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Equipment Discussions >> Electronically Assisted Astronomy

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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Newbie here, be gentle.
      #5575405 - 12/17/12 09:12 AM

Hello all,

I've scoured these boards and seen a few comments to the effect of declining numbers of posts, so I thought you might not mind this one cluttering up your boards

After a life-long curiosity about the universe and our place in it, I finally pulled the trigger earlier this year and bought my first scope. If the kids are in bed and the weather cooperates, I am out in the back yard seeing what I can see. I usually have a plan (thanks to Stellarium), but have hit some obstacles. Light Pollution is the biggie; my back yard rests in a red-white zone. I measured the light dome from St. Pete and the beaches the other night and would put my useable horizons at about 25* above the actual horizon. Add in the complete blockage of the southern sky by my house (used as a shade to eliminate the neighboring houselights/streetlights) and my view of the sky is limited.

Despite all this I have thoroughly enjoyed my nights out and often have neighbors and friends dropping by to check things out. We live next to an open lot/dog park so I say hello to roughly 20 people a night and many have come over to look through the scope.

Which brings me to this forum. I think video-assisted-astronomy would accomplish 2 things: allow me to make better use of my small portion of the sky (I have spent HOURS star hopping around to find the faint fuzzies, but no joy beyond M31 & M42), and allow me to do some small amount of outreach with the folks who come visit.

Visual astronomy is still my focus, I have joined the local club and will make good use of their dark-sky-spots, but 80+% of my viewing will be done under those bad conditions described.

My questions to you are this:

1) Am I off in my justifications for pursuing VAA?
2) Despite spending some time on these boards and Googling around, I still can't find a nuts-and-bolts-type guide to VAA. i.e. at it's most basic level, this is what you need, this is how you do it type of guide. If I have missed that on here, please direct me to the information. Virtually all the posts on this board are by accomplished videoastronomers discussing equipment and techniques beyond what a Newbie can comprehend.
Any discussions on recommended set-ups and pitfalls to avoid are welcome as well.

Thanks for your time,
Tom


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mich_al
Carpal Tunnel
*****

Reged: 05/10/09

Loc: Rural central lower Michigan ...
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5575430 - 12/17/12 09:32 AM

Tom
Adding components adds complications. Wouldn't it be easier to put up some barrier (tarp) so that people next door didn't even know you where there? I added a Mallincam and other remote enableing equipment to my setup cause I thought viewing on my 50" TV from my livingroom would be great. Well, it's only ok and it means dragging out twice the equipment to do so. It rarely happens.

Al


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dragonslayer1
Pooh-Bah


Reged: 02/25/12

Loc: SLC, UT
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5575446 - 12/17/12 09:46 AM

Hey Tom,
Was in (sill am in sort of) the same boat as you a short time ago. I just purchased a Video Cam and have tried it once so far at night and a couple times during the day to get used to it; the weather here is the problem... All you need to start out is a camera, viewing screen, (computer or portable DVD player) and thats about it... I bought my camera used, a Milli VSS+, and most should come with needed cables etc.. Then is a short getting feet wet learning curve.. just try to get input as to name brand, usage, and compatibility of equip. Kasey


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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: mich_al]
      #5575461 - 12/17/12 10:00 AM

Quote:

Tom
Adding components adds complications. Wouldn't it be easier to put up some barrier (tarp) so that people next door didn't even know you where there? I added a Mallincam and other remote enableing equipment to my setup cause I thought viewing on my 50" TV from my livingroom would be great. Well, it's only ok and it means dragging out twice the equipment to do so. It rarely happens.

Al



Thank you Al, but your post made me chuckle. Just this past weekend I rigged up a couple of tarps to help block additional light and the wind off of the water (worked out great, BTW)! I have a poor-mans 3-walled observatory, lol. However, the 'damage' may have already been done because people were shouting "hi" to me in the enclosure. and with the 2-3 story condos neighboring me, people can look down into the tarps anyway. Wife pointed that out when I told her she could nude sunbathe if she wanted to

Seriously though, I don't mind the visitors...I come from a family full of educators and love the idea of outreach. The Mayor of our little beach community lives 3 houses down and he has come over to take a peek. During that visit I lamented the bright streetlight that shines into my yard and mentioned that a switch on it would be GREAT for my late-night sessions and eliminate the need for one of the unsightly tarps!


