How do IP cameras work: Explaining the Essentials of the IP Camera

How do IP cameras work: Explaining the Essentials of the IP Camera

A basic definition of an IP camera: IP or Internet Protocol camera also known as a network camera, is a digital video camera that sends and receives data via a computer network (wireless or wired connection) and the Internet.

Well, the definition says it all: the camera records the action, then sends the information through your home network and the Internet to your smartphone, PC or tablet.

Basic working principle

An IP camera works via the same principles as a digital camera. The video is usually recorded in a suitable format, usually .AVI and the IP camera has the ability to compress the video files to a manageable size and send them over the local area network.

The IP camera uses the local area network in the home to send the video in a digital format over the Internet. The camera itself contains all the necessary equipment to send the info. The basic connectivity to the network uses the same principle as the other devices connected directly to the network (e.g. a printer).

Many producers design and make their IP cameras with a built-in memory card that can record the surveillance video. The IP camera can be set to record the video on its memory card, connect with an external memory drive – a network video recorder or to send the video to the Internet.

Difference between a wired and a wireless IP camera

The wired: Ethernet connected IP camera uses the Ethernet connection to connect to the local area network. The Ethernet connection is done via a cable – an Ethernet CAT5/CAT6 cable. This connection makes for a fast and secure connection. There is no chance for interference or interception of the signal, as the Ethernet connection is a direct connection between the IP camera and the Internet access modem.

The wireless: Wi-Fi connected IP camera uses the Wi-Fi router to send the video data to the Internet access modem. A Wi-Fi connected IP camera usually has a slower response as the wireless connection is much slower compared to the Ethernet connection.

Another weakness of these devices is their vulnerability as there is a real threat of interception of the signal and interference. This concern can be fixed by the use of proper encryption or customization of the wireless network.

There is a third type of IP cameras that do not require any kind of connectivity to a local area network as they use a cellular network access. These have a very slow feed but are more secure than Wi-Fi connected IP cameras. The cellular IP camera does not require any kind of installation but is not very common due to their high purchase price and slow transfer of high-quality video.

Centralized and decentralized IP cameras

An IP camera can operate as a part of multiple camera systems known as a centralized system where it requires an appropriate network video recorder to do all the required operations like recording, video and alerts management.

The network video recorder is a program that stores the information from the various IP cameras on a property and allows multiple views of the different camera feeds. A network video system software can be installed on any computer or a dedicated device with its own storage disk can be used. A centralized system is usually in place in a complex where security and monitoring are essential and there are people dedicated to maintaining this system.

In a home, the security system made by IP cameras is usually decentralized, meaning that each camera stores its recording in its own card storage or sends it over to an FTP server.

Basic requirements for installing an IP camera

In order to be able to install an IP camera in your home, garage, yard or office, you will need good Internet service and a router and adequate power supply. For wired IP cameras, you will need an Ethernet (CAT5) cable, for wireless cameras, you will need a good, stable Wi-Fi connection. Also, on the initial install, you will need the adequate PC software or dedicated app on a smartphone or tablet to install and configure the IP camera.

Design of an IP camera

The basic design is the same in all the IP cameras, the detailed design varies according to the manufacturer’s plans. Most of these are designed like traditional security cameras that can be used indoors or can be waterproofed and be used outside.

However, a need for more discretely designed cameras has arisen, and the manufacturers of the IP cameras have addressed this need by producing hidden cameras, known as nanny cams. These come with some good video capabilities but are designed to resemble a smoke detector, air fresheners, speakers or any other household item.

Another popular design for an IP camera is the PTZ style: pan, tilt, zoom. These cameras are mounted on a mechanism that enables them to pan left or right by a predetermined angle and to tilt up or down by a predetermined angle. The objective lens has the ability to be zoomed on a specific object and get a more detailed look at the situation. The pan, tilt and zoom actions are controllable via the dedicated app on a smartphone, tablet or a PC.

Night vision of an IP camera

Many IP cameras on the market have integrated Infra-Red illumination enabling them to “see” in the dark and record video in night vision mode. This feature does not require any extra adjustments, and usually, the software or app enables you to use the feature.

Two-way audio communication

A very popular feature in many IP cameras, the two-way audio communication is achieved through a built-in microphone and speaker, and you access it via the software or app. This option is very helpful when using the IP camera to watch your kids or nanny, or when using it in a business setting and you need to warn somebody of something or they need to ask a question.

Finishing thoughts

This is the simplest explanation of the work of an IP camera, any specific features depend on the design of a particular model. We hope that you have learned the basics about the inner workings of the IP camera, so please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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