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Available Installation Methods

Unfortunately IP camera manufacturers aren’t yet shipping hardware with OpenIPC preinstalled, so to install OpenIPC onto a camera which is still using factory firmware images, one of the following methods must be used:

OpenIPC firmware installation using Coupler.

Instructions for using Coupler can be found in the project’s documenation.

OpenIPC firmware installation via TFTP and UART, step by step.

Step 1. Determine the System on Chip.

The SoC includes the CPU core of the camera, as well as all the necessary periperhals such as the camera and network interfaces. For various reasons (including the limited onboard storage space on most IP Cameras), the OpenIPC project currently builds separate firmware binaries for each SoC model. You must identify the SoC which your camera uses, so that you can use the correct firmware binaries. This can be done by reading the markings on the SoC IC package on the camera’s main PCB (see example photo below), or by using software such as ipctool to identify the SoC model from the vendor firmware.

SoC Marking SoC Marking SoC Marking SoC Marking

Hisilicon Hi3518EV100, Ingenic T20, T31 and T40 SoCs marking. Relevant symbols highlighted with yellow.

Step 2. Download the firmware.

Go to https://github.com/OpenIPC/firmware and find your SoC in the table of supported hardware. Make sure there is a downloadable binary file for that SoC. Hopefully there is a pre-compiled firmware file for your processor – download it onto your PC.

Step 3. Install and set up a TFTP server.

TFTP stands for Trivial File Transfer Protocol. As the name implies, it is a very simple protocol intended for transferring files over a local computer network. TFTP does not support authentication. Its code is so tiny and simple that TFTP-clients are widely used in thin-clients and embedded systems for retrieving bootable images from a designated boot server on the local network.

If you have Linux…

…then it’s easy. Pre-compiled and ready-to-use binary package for your distro most likely already exists in distro’s repo, and you only need to install it and set it up.

sudo apt install tftpd-hpa
sudo sed -i '/^TFTP_OPTIONS/s/"$/ --create"/' /etc/default/tftpd-hpa
sudo systemctl restart tftpd-hpa.service

Now you’ve got your own TFTP server serving files from /srv/tftp directory. Extract files from the bundle you downloaded in step two into that directly.

sudo tar -C /srv/tftp/ -xvf openipc.*.tgz

Step 4. Connect to UART port of your camera.

In order to make a connection to UART port you will need a serial port adapter for your PC.

UART Module

Before you connect that adapter to you camera, make sure that it’s working voltage is set to 3.3 volt! Sometimes, you only need to flip a jumper to achieve that. But in some cases you might need to solder a wire, a zero Ohm resistor, or make a connection between two contacts with a blob of solder. Some adapters support only 5 volt. In that case, you will need an additional logic level converter connected between the adapter and UART port on your camera.

One of the contact pads you will need to connect you adapter to is GND (ground). It is easy to discover using a multimeter in continuity mode. Put one of the leads onto a well-known exposed ground pads. Usually, these are large open copper contact areas around mounting screw holes, USB port housing, SD card slot metallic walls. Use another lead to slightly touch control pads until you see or hear a notification from your multimeter that the circuit is closed. That means, you found the ground. Now, you need to find two more: RX and TX, both used for receiving and transmitting data, respectively. Start with TX. It transmits series of characters and quite easy to spot.

Be aware that you are looking for a contact with 3.3v potential between it and the ground. Test possible connection points with a multimeter and mark those showing 3.3 volt. This way you won’t have to test everything, and you save yourself from hitting say a 12 volt connector intended for infrared LED array or whatnot.

Connect GND pin on your camera to GND pad of the adapter, connect USB connector of the adapter to a USB port on your PC, start a terminal emulator application and connect to your adapter. Set your terminal settings to 115200 bps baudrate, 8 bits, no parity, 1 stopbit, no flow control.

Then, connect RX pin on the adapter to a possible TX contact of UART port on your camera. Power the camera with its standard power adapter. If you had a lucky guess then you’ll start seeing booting log in your terminal window. In some cases, if you see garbled text on you screen instead of booting kernel, you might need to change the connection speed to 57600 bps and try again.

If your screen remains blank, try another UART contact, and then another, until you hit the proper one.

After you found the TX pad, connect it to RX pin on your adapter. Yes, it is a cross-connection. Whatever transmits goes into a receiver and vice-versa. Now, put a heavy object – a railroad nut, an antique tin solder, a shot of vodka (full) – on any letter key of your computer keyboard and start connect remaining TX pin of your adapter to different pads on the camera until you see it backfeeding to the terminal. As it happens, you have successfully completed a UART connection to you camera. Now you may drink the vodka.

NB! Usually, there is a fourth contact on a UART connector marked VCC. It is used for powering camera during initial programming by manufacturer. We strongly advise not to power your camera though that pin, but use the OEM power connector for this purpose.

Step 5. Get access to the bootloader.