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mclewis1
Thread Killer
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Reged: 02/25/06

Loc: New Brunswick, Canada
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5575538 - 12/17/12 11:20 AM

Tom,

Your right, I've never seen a good "guide" to the hardware for this type of observing. It's usually oriented around one brand of product but since most of the gear is intended for other uses the manufactures don't consider this type of use.

Your assumption/justifications are right on. Video or real time (or more correctly "near" real time) observing will indeed open up a lot more observing from your limited location. These sensitive cameras will allow you to with 10-60s exposures pick out much fainter objects and show the brighter ones in a fashion that will rival what you see in many pictures.

Real video cameras put out a true video stream and this can be viewed as Kasey mentioned on a simple inexpensive video monitor. You can also convert the video stream into something a PC can handle using an inexpensive USB frame grabber (video in one side, USB out on the other).

Many other cameras used for single shot imaging can also with the right software be used for near real time viewing (the software reads the native USB stream and displays it as a form of video on the PC, if the camera is sensitive enough and quick enough it looks similar to a real video setup).

Simple CMOS based autoguiding and/or solar system cameras (or modified webcams) offer this video like capability but are usually not very sensitive. You can view the brighter deep sky objects (M42, M13, etc.) but they don't do a very good job on the fainter stuff. Some of the higher end autoguiding and planetary cameras that use CCD chips do offer good sensitivity and can be used for near real time viewing. Many the later larger format CMOS cameras (DSLR and mirrorless) are getting better sensitivity wise and are much better options for near real time viewing than those solar system cameras.

Video cameras also come in a variety of "flavours". Inexpensive low light surveillance cameras are very popular to start out with. Then for more money you start to get into purpose built cameras for astronomy. These are usually more sensitive and have more noise control/suppression capabilities (specialized amplifiers, cooling, etc.).

There are also options to control many of these cameras from a computer or remote hand box. Remote control tends to add complexity and cost but makes things a lot more convenient in may setups.

With more sensitivity comes more observing options. Under light polluted skies you can add filters that will give you the ability to go even deeper. Broadband LP type filters are useful under light to moderately light polluted skies, but you'll need narrow band type filters under heavy light pollution. Narrow band filters will also require longer exposures and you will soon run into the characteristics of your alt az mounted scope (field rotation and backlash in the gears) which will limit just how long you can go.

I would first set a budget. Then consider your hardware options. Do you need/want to take pretty pictures (with all the post processing) in addition to the near real time viewing?

You'll need a camera, a focal reducer (faster f ratios are very important to this type of viewing), a suitable adapter (1.25", 2", T thread, etc.) to attach the camera/reducer to the scope, a power supply for the camera (but often not required for cameras that have a native USB interface), filter(s) for light pollution, and something to display (either a stand alone video monitor or a PC/laptop with a frame grabber).

Some cameras come with most of these components (especially those intended for astronomy usage), but cameras like the video surveillance models will require you to source all those extra components.

If you get an idea of which direction you'd like to go in there are lots of folks around here who would be happy to help with specific examples of what works for them.


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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: mclewis1]
      #5575813 - 12/17/12 02:29 PM

Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to write and clear-up/confirm some of the processes I've kind of put together in my head as I've read through the info I can find.

In an attempt to narrow down my broad questions:

I am NOT interested in AP.

I am only interested in sharing (near) real time images with people who are next to me. (I don't need to broadcast the image to my livingroom)

I would like some help in discerning the fainter nebulae under the conditions of my backyard.

I don't NEED to take pretty pictures, but could see myself grabbing a few frames to keep as a kind of logbook. But again, my focus is not there now, especially if grabbing those few frames entails many more trips upstairs to carry the additional equipment.

Budget-wise...$1000-1500 range.

I hope that narrows it down a little. I think I would like to spend money now on capturing the image rather than saving it. I figure better data in --> prettier images on the screen. I realize that my scope is not of much use in it's current form (alt-az mount) so I think I need to get as good an image as I can as fast as I can. But I might be wrong, lol.

Also, I realize that this is a slow scope (f/10) and VAA is better accomplished with a faster scope (please correct me if I'm wrong) so I may be barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Thanks again for taking a look at this,
Tom


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mclewis1
Thread Killer
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Reged: 02/25/06

Loc: New Brunswick, Canada
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5575993 - 12/17/12 04:30 PM

Tom,

Your assumptions are still correct. A slow scope isn't the best choice for VAA but a focal reducer will take care of that issue for you. It's fairly easy to get your scope down to f5 and with a bit more money f3 is possible. Small 1.25" .5x focal reducers can be found for $30-50. Getting down to f3 will require $150-300.

