The most hackneyed and clichéd question that people often ask me is- What is the best webcam for streaming? It doesn’t take long enough for me to reply with an essential banality- There are no easy answers. Truth is that cameras are equipped with cutting edge technology. But that’s not the big story. The big story is that they vary in price, quality, specifications and other details. The apocryphal stories of people making certain live streaming camera commitments have little truth. Selection of the right camera is just a procession. The following questions should be answered with alacrity:
- What is my budget?
- Do I want to stream only live?
- Can the camera get along with my laptop/desktop hardware?
- What are the flexibility options to be considered?
Answer all the questions mentioned above. Let us now discuss the types of cameras for live streaming:
- IP Cameras
- Professional Quality cameras
Webcams for Streaming:
The word ‘Webcam’ stands for a web camera. Webcams are digital cameras capable of sending live pictures from one location (where it is connected) to another location via internet. Latest desktops and laptops are configured with a built-in camera. Certain desktops do not have a built-in camera. Some webcams can be connected to the computer via USB or via Wi-Fi. Be informed that webcams do not have their own internet addresses. For all intents and purposes, a laptop/desktop computer is mandatory to connect to a network. In the absence of a computer, webcams cannot process images.
Advantages are manifold. Simplicity is too strong an advantage to be not quoted. Ease of use is yet another plus point. You do not require any dedicated capture cards to control the functionality of webcams. Also, external power sources are not required. Webcams are affordable. For 100$, a good quality webcam can be obtained. As far as software is concerned, no additional software is required for the smooth functioning of webcams. It is assumed that you have all the software required to stream video content.
People often ask me this question- Can webcams generate high-quality images? No, they do not generate high-quality images. Moreover, they do not have any dedicated storage space to store images. Hence, they cannot be used as separate entities. They have to be used in liaison with computers.
Most of the webcams come with built-in microphones. However, the sound quality may not be professional. If you are looking for professional sound quality, a separate mic and sound channel are necessary. Webcams do not have sophisticated controls. As a result, features such as variable focus and zoom capability are absent. Another important feature that enables users to customize images is also absent. Well, the importance of such features depends on the purpose of the webcam. If you are looking to address a conference or deliver a lecture, a webcam with normal specifications should suffice. If you are looking for professional quality video and audio, do consider other options as well.
Before delving into further details, here is a quick rundown on what other features a typical webcam possesses:
- Sensors: Sensors are capable of detecting movements. The moment they detect any movement, they will start recording.
- Microphone: Microphone is an electrical equipment which is capable of converting sound into electrical signals.
- Light: Light lets you know if the camera is in use or not.
IP Cameras for live Streaming:
As the name suggests, an IP camera has an IP address associated with it. This clearly implies that IP cameras have the ability to connect to the internet. They are independent of computers. Advantages are many. Versatility is not hyperbole. Thanks to POE (Power over Ethernet) capacity, it is easy to run IP cameras for 24 hours round-the-clock. If you are looking for live video streaming, IP cameras are ideal.
IP cameras are costlier than webcams. A good IP camera can cost you around $800 or more. Prices vary. IP cameras have sophisticated and advanced specifications. The protocols that these cameras use are not suitable for live streaming. Hence, you require an encoder to facilitate IP camera live streaming. Video encoders convert videos in one format to another format.
IP cameras offer better flexibility. Their location is relative to the location of computers. In many aspects, IP cameras are better than webcams.
Professional Quality Cameras:
Both HDMI and SDI cameras are capable of pulling off miraculous live video streams. HDMI and SDI cameras are costlier than IP cameras. And yes, a separate capture card is required to set the live streaming tone. Capture cards are nothing but devices which are capable of converting video signals into usable formats. Capture cards are of two types-
- Internal capture cards
- External capture cards
Internal capture cards offer advanced functions and are cheaper than external capture cards. External capture cards are plug-and-play devices. Not all capture cards can work with analog video signals. Some capture cards work with digital video signals. Some cards are designed to work with both analog and digital video signals. Before making any purchases, it is important to check the particulars and specifications of the card. Professional SDI camera is the best camera for live streaming.
In professional HDMI and SDI cameras, you can expect utmost flexibility. Apart from changing and upgrading the lenses, you can do a lot of things such as widening the focus angle, you can change zoom and produce polished productions. Portability is good but not as great as IP cameras or webcams. HDMI and SDI cameras are heavier than IP and webcams. Let me not lie- Professional cameras aren’t that easy to handle. You should have prior experience and a fair bit of expertise to produce professional quality live video streams by using professional cameras. Unless and until you have a good learning curve, ‘ease of use’ doesn’t go hand-in-hand with versatility.
Again, professional HDMI and SDI cameras are not gift wrapped entities. They cost you around $800 or perhaps more than a thousand dollars. Be ready to incur additional expenses for a super quality capture card.
If you have any doubts or concerns, feel free to drop a line or two in the comments section. I will be happy to help you. Keep watching this space for insights on live streaming and cameras for live streaming. My best wishes are with you and your live streaming venture. Cheers!