Streaming Video from the Kinect

Since my previous post I have been working on capturing live video from the Kinect to see what I will be working with. This will be useful later on in the project from a debugging point of view so that I can work out what the system is doing. Unfortunately it is not as simple as it might seem since I run the Pandaboard headless – thus it has no monitor to display the video stream on.

The simplest, and most obvious, solution would be to connect a monitor to the Pandaboard (it has 2 HDMI ports), however, as I intend to connect this system up to the robotic base in the near future and have it moving around, this is would be far from a long-term solution.

I therefore took the decision to stream the video frames over the network from the Pandaboard to a ‘host’ computer (a common name for the computer with which a Pandaboard communicates, although in this case a somewhat misleading one as it is not actually controlling the board in any way, merely receiving its data from it). I do this using C’s TCP/IP socket interface where the Pandaboard acts as the client while the host computer acts as the server. This is a somewhat backward way around, really the Pandaboard (the one sending the data) should be the server; I originally had a good reason for the orientation however the restrictions that forced me to do it have since been removed so this could be rewritten. Once connected, the Pandaboard sends each raw depth frame (a 640×480 array of 16-bit depth readings) over the network to the host computer.

I have also implemented the streaming protocol for the RGB data.

This network streaming does produce some overhead, reducing the frame rate by about 11 FPS for each stream running, so streaming just depth or RGB data reduces the frame rate from around 30 to 19 FPS, streaming both reduce it further to around 8 FPS. I consider this cost acceptable as the functionality will only ever be used for debugging. I could reduce the amount of data sent either by compressing the data or scaling the 16-bit values down to 8-bit values (something that is done on the host side before displaying them anyway) prior to transmission. Another possible extension is to switch to using a more standard video streaming format which, while not necessary now, would allow the video to be streamed to a web interface at a later date. This is a bridge I will cross when I come to it.
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