Differences in Batteries

We get this question quite a bit. Why do we use SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) and not Lithiums or Alkalines?
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There are many advantages to the SLA type batteries the biggest by far is there tolerance to many different types of charging methods. Being able to accept a charge from different charging methods is what separates sealed lead acid batteries from just about any other battery. This is also important if you want to use solar chargers to help keep your battery charged up. If you look at the nature of lithium batteries for example they require a very specific charging method and have no tolerance for any other methods. The lithium batteries are typically controlled (regulated) as to their “on” and “off” as well as their “charging”.
Seen the reports of lithium type batteries catching on fire, exploding or just melting down? This is usually due to a failure in either the charge control or the regulated control allowing the battery to get too hot, over charging or discharging or all of the above. Lithium batteries have a very tight tolerance for these functions and if they go outside of those tolerance bad things can and will happen. End results can be from benign to catastrophic. At at the end of the day you really do not gain anything over the SLA battery in power, weight or physical size not to mention that the lithium batteries are more expensive.
Alkaline batteries are really not a viable option when you consider the heat/cold and power requirements, plus the fact that they are one and done in most cases. Our IR “flash” alone would be enough to sink most alkalines in very short order.

We use the SLA battery because they operate in a reliable, simple to use power spectrum and if properly maintained should easily last 3-5 years in the field. The one downside to SLA batteries is they need to be properly maintained. The quickest way to ruin a SLA battery is to leave it in a discharged state for a long period of time. Even new batteries have to be properly maintained in order to keep from losing capacity. This is one reason why it’s important to buy the batteries from someone who sells a lot of batteries (like us!) because shelf life “maintenance” is extremely important. You can buy a brand new battery from someone who has had the battery on their shelf for over a year and not properly maintained it making it completely worthless (even though it is brand new). So be careful buying cheap SLA batteries – you get what you pay for….
And once a SLA battery has lost capacity it will never be the same.
Think of the battery like a fuel tank. It starts off brand new fully charge and can hold “10 gallons”. Then you leave it in the field discharged for a couple of weeks, it will no longer hold “10 gallons” – it will charge up and appear to function normally except now it only holds “8 gallons”. So you can see if you repeat this process several times (leaving it in the field discharged for a couple of weeks) it will eventually lose all it’s capacity – it will act like it is charging but only last a couple of days in the field. This is because it now will only hold “1/2 a gallon”. At the point where a SLA battery loses it capacity it will need to be replaced as it will never regain it’s capacity.
If you keep the batteries charged and don’t leave them in a discharged state for very long you can expect years of solid performance from a single SLA battery. This is one of the main reasons a good solar panel is worth the money simply because they can keep your battery maintained properly for years.
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X Series Camera Specifications

Covering just the specifications of the camera – can also be found in the Manual online.

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Picture Format
User Selectable – These are all in native resolution sizes….
5 Megapixel (Mp), 3 Mp HD, 3Mp 1080 HD, 1 Mp, 720 HD, 0.3 Mp
Video Format
640 x 360 pixels 15fps
Video Length
5 to 60 seconds
Motion Detector Type
Passive Infrared (PIR)
Motion Detector Range
User adjustable – Up to 100 feet
Motion Detector Detection Angle
Approximately 10 degrees
Reaction Time
0.2 Seconds
Delay Between Pictures
User selectable – 1 second to 2 hours.
Stamps on Picture
User selectable
Date, Time, Temperature, Moon Phase, and 2 custom text fields.
Additional Optional Settings
Custom camera schedules
Time lapse photography
Pictures or videos emailed or uploaded to secure LiveCam Web-site
RF Transmission Range
Up to 2 miles with standard antennas
Up to 30 miles with high-gain antennas and/or repeaters
Wireless Transmission Speed
Up to 8 kilo bytes per second (Approx. 6 sec for 0.3Mp picture)
Maximum allowable antenna gain
15.1 dBi (including cable losses)
Number of Cameras/Devices Assigned to One Base
254
Operating Temperature
-40 to 140 F
Battery Type
12V SLA UB1270 sold separately
Solar Panel Optional
Infrared Type
“No Glow” 940nM
Communication Frequency Band
902 to 928 MHz, software selectable channel mask for interference immunity
AES128 Encryption
Transmitter Output Power
Up to 250 mW with FHSS
Regulatory Approvals
FCC (USA) MCQ-XB900HP
IC (Canada) 1846A-XB900HP
C-Tick (Australia) Yes
Anatel (Brazil) Pending

