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What is the Difference between a Webcam and an IP Camera?

A lot of people are confused about the difference between webcams and IP cams. If you’re one of them, here’s a quick tutorial.

Both webcams and IP cameras are technically “webcams” because both broadcast live video over the internet.

Typical webcam

Typical webcam

However, as the terms have come to be used, “webcam” refers to those cameras that require a computer in order to connect to the internet.

They may be built into the computer itself (e.g., a laptop), or connected by a USB cable to a separate computer. You can even get wireless webcams now. But they still need the computer in order to broadcast.

Webcams are seen by the internet as an extension of a computer, much like a mouse or a keyboard. Because webcams rely on a computer to connect to the internet, they must have a dedicated computer that is turned on at all times in order to function.


Samsung SNH-1011 IP SmartCam

Samsung SNH-1011 IP SmartCam

IP Cameras

IP cameras, on the other hand, connect to the internet themselves. They actually get their own IP (internet protocol) address—hence the name. They connect using either an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Once they are set up, they don’t require a computer.

Find out about video analytics software that supercharges IP cameras.



Main Differences

Here are the main differences between webcams and IP cams:




Requires computer to access internet? No.  Independently connects to internet Yes.  Needs a dedicated computer (turned “on”)
Picture quality Better optics, resolution, frame rates Even HD webcams don’t deliver the kind of picture you’ll get from a good high resolution IP cam.  Slower frame rates (video can be choppy)
Memory/storage Some have built in memory for video storage Needs another storage solution, e.g., computer hard drive, or cloud (you have to upload from hard drive to cloud services manually)
Best applications More robust remote monitoring applications (e.g., watching the nanny from work, keeping an eye on home when you’re on vacation, etc.) Social media applications (e.g., Skype, web chats, video conferences)
Positioning Easier to position and mount for surveillance Have you ever tried to hang a laptop from the ceiling?  Many webcams are built for mounting on monitors, have cables, and don’t lend themselves to mounting


Which Should You Use?

It depends on what you want to use the camera for. If you want to use it for web chats and social media applications, a webcam should be fine. If you want to use it for surveillance or monitoring, you should consider an IP cam. They tend to cost a bit more, but the quality of the picture and other benefits are worth it.

If you want to use a webcam as a nanny cam, first consider whether there is anything on the computer that you don’t want the nanny—or the kids—to have access to, because you’ll have to leave the computer on. Also think about how you’re going to position it if it is built in to the computer or connected by a cable.

IP Cameras for Surveillance

If your goal is monitoring or surveillance, you’ll need to think about storage options and remote access.


Local: Some IP cams have local storage, and you can often buy cards to increase the memory. However, they have to be erased manually or they fill up quickly and then won’t record. You can keep a DVR on site and let the video reside there, but you still have to maintain it, and if it is damaged or stolen, you lose your video.

Cloud: There are some cloud options, with varying price tags. Do some research and see if there is anything that suits your needs. Consider whether you will have to keep uploading the video to the storage site yourself, and deleting it.

Remote Access:

Do you want to be able to see your camera’s live feed or recorded video from wherever you are? There are apps out there that can do that. Again, with varying price tags and results.

Do you want the camera to alert you to suspicious or important activity? Some have basic motion detection and will send real-time alerts, but beware—this can drive you crazy! (See our blog post on some of the problems with basic motion detection.)

Night Vision:

Do you need night vision? Not all cams work in low-light conditions.


The cost of both webcams and IP cams has come down a lot in recent years. IP cameras tend to cost a bit more than webcams. The difference in performance and convenience is worth the slightly higher cost, in our opinion.

If you already have a webcam and want to use that, hook it up to your computer, download some software that lets you view the live feed and meets your other requirements (e.g., some apps let you view remotely, some help you save to the cloud, etc.), set aside a computer or hard drive to save the video to, or find an inexpensive cloud storage solution where you can upload your video.

An Easier Way

If that all sounds like a lot of work, for $59 you can power you Samsung IP SmartCam with iWatchLife for a year (that’s our Starter plan).

  • View your live and recorded video from anywhere on your Android or iOS handheld device or computer.
  • Get 15 days of cloud storage—video can’t be stolen or damaged, and will be automatically deleted for you.
  • Take advantage of Activity Recognition—draw targeted zones in your camera’s field of view, and receive real-time notifications when anything happens in those zones.
  • Enjoy reduced false alerts (Activity Recognition filters out unimportant events).
  • Add extra cameras to your account at any time without paying higher service fees.

We offer a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

Interested? Browse our website today.

Helpful Links:

IP Camera Training: How an IP camera system works

YouTube Video: What’s the difference between a webcam and an IP camera?

How to turn a PC or laptop webcam into a security system for free


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Interested in a video analytics and cloud storage solution for your hardware? Give us a call at 1-877-217-7666 or drop us a line at

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