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FAQ: Can I View My IP Camera With My Phone?

August 25th, 2011 by Kevin Bowyer

With the improvements to mobile phone hardware and the reduction in prices for bandwidth, it’s no wonder that many people are trying to integrate their phones with their security systems. The benefits are great; while away from home you can immediately log into your cameras and ensure that nothing is wrong.

However, despite the fact that modern phones are powerful, they are not fully fledged computers, meaning that there are limitations which can prevent video or images from being displayed.

We’ve taken a look at some of the main IP camera manufacturers to see how their cameras cope with mobile viewing, and explore any limitations found.

Basics

Firstly, in order to view cameras with a mobile phone, there must be a connection to the camera. If you are trying to view from the same location you should use a local Wi-Fi link, if available. If you are trying to connect remotely or there is no wireless link available, the camera needs to be connected to an Internet router.

On top of this, the camera must be configured to allow remote access. Most internet routers will prevent external access by default so will need to be configured for the task. You should also ensure that your camera has a secure username and password if you are connecting it to the internet. Remember: if you can access the camera, others will be able to too.

If you’re unsure about any of the above details, try to access the camera from a friend’s internet connection. If you can see live footage from the camera then a mobile phone should be able to access the video feed as well.

Testing

We’re testing access with two mobile phones, an Apple iPhone 3 and a ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) running Android 2.2. Each will be using their default web browsers. All tests have been performed on a local Wi-Fi link, but the result will be the same over a 3G connection (albeit with slower image rates).

Camera models

We expected Axis to do well here. Axis has always provided multiple options for displaying video footage, such as Java, server push and ActiveX components. Both Java and ActiveX will not be supported on mobile phones so we have used server push. The camera we used for testing was an Axis P3343.

Both phones logged in successfully with the webpage displayed as we expected. The iPhone immediately displayed images from the camera but the Android would not, displaying a loading symbol in the task bar.

The footage on the iPhone is quite good. Images will refresh at around 1 fps. There is also a delay of around 1-2 seconds, but this is perfectly usable.

In an effort to gain access to footage, we installed a non-standard browser on the Android phone. We found that by installing a third-party browser such as Opera, we could view footage in a similar fashion to the iPhone.

The camera settings pages were all easily accessible from both devices, and settings easily amended.

We tested the live view of a Mobotix M24M-SEC, though with the user interface of all Mobotix cameras being almost identical, the experience will be similar with all IP cameras in the range. Both phones logged in and immediately started displaying video at full 3 MP resolution. At this resolution, the image rate was around 1 image every 2 seconds.

With the settings being largely text or drop-down based, configuration changes can be made easily. One area where the phones are let down is configuration of view-based settings such as exposure and motion detection windows. Creating such windows requires keyboard inputs on the live view page which cannot be replicated on a mobile device.

On-camera recording can also be accessed, though the functionality is limited. Similarly to browsing with a PC-based browser other than Internet Explorer, video clips recorded by Mobotix appear as single images.

We’ve split the Panasonic range into three categories.

Panasonic BL range

Panasonic has for a long time pushed its cameras’ capabilities when it comes to mobile phone viewing. IP cameras as far back as the BL-C10 have featured a dedicated mobile phone viewer.

The dedicated mobile phone viewer (accessed by entering /mobile after the IP address) is limited, having been designed for early internet-enabled phones. The viewer provides a static image which can be refreshed on command. For pan/tilt cameras, there are links to move the camera’s view. The benefits to this page are that bandwidth requirements are very low, so it is ideal for pay-as-you-go contracts, and as it is very basic, almost all internet-enabled phones can view it. Both phones displayed this page perfectly.

We then tested the main live view page as would be accessed by a PC. Once again the iPhone streams images perfectly whereas the Android default browser does not, requiring an app such as Opera in order to run.

One thing to note is that audio will not be accessible. Audio is handled on Panasonic IP cameras by ActiveX, which is not currently available on the devices we tested.

Panasonic BB range

Panasonic’s BB and BL ranges are very similar, so we did not expect any differences between the two. We tested a BB-HCM735, the outdoor version of the BB-HCM715. The results were identical to that of the BL range.

Panasonic i-Pro

Unfortunately, Panasonic’s i-Pro range do not fare as well as the BL/BB ranges. The live view supports Internet Explorer only. Without this you will have no access whatsoever, making mobile viewing impossible.

UPDATE: With Panasonic’s replacement cameras for the best-selling BB-range having i-Pro firmware, we think this is a disappointing backwards step for panasonic. Unless they have some very quick, very good firmware updates for these repalcement cameras ready to go, we think they will be losing a significant part of their market share over the coming months.

We tested the 3.1 MP Sarix IX30DN camera and found that it worked perfectly with the default browser on both phones. Camera settings are easily accessed with no loss of functionality. In essence, using a phone to access one of these devices is identical to using a PC.

Sony has made leaps and bounds with regards to its web interfaces in recent years. Whereas older camera models would require Internet Explorer in a similar way to the i-Pro range, the new range of cameras do not.

Viewing was tested with a Sony SNC-CH120 camera. The iPhone worked perfectly from the start. Surprisingly, the Android phone’s default browser also displayed footage immediately. The footage on both cameras was relatively quick, with video shown at around 2 fps.