Reboot the camera and try to interrupt its boot sequence in order to access bootloader console by pressing a key combination on your computer keyboard, between the time the bootloader starts and before Linux kernel kicks in. Key combinations differ from vendor to vendor but, in most cases, it is Ctrl-C, less commonly – Enter, Esc or just any key. Carefully read text appearing on screen while booting, you might see a hint there. Some cameras require more exotic combinations not revealed in booting logs. You may try to look them up on the internet, or ask on our Telegram channel. Chances are, we have already dealt with such a camera and know the combo.

If you succeeded and got a command prompt then congrats, you’ve got access to your camera’s bootloader.

From this point on, we strongly advise you to keep a record of everything you do. Enable session logging in your terminal. Even better, create a text file on your computer and write down all commands you run and how system responses to them.

Step 6. Save the original firmware.

After you get access to the bootloader console, run help to get a list of available commands. Check if you have tftp among them. If you do, then saving the original firmware should be a breeze. You only need to set up access to your TFTP server from step 3.

NB! If your bootloader does not have tftp, you can still make a copy of the original firmware. Read here for more.

Check the system environment using printenv command. Look for ipaddr, netmask, gatewayip and serverip parameters. The first three set IP address, netmask of your camera, and the IP address of the network gateway for accessing local network. The fourth parameter is an IP address of your TFTP server. Assign the values by setenv command (use IP addresses and netmask corresponding to your local network), then save the new values into environment with saveenv command.

setenv ipaddr 192.168.1.253
setenv netmask 255.255.255.0
setenv gatewayip 192.168.1.1
setenv serverip 192.168.1.254
saveenv

Most IP cameras nowadays are equipped with 8 or 16 MB NOR or NAND flash memory. You can check the type and size of the chip installed on of your camera in the bootloader log output. You’ll see something like this:

U-Boot 2010.06-svn (Oct 21 2016 - 11:21:29)

Check Flash Memory Controller v100 ... Found
SPI Nor(cs 0) ID: 0xс2 0x20 0x18
spi_general_qe_enable(294): Error: Disable Quad failed! reg: 0x2
Block:64KB Chip:16MB Name:"MX25L128XX"
SPI Nor total size: 16MB

To dump the original firmware, you need to save the contents of camera’s flash memory to a file. For that, you must first load the contents into RAM. Here’s how you do that. Initialize the Flash memory. Clean a region of RAM large enough to fit whole content of flash memory chip. Read contents of the flash from into that region, then export it to a file on the TFTP server.

Please note, that flash type, size and starting address differ for different cameras! For exact commands please use automatically generated instructions for your hardware, consult data sheets, or seek help on our Telegram channel.

Step 7. Install OpenIPC firmware.

Part one.

No two camera models are alike. Different camera models consist of different sets of components. The most important of them, the central processor and the image sensor, directly affect the image quality and the range of functions inherent in a particular camera. Unlike desktop computer CPU, camera’s processor handles so many functions that it got a specific name – System-on-Chip or SoC, for short.

But even seemingly less significant components can set limitations on the camera and its firmware capabilities. For example, different cameras may have different flash memory chips installed. Some cameras may have 8MB of flash memory, while others may have 16MB or more. More flash memory can fit more software code and allow the camera to run additional services that are not available on cameras with less flash memory. So we decided to build two versions of our firmware: the basic version (Lite) for cameras with 8 MB of flash memory and the advanced version (Ultimate) with additional features for cameras with 16 MB flash memory.

As said before, firmware installation routine differs for different cameras. There are different memory addresses and different environment parameters, so before proceeding, determine what kind of SoC is in your camera, what sensor, what flash memory chip and what amount of memory is has.

Below we describe the procedure for installing the OpenIPC Lite firmware on a camera with 8 MB of flash memory, as an example. Even if your camera has larger flash memory, do not skip this text. Read it carefully to understand the principle and the sequence of operations. We will provide specific commands for different cameras in the second part of this section.

Preparation.

So, we have a guinea pig, a camera with hi3518ev100 SoC, equipped with a OV9712 sensor and 64 MB of RAM.

Connect to the camera via the UART port and access the bootloader console. Set the component parameters to the appropriate environment variables. Set environment variables for loading the Linux kernel and the root file system of the new firmware. Set environment variables for the camera to access local network, where ethaddr is the original camera MAC address, ipaddr is camera’s IP address on the network, gatewayip is the IP address of a router to access the network, netmask is the subnet mask, and serverip is am IP address of the TFTP server from step 3. Save updated values to flash memory.

For exact commands please use automatically generated instructions for your hardware, consult data sheets, or seek help on our Telegram channel.

Installation.

For exact commands please use automatically generated instructions for your hardware, consult data sheets, or seek help on our Telegram channel.

NB! Pay attention to the messages on the terminal screen! If any of the commands throws an error, find out what went wrong. Maybe you made a typo? In any case, do not continue the procedure until all previous commands succeed. Otherwise, you might end up with a bricked camera!

Step 8. First boot.

If all previous steps are done correctly, your camera should start with the new firmware. Welcome to OpenIPC!

After the first boot with the new firmware you need to clean the overlay partition. Run this in your terminal window:

firstboot