An LP filter will be in the $80-180 range, the differences will depend on what kind of LP you have in your area. Narrow band UHC or similar filters are in the $65-100 range.

You can try out VAA with an inexpensive Samsung video camera (well under $100 for models with 1/3" chips). This type of camera will require a bit massaging, you'll need to remove the built in IR filter. There are other types of 1/3" security cameras under $100 but so far it appears that the Samsungs are the easiest to use. These cameras need a simple C mount to 1.25" adapter ($20-30) and a 12v 500ma power supply ($10-15). With a little tinkering these cameras can also be setup for computer control but most folks just use them manually (via the buttons on the back).

The next step up are cameras with larger chips (1/2" or so) so they have a wider fov (for comparison sake a 1/3" chip has a fov like 6mm Plossl eyepiece, a 1/2" chip is like an 8mm Plossl). Security type cameras with the larger chips are in the $350+ range.

The downside to security cameras is that they are limited to shorter exposures - 4/8/17 seconds depending on the models. On the surface longer exposure capabilities would seem to be a no brainer but the longer exposures tend to bring a lot of noise along too unless there are other characteristics built in to reduce the noise (cooling, noise reduction circuitry, higher grade components, etc.)

Purpose built video cameras for astronomy start in the $500 range (and these come with a lot of useful accessories like 1.25" adapters, power supplies, cables, etc.). Used older high end Mallincams are usually well over $500, and new models are in the $1200+ range. These higher end Mallincams have cooling and longer exposure capabilities and computer control with some models.

If you have a laptop or other type of PC that you intend to use at the telescope then a simple USB video frame grabber can be found for $20+. If you want to run without a PC then a suitable video monitor can found for well under $100 (but they can go up rapidly from there).


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Lorence
scholastic sledgehammer


Reged: 09/15/08

Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5576182 - 12/17/12 06:25 PM

Quote:

Budget-wise...$1000-1500 range.




If you already have a laptop or an old TV with an S-Video input then just get a Mallincam Xtreme and an MFR-5 Focal reducer. New or used.

If you don't like it you will not like anything else out there at the moment either.

As for "I don't need to broadcast the image to my livingroom", nobody needs to but you know they all want to.


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Craig in Tacoma
super member


Reged: 01/27/11

Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5576588 - 12/17/12 11:00 PM

Hey there newby, and congratulations on starting your dream of astronomy...I think you need to start hanging out on http://www.nightskiesnetwork.com and get a feel for what all of the guys there do.

You'll get instant access to many different cameras, telescopes and opinions, plus real time views of the broadcasters skies. On your first visit there, set yourself up with a log on password and a user name, then check back for some one broadcasting. It's not every night someones there but a lot of the time you can catch a show. Ask questions, we all try to help even the greenest with solid information.

Outreach is a great idea, and sounds like you've got a following already. The Samsung SCB 2000, with a "C" mount 1.25" eyepiece adapter, a video capture device (example Pinnacle's Dazzle 100), a laptop, deep cycle battery (to power the camera), and the related cabling, is a great start and won't set you back tons of money. skip the LP filters until you've found how far you want to go.

Hey welcome to a great hobby too, I hope this all helps ya!

Craig in Tacoma
TacomaSky


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skyguy88
sage


Reged: 11/13/06

Loc: Prescott, AZ
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Craig in Tacoma]
      #5576612 - 12/17/12 11:18 PM

Charity stores are overloaded with used CRT TV's that work well. Our club recently got a nice 20 inch CRT that produces fine views for $1 and a 13 inch for $5, both at the local Salvation Army store.

Bill


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nytecam
Postmaster


Reged: 08/20/05

Loc: London UK
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5576822 - 12/18/12 05:27 AM

Welcome to the forum Tom Deep-Sky Video Astronomy by Springer page includes sample gear/DSO pics

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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: nytecam]
      #5576880 - 12/18/12 07:28 AM

Thanks so much for the warm welcomes and advice!

I am headed over to nightskiesnetwork right now to take a look. Hope it doesn't give me unrealistic expectations, lol. And thank you Nytecam, I'll peruse that site during down time at work today.

Question about the displays: I've noticed that people are always mentioning CRT's and there seem to be specialty ones that are still manufactured. Is there a reason CRT's are preferred over LCD's? Doesn't a CRT draw more power to run and aren't they more of a bear to lug around?


