4 Best IP Cameras for Live Video StreamingDecember 1, 2020
IP camera is short for Internet Protocol camera, and it describes a category of digital devices designed for no-fuss live video streaming. Before diving into our list of recommended IP cameras, let’s take a look at the basic setup and some important considerations.
IP Camera Considerations and Suggestions
IP cameras use either Ethernet cables or a Wi-Fi connection to connect to your local network. From there, the signal can be ingested by a software switcher or sent directly to a media server or social media network. Both options (Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi) have their pros and cons.
Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi
Ethernet cables can handle larger amounts of data than Wi-Fi, allowing for a higher quality image. They also support Power over Ethernet (PoE), so cameras only need one cable for everything. The downside of using Ethernet cables is that IP cameras can only be placed as far away as the cable allows. If you can’t get an Ethernet cable to a location, then this connection is not an option.
IP cameras using Wi-Fi offer more mobility. They can be placed anywhere they can receive power — so long as the Wi-Fi signal is also available. This makes them easier to drop around the house near an electrical outlet. On the downside, signals over Wi-Fi require much more compression because the bandwidth is limited. This can result in a lower quality image resolution. For the original intended use of IP cameras, which was in CCTV (closed-circuit television) surveillance applications, this worked just fine. But in many modern applications, low-quality video is not an option.
Generally, the signal from the IP camera uses the Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). This protocol was designed for IP cameras used for CCTV, specifically for security systems using a local area network. RTSP is also great for live events because you can use a production switcher software such as OBS Studio, Wirecast, or vMix to ingest multiple RTSP signals and switch between video feeds during a presentation. On a local area network, it’s easy to assign a specific IP address to a camera and reference a dozen cameras or even more. But this does create a problem for someone wanting to send one signal remotely over the internet to a media server, as they’d need a public static IP address.
To resolve this issue, many manufacturers have incorporated the Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) into their IP cameras. An RTMP signal is universally accepted by media servers and most social media networks. However, RTMP differs from RTSP in one major way: Whereas an RTSP signal is pulled by the media and therefore requires a public IP address to locate it, an RTMP signal is pushed to its single destination, and therefore only requires an open connection to the internet.
Beyond these two protocols, Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and Network Device Interface (NDI) may also come into play. These protocols were designed for high-quality, low-latency, stable video contribution. Both are intended for use in the first mile, from the camera to the switchers, and do use higher bandwidth. They can also be used over specialized Wi-Fi networks to varying degrees. While they are more readily accepted by switchers and media servers, they haven’t quite gained full acceptance by IP manufacturers.
IP Cameras According to Use Case
Let’s move on to our recommendations now that we’ve covered the primary considerations when choosing an IP camera. But do note: As use cases vary, it’s hard to simply make a list of best IP cameras. For that reason, we’ve compiled a list of tried-and-true equipment depending on your streaming needs.
Best IP Camera for Production
- First and foremost is the PTZOptics 12X-SDI camera.
This makes a great studio camera. It’s got a sharp image in low light, and has a 3.5mm audio plug should you want to pull audio in from the camera itself (you’ll want the SDI version for this to work). As a production camera, it has pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) controls that can be managed via an infrared (IR) remote that comes with the camera, through IP with a joystick available as a separate purchase, as well as with software available as an app for your phone and switcher software like OBS studio. Knowing their audience, PTZOptics uses RTSP signals, but this can be switched to use RTMP.
These cameras require an Ethernet connection and also allow for Power over Ethernet (PoE). If you are working in a larger space such as a church or football field, 20x and 30x options are available. Versions are also available that use the NDI protocol.
Best IP Cameras for Surveillance
- Axis Communications is well known in the surveillance industry. You can go on the cheap with a 720p dome camera, or start getting pricey with 4K camera that allows remote PTZ control. As commercial-grade equipment, these cameras are made to stream via RTSP, but PTZ controls can be done directly through Wowza Streaming Engine.
- For something more consumer-oriented to use inside of the house, check out the Reolink E1 Zoom. Using an MP5 camera, it provides Super HD quality at 2560×1920. This can be down-converted for a sharp 1080p image. It also has pan/tilt/zoom options, with a 3x optical zoom, and will send a RTSP and RTMP signal if I want to go to social media. All this over wi-fi —but unfortunately, no Ethernet port or PoE capabilities.
- For outdoors, I’ve been excited for the Reolink Argus PT IP camera. Why? No wires! It’s 1080p using a Wi-Fi 2.4ghz network connected to a solar panel and containing a rechargeable battery. All that means you can put it almost anywhere under the sun, literally. Plus the PTZ options are great for remote control from inside. I only wish it could recognize and follow vermin. Someday soon I’ll have a camera that will notify me when a rabbit is in the garden.
DIY Equipment Recommendations — Build Your Own IP Camera
For those of you looking to do it yourself, building an IP camera is a fun option. I’ll emphasize fun here and certainly educational — as it’s not necessarily easy or any more cost-effective. I’ve specifically built IP cameras using a Raspberry Pi Zero W (W denotes it’s got wi-fi built in), Raspberry Pi Camera Module V2, and Raspberry Pi Zero Case (see the Raspberry Pi product list here). Using v4l2 RTSP server software, you can get a IP camera up and running with an RTSP stream in about 15 minutes. However, for my needs, I run OctoPrint to manage and monitor my 3D printer farm. For those interested in a 2020 extrusion mounting option, check out my thingiverse designs with and without the Pi Zero Case.