 

 

Increasing Signal Strength

Once you start using wireless cameras the very next thing you start wanting is to get out a little further, just over the next hill or maybe another mile or maybe 5.
So understanding how to increase your wireless signal strength all of the sudden becomes very important. This is also why we offer setups and installation services Nationwide. Not only will our techs get the maximum range but we will also train you as we go if you are interested!

So what can you do to increase your signal strength?
For starters make sure your system is operating at short ranges properly BEFORE you try and go long.  This is a critical step not to be overlooked. When you are first setting up your wireless system always start with the closest camera and make sure it performs well before swinging for the fences and going long.

Signal strength in general has a lot of variables, but there are some key points to understand to insure you achieve the best signal strength for the longest period of time.

  • Connections
    • All connections should be clean and corrosion free
    • Make sure to tape all connections with a rubberized tape to waterproof
  • Cables
    • No breaks, chew marks, missing shielding and free of any damage
    • Install with a drip loop if possible
    • Secure cables down to avoid excessive movement and stress
  • Antenna
    • Select the correct antenna for the application
    • Tape all connections to waterproof
    • Secure antenna to avoid excessive movement and stress

So with the basics covered, lets talk how to achieve better signal strength. Understand that with each and every setup you will encounter many different variables. Every setup with be different but if you understand how the signal works it may help you increase your signal strength and ultimately increase your range plus speed as well. With the BuckEye Cam Wireless system the signal test signal function is typically only used during setups and occasionally when you decide to test your signal, but for the most part once the system is up and running the test signal function is used very little. The test signal function is setup to quickly poll the network for the signal so it is always best to test the signal several times to insure accuracy of the signal reading. If you get a good signal reading on the first try you are more than likely good to move on. However a low signal or no signal on the first try only means you need to test the signal again BEFORE making any changes. Because the signal test is so quick it can be affected by network traffic. By that I mean if the camera network is really busy (sending a lot of pictures from another camera for example) it can affect the signal test. Think of it like getting a busy signal on a phone but rather than it saying busy it will just say no com. That is is why when you get a no com response you should always try and test the signal several more times.

If once you have established you are not getting a signal or just want to improve the signal reading, you have several options available. The first is always to upgrade your antennas. Keep in mind that with our system you are dealing with the antenna at the camera and also the antenna at the base.
My suggestion is to ALWAYS upgrade your base antenna first and the reason is because upgrading your base antenna will increase your signal strength across your entire network (not just one camera). So you get more bang for your buck by upgrading your base antenna first then upgrade the field units next. You can certainly upgrade both.
The typical rule of thumb when it comes to antennas is “the higher the better” – there are a small percentage of instances where this isn’t the case but for the most part “the higher the better”. Regardless of which antenna you are using the higher you can get it the better your signal will be.
This should include elevation advantages when possible. A well placed repeater on the “mountain top” can all of the sudden take your 2 mile range and make it into 20 miles on a single hop so keep that in mind.

Which antenna???
We get this questions a lot. First the antenna must be matching the correct frequency. If you get the antennas from us – they match, no worries.

