An Internet Protocol camera, or IP camera, is a type of digital video camera that receives control data and sends image data via the Internet. They are commonly used for surveillance. Unlike analog closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, they require no local recording device, but only a local area network. Most IP cameras are webcams, but the term IP camera or netcam usually applies only to those used for surveillance that can be directly accessed over a network connection.
A selection of IP cameras
|Invented by||Axis Communications|
|First product||Axis Neteye 200|
|Type||Centralized or Decentralized|
|Slots||SD Card (optional)|
|Ports||Ethernet, Audio, I/O block|
|Language||ONVIF and PSIA|
Some IP cameras require support of a central network video recorder (NVR) to handle the recording, video and alarm management. Others are able to operate in a decentralized manner with no NVR needed, as the camera is able to record directly to any local or remote storage media. The first centralized IP camera was Axis Neteye 200, released in 1996 by Axis Communications.
The first centralized IP camera, the Axis Neteye 200, was released in 1996 by Axis Communications and was developed by the team of Martin Gren and Carl-Axel Alm. Though promoted based on its direct accessibility from anywhere with an internet connection, the camera couldn't stream real-time motion video, but was limited to a snapshot image each time the camera was accessed. At the time of launch, it was considered incapable of operating as a motion camera due to what was, at the time, "enormous" bandwidth requirements. Thus it was aimed primarily at the tourism industry. The Axis Neteye 200 was not intended to replace traditional analogue CCTV systems, given that its capability was limited to just one frame per second in CIF, or one every 17 seconds in 4CIF resolution, with a maximum resolution quality of 0.1MP (352x288). Axis used a custom proprietary web server named OSYS, yet by the summer of 1998, it had started porting the camera software to Linux. Axis also released documentation for its low-level application programming interface (API) called VAPIX, which builds on the open standards of HTTP and real time streaming protocol (RTSP). This open architecture was intended to encourage third-party software manufacturers to develop compatible management and recording software.
The first decentralized IP camera was released in 1999 by Mobotix. The camera's Linux system contained video, alarm, and recording management functions. The first IP camera with onboard video content analytics (VCA) was released in 2005 by Intellio. This camera was able to detect a number of different events, such as if an object was stolen, a human crossed a line, a human entered a predefined zone, or if a car moved in the wrong direction.
Previous generations of analog CCTV cameras use established broadcast television formats (e.g. Common Intermediate Format (CIF), NTSC, PAL, and SECAM). Since 2000, there has been a shift in the consumer TV business towards high-definition (HD) resolutions (e.g. 1080P (Full-HD), 4K resolution (Ultra-HD) and 16:9 widescreen format).
IP cameras may differ from one another in resolution, features, video encoding schemes, available network protocols, and the API for video management software. IP cameras are available at resolutions from 0.3 (VGA resolution) to 29 megapixels.
To address IP video surveillance standardization issues, two industry groups formed in 2008: the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA). PSIA was founded by 20 member companies including Honeywell, GE Security, and Cisco. ONVIF was founded by Axis Communications, Bosch and Sony. Each group now has numerous additional members. Cameras and recording hardware that operate under the same standard can work with each other.
IP cameras differ from previous generation analog cameras that transmitted video signals as a voltage, whereas IP cameras send images digitally using the transmission and security features of the TCP/IP protocol. Advantages to this approach include:
- Two-way audio via a single network cable allows users to listen to and speak to the subject of the video (e.g., a clerk assisting a customer through step-by-step instructions)
- Use of a Wi-Fi or wireless network
- Distributed artificial intelligence (DAI)—as the camera can contain video analytics that analyze images
- Secure data transmission through encryption and authentication methods such as WPA or WPA2, TKIP or AES
- Remote accessibility that lets users view live video from any device with sufficient access privileges
- Power over Ethernet (PoE) to supply power through the ethernet cable and operate without a dedicated power supply
- Better image Resolution, typically four times the resolution of an analog camera
- Privacy and portrait rights infringement
- Average higher purchase cost per camera
- Security can be compromised by insecure credentials, given that the camera can be accessed independently of a video recorder
- Public internet connection video can be complicated to set up, and may require either a Static IP Address or a Dynamic DNS, though some IP cameras include a built-in dynamic DNS or using the peer-to-peer (P2P) network.
- Data storage can be a concern with IP Cameras, requiring large hard drives.
As with a CCTV/DVR system, if the video is transmitted over the public internet rather than a private network or intranet, the system potentially becomes open to a wider audience including hackers. Criminals can hack into a CCTV system to disable or manipulate them or observe security measures and personnel, thereby facilitating criminal acts and rendering the surveillance counterproductive. This can be counteracted by ensuring the network and device is secured and staying informed on new security methods. In 2012 users of 4chan hacked into thousands of streaming personal IP cameras by exploiting a vulnerability in some models of Trendnet home security cameras. In 2014 it was reported that a site indexed 73,011 locations worldwide with security cameras that were unprotected by using default usernames and passwords.
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