Jump to content


Photo

Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD Webcam Modification

  • Please log in to reply
103 replies to this topic

#1 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 02 November 2009 - 08:41 AM

The new Microsoft webcam, LifeCam Cinema HD, has been getting good reviews for its 1280x720 HD video performance at 30 fps and low light sensitivity. I bought one for $55 to test for astro imaging and posted modification instructions along with some initial software tests here:

http://www.ghonis2.h...m/lifecam1.html

Below is a pic showing how small the circuitry/imaging chip is. Hope to see how it does on Jupiter and the Moon soon.

Attached Files



#2 RedIrocZ-28

RedIrocZ-28

    Surveyor 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 1554
  • Joined: 18 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Posted 02 November 2009 - 10:07 AM

Gary, you and I must be always looking for the next best bang for the buck camera. I have been following this camera since it launched recently, reading reviews, watching demo videos etc. I have also been looking at the Logitech Webcam PRO 9000, which is another supposed low light, HD, higher FPS camera.

I'll be excitedly watching your progress with this camera!

Hope it work well :)

#3 MvZ

MvZ

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1583
  • Joined: 03 Apr 2007
  • Loc: The Netherlands

Posted 02 November 2009 - 10:17 AM

I'm following this with great interest. I'm very curious about the performance (image quality) on the moon/planets.

How much preprocessing is the webcam doing?
Is it possible to perform raw-mods to the camera (to turn the preprocessing off)?
With the QC9000 I noticed that the read-out of a frame took quite a lot of time (wobbly effects when you moved a pencil in front of the camera). How is the readout speed of this camera (e.g. how much time difference is there between the top and bottom part of a single frame?)

Anyways, keep us posted!

#4 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 02 November 2009 - 12:00 PM

I found that the YouTube videos for the LifeCam Cinema HD, especially those that directly compared it to other webcams, give a good idea of the webcam's performance. The higher apparent quality, especially under low light levels, is most likley due to Microsoft's "ClearFrame" feature that appears to be noise removal on-the-fly and I don't know how well that will work for planetary imaging, since it might remove detail. It can be turned off, so testing will tell.

Logitech marketting has created some confusion with the Logitech "Webcam" Pro 9000. My understanding is that it is identical to the Logitech "Quickcam" Pro 9000, hardware- wise, but the "Webcam" package includes Logitech Vid video calling software. I have modified and used the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000. Modification details are on my web page here:

http://www.ghonis2.h...m/Pro9000a.html

Planetary imaging I have done with the Pro 9000 has been disappointing. I have found that it has worked well for solar and lunar imaging, but it is not as sensitive as my Logitech Fusion, which gives better results for planetary imaging. The Fusion for planetary is much better than my Toucam. Since the Fusion is my best webcam for planetary at this time, I will be doing comparison tests of the LifeCam Cinema HD to it.

#5 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 02 November 2009 - 12:08 PM

You asked: "With the QC9000 I noticed that the read-out of a frame took quite a lot of time (wobbly effects when you moved a pencil in front of the camera). How is the readout speed of this camera (e.g. how much time difference is there between the top and bottom part of a single frame?)"

Reply: I don't know how to measure that. I think the wobbly effects you asked about depend on the frame rate. The stated frame rate of 30fps for HD video capture is the big selling feature of this webcam but I've read reports of only a few getting this. Achieving 30 fps in HD may require a computer with a high end processor. Then there's the inherent choke of USB 2.0, so compression comes into play.

#6 RedIrocZ-28

RedIrocZ-28

    Surveyor 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 1554
  • Joined: 18 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Posted 02 November 2009 - 01:32 PM

Gary, whats funny is with the ToUcam we all lamented about the choke of the USB 1.x and wished the ToUcam would do USB 2.0, now we're talking about how the HD feed is choking the USB 2.0.

Don't worry, Point Grey Research has come out with a USB 3.0 device. I figure a good SSD hard drive and a fast laptop could handle the USP 3.0 pipeline. :)

#7 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 13 November 2009 - 02:40 AM

Got out under clear skies 11/06 for first light with the modified LifeCam HD on Jupiter. Seeing was bad. I was able to stack 60 of 1200 frames of the 1280X720 HD videos and posted images and animations here:

http://ghonis2.ho8.c...m/lifecam5.html

Still need to do some comparison testing to the Logitech Fusion and 450D DSLR, but I think this webcam will become my planetary imager of choice.

