Old Phone? New Webcam

I, like many of you, have been working remotely from home. This has without a doubt been the best thing that’s happened to me (career wise) in a long time. While I remain resolute that I want to work from home forever, the transition hasn’t been without its difficulties. The biggest source of friction, you ask? Video conferencing.

As part of my alternative lifestyle, I run a “non-standard” OS. In the past that meant that popular commercial software wouldn’t have been available, but the times have changed and Zoom (along with its many alternatives) have been available across pretty much every OS. Where I get myself into trouble is riding the bleeding edge: my display protocol and window manager setup do not always play nicely with video conferencing software. Share my current tab in a web browser? Dicey. Share my entire screen? Forget about it.

I’m still working out the kinks in the OS department; I could make things easier by using better supported software, say the excellent Ubuntu (or its derivatives) and call it a day. Instead, I enjoy the suffering.

Second and arguably bigger problem, is that I don’t have a webcam. Buying one is also out of the question until prices return to relative normal (stock in my area through Amazon or local retailers is still non-existent).

I shuffled through a few junk drawers until I found my solution: an old iPhone 6! Vindication that I’m not a hoarder and of course all these “collectables” are going to be worth something someday. Now, to connect the video feed to my computer. There’s a beta for Camo an exciting bit of MacOS software to connect your phone to your Mac. Unfortunately, that’s not helpful to me on Linux. It did get the wheels spinning though...

Enter: Iriun Webcam.

It has client’s for both iPhone and Android, as well as software for Windows, Mac and Linux! If you run Ubuntu (remember I mentioned earlier I should be running that as my OS...) it’s a deb package away. For users of less well tested software, your milage will vary.

Once you have it setup, it works exactly how you’d expect. Make sure your computer and phone are on the same network, run the respective client software on each device and marvel as you’re able to use a phone which only moments ago was living in a dusty old drawer as a better webcam than any you could buy (even if prices weren’t exorbinate)!

Highly recommended. Now, if only I could solve the first set of video conferencing issues... I suppose that I better look in the mirror if I plan on actually getting any work done.


N.b.: This is an aside for anyone running an Arch-based distribution. First, Iriun Webcam is available via the AUR. It bundles a DKMS module called v4l2loopback which creates a video loopback device (effectively a pretend camera) that Iriun Webcam uses to trick the OS into accepting the video feed from. From time to time, you may see an error that says there was a problem with the module not being initialized and a recommendation for you to do the following (please look up what these commands do before blindly pasting them into your terminal!!!):

modprobe v4l2loopback exclusive_caps=1

If after doing this, you’re still getting the error from Iriun Webcam, here’s the fix (at least for my Arch-based system, again, buyer beware, ymmv, etc.):

modprobe v4l2loopback exclusive_caps=1 card_label="Iriun Webcam"

It turns out that according to the author behind v4l2loopback, that Iriun Webcam expecting a loopback device with the exact label “Iriun Webcam”. Updating your software may remove this label, so adding it back should fix everything.

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