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My Take – Using your mobile camera as a webcam

A couple of weeks back Chris Kranky offered a post where he explored this topic in some detail. It’s a good idea. Well worth exploring since common, and especially built-in webcams, are so bad. He tried a handful of iOS and Android apps on various handsets. It was a good experimental series.

I’d like to add a slightly different take, using a couple of additional apps that have crossed my path. In particular, I’d like to highlight NDI as a technology that’s very useful in this application.

What is NDI?

According to Newtek:

“NDI® (Network Device Interface) is a low latency IP video protocol developed especially for professional live video production, and is supported by an extensive list of broadcast systems from many manufacturers.”

NDI Camera

Newtek has offered two different NDI Camera apps. The original (no longer offered) which I bought for around $20, leverages full-bandwidth NDI. Full-bandwidth NDI offers the best image quality, and lowest latency, but requires massive bandwidth. It can work very well used when on a robust Wi-Fi network.

NDI Camera Julio

NDI-HX Camera

The newer version of their camera app is called NDI HX Camera (also for iOS) is now offered for $20. It supports the more compressed form of NDI, which makes it an easier load for the wireless network. This also allows for very high-resolution streams.

NDI HX Camera Julio

Basic Features

  • Easy to use
  • Front/rear camera selection
  • Auto Focus, AF Lock, or tap to focus
  • Auto Exposure, AE Lock
  • Manual exposure compensation
  • Light on/off (on supporting devices)
  • Audio mute
  • Optional grid overlay

Advanced Features

  • HI Bandwidth (up to 4K), medium (up to 1080p) and standard (640×480) modes
  • Simple pinch zooming
  • Automatic NDI device recognition
  • Connection notification and tally (on air/preview) displays

At The Computer

These mobile camera applications do not work with the Zoom mobile client directly. They merely make it possible to use the mobile camera as the video source for your laptop or desktop Zoom client. Webex or whatever else.

On the host computer the NDI stream is received using Newtek’s Webcam Input application, which is part of the free NDI Tools bundle. This program, which runs in the background, allows you to discover the NDI streams locally available and select one to be a virtual webcam in any program that uses a traditional UVC compliant webcam.

webcam input 1 copy

As well as selected the NDI source, Webcam Input allows you to set the resolution automatically or explicitly set it to 4K, 1080P or 720P.

The Studio Monitor application, also part of the NDI Tools bundle, is a handy way to be able to see any NDI streams available on your network.

Studio Monitor Julio copy

To create the screen shot below I used NDI HX Camera on my Pixel 4, with Webcam Input used to collect the stream for use in Jitsi Meet.

NDI Camera Julio Jitsi Meet

Wired vs Wi-Fi

Reliable bandwidth is important. Wi-Fi is not always cooperative in this regard. Chasing reliability, I’ve found that it can be very helpful to put my mobile phone on the wired network. I use the USB-C to A adapter that came with my Pixel 4 to connect a USB-Ethernet adapter. Recent releases of Android will automatically use the wired connection. This ensures no dropped frames or pauses in the video stream.

Close

Most webcams, especially those built into laptops, are simply terrible. Even those from Logitech and the like leave something to be desired. The camera in your mobile phone is typically much better. Further, the ability to position the camera separately from your computer offers the opportunity to compose a better shot.

Looking good. It’s worth the effort. It will set you apart from the rest.

P.S. – The dog’s name is Julio. He’s a 4-year-old Dogo Argentino / Irish Setter mix. You can follow him on Instagram.

P.P.S. – Expect this kind of activity, which is screen-on and CPU intensive, to be hard on mobile phone battery life.

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