Attached Files



#8 RedIrocZ-28

RedIrocZ-28

    Surveyor 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 1554
  • Joined: 18 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Posted 13 November 2009 - 11:15 AM

Gary, I was at Meijer last night and I went looking for this camera, but thought I better wait to see your results first. Gotta say I am pretty surprised, what was the elevation at time of capture? What would the image look like if you stacked say 600 of the frames? I have noticed that sometimes even unsharp frames can contribute to the overall appearance of the image.

EDIT: I see you answered everything on your webpage.

Not bad! :)

#9 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 13 November 2009 - 12:25 PM

Low elevation and bad seeing isn't the best time to test a camera, but here in the land of everlasting clouds, I was anxious to see how the webcam performed and to get used to its controls. It was very difficult to focus because of the bad seeing. I was set up at the end of my driveway. Everytime a car would drive by, the Jupiter image would become even a worse warping blob. When seeing conditions are this bad, my experience with other webcams has been to limit the stack to as few frames as possible in order to eek out some detail. Because of the seeing, there is no way I could stack 600 frames. I did try stacks of 100, 80, 60 and 40 frames as a test and stacks between 40 and 60 frames gave the best results. Even fewer stacks improved detail but with increased noise. Pics below are actual raw BMPs from one AVI (used for second frame of animation) and you can see that with seeing this bad, including poor frames in the stack would erase detail.

I could tell from making the brightness/contrast/exposure adjustments that this is a light sensitive webcam and I had good control of the image's appearance for capture. It did not have the "onion skin" effect on Jupiter that I have experienced with the Logitech Pro 9000 webcam.

Seems the Microsoft provided driver slows down the frame rate capture and if it is un-installed, higher frame rates can be captured. Bill Gates strikes again.

:smashpc:

Attached Files



#10 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 16 November 2009 - 12:36 PM

Finally got the LifeCam HD capturing 1280X720 HD video at 30 fps. Had to uninstall the Microsoft driver and install an MJPG codec on my system. Updated some info here:

http://www.ghonis2.h...m/lifecam3.html

#11 Mert

Mert

    Skylab

  • *****
  • Posts: 4231
  • Joined: 31 Aug 2005
  • Loc: Spain, Pamplona

Posted 16 November 2009 - 01:09 PM

Which one did you buy Gary, the 32bit decompress
stated as 39$????

Looks good, do you already have some stacked image
done at 30fps? :waytogo:

#12 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 16 November 2009 - 01:19 PM

There are lower priced "home versions" available here:

http://www.accusoft....ideospecial.htm

I didn't buy the $29 version yet, since the trial version is still working (has a nag screen) and I want to test it more fully, especially for astro and also compare it to other MJPG codecs.

#13 Mert

Mert

    Skylab

  • *****
  • Posts: 4231
  • Joined: 31 Aug 2005
  • Loc: Spain, Pamplona

Posted 16 November 2009 - 01:23 PM

Thanks Gary, looks like a "breakthrough" what you
have achived! :ubetcha:

#14 ccs_hello

ccs_hello

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 6624
  • Joined: 03 Jul 2004

Posted 17 November 2009 - 07:47 AM

Gary,

May be you can show the picture of the main PCB processing IC? It may help in understanding the compression and frame rate bottleneck.

Clear Skies!

ccs_hello

#15 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 17 November 2009 - 01:05 PM

There is no problem with a choke now. I am capturing 1280X720 resolution at 30 frames per second reliably, using the MJPG codec.

I don't want to take the webcam apart to take photos of the circuit board at this time since I'm more interested in doing planetary and lunar imaging with it.

#16 zAmbonii

zAmbonii

    Vanguard

  • -----
  • Posts: 2420
  • Joined: 19 Jan 2008
  • Loc: Ypsilanti, MI

Posted 17 November 2009 - 04:10 PM

Maybe you will do comparison (mainly because I am kinda clueless on the different codecs), but A search says that the MJPG codec is lossy.