Yagi VS Omni
I’m not going to go into engineering specifics and complicate this so basically a Yagi type antenna is a directional style, meaning you point it in the direction you want your signal to go. The Omni type antenna has a 360 degree pattern so there is no “aiming” involved.
So if you are not sending and receiving from multiple directions (like a base does or a repeater would) than usually the yagi antenna is the preferred choice.
If you are sending and receiving from multiple points then the Omni antenna is the one to use.
Yagi antennas can have higher output (referred to as gain in dBi) than Omni type antenna.
The other aspect of the yagi which is often overlooked is they can eliminate interference or “noise” from outside sources. Since the yagi needs to be “aimed” they have a beam in which they transmit and receive. They also have “dead space” which can be used to quiet the interference by aiming the yagi in a way that still gets the signal out but also quiets the noise in the dead space. In the diagrahm below you can see the beam width and shape of a typical yagi. Within the red area is where the antenna can “hear” outside of the red area becomes more difficult for the antenna to pick up the signal. This is why the yagi needs to be “aimed”.
When working with yagi antennas, you really need to aim – test – move – aim – test move until you get the best signal possible. This needs to be done a in a slow and methodical fashion taking your time to make sure you have the best signal possible. Having coordinates helps to make sure you are pointing the yagi in the precise direction to start with. You might be surprised to find out the direction it needs to be pointed isn’t the direction you thought it might need to be.

Beamwidth - Yagi

In contrast the omni “hears” in a 360 degree pattern so you just need to get it up high – no aiming involved.

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Below are sample types of Yagi and Omni antennas.

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Typical Yagi Style Antenna
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Omni Style Antenna

 

Cables
Cables are probably more easily understood (and explained). If you are going to use a cable longer than 20′ you need to go with “low loss” cable. We use and call them 400 series cables, but they can have several different names.
When it comes to cables you just don’t want the length to be any longer than really necessary because you lose signal (dB) for every foot of cable. Rule for this is to keep the length within 10′ of what you really need.  You can easily calculate your cable signal loss by using the 3.9 dB loss for every 100′ with 400 series cable. So if your antenna has a gain of 9 dBi and you are using a 40′ cable your net gain will be 7.44 dBi .
If add another 10′ of cable making it a 50′ cable and your net gain would be 7.05 dBi so you can see why you don’t want a bunch of extra cable. This doesn’t take in consideration each connection point but the measurables which you can control (antenna gain and cable length are the biggest factors)

Mounting
So you have the right antenna and the correct cable now how do you mount it all? There are a multitude of ways to mount everything as long as the antenna is up as high as possible, aimed and secured you pretty much have it. There are antenna masts both stationary and mobile telescoping available to use but the key is getting the antenna secured and stable. If your mount is “swaying in the wind” or easily moved by mother nature you will experience less than stellar results, so make sure your mount is solid. Also keep in mind that you may need to service the antenna/cable every now and then so plan a method for this while you are at it. Also make sure that before your completely secure your antenna down that it is aimed correctly and you are receiving a good signal. Once you are getting a good signal, tighten everything down and verify you still have a good signal before you leave.

If you follow these tips it will surely improve the signal and will make your wireless system more enjoyable.

 

 

 

Differences in Wireless Systems

So lets break down wireless camera systems…..

First let’s just separate wireless into a couple of groups: Wireless, Cellular and Hybrid

Wireless:
Wireless group are the ones that truly work anywhere because they form their own wireless network as deployed. They do not require any cellular service at all as they typically use an embedded radio and work on their own frequencies.
BuckEye Cam first came out with the first wireless system of this type in 2004.  The advantage of this type of system is they work literally everywhere. Since they are not reliant on any data service or cellular carrier they are considered free transmission. If you use the PC Base you can control everything from your computer and the software has loads of features to keep you connected when you are not there.

Cellular:
Cellular group are the ones that require a cellular service to function wirelessly. They will only work (wirelessly) in areas that have cellular service. Most (if not all) of these types of systems do not send the full size image directly to you but rather to a server then gets rerouted to you or you have to log in to view. The added requirement of server (where your actual images and videos are stored) means you need to log into a “website” in order to view your actual images and videos. I won’t get into the many different ways wireless (cellular) cameras operate but for the most part these systems are inherently unreliable and deceiving as to what you actually receive to your phone and/or your email etc. Typically, it is a thumbnail version (to save on data rates) and limited communications to the camera in the field. Most still save to the SD card so you still have to visit and get the card etc.