On both, the settings pages appear as they should. The only limitations we found are the motion detection settings. These settings require ActiveX and so must be controlled by Internet Explorer and cannot be changed on the devices we tested.

We tested the view of a Vivotek FD7141, the outdoor-ready camera with day/night switching and integrated infrared LEDs.

As with the other cameras, the iPhone worked immediately. The delay encountered was around a second and we pulled a frame rate of around 1 fps. The stream must be set to MPEG, as the MPEG-4 viewer uses QuickTime which isn’t supported. All settings that are available outside of Internet Explorer are configurable and the camera is perfectly usable.

As for Android, we encountered an issue we didn’t expect. Similar to the other cameras, the default browser would not display an image. We then tried Opera mobile, only to find a message advising us to Use Firefox, Mozilla or Netscape. At present, Firefox is not supported on the phone we tried and the other browsers we tested were similar to the default browser and would not display an image. There is an RTSP viewer designed for mobile phones, but we had also had trouble setting this up and were unable to pull a stream.

Similarly to Panasonic, we expected Y-cam cameras to do well with regards to mobile phone access. In addition to an integrated mobile viewer similar to that of Panasonic (accessed by adding /mobile after the IP address), Y-cam is the only manufacturer in this list to have released a viewing app specifically for mobile phone hardware.

The MultiLive monitoring application is available free of charge for download for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices, providing a quick and easy way to view your cameras. With the iPhone version of the software, Y-cam is also the first in this list to provide audio footage as well as video.

We first tested the basic web browser interface on both cameras. The iPhone worked perfectly with video at a rate of around 1 fps. The Android again would not show footage on the default browser, instead requiring a third-party browser to view footage.

Next, we tried the MultiLive app. Installation and configuration on both platforms was straightforward. Both versions of the software connected successfully and supplied live images. The iPhone version seemed a little slower than the Android, providing frame rates of around 1 fps compared with around 3 fps.

The audio capabilities available on the iPhone version were somewhat less impressive. We managed to get audio streaming, but even over a LAN connection there were problems. Both video and audio streams slowed down massively, making them all but useless. We tried adjusting the stream settings in the camera to compensate for this, but no setting we made seemed to solve the issue.

It’s a shame as this is a desirable feature for many users. We suspect that Y-cam will resolve this soon so that both video and audio will work together at a useful rate.

Why are there issues with the Android browser?

You’ll see from the above cameras that the built-in browser on Android phones does not stand up well. The problem is down to the way cameras stream images. Instead of streaming a single JPEG image at a time, the cameras send a stream of continuous JPEG images. Most browsers will understand this and will either display them one after another or fail gracefully, showing only the first image.

The Android browser instead treats the stream as a single file, downloading the entire file before displaying it. However, due to the fact that the file never ends, the image is not displayed.

The easiest option to circumvent this issue is to download a third-party browser. Many such as Opera or Firefox are available free of charge and will provide similar functionality to that of the iPhone.

Results

The current state of IP camera software and mobile phone hardware mean that viewing a camera on the road is now very easy. With the iPhone, setup and use for almost all cameras is relatively simple. Android owners have a little more adjusting to do, but again, almost all IP cameras are now supported.

The Y-cam MultiLive app is also highly useful at setting a precedent for providing a quick and reliable way to browse cameras, and we hope that other manufacturers follow suit and release their own applications.

Alternatives

There are some mobile internet alternatives available should you need greater functionality from your camera.

3G USB sticks

This allows your computer/laptop to access the internet by inserting a SIM card into a USB dongle.

Tethering

Tethering allows a mobile phone to be used as an internet modem, allowing a computer to browse the internet. Most modern phones have this ability, though it may be an optional upgrade from your phone provider.

Netbooks

Many new netbooks now offer internet connections via 3G networks. Instead of inserting an external device, the SIM card is slotted directly into the netbook.

4 Responses to “FAQ: Can I View My IP Camera With My Phone?”

  1. Monte Horn says:

    I can access my IP cameras with my droid when I'm on my home network wifi, but not when I'm away from home and I'm on 3g. What settings do I need to change to fix this? Thanks much.

  2. @Monte:

    Most 3G ISPs prevent remote access to network devices. I would check with your ISP to ensure access is possible. See the following blog post:

    http://www.networkwebcams.com/ip-camera-learning-center/2010/02/16/howto-ip-camera-remote-access/

  3. Aaron says:

    Current Panasonic i-Pro cameras, including the BB camera replacements and new BL cameras all have built in smartphone access. Simple add /cam after the address of the camera. This has been tested with iPod, iPad, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry browsers.

    Please make sure the firmware is up to date if you do not have the /cam function in the H.264 i-Pro cameras.

  4. Aardvark says:

    Can anyone help me with getting my iPhone 6 plus to view my IP camera? I have a Wifi IP Hi-Res Day – Night Hidden camera and using my Windows 8.1 laptop I can easily view the camera at home and when I'm away. Unfortunately I cannot get my iPhone 6 plus to work and view the live video through the camera. I believe it has to do with not being able to use ActiveX on my iPhone 6 plus. I've tried many apps to view my camera using the iPhone but nothing has worked so far. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!