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mclewis1
Thread Killer
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Reged: 02/25/06

Loc: New Brunswick, Canada
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5577031 - 12/18/12 10:04 AM

Tom,

For reproducing really faint low contrast video information nothing beats a good quality CRT monitor. The LCDs are getting close (with good 3D noise reduction and more dynamic range) but CRT based monitors provide really good black levels which really helps picking out those really faint details.

Lower quality TV/monitor combinations are fun and cheap but usually don't have the fine resolution of a purpose built broadcast quality video monitor.

With a high end Mallincam it's very hard to beat a 8-12" CRT with 500-700 lines of resolution and an S-Video input - the most popular model like this is probably the Speco 905C. Bigger CRTs are fine but you have to sit back from them a bit otherwise you start to see the scan lines.

There used to be a big difference between CRT and LCD monitors for video observing but I'm finding that these days the differences are getting smaller and smaller to the point that for folks starting out I wouldn't worry about it. The other change is that there are some very good quality USB video frame grabbers available which allow you to get a great image on a laptop or PC display and because of this many folks are not relying on the external video monitor much anymore.


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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: mclewis1]
      #5578496 - 12/19/12 07:32 AM

Thanks, Mark

After thinking about it, I will probably go the laptop route. I only have a tablet at home and I've used Skysafari quite a bit out with the scope but there have been many times that I wish I had a laptop out there to run Stellarium or to print out findercharts at home before I head out to observe. I would also like to keep a personal viewing log and though I CAN type on the tablet, trying to juggle a red screen (which stops all interaction with the tablet when laid on it) while typing on it seems stupid. In addition, a laptop has it's own power supply...one less cord to worry about!

So, any recommendations on what to look for in a laptop? I would imagine high RAM to run everything quicker is always nice and the faster the processor the better, but are there any interfaces that would make life easier? I have a feeling if I find a used one old enough to have an s-video input, the processor will be equally antiquated.

Tom


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mclewis1
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Reged: 02/25/06

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Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5578627 - 12/19/12 09:38 AM Attachment (26 downloads)

Tom,

In general you don't need much CPU/RAM resources for a scope control, video viewing laptop. You likely will not find an S-Video input capability on a laptop (but might see some S-Video output, but this doesn't help you). You'll need that USB video frame grabber to get that S-Video or composite video input for the laptop. These range from $20-50 for the basic models and $75-150 for the higher end Mallincam units (not required for a Mallincam but they do have very good video characteristics and the $150 model adds a very useful black level adjustment for S-Video connections).

I use a popular Dazzle DVC-100 frame grabber unit and have been very happy with that. You don't need any of the software that comes with these units (they're often bundled with VCR/DVD ripping or movie making software). You need a device driver which is usually best found online (what's in the packages is often down level) and then one of the free webcam display applications like AMCAP or my favourite SharpCap.

I think concentrating on getting a good screen on a laptop (adequate resolution and good quality display) is most useful. Win7 would be my choice for the OS (32bit version would be the most flexible and compatible but it's difficult to find, everything is 64bit these days). Watch the USB ports, many laptops are now coming with un powered USB ports (to save battery life) but these won't support USB powered devices (autoguiding camera or active extension cables for example). The way around this issue is to add a powered USB hub.

I've also enclosed a connectivity diagram I did for a PC I use at my scope. It could easily be a laptop (I actually keep the same setup on a 5 year old laptop for testing). I've made a few changes to this setup over the past couple of years but it should give you some ideas about connectivity and software options.


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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: mclewis1]
      #5578652 - 12/19/12 09:59 AM

OMG....you guys are going to get me sooooo divorced! Looking at that diagram and drooling/fearing about what's possible in this hobby...I suspect half the reason to have an observatory is to hide all the toys!

If I'm reading correctly, I'm (currently) only interested in the top line of your diagram. I have a Celestron powertank that I typically run the scope on. Is running the camera as well as the scope off that source feasible? Since I'm doing this in the back yard, I can always run an extension cord out there if that is going to be too much pull on the powertank.


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mclewis1
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Reged: 02/25/06

Loc: New Brunswick, Canada
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5578956 - 12/19/12 01:45 PM

Tom,

The diagram should show you a couple of things ... one is that you can run a whole bunch of control software on a very small PC (mine is an Atom 330 CPU with 2.5GB RAM and a 30GB SSD), and the other is the connectivity required for a video camera and perhaps scope control in the future. It's actually very simple and straight forward.

