What Is an IP Webcam and How to Use It

An IP webcam can be a useful tool

What to Know

  • Download the app for your IP webcam and use it to connect the webcam to your Wi-Fi network.
  • Make sure the webcam supports current Wi-Fi protocols like WPA2 and check for security updates for your router's firmware.
  • If you need to monitor multiple rooms, look for webcams that allow you to network the cameras and share numerous feeds with the app.

An IP webcam is a camera connected to the internet without a computer, and they've become standard tools to keep an eye on pets, to see if your package was delivered, and to make video calls from a television. They can be beneficial, but they also have their risks. Here's how and when to use them.

IP Webcams: The Basics

An IP webcam is usually a small device that can be discreetly hidden in an area or easily mounted. However, they typically need to be plugged into a standard wall outlet or have batteries changed regularly.

They range from straightforward cameras that take low-resolution black-and-white video to full-color HD devices that can automatically track people and animals within their range of vision with servos built into their mounts. The most advanced models have features like night-vision and battery backup. They connect to your in-home Wi-Fi network through your router, and you can look through them with a webcam app.

Generally, everything runs through the app. You'll connect to your network through it, set it up with a step-by-step process, and watch video and live streams through the app. As a rule, most brands of webcams will have apps for both Android and iOS and have a web page you log into for laptops and desktops.

Check the packaging for the App Store and Google Play logos to ensure it's compatible with your device. Don't forget to check to ensure that your phone or tablet supports the webcam app.

An IP webcam perched on top of a television

 Tetra Images

Which IP Webcam Should I Buy?

When considering a webcam, first ask yourself how you want to use it. If, for example, you're an amateur naturalist wondering what happens in your backyard at night, you'll probably need a night-vision device with motion activation that can withstand the weather. If you want to use it to make video calls, you'll want something in color with a high resolution.

Similarly, it would help if you looked closely at the field of view and where you plan to install your webcam. If you need to see many areas, a "panoramic" or "fisheye" webcam, which refers to the type of lens, will show an extensive range. The video may look distorted; this is a consequence of the lens used.

Many webcams, though, will have a field of view roughly similar to your smartphone's camera and are better suited for viewing individual rooms. If you need to monitor multiple rooms, you may need to buy several of the same webcams. Look for webcams that allow you to "network" the cameras and share numerous feeds with the app.

IP Webcams And Security

Before buying any IP webcam, you should check its security closely. Since they're designed to be connected to the internet directly, they can be vulnerable to hackers and even online snoops. While you'll need to take steps at home to protect any IP webcam you buy, you should check that it supports a set of features before you put down any money.

  • Wi-Fi Protocols: The IP webcam should support current, secure Wi-Fi protocols, like WPA2. Any website it asks you to go to should use SSL/TLS to secure your password; this can be spotted by looking at the web address, which begins with "https://". It should allow you to set passwords on the website to look at the feed and access the camera and settings. This information should be on the manufacturer's website or available from their helpline. Also, search for criticism of specific makes and models of cameras online. 
  • Update Software and Firmware: You should also check for security updates for your router's firmware, which you can find on the website of your router's manufacturer, you should run any updates on your browser and computer before you install the camera, and you should update your phone to the latest software. Doing this will ensure all the links in the "chain" of your camera are secure.
  • Placement: When placing your webcam, consider who might be seen by it. A camera facing out into your backyard to see who visits the bird feeder isn't much of a security concern, but a camera that can see the security code you punch into your keypad might be. Discuss with the other members of your household where you're putting the camera and why, so they understand the need and can ensure it's placed where it will be most helpful, not intrusive.
FAQ
  • How can I use an IP camera with Skype?

    Open the Skype desktop app, select the three-dots > Settings > Audio & Video > select the Camera drop-down menu and choose the IP camera. If your Skype camera is not working, you can troubleshoot by making sure it's plugged in and turned on and then updating the Skype app.

  • How do I connect my IP webcam to OBS?

    To add a webcam to OBS studio, ensure the camera is on, then go to the Video Capture Device drop-down menu and select your camera. Next, name it and place it above your background.

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