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Simultaneous Access to Single Camera

There are many devices, accessing which is meaningful, only when accessed by one user at a time. Examples include a serial port, a camera, … To illustrate it further, think through as what would happen if two applications (aka users) read from the same serial port simultaneously. Some data would go to one user and some to the other, making both data meaningless. That is why, in such cases it is recommended to use only one application at a time for that particular device. A similar scenario would happen even with camera capturing. To avoid such undesired results, many a times the corresponding device framework marks the device busy if it is being used – thus ensuring that only one application is using it at a time.

In general, this mutually exclusive device usage is fine. But, what if two applications want to access the same data simultaneously. That is a problem. But even if the device is allowed to be accessed simultaneously, it does not solve the problem, as the data would get split, unlike in the storage devices like EEPROM, hard disk. One way to solve such a problem is by mirroring the data, and the mutually exclusiveness also would not be hampered. For that, we would need an intermediate application which would actually read from the device and then mirror the read data into as many virtual devices as needed. With such an arrangement, many applications can actually get the same camera feed, say for different processings.

Here is the outline of how to achieve this for a v4l2 (video for linux 2) compatible camera:

+ Download the v4l2loopback driver from https://github.com/umlaeute/v4l2loopback
+ Compile it using the corresponding kernel version, where the camera is attached. On an x86 system, typically typing make should do.
+ Load the v4l2loopback driver (v4l2loopback.ko file) w/ appropriate options. A typical way:

$ sudo insmod v4l2loopback.ko devices=2

Assuming an existing /dev/video0 for the camera, this would create two loopback video device file entries video1 & vide2. Refer to https://github.com/umlaeute/v4l2loopback/README.md for more options. Whatever is fed into these device files, comes out as their output.

+ Feeding a video test source (Ancient Doordarshan Screen) into the loopback video device files, using gst-launch application (just for testing):

$ gst-launch-1.0 videotestsrc ! tee name=t ! queue ! v4l2sink device=/dev/video1 t. ! queue ! v4l2sink device=/dev/video2

+ Open cheese or any such application to view video test screen from the video1 & video2 device files

+ Time to mirror the video0 stream to video1 & video2. Use the gst-launch application, as follows:

$ gst-launch-1.0 v4l2src device=/dev/video0 ! tee name=t ! queue ! v4l2sink device=/dev/video1 t. ! queue ! v4l2sink device=/dev/video2

+ Now, video1 & video2 are mirrors of video0. Go ahead and enjoy using video1 & video2. An example:

$ gst-launch-1.0 v4l2src device=/dev/video1 ! xvimagesink
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