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BjornHollander
BjornHollander

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GrannyCam: How I build a video conference setup for my Granny

*First and for most: many, many, many thanks go out the nurses for the great work they are doing, not only during these dark times, but all the time! And also for their kind offer to help me realise this system for my beloved Granny! THANK YOU! *

Since the beginning of March the Netherlands has been on a kind of lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19. One of the national measures taken was that no visitors were allowed in nursing homes anymore. This meant that my Granny, amongst many others, where isolated from most social contact. About two weeks in the lockdown I saw a news article about a Dutch company that build custom TV's equipped with video conferencing equipment which they installed in the homes of the elderly. This enabled them to videocall with their relatives. When I saw this I thought: 'Hmmm, I should be able to do this too!'

I immediately started to research the possibilities and finally came to a solution of which I thought would be feasible and usable for my Granny. Since my Granny isn't skilled with technology at all (she cannot operate a smartphone or tablet) I wanted it to be an extremely simple solution, for which my Granny shouldn't have to do any work.

Basic hardware

Since I wanted the system to be up-and-running quickly, I decided to go with technology I was familiar with. I bought a second hand Intel NUC Kit D34010WYK (with 4GB RAM, 120GB SSD and a Wifi module), since this unit it nice and small, but any basic PC (with al least 1 USB 3.0 slot) that can run Windows 10 should do.
Besides this I also bought a second hand Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor Bar with an USB extension and power supply adapter. The reason I chose the Kinect bar is that it comes with a built in camera and a decent microphone array which can properly pick up sounds from a few meters away.
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NOTE: From what I read the Kinect bar must be connected to at least an USB 3.0 slot. I personally have not tested whether it works on USB 2.0.

Setting up the GrannyCam

The NUC I bought already came with a clean installation of Windows 10. The only thing I had to do was activate it with the Windows 10 Pro license I bought for about €14. I configured the Windows user account without a password, so it would login automatically on startup.

Installing the Kinect bar

The next thing I had to do, was install the Kinect bar to function as a webcam and microphone. I found multiple different blogs explaining how to do this, but not all seemed to work. The one that did work for me was published by MisterMakesSence on Youtube. In this video he perfectly explains how to get the Kinect up and running in a few minutes. The files you'll need to install the Kinect are downloadable from his website.

Preparing the Wifi

Since I was not allowed to enter the nursing home to install the GrannyCam myself, I wanted to make it as easy as possible to set it up. This way one of the nurses could easily install the GrannyCam, without too much hassle. I wanted to make ik possible for the nurse to simply plug the GrannyCam into the power socket, plug the HDMI cable in the TV, turn on the PC and wait for the system to boot.
To achieve this I needed to prepare the Wifi adapter to connect to my Granny's wireless access point as soon as it was in reach. Since I already knew the name and password of the network, i could easily add the access point manually:

  1. Go to the Start menu
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click Network & Internet
  4. Click Wifi
  5. Click Manage known networks
  6. Click Add a new network
  7. Enter the Network name
  8. Select WPA2-Personal AES from Security type (assuming the network is secured by a password)
  9. Enter the Security key (the password)
  10. Check both Connect automatically and Connect even if this network is not broadcasting
  11. Click Save

This should make to PC connect to the wireless access point automatically as soon as it is within reach.

Setting up Skype

After installing the Kinect as a webcam & microphone I setup Skype. I chose to use Skype because it is very easy to setup an account which can automatically accept calls from a selected set of people. I created an email address for the GrannyCam, installed Skype and used the email address to create a Skype account. I configured Skype to start automatically on Windows startup:

  1. Click the Skype profile picture
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click General
  4. Toggle Automatically start Skype on

After this I configured Skype to only allow calls from contacts to make sure only selected people can call into the GrannyCam:

  1. Click the Skype profile picture
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click Calling
  4. Toggle Only allow calls from contacts to ring on this device on

Finally I enabled Skype to automatically accepts incoming calls:

  1. Click the Skype profile picture
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click Calling
  4. Click Advanced
  5. Toggle Answer incomming calls automatically on
  6. Toggle Start my video automatically on

This should do the trick! Now everyone I add to the contactlist of the GrannyCam can call into the system and those calls will be accepted automatically.