Yes, most video cameras can be run from batteries since they don't draw very much power at all. What you won't be able to do is to deplete the battery too deeply. Most cameras aren't happy with voltage that drops too far below 12v (and neither is your 8SE). So don't plan on depleting your battery much below 50%. Many of the video cameras use the same power connector as the 8SE (2.1mm x 5.5mm center positive) which makes things easier.

You have a few options for power distribution. One is to use a 2 or 3 way cigarette plug style splitter. Plug that into the battery and then plug the scope and the camera into the splitter. You'll need a new cable similar to the scope cable for the camera. Another option is a little Y like extension off of the scope power cable. This second option would require you to make up the little Y extension (need a female 2.1 x 5.5 and two males and a bit of wire).

The other option of using AC power and an extension cord is good too as long as you have a couple of reasonable 12v regulated power supplies (or just one that is big enough for both loads and the cabling to support both).

I didn't mean to throw too much stuff at you all at once. Technology creep is certainly a concern that can get you in trouble in more ways than one (some folks love it others like the "significant other" not so much ... lol). You could for example start off with something like a manually controlled Samsung security camera for under $200. You could then figure out which way you then want to go for deeper/fainter observing and keep the Samsung for planetary/solar/lunar work.


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Lorence
scholastic sledgehammer


Reged: 09/15/08

Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5579181 - 12/19/12 03:50 PM

Quote:

I suspect half the reason to have an observatory is to hide all the toys




The reason for an observatory is to make observing as easy as possible. Long equipment set times usually translate into less observing time. I have taken that to the extreme but that is the realization of a thirty year old dream.

Set your goal to make setting up and using the equipment as easy as possible. The reason for an easy setup is obvious but the reason for ease of use may not be. Simply the more time you spend fiddling with the equipment the less time you spend viewing, and in your case less time you have to interact with visitors.

This is where camera choice becomes important. The Mallincam Xtreme is the most capable of all the cameras suggested to you and it's one that can be completely controlled from a computer.

There's a big difference in using manual and computer controlled cameras. I'm not going to get into the details but as someone who actually owns and uses a number of cameras I can say from experience the manual cameras suck. They are a pain to use in the dark and even worse if you have big hands. Ask the others to waltz you through manually switching a camera between Lunar and deep sky. I do it with a few mouse clicks. Something you want to think about especially if you have visitors. It's basically the equivalent of manually finding an object with your telescope or using a computer controlled goto.

You have an adequate budget to do a first class job of it. Do it right the first time and get the maximum enjoyment out of using your equipment. Personally I prefer to use my equipment rather than talk about using it.Think on that bit of advice for a minute or two.


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Sluggosalinas
member


Reged: 11/13/12

Loc: Madeira Beach, FL
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Lorence]
      #5580174 - 12/20/12 07:45 AM

Thank you guys,

I am zeroing in on my setup thanks to the advice and warnings. I got out for a couple hours last night and gazed at a few of the visible open clusters. Beautiful as they were, I still spent a half hour or so trying to get a glimpse of the fainter nebulae with no joy. If I could at least get some confirmation that I was in the right place I would be happy. I need to get moving on this project.

I've been looking at some laptops...everyplace wants to put windows 8 on their products. I can find some win7 machine, but they want an extra couple hundred bucks to put it on. Any glaring issues with win8 and these set-ups been reported? [EDIT: It occured to me that the cameras simply capture the photons, it is the viewing software that has to be compatible with Win8, correct?]

Edited by Sluggosalinas (12/20/12 07:51 AM)


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mclewis1
Thread Killer
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Reged: 02/25/06

Loc: New Brunswick, Canada
Re: Newbie here, be gentle. new [Re: Sluggosalinas]
      #5580274 - 12/20/12 09:21 AM

Tom,

The video side of a video camera doesn't talk to a PC ... the USB frame grabber does, and that needs to be compatible with the OS (the device driver). If you are also considering remote control of the camera via a PC then the control app also needs to be compatible with the OS (no drivers involved).

Some camera control apps also have a viewing component built in and some don't allowing you to use your choice of viewing app. For video cameras the viewing component is usually a webcam oriented application. The stream from the USB frame grabber appears to the PC as a webcam and the viewing application allows that to be viewed or saved as a video file (avi for example).

Personally I'd stay with Win7 and if I had a vendor who was trying to charge me extra I would find another laptop vendor ... there are lots of choices of inexpensive laptops with Win7 on them.


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