and stick it in the directory where the web server can find it, or the script can proceed to FTP it to its rightful destination.
    • by Tronster ( 25566 )

      An interesting approach but it has some issues for this situation:
      1) The potential web camera is on a LAN with an IP that isn't web visible
      2) The idea is not to have to dedicate any other computers to get the image up
      3) The shop does not have a static IP address

      All of these are addressable, but if the camera can push the image out, rather than someone reach in to pull it from the camera, it seems to be a much easier task.
      (Or it would be if the Hikvision FTP was working as claimed in the manual.)

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Sunday February 01, 2015 @04:02PM (#48953245)

    Instead of having a camera taking a picture of a chalkboard every X minutes all the time and uploading the pictures to a website how about replacing the chalkboard with a monitor that shows the menu from the website. Then change the menu on the website to look like a chalkboard. When the chef or manager wants to update the menu they use the computer in the office to change the file and upload the changes to the website. The display in the restaurant would get updated (it could poll the web server every minute or ten) automatically. Plus the menu becomes more accessible to those with disabilities.

    • how about replacing the chalkboard with a monitor

      The monitor is for Burger King.

      The chalkboard the hometown bar and grill or the upmarket tavern

      Trust me on this.

      I live in a border town which has been successfully cultivating a low-tech exterior to satisfy the tourist trade for 190 years.

  • Is anyone going to answer the fucking question instead of shitpicking over the phrasing and implementation?
  • For this sort of thing I'd go to ebay and search on "video server." These things usually support NTSC and PAL cameras and provide them IP/web connection and motion capture with FTP and Email. The advantage of these is you're not stuck with the el-cheapo built-in cameras most IP cams have. You can get a hi-rez (>=600 line) starlight cam using a Sony Effio chip or similar for probably less than $100 (also on ebay) and get good nighttime vision and great daytime color with decent resolution as well. It'
  • You have to pay about $450 for the camera. AXIS work great for this.
    tell your customer to stop being a cheap bastard and spend the money on the real deal.

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