Super simple video call system for a senior

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Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Hi,

Christmas is coming and I thought of an idea for a gift.
My grandpa lives alone and is 95. Long story short, that would be awesome if he had an ability to video call people.
He doesn't have a computer and surely would be defeated by any concept of learning how to use one.

He has a basic TV with HDMI input, and a modem from a cable operator that is ready to serve internet.
An SBC would have to land behind TV, a camera right over the screen.

Two questions:
Is anyone aware of any senior-friendly software to make video calls?
Has anyone seen a remote controller with just a few buttons, like arrows and "OK"?

I would love to make that as simple as it can possibly get. I am even considering a custom made controller with buttons for each contact, and scripting a way to establish video calls.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

Has anyone seen a remote controller with just a few buttons, like arrows and "OK"?
Like this? https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/ir-remote-controller/

I'd go with android, and have it boot directly to your favourite calling app. This can be done either with tasker, or recently with /odm/etc/init.d scripts that run on boot. Inside the script you could generate tap events at x, y to press whatever you want on screen.
Inside the app you define the contacts and he could use the remote to select one.

The problem would be to teach him to switch inputs, and also, to receive calls.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by L67GS »

Those PS Eye cams I got are dirt cheap, and pretty nice. Finding them can be tricky though, I got a couple off mercari.

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Thanks.

Yeah, never thought of Android, I have virtually no experience tinkering with it. I was hoping for something as simple as a plugin for mpv or something. :)
What you propose could work, especially tapping on x,y coordinates and such, but I'd have to ensure somehow that the app has always the same layout.

I was also thinking about switching inputs, but I think his TV manages that automatically. He is able to watch TV and play DVDs. The concept is familiar to him, as he switches inputs on audio amp to play TV audio, radio or vinyl records.
Nevertheless, for calls I have a hope that dpms trickery could make the TV switch to the desired input automatically once it detects a signal on it. Reverting back to TV decoder might be tricky, but he manages that somehow after watching DVD.
Not to mention how many times I had to do urgent 50km trips to turn off mute or something similar. ;)
L67GS wrote:
Tue Nov 16, 2021 2:54 am
Those PS Eye cams I got are dirt cheap, and pretty nice. Finding them can be tricky though, I got a couple off mercari.
Could you show me which cam do you mean? I see plenty locally, but they come in all sorts of shapes.
https://allegro.pl/listing?string=ps%20eye&price_to=100
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

If the app can handle arrows/keyboard you can inject those too.

Android adds robustness because of readonly rootfs.

For remote assistance here's what I did for my much younger but technically lacking in-laws:
1. Set up openvpn at home (I recommend pivpn). Make sure to make long-lasting certificates (10 years)
2. Installed openvpn client on android and used the 'tap shortcut on screen + sleep' to start it on boot. It connects to my concentrator on boot.
3. When needed, I run scrcpy and connect to android over adb over vpn, so I have a vnc of some sort. Plus adb push.

To switch inputs you might use CEC from cli, though I'm not sure how/if it works from Android. See libcec.

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by L67GS »

mctom wrote:
Tue Nov 16, 2021 3:41 am

Could you show me which cam do you mean? I see plenty locally, but they come in all sorts of shapes.
https://allegro.pl/listing?string=ps%20eye&price_to=100
I got these, they have a decent camera and a beamforming microphone array. They worked out of the box in Linux, not sure about android.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Thank you both, this is all very helpful.

I am honestly worried about learning curve of Android backend, especially in terms of time. But it does sound like the best option for a few reasons.

As a family we have no video conferencing tool of choice, so I may pick any. I stumbled upon jitsi yesterday, that my friend strongly suggests due to his Stallman induced paranoia.
It is open source and has API and all, so maybe..?

I also gave it a thought and answering video calls is not a must. After all, TV and audio amp may be as well off, and he shouldn't be worried someone's gonna spy on him :D

About the remote control proposed above, I think he might already have one similar to this, for TV decoder box. He already has 5 remotes for all that AV stuff and mix them up sometimes. I can't blame him, I'm getting lost in them too. And adding more may cause interference with other devices at some point.
So probably I'll end up making a custom one, wired to GPIOs. He'd have to get up, press a button close to TV set and that's it.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

Yes, I looked into jitsy a while ago... It will take time to set up, open network ports, secure, train others, etc. Cloud beats it easily if you don't mind being a product...

With regard to gpio buttons and Android - look up joerg's work.

I suggested Android because the video calling apps won't cause headaches, but everything else will. If you use linux, it will be the other way around!

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

OK I ordered a camera from pawn shop for <$10 shipping included. I'll try some experiments with XU4 as I have it lying around, but for the ttarget application I'll buy something passively cooled.

The TV is an older one, I think it may be "HD ready", so 1366 x 768. So virtually any SBC would handle smooth playback on it, I think.
Now I wonder if it has HDMI inputs at all. If not, I guess buying an Android TV might make more sense in the end.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

It likely has VGA and you can use a HDMI to VGA adapter. Make sure to get one with audio out as well. But you'll need some speakers.

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Okay, I got some intel.

The TV is from around 2014, Thomson 32HZ5233. It does have two HDMI inputs that are currently not used, one labeled "ARC", another "MHL".
There are also USB ports: One marked 2.0 and another "HUB", whatever that means. It is known it may play multimedia from USB drives, but nothing more.

So, I guess the baseline solution is an SBC with Messenger. For now I'll do experiments on XU4.
It could be acceptable to make it answer all incoming video calls, for simplicity and possible improvements later on. I didn't find such function in Messenger, that would be asking for exploits indeed.