I'm just wondering if the higher framerate with the MJPG will look worse than the lower framerate YUY2.

I would be interested in giving this cam a try (since the mod seems to be kinda easy to do), but I am worried it wouldn't be a better solution because it has less control over the exposure options and I'm not sure if there would be an improvement in quality over my SPC900NC cam.

#17 MvZ

MvZ

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1583
  • Joined: 03 Apr 2007
  • Loc: The Netherlands

Posted 17 November 2009 - 07:00 PM

Gary, I hope you get the chance to do some more testing under good conditions, because to be honest I'm not too impressed by those Jupiter shots right now.

I'm especially interested in the actual sensitivity of the camera. Perhaps it can be measured in a reliable way using a fainter target such as Saturn (or even Uranus?). Of course you would need to consider the size of the pixels as well.

#18 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 18 November 2009 - 12:11 AM

Please understand that the Jupiter images were first-light "test images" taken immediately after the modification, taken during poor seeing conditions with the planet low and not meant to impress. Here in NE PA, we only get a handful of good seeing nights a year. I try to get down south every winter for planetary imaging, especially to Florida, but I will be unable to do so this year. My best Saturn image was taken six years ago (2003) in Florida with a Toucam and was posted in Sky & Tel:

http://ghonis2.ho8.c...3chiefstar.html

My best images of Mars were taken back in 2005 with a Toucam:

http://ghonis2.ho8.com/2005mars.html

When I converted a Logitech Fusion for astro, I did comparison testing and found the Fusion outperformed the Toucam. When I later converted a Logitech Pro 9000, I found the Fusion outperformed it. I will be making comparison tests of the LifeCam HD to the Fusion when the clouds decide to part and it will most likely be during poor seeing, when I would not normally attempt planetary imaging. The resulting test images will not be pretty, but the tests will tell me which webcam is better for imaging with my setup as I get prepared to image Mars.

Concerning your interest in the actual sensitivity of the camera, only comparison testing will tell. Based on my experience with the LifeCam HD so far, I can say that a Toucam exposure at 1/25 second is about the same as a LifeCam HD exposure of 1/250 second. But, the LifeCam HD has no GAIN adjustment and higher GAIN usually results in increased noise. I have found that noise is very low with the LifeCam HD and that is in agreement with non-astro reviews I have seen of the webcam. MJPG encoding is not lossless so I need to compare the results using it compared to a lossless codec at lower frame rates.

For those of us located in areas of poor seeing, capturing a lot of frames during the time limit to avoid planet rotation problems is important and that is one reason the LifeCam HD interested me since it can do HD at 30 fps.

So far, I have tested 9 video capture programs with the LifeCam HD using MJPG encoders to allow 1280X720 resolution at 30 fps:

1. IC Capture - works perfect
2. AMCAP - works perfect
3. Open Video Capture - captures perfect but preview freezes during adjustments
4. K3CCDTOOLS3 - captures perfect but preview freezes during adjustments
5. VirtualDub - captures perfect but preview not available during adjustments
6. wxAstroCapture - dropped frames - low capture frame rate
7. Debut Video Capture - MJPG not an option
8. NeoExpress3 Capture Video - MJPG not an option
9. QCfocus - high definition resolution not available

If anyone has a capture software they would like me to test with the LifeCam HD, let me know.

#19 MvZ

MvZ

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1583
  • Joined: 03 Apr 2007
  • Loc: The Netherlands

Posted 18 November 2009 - 09:11 AM

Didn't mean to attack your results Garry, I simply wasn't convinced by the Jupiter images.

It's also really difficult to compare camera's in a good way, espcecially when in your case you have poor seeing that can vary from second to second, but also because the pixelsize is different between the camera's, and slight focus changes might influence the results more than you would like.

Low noise might also be caused by on-camera processing that smooths out the image; something that you don't want for astronomy use.

Have you ever tried using a DMK camera by the way? It seems you tested so many webcams already, that you could have also bought a mono or color DMK :)

#20 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 30 November 2009 - 07:31 PM

When I first tested the modified Microsoft Lifecam Cinema webcam (11/6), I tried imaging the Moon, then at 77% phase. I used the webcam in HD mode, 1280X720, and using the Microsoft provided LifeCam software, captured a 10-minute .WMV video file at 15 fps. Seeing was poor as can be seen in the video. During capture I left the webcam set in auto exposure mode. You can see in the video that this worked pretty well as the scope scanned from bright to darker areas along the terminator.