Hybrid:
Hybrid group are the ones that combine both technologies into a single working unit. In 2006 BuckEye Cam released it’s first hybrid system which combined the use of our Wireless and Cellular technologies into a single system. With this type of system typically the cameras in the field communicate to a base using their own proprietary wireless technology (not cellular) and the user can connect to the base via as cellular connection. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can deploy cameras anywhere (including in areas where you get poor or no cellular service), run as many cameras as you want, control the entire system from your computer and keep everything under a single data plan.  Since the CellBase can be mobile (run in the field or inside) and only needs to be located within a couple miles from one of the cameras you can locate the cellbase in the area that gets the best cell service.
The BuckEye Cam CellBase can handle as many cameras as you want to deploy in the area (literally hundreds), all under single data plan and you are in complete control of the entire wireless system. Full resolution images/videos sent directly to you, you are in complete control of your entire wireless network, directly.

Other things to consider:
The finer points to consider when selecting a system – whether it be wireless or just standard camera is the overall performance of the camera. Resolution is always a “big” deal but most people don’t realize that a lot of camera systems out there are completely misrepresenting their resolution. So much so in most cases it would be considered a blatant lie.
Basically, you have Native and Interpolated advertised resolutions. Native being the actual resolution capabilities of the imager in the camera. Interpolated (which is what most camera manufacturer advertise) is a fancy way of saying post processing the image to fit a need. Whether that need is to look better by smoothing the edges and removing pixalation or (in most cases) enlarging the image to appear that it is a higher resolution than it actually is. For example, if a camera states it is a 10meg resolution in MOST cases it is a 1meg native interpolated to 10meg. Think of it like when you take a picture on your computer and enlarge it 10 times that is what a lot of camera companies do to inflate their resolution.
In case you are curious, we have always listed our BuckEye Cam camera resolution in Native terms. We just figured there was no reason to call an apple an orange for the sake of trying to fool some people. I only know of maybe one other camera manufacturer that advertises their resolution in Native terms and since I have not asked them if I can say their name here I will only say their name starts with an R and ends with a Y.

Camera functions are also really important. Most of the time we find that cameras tend to have some serious gaps in performance. Sometimes it’s understandable – if you pay $300 for a camera expect it to function like a $300 camera. Don’t expect great things from a $300 camera. I mean if you think about it, most camera systems are in the “food chain” of the industry. By that I mean you buy them from a dealer or retailer and they purchased them from a wholesaler who purchased them from a “manufacturer” who typically had them made overseas. So every time that camera changes hands someone get a cut. Easily the cost of the $300 retail camera to the manufacturer has to be less than $100. So you can see that feeding the “food chain” is part of the cost of doing business. You might be surprised to find out that the retailer can make the lions share of the profit and NOT the manufacturer. I will cover that in a separate blog post. It’s interesting to learn from the inside how that industry works… You’ll be surprised for sure.
Anyhow camera functions like trigger speed, recovery time, all the different setting options and the hidden little “devil is in the details” aspect was well.
Most wireless cameras are inherently awful at this recovering process. So you get your new wireless camera (the cheaper one, you know) take it out and find out that recovery speed is completely reliant on the speed at which it handles the picture processing. I’ll explain, most have this issue where the camera takes the picture and then spends the next 30 seconds or so processing the picture and then another 30 seconds “sending” the picture wirelessly. So it’s recovery time is over 1 minute. This means that the camera has to wait 1 minute before it can even be ready to take another picture. In most cases this just awful if you are trying to use the camera in any location other than over bait.
Why don’t they do something about that? Well that is processing, much like your computer, if you want faster processing (processor) in your camera you have to pay more for a faster processor and they can be pricey. What does a faster processor get you? Sub-second recover times, continuously, plus all sorts of other capabilities and setting features. You get what you pay for essentially.
Batteries are one of the top things to consider (if not the top) with wireless cameras. Why? Because as you can imagine, wireless stuff consumes a lot more power than just saving to an SD card.
To my knowledge we are the only wireless camera in the industry that uses a SLA battery (9aH at that!). The irony is the BuckEye Cam’s use less power than most cameras out there and because of our “cutting teeth years in wireless” back in the early 2000’s we developed our own wireless communication protocol. Power consumption is a huge deal with wireless because in most cases it takes more power to transmit than it does to operate the camera, so buying alkalines and lithiums just won’t cut it for very long if you are taking very many pictures. (you can read more about batteries)
At the end of the day there is a lot to a wireless system and the best advice I can give you is understand that there many reasons why some systems are a lot more expensive than others..

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X Series Network Manager Software

 

Wireless “Repeating”

We commonly refer to it as repeating but what do we really mean? What is really happening and why would you ever want to repeat?

Repeating is necessary when your “signal” to the base directly may be poor or non existent. So you create a “hop” by repeating from one device to get the signal back to the base.  In the example image below, Camera 2 is “Repeating” through Echo 3 back to the base.  The advantages of repeating are that you can increase your coverage area and build a much larger network. The way the BuckEye Cam System repeats and handles the communication is probably a little different than you might expect. Naturally you would think that repeating would increase the transmission times significantly but you might be surprised to learn it really doesn’t.  If it normally takes 17 seconds to transmit directly to the base you would expect it to take 34 seconds to add a single “hop” but because we considered that in our design in reality it will only take about 20 seconds (roughly adds about 20% per “hop”). So your transmission “distance” is really only limited to the last device on your network – you could literally repeat for miles and miles and miles.

Why is the transmit speed so important?
Rule of thumb is to limit the number of “hops” to as few as possible – “always best to go directly to the base”. We say this because as you build your network of devices (Cameras, Echos, Feeders, Controllers and so on) transmission times become very important and every second counts. In order for the network to stay agile and fast so you don’t end up with a continuous backlog of picture we take every possible advantage to insure we cut every second we can in the communication protocols. The faster the cameras can transmit means the quicker the camera can go back to “sleep” which means the longer the battery will last and battery life is extremely important.

As more and more companies come out and try to compete, my guess is you will see more and more companies find out quickly that true wireless communication is not as simple as they once thought. Then our BuckEye Cam features start quickly adding up and understanding the advanced protocol and engineering we are using becomes more prevalent.

“There’s many a reason why BuckEye Cam’s aren’t cheap”………

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Camera 2 “Repeating” through Echo 3 to the Base

Camera Setups

Forget about the wireless side of our system, lets just talk about how to set up the cameras to get the best picture possible.

The Sun:
Try to avoid facing the camera directly at the rising or setting sun – sometimes it is unavoidable but good rule of thumb.
The Target:
Mount your camera at what we call “chest high to the target” and aimed parallel to the ground. So if your targets are people it would be mounted slightly higher than if your targets are deer. Keeping the camera aimed parallel to the ground will give you the greatest detection area (both distance and width).  You can mount the camera up higher and pointing downwards just keep in mind that your detection area now becomes a “spot on the ground” versus a longer wider area.

Security:
If you are planning on using your camera to catch people or to watch particular areas for security purposes, I always suggest mounting the cameras in a way so that they are hidden from normal eyesight as they enter. For example on a driveway entrance I will mount the camera on the backside of a tree or post capturing them from behind as they enter. This may seem counter-intuitive but what it actually does is naturally hide the camera as they walk or drive by the camera making it less likely to be discovered upon entry. This is also important for capturing vehicle license plates (some states do not require a front plate but they all require a rear plate). One of the reasons we developed the echo was so you could place the camera back away from the danger zone and just put the echo (about the size of a pack of cigs when running on AAs) in the danger zone to trigger the camera remotely.

