The Allie camera from IC Real Tech is certainly a strange beast. I think it can best be described as a camera for security and monitoring. While not designed for outdoor use, I can see it being set up in your home for your security system or to keep an eye on your baby. It’s designed to work 24/7 and carries night-vision capabilities in addition to the much desired 360° functionality that we’re seeking. Resolution is 2048×2048 so to call it 4K would be a stretch, and yet that’s exactly what IC Real Tech says it is. To expect that the Allie would behave like a regular webcam would be a mistake.
Before you can do anything with the Allie, you must register it. Register it means creating an Allie account and, optionally, signing up for their cloud recording service. Registering a device whose only network connectivity is through wifi can be simple or it can be incredibly complex. For simple, I refer you to something like the Google Chromecast. For complex, I refer you to the Allie.
The Allie can be set up wirelessly through an iOS or Android mobile app, or via USB on MacOS or Windows. In the latter case, you have to install the provided software. The Allie, interestingly, seems to run Android and so on Windows requires special Android drivers, but that didn’t pose a problem. Once the drivers were set up, on both MacOS and Windows, a folder appeared from the device providing you with the necessary software. It should be noted that it’s unlikely that this software will be the latest version and you will have to update. Updating your software on MacOS meant using the App Store and also meant updating the Mac computer to the latest version of MacOS.
After creating your Allie account, the software tries to get the camera onto your wifi network. But doing this on a wifi network that requires secondary authentication (like a corporate network, a hotel, or even Starbucks or McDonald’s) is nearly impossible. To get around this, we had to create a wifi hotspot with a mobile device and even then the Allie had difficulty finding the right wifi network, often times showing the same network multiple times, but not the one we wanted.
Once we got around this issue, we were able to explore the mobile apps fully. The mobile apps allow you to modify the camera’s settings, including the night-vision functionality, which have some very fine grained settings which may confound those unfamiliar with such parameters. A simple on/off toggle for night-vision is not apparent, though. But you can switch it to manual, which basically does the same thing. The Allie also has a microphone which you can disable through this interface, as well as a speaker.
In addition to the standard AC cable that powers the camera, the Allie also comes with a USB cord which allows you to connect the camera to a Windows or MacOS computer. The USB cord seems expressly designed for the camera’s streaming functionality, as it cannot be made to stream through the mobile apps, only through the MacOS and Windows apps. If should be noted that we were never fully successful in getting the MacOS software to control the camera properly. We tried numerous versions and each would stall a different points. The Windows software behaved better. Upon opening the software and logging into your Allie account, the software will find the camera that’s been associated to that account. This is basically your surveillance panel. If you’re using it for home security, you can login here and see what’s going on in your home from a remote location, listen to what’s happening, and address people through the camera. But there’s also a “Connect via USB” option. Doing so opens up a streaming interface. The latest version of the software gives us streaming options for both YouTube and RTMP streaming. Choosing YouTube will prompt you to sign in with your Google account, at which point a YouTube live streaming event will be created. RTMP can be used with YouTube as well if you want to just reuse the same event every time (rather than creating a new one each time you click the button) or with Facebook, which also supports RTMP and 360 streaming.
Immediately upon starting to stream, the software gives us an error indicating “Not enough performance”, but it won’t hamper your stream. It’s not clear what causes this error since the CPU and RAM usage on the computer in question is not at 100% so the machine is not being maxed out. YouTube is content to stream your live video in 360 and allows the viewer to select up to 4K resolution. Stability of the stream is hit-or-miss. We’ve been able to stream for 4+ hours but there have also been times when the software crashed after only a few minutes. Consistency is important in this project as the eclipse is once-in-a-lifetime and we don’t need the system to crash in the middle of the event.
One last nuisance with the Allie is that it’s very difficult to mount in any kind of traditional sense. It does come with substantial hardware for mounting it to the wall or ceiling. But it does not have a screw mount for a tripod. It will stand on its own on a flat surface but not with the USB cable attached which seems counter-intuitive (if the USB cable is attached, then it can’t be wall mounted, nor will it sit flat on a table so… am I supposed to hold it up in my hand?)
Overall, the Allie camera has exceeded beyond expectations. We’re clearly using it “off label” and it’s incredibly affordable. While we would have preferred some things about this camera to have functioned differently, it’s more than capable of delivering a high resolution (higher than HD but probably not 4K) 360 video. The night-vision functionality is certainly a great bonus, although having to run the stream through an encoder rather than being able to physically network the camera itself means you probably won’t be able to stream 24/7 like some webcams. For our needs, i.e. the eclipse, the Allie may just do the job.