Moon Tour Video in HD here:

http://www.youtube.c...fEHLfX7s&fmt=22

If your computer system is not capable of displaying the movie in HD, you can switch to normal quality, but the level of detail will suffer.

The .WMV file needed to be converted to an .AVI file. The YouTube video quality is much less than that of the original video file. That is due to the recompression I needed to do before uploading to YouTube and also because of the processing YouTube does on their system. The Youtube video is also a little darker than the original video.

I have since discovered that the full frame capture rate of 30 fps can be achieved by not installing the Microsoft Lifecam driver. Recently, I have been able to capture 1280X720 frames at 30 fps and this has been with a lossless codec.

The video was made with a 20" Starmaster dob on my driveway controlled with the "Honis Ground Control" wireless system while being viewed from my recroom in high definition on a 50 inch plasma 1080i Vizio TV. This HD webcam may prove very useful for public star parties and group presentations. :dob:

#21 kraterkid

kraterkid

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5016
  • Joined: 07 Mar 2005
  • Loc: Jacumba, California

Posted 01 December 2009 - 08:51 AM

Wonderful video Gary! :waytogo: I was very impressed with the tour and the capabilities of the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD Webcam as modified. I think you did a marvelous job with the graphics, crater data and narration. Well done! :goodjob:

#22 Gary Honis

Gary Honis

    Vendor-DSLR Mods

  • -----
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 545
  • Joined: 15 Dec 2004

Posted 01 December 2009 - 11:31 AM

Okay, I did a comparison of the lossy PcVideo 4 MJPG compression to Huffyuv lossless compression in YUY2. Surprisingly, for a two-minute Jupiter AVI capture at 1280 X 720 hi-def resolution I was able to get the full 30 frames per second frame rate with no dropped frames.

The resulting two-minute AVI file size using the lossless Huffyuv is large, 1.4 GB, compared to 280 MB when using the lossy PcVideo 4 MJPG. But it's still a reasonable file size and I'm amazed that this webcam can do 1280 X 720 HD rez at 30 frames per second lossless over USB 2.0. :crazyeyes:

#23 MvZ

MvZ

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1583
  • Joined: 03 Apr 2007
  • Loc: The Netherlands

Posted 01 December 2009 - 12:28 PM

In pracice the USB 2.0 can produce speeds of up to about 35 megabytes per second. Altough I doubt the webcam can work at the speed, it's probably a little lower.

But in principle this means that it uses only 10 or 11 bits per pixel. Surely there must be some kind of compression going on?

By the way, that's a very nice capture of the moon!

#24 o1d_dude

o1d_dude

    o1der than dirt

  • *****
  • Posts: 2539
  • Joined: 03 Oct 2007
  • Loc: The Wolfpack

Posted 24 December 2009 - 07:04 PM

I was shopping at the local Sam's Club yesterday and spotted the Lifecam HD priced in the mid $50s. Couldn't remember what brand webcam Gary had modded but the LifeCam sure looked like the pictures I'd seen posted here and on his website.

In checking this thread today I discovered the webcam at Sam's was in fact the subject of this thread. Just in time for Christmas, too! :grin:

#25 igor1960

igor1960

    Lift Off

  • -----
  • Posts: 8
  • Joined: 07 Jan 2010

Posted 11 January 2010 - 04:27 AM

Gary,
While I applaud your efforts and success in making it possible to capture 30fps using MPEG, I want to remind you and others interested, that MPEG is not just loss, but in fact is compression format. So, while you might be achieving higher frame rate: each frame received has artifacts related to MPEG compression. Just zoom a lot into picture and you will see blurring and shadows on edges.
So, if you are looking into high dynamic pictures, your solution with 30fps MPEG might be of value. However, 10fps at YUY2 would give you higher quality of each frame and should be preferred for static and/or slow changing scene.
Also, on your pages you might mention that turning off Auto Exposure might give you constant frame rate, while Auto Exposure enabled could produce variable fps.






Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics