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Dec 14, 2020
Jun 21, 2018

APStreamline

Live Video Streaming Made Easy!

Introduction

Using video cameras for live-streaming the video feed from aerial robots and other unmanned vehicles is useful for a number of applications. Most video streaming solutions use RTP for streaming video over UDP. UDP is more efficient than TCP because it forgoes the overhead that comes with TCP's reliable delivery and congestion control mechanisms.

However, this introduces new problems when streaming video from robots. In most cases, we use the Companion Computer (CC) in Wi-Fi hotspot mode for streaming the video. Due to the limited range of 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, the streaming quality gets perceptibly worse when the robot moves further away from the receiving computer.

The APStreamline project aims to fix this problem by dynamically adjusting the video quality. Over UDP we can obtain estimates of QoS using RTCP packets received from the receiver. These RTCP packets provide helpful QoS information (such as RTT and packet loss) which can be used for automatically changing the bitrate and resolution of the video delivered from the sender.

The code makes use of GStreamer libraries for creating the streaming pipelines.

Recent Changes

APStreamline was first released in a beta image of APSync in September 2018. The latest release supports the following features and needs to built from source:

v2 Features (Released in October 2020)

  • Made it much easier to add new cameras and GStreamer pipelines
  • Support for the ZED and e-Con AR0591 cameras

v1 Features (Released in September 2018)

  • Support for using the hardware encoder for Jetson TX1/TX2 CSI cameras
  • Automatic quality selection based on bandwidth and packet loss estimates
  • Selection of network interfaces to stream the video
  • Manual control over resolution and framerates
  • Multiple camera support using RTSP
  • Hardware-accelerated encoding for the Raspberry Pi camera on the Raspberry Pi
  • Camera settings configurable through the APWeb GUI

Running the Code

Hardware

All the following instructions are for installing APStreamline and APWeb on the CC. A Raspberry Pi 2/3/3B+ with the latest version of Raspian or APSync is a good choice. Intel NUC's are good choices as well. As of April 2019, APStreamline also provides support for the Nvidia Jetson TX1/TX2 boards and its CSI cameras with the tegra-video drivers.

Do note that the Raspberry Pi 3 and 3B+ have very low power Wi-Fi antennae which aren't great for video streaming. Using a portable Wi-Fi router like the TPLink MR3020 can dramatically improve range. Wi-Fi USB dongles working in hotspot mode can help as well.

Installing APStreamline

The installation procedure is pretty much the same across all Debian-based Linux platforms, including but not limited to the Raspberry Pi, NVIDIA Jetson boards, or any x86 machine.

Install the gstreamer dependencies:

sudo apt-get install libgstreamer-plugins-base1.0* libgstreamer1.0-dev libgstrtspserver-1.0-dev gstreamer1.0-plugins-bad gstreamer1.0-plugins-ugly python3-pip python-pip gstreamer1.0-libav

Install other dependencies for building the code:

sudo apt install ninja-build cmake meson libconfig++-dev

Navigate to the cloned folder folder and run:

meson build
cd build
ninja # NOTE: on the Raspberry Pi, run ninja -j2 so the build completes without taking up all the available memory

On the Raspberry Pi, use sudo modprobe bcm2835-v4l2 to load the V4L2 driver for the Raspberry Pi camera. Add bcm2835-v4l2 to /etc/modules for automatically loading this module on boot.

Installing APWeb

The APWeb server project enables setting several flight controller parameters on the fly through the use of a Companion Computer (e.g. the Raspberry Pi). We use this APWeb server for configuring the video streams as well.

Clone the forked branch with APStreamline support here:

git clone -b video_streaming https://github.com/shortstheory/APWeb.git
cd APWeb

Install libtalloc-dev and get the MAVLink submodule:

sudo apt-get install libtalloc-dev
git submodule update --init --recursive

Build APWeb:

cd APWeb
make
sudo ./web_server -p 80

Usage

Video livestreams can be launched using RTSP. It is recommended to use RTSP for streaming video as it provides the advantages of supporting multiple cameras, conifguring the resolution on-the-fly, and recording the livestreamed video to a file.

Start the Server

Standalone

Launch the RTSP stream server by going to the parent directory of the build directory. Camera configurations are loaded from the config/ directory of the project folder.

./build/stream_server <interface>

The list of available network interfaces can be found by running ifconfig.

APWeb

Start the APWeb server. This will serve the configuration page for the RTSP stream server. Connect to the web server in your favourite web browser by going to the IP address of the Companion Computer.

On navigating to the new video/ page, you will be presented with a page to start the RTSP Server:

Imgur

Note: Starting the server from the webpage is currently broken in APStreamline v2. As a workaround, start the APStreamline as described above.

Configure The Video Stream

On selecting the desired interface and starting the RTSP Server, the APWeb server will spawn the Stream Server process. The stream server will search for all the V4L2 cameras available in /dev/. It will query the capabilities of all these cameras and select hardware encoding or software encoding accordingly. The list of available cameras can be refreshed by simply stopping and starting the server.

From here, the APWeb page will display the list of available RTSP streams and their mount points:

Imgur

The video quality can either be automatically set based on the avaialble network bandwidth or set manually for more fine-grained control.

View The Video Stream

The RTSP streams can be viewed using any RTSP player. VLC is a good choice.

For example, this can be done in VLC by going to "Media > Open Network Stream" and pasting in the RTSP Mount Point for the camera displayed in the APWeb configuration page. However, VLC introduces two seconds of latency for the jitter reduction, making it unsuitable for critical applications. To circumvent this, RTSP streams can also be viewed at lower latency by using the gst-launch command:

gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=<RTSP-MOUNT-POINT> latency=100

An RTSP Mount Point looks like this: rtsp://192.168.0.17:8554/cam0. Refer to the APWeb page to see the mount points given for your camera.

To Do

APStreamline could use your help! Some of the tasks which I want to complete are:

  • Add support for the tegra-video driver back into the project. Currently this is only supported in APStreamline v1.0, available from the Releases section of the repository
  • Update documentation and add more detailed steps for adding a new camera
  • Update the APWeb interface to list the actual available resolutions of the camera. Currently it just shows 320x240, 640x480, 1280x720 although the actual camera resolutions may be different
  • Switch the APWeb and APStreamline IPC mechanism to using ZeroMQ or rpcgen
  • Improve the installation flow. Currently the user needs to run APStreamline from the same directory as its config files for them to be loaded properly. Maybe the configuration files should be moved to ~/.config/?
  • Improve the JavaScript in the APWeb interface
  • Document the code better!

Bugs? Questions, Comments, Concerns?

Feel free to make a GitHub issue in the repository to get in touch if you would like to chat about the project or file a bug report!