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How is an IP Camera Different than a Web Cam?

Make sure you have the right camera for your situation
Hardware costs for both IP cameras and Web cams are getting really low. And the new software is really good, too (hint: both are much easier to set up, configure and start using immediately).

But what’s the difference between these two types of cameras?

Web cams are the kind you use for Skype, Chatroulette, IM chat and so forth. They’re dedicated to social activities. If you’re at a booted up computer talking with friends via the cameras, you’re probably on a Web cam.

On the other hand, IP cameras (or network cameras) are constantly connected to the Internet. They’re typically used for monitoring purposes – nanny-cam, surveillance, asset protection, whatever you want to call it. As their costs come down, however, they’re being used for much less foreboding purposes. Everyday people use them to check up on babies, monitor their kids and pets, stay connected with work, or keep an eye on valuable property.

IP cameras don’t need a local machine to be booted up to function (unlike Web cams). All they need is a wireless network or a hard wired connection to a router.

Some other points of distinction:

  • IP cams typically feature better optics, resolution and frame rates
  • Web cams are often built into laptops and newer computers (if they’re not, they usually connect via USB port)
  • IP cams can be shared among multiple users (at different physical locations), and multiple IP cams can be monitored from a single console/dashboard
  • Wireless IP cams can be placed anywhere there’s a power outlet (if there’s no power outlet available, there are other options – see below)
  • IP cameras often leverage wireless connectivity, two-way audio and Power Over Ethernet (PoE) which allows you to place the camera anywhere Ethernet cable goes – meaning they don’t require a power outlet (that’s important for some specific applications that we’ll address at another time on this blog).

It used to be that IP cameras were more complex and required technical set-up knowledge. You had to open up ports, assign static IP addresses and jump through a bunch of configuration hoops to get the things working properly for remote viewing. Nowadays, however, there’s no need to configure IP cameras for specific router set-ups. Slick new software and hardware enhancements make IP cameras just as easy to set-up and use as Web cams. That’s a big deal. We’ll address this in more detail later – stay tuned.

So, in summary, when you think about the differences between IP cameras and Web cameras, just keep it simple:

  • IP cams are for robust, remote monitoring applications, like watching the baby from work or keeping an eye on the house when you’re on vacation.
  • Web cams are for video chat, IM, Chatroulette, Skype, Google Talk and the like (though you could do all these things with an IP cam, too). Their capability and power are less than robust, because they’re really single-use devices that turn off when the computer is off.

In future posts, we’re going to get into some of the unique applications for IP cams. Subscribe to the feed or add it to your start page to keep up with the conversation. A lot of cool ideas are headed your way – whether you’re a casual home user, a power user or a complete newbie.

Do you have experience with the old IP cams that required extensive set-up? Have you tried the new ones? Please comment below and share your experiences.

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  1. Regarding: “Web cams are for video chat, IM, Chatroulette, Skype, Google Talk and the like (though you could do all these things with an IP cam, too).” How would I be able to use an IP camera with Skype? Is there software needed so Skype can interface to the camera? Thanks in advance for your help.

  2. Yes, the IP camera setup is a breeze! All those old-time complications are smoothed! That is right – it’s because of the new software that come with the camera! In most cases it automatically detects the camera’s MAC address and you just have to confirm it and then you start getting the stream! All of this happens in the browser so whenever you go, you have access to the camera!

  3. Hi Jason – apologies for the delayed response here. This is what I came up with. . Here’s a threaded discussion from the Skype community about using IP cameras with Skype:

    And this is the most useful link I could dig up from that discussion (from Sourceforge):

    These are pretty dated, however. I’d like to run this by the D-Link tech team and see what I can stir up. I’ll keep you posted here.

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