Final word

After setting this whole thing up, I called the nursing home to ask them if I was allowed to install the setup for my Granny. Understandably they didn't allow me to enter the nursing home, but they kindly offered to install it for me. They told me to stand below my Granny's balcony, so I could give them additional instructions if they needed any. But thankfully my installation worked as designed. The nurse only had to plug things in and turn on the PC. After a short while the system had booted and I was able to videocall with my Granny for the first time!

Again: many, many, many thanks go out the nurses for the great work they are doing, not only during these dark times, but all the time! And also for their kind offer to help me realise this system for my beloved Granny! THANK YOU!


This should be enough for the GrannyCam to be used, but I chose to add a few extra features.

Bonus feature 1: Auto-hide the taskbar and mouse

For Skype to use the full size of the screen cleanly I chose to auto-hide the taskbar and mouse, since the GrannyCam whouldn't need any of them to work as planned. Hiding the taskbar is simple:

  1. Right click on the taskbar
  2. Click Taskbar settings
  3. Toggle Automatically hide the taskbar in desktop mode on

Hiding the mouse requires a simple program called AutoHideMouseCursor. The instructions how to set it up and download links can be found here.

Bonus feature 2: Periodically auto reboot the system

I'm not sure whether this is actually required, but I thought it might be useful to reboot the system once in a while to allow it to install the updates that require a reboot, and to clean up system resources that might pile up over time (which is probably unlikely, since the system is only used for Skype calls) or reboot processes that might have crashed during the uptime. This can be done as follows:

  1. In the Start menu, search for Task Scheduler
  2. Click Create basic task from the menu on the right
  3. Enter a Name for the task and click Next (for example RebootTask)
  4. Select when you want the task to start (Daily, Weekly or Monthly) and click Next
  5. Enter when the task should be started and click Next (I chose to perform the task at 03:00 at night)
  6. Select Start a program when asked what action to perform, and click Next
  7. Enter shutdown in the Program/script box and enter /r /f /t 0 in the Add arguments (optional) box, and click Next
    • /r means reboot
    • /f means force
    • /t 0 sets a timer when to perform the shutdown task, 0 means now
  8. Click Finish

Bonus feature 3: Setup Teamviewer to enable remote login

In the case something strange happens I wanted it to possibility to remotely login to the GrannyCam to solve any issues that might occur. This of course will only be possible if the problem is not related to the internet access. If the GrannyCam won't be connected to the internet anymore I'll be powerless to solve the problem. I sincerely hope this will never occur, and if it does, I hope the problem will be solved by a hard reboot which I can ask the nurse to perform.
Anyway, in case the problem isn't network related I might be able to fix the issue remotely by logging into the GrannyCam using TeamViewer.
I already had an installation of TeamViewer (with a free account) on my own PC, which I sometimes use to help out other family members if they have any issues with there PC's. If you don't have this yet, make sure to install it and create an account.
Next I also installed TeamViewer on the GrannyCam and logged in using the same account as on my personal PC. After that I configured TeamViewer on the GrannyCam to start automatically on Windows startup:

  1. In TeamViewer, go to Extra => Options
  2. In the General tab, check Start TeamViewer with Windows

Finally I made sure the device was assigned to my TeamViewer account:

  1. In TeamViewer, go to Extra => Options
  2. In the General tab, under Account assignment, click Assign to account...
  3. If logged into your account, you can simple click Assign, if not, enter your credentials and click Assign

Now the GrannyCam should appear in your personal computer's TeamViewer under the section My computers within the middle section. To remotely login to the GrannyCam, simply double click the name of the computer you want to login to.

Note: when you have performed your remote actions and you close the TeamViewer connection, sometimes a pop-up from TeamViewer will appear on the remote device. This pop-up will remain on screen even when someone calls into the GrannyCam. In my experience you can remove this pop-up by reconnecting to the GrannyCam again, close the pop-up end then terminate the TeamViewer connection in the remote screen (press the little X in the lower right dialog which is visible on the remote desktop)

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