Cables:
Most setups will include some sort of cable, whether it is a solar panel cable, antenna cable or battery cable. The trick I have learned over the years when it comes to keeping cables free from critters is to use a rodent shield. The way this works is it slides over the cable and has a deterrent built in that absolutely keep critters from chewing on the cables. The stuff works great and comes in a variety of lengths (combine them if needed). The other suggestions is to keep the cable flat and out of the way. It seems that most times, rodents are “clearing” a travel path so if you keep the cable low and close they will most likely just pass right by it.

Batteries and Solar Panels:
Now I can only speak about our system but at least you will get a better understanding of why we do what we do. All of our systems use a standard SLA( Sealed Lead Acid) battery. Why do we use SLA’s? Well for several reason; Price, availability, reliability and a wide range of charging options. See, SLA batteries are extremely durable, have good power and temp op ranges and are very forgiving when it comes to charging. The only downside to an SLA battery is they must be kept in a good charged state. The only way to really kill an SLA battery is to leave it in a discharged state for a couple of weeks. Leaving a SLA in this state will reduce the capacity of the battery, for good (never to be as good as it once was). It is confusing to some when this happens because the battery will “charge like it used to” the only thing is now it may only have 1/2 the capacity it used to so it will go dead a lot quicker. When this happens you might as well replace the battery.  To avoid this you only need to keep batteries charged up and not leave them in the discharged state for very long. This is where using a solar panel really helps maintain the life of the SLA battery. Normal life of a properly maintained SLA is 3-5 years.

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Wireless Transmission: Distance

This topic comes up quite a bit in our day to day, so I would like to cover some things to consider in regards to transmission distance as it relates to our BuckEye Cam systems.

How far can the BuckEye Cam “actually” transmit? (this is probably the most asked question by far)…
Answer is: That depends. Seriously it does. Transmission range can literally be anywhere from 40 miles to 1/2.
Transmission distance and speed has a wide range of variables to consider but when you start breaking it all down in smaller bite size pieces it all starts to make sense.
First start with the terrain – is it hilly or flat or something in between?
Terrain plays a big role in how you want to set up a wireless system. Keeping in mind “the higher the better” you want to utilize high points to your advantage which can greatly increase the range by “going over” a lot of things that might decrease your transmission range.
What is the foliage like? Are there a lot of conifers (pines) or mainly hardwoods?
Anything that stays green year round is more difficult to transmit through (not impossible, just things to consider) as compared to hardwoods.

How many devices are you planning on using (cameras, feeders, controllers, etc)? The more devices you have, the larger the “wireless network” becomes which gives you more opportunities to “bounce” the signal (we call it repeating). Having the ability to repeat basically means you are really only limited by the last device  on your system. Lets say your last camera is 3 miles from the base, you can easily add another camera and repeat off that last camera using it as a repeater.  And since our system can handle up to 254 devices per base you can see how you could easily cover a lot of area very quickly.

Antennas: The standard antennas are the easiest to use and hide, extremely durable and work very well in most conditions. With that being said I cannot stress the importance of also knowing that a couple of key placed antenna upgrades can easily double or triple your transmission range. Keeping in mind when it comes to transmission – “the higher the better” – upgrading an antenna from the standard “dipole” to a high gain yagi with a 30′ cable (so you can get the antenna up higher) really makes a huge difference in the performance. So having the ability to upgrade antennas is a big deal when it comes to wireless device transmission.. Having experience in the field makes a huge difference so make sure you completely understand how the antennas work before you try and set up a system. I promise you it will safe you a lot of headache and time!

At the end of it all the easiest way (for us anyway) is to use google earth, plotting your device locations, your base location and then looking at the terrain to get a really good idea on what it is going to take to make your system work.

Wireless Transmission
Typical Buckeye Cam setup