I was thinking Linux would be easier to maintain as I could ssh to it if something went wrong, but I think the local ISP probably doesn't offer global IP or forwards ports on demand. I could try asking for it, but wouldn't count on it.
So, probably Android TV may be just as good in terms of maintenance.

The Internet link is offered to senior citizens for $6/mo, 20Mb down and 2Mb up - should be enough for video calls?
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

To auto-answer calls, when the app doesn't support it, might be doable if you're scanning logcat. The app might say something relevant on incoming calls, and you could inject a tap at x,y.

Remote management can be done over openvpn (with your odroid as client). It works even if your ISP doesn't give you a static ip, or even if (heaven forbid!) your ISP does carrier-grade NAT.

You don't need ssh, but you can use adb and scrcpy which can do most things.

20/2 is enough for video conferencing (assuming wired connection).
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Okay then, I'll do proper tinkering with this idea next week.
One more question though: WHICH Android? :)
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

IMHO AndroidTV is more limited than standard Android in terms of what apps it can run. I you only want to run one app at all times, I'd go with voodik's standard Android, the latest version for your board.

For xu4 I'm not sure how to force run scripts on boot. May be duable in one of the scripts in /odm
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Okay in the meantime I got my $8 PS Eye. I think it's borked. Or I'm so obscene it censors me out.

Picture is focused at objects about 1 inch from the lens, works great as a microscope, but not much more.

PulseAudio detects 4 microphones. Is this going to be useful in any way for this project?

Code: Select all

[mctom@Tomusiomat ~]$ lsusb | grep Sony
Bus 001 Device 007: ID 1415:2000 Nam Tai E&E Products Ltd. or OmniVision Technologies, Inc. Sony Playstation Eye
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

I googled around and apparently these cameras go out of focus after removing IR filter, that some people do for whatever reason.
As described here.

I think this is the case - this camera can be literally blinded with IR remote, where the same beam is barely noticeable on a phone camera.
Guess I'll simply have to return it.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by L67GS »

Odd, both of mine were fine, but I didn't remove the IR filters before testing.

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

Why return it? You now have an 8$ IR camera!

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

L67GS wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 6:46 am
Odd, both of mine were fine, but I didn't remove the IR filters before testing.
Yeah, that's how this whole country works. Some hobbyist have probably removed the IR filter for some cool project, realized it's broken now and sold it to pawn shop instead of throwing away. :roll:
Never mind, I'll ask for return and get another one.
mad_ady wrote:
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Why return it? You now have an 8$ IR camera!
If it wasn't utterly out of focus I could probably sell it as such. Recently I sold RasPi IR camera for $4 :lol:
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

Did they throw the Hubble Space telescope away when it was out of focus? No! They fixed it! What's your excuse? :P
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

They did throw the Hubble Telescope away quite literally when it was brand new :D

My excuse is: according to my projects spreadsheet I've got 11 going on or planned. ;)

Sure enough I could add some spacers to refocus it manually, or try fitting an alternative IR filter. On a second thought, I probably will, as I'm not going to pay for shipping it back to a seller (for another $4), and the seller probably won't pay for shipping either, so it will stay here no matter what.

Thankfully the disputes on Allegro work pretty much the same as on Aliexpress - it's really hard to lose it.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

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Gee, I wish you lived in the states, I could send you the camera module from Candice's.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Thanks, that's very nice of you.
Surprisingly, the seller wanted that damaged PS Eye back and paid for postage. Makes no damn sense economically but who cares.
I already ordered another one, this time from a guy that accepts free returns. That should be my habit.

In the meantime, I did some reading on the mic array in PS Eye. That's quite a simple concept and yet the audio samples I've heard were really impressive.
Is there a way to incorporate that into this project? Can Android mix all 4 mics together?
If my understanding is correct, that should emphasize sound coming from the front of the camera only, which is perfect for this purpose. And probably the simplest to achieve.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by L67GS »

mctom wrote:
Wed Nov 24, 2021 7:22 am
Is there a way to incorporate that into this project? Can Android mix all 4 mics together?
If my understanding is correct, that should emphasize sound coming from the front of the camera only, which is perfect for this purpose. And probably the simplest to achieve.
There's a LOT of talk in this thread, maybe someof it would give some clues how to incorporate it into Android

viewtopic.php?f=55&t=41188&p=318632&hil ... ng#p318632

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Okay, I set up voodik's Android on an SD card. Later I read it's not recommended and stuff, but I figure this SBC is meant to have a single purpose, so perhaps it's not that important.

I gave up on Messenger, I realized it's gonna be too much of a hassle to create an account without valid phone number and e-mail address.

I tested Jitsi and it's super cool. No accounts needed! Both parties enter the same room name et voila, it just works.
This should be easy enough to set up automatically on startup. I didn't research the topic yet, but even if nobody figured that out, I think this can be done by injecting keystrokes, taps or whatever.

I think the most sensible option is to make an external switch to turn XU4 on and off, if Grandpa feels like chatting or not. Of course, that would involve a graceful shutdown. That one's on me. ;)

A major bummer is that camera doesn't work.
I ordered another PS EYE thing that is in focus this time, but Android doesn't feel like supporting it.
The mic works fine (or at least one of them, dunno), but nothing more.

I think the PS EYE camera needs a special kernel module to work, as it is not a "standard" USB Video Class camera. After all people spent some time figuring out how to support it back in a day.
So I guess it's time to return it and find something else :D I may try to salvage one from an old laptop instead.
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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mad_ady »

A standard, cheap uvc camera should do. One HD, that looks ok in poor lightning should be preferred.

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Re: Super simple video call system for a senior

Post by mctom »

Yeah, it doesn't matter much at this stage, I just need a camera that is suitable for tests.
I made a Jitsi call from Xu4 to my phone and it looked okay, except it was one way call.
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