The world of home security and IP cameras that let you monitor your home via the internet, is not an easy one to navigate. There are tons of products out there that advertise the ability to let you remotely keep an eye on your property from afar. But the reality is that most of these products are cumbersome to use and difficult to install. Recently I myself searched for an affordable solution to use for keeping an eye on a family member’s apartment while they’re out of town. After doing some research, I settled on an IP Camera from Trendnet. I wanted a device that would let me remotely keep an eye on the property, without having to leave a computer on which would waste electricity. I also wanted something that would send me email alerts, and also have FTP capabilities for storing the footage. Setting up the Trendnet camera took over an hour of troubleshooting. So despite the relatively positive reviews that the Trendnet IP camera had gotten on Amazon, the set-up process wasn’t straightforward at all, and when all was finally said and done, the product was wonky and the camera kept disconnecting. The device just wasn’t reliable enough to trust, nor was it intuitive to use. So I pretty much gave up on the concept of IP cameras altogether.
Then a few weeks ago I spotted Dropcam – a camera and service touted as an “Online DVR”. On paper Dropcam had everything I was looking for - it was affordable, worked independently of a computer, it also offers email alerts, can work on a wireless or wired network, it has an iPhone app available, and it promised to be easy to use. After my experience with the Trendnet camera I was skeptical about Dropcam’s claim of being easy to use, but fortunately I was in for a really good surprise.
Dropcam advertises an easy two-step set-up process. They’re not kidding.
1. Plug in the Dropcam (power and router)
2. On your computer visit: http://www.dropcam.com/start
3. Follow instructions online.
All you have to do is plug their camera into your router and then log onto to the dropcam web site where you sign up for an account. I connected the Dropcam to a Verizon Wireless router on my local network and the Dropcam web site recognized it right away. Within just a few minutes of opening the Dropcam package, I was already able to log in to my new Dropcam account to see a streaming video of the room I was monitoring. The set-up process was so simple that I could have let my non-tech savvy mom do it herself and am confident that she would’ve been able to do it, even on her own.
Dropcam’s online interface is very easy to use. Just log in and you’re able to see a live video feed streaming from your Dropcam. You can control all of the Dropcam’s settings via your web browser- there is no software to install! Streaming at a QVGA 320×240 resolution at 30fps, the quality of the QVGA Dropcam’s feed is not quite high quality, as it’s hardly HD. But it does the job and is on par with most other color IP cameras out there. The camera itself has a healthy field of view and can rotate up/down/right/and left in order to get the best view possible. Your internet connection speed will most likely have an effect on the quality of your video feed too. I have been testing the Dropcam on a relatively slow DSL line, and at times the feed can get choppy, but the important details are always there. Most importantly, so far I have only experienced one brief drop-out and the connection to the feed has been stable. When sitting in front of my Dropcam and simultaneously watching my own live video feed, I did notice a few second lag, but that is to be expected, and it’s not such a significant lag that you wouldn’t be notified quickly enough in time to catch and stop someone up-to no good. The Dropcam also comes with nightvision so that you can even see objects in the dark. The nightvision isn’t exactly high quality either, but again it does the job. You can also attach multiple cameras to a single Dropcam account. This is a great way to keep an eye on multiple properties (if you’re lucky enough to have multiple properties to keep an eye on). The Dropcam interface also offers you the option to share your video feed with a friend or to make the camera a public camera which anyone can view.
You can set up your Dropcam with event notifications for motion and / or audio events. Email alerts can be sent to multiple email addresses. For audio events you can even set the camera’s microphone’s sensitivity level. It’s great to have the ability to listen in on live audio as well. However, I found that turning on event detection for audio events, even at the lowest microphone sensitivity level can be a major pain. I ended up getting frequent event alerts which were likely caused by the wind or a neighbor next door (or maybe a ghost?), and as a result I opted to disable the audio.
As for the event detection for motion events, the Dropcam works really well and within just a few seconds of motion being detected, I’ll receive an email with a screenshot of the event. Thankfully I haven’t had any break-ins, but I do end up receiving a few notification alerts throughout the day that have been “false” alerts, that are caused by the shift in light changes in the room where the Dropcam is located.
Dropcam even offers a free iPhone app that is super convenient for iPhone and iPod Touch users. For starters, the app lets you watch your video feed live, even on a 3G connection. Quality isn’t terrific, but again, it does the job. But what we really like about the app is its ability to use push notifications to alert you of event notifications. So that if for example motion is detected, I’ll get a push notification pop up on my iPhone. When I touch the push notification, I’m taken directly to my Dropcam’s live video feed in the Dropcam app. The iPhone app also lets you watch other public Dropcams. At the moment there aren’t that many public Dropcams available to watch, but that is just a bonus feature, and hardly necessary to have.
There are two Dropcams currently available, both will work over Wi-Fi or via an ethernet connection and support all of Dropcam’s Online DVR features. Both cameras also come with a mounting kit. The $199 Dropcam supports video feeds only, while the $279 Dropcam Echo also supports audio. The only down side to these cameras, is that they aren’t completely wireless. Yes, they can work on Wi-Fi, but they aren’t battery powered, so you’ll have to have an electric cable trailing from them. This makes mounting them in high places a little bit more tricky. As for Dropcam’s service plans, you’ll need to subscribe to one of Dropcam’s monthly plans to take advantage of its online DVR features and email and mobile alerts. But their Basic plan, which includes 24/7 live viewing via their website is totally free. For $8.95 a month, their Plus plan will record and store up-to seven days of footage on their servers and will also support up-to two cameras. This “Online DVR” feature is great because that means you don’t have to worry about configuring or managing an ftp server to record the footage the way so many other IP cameras require you to do. The intuitive Dropcam online supports this feature by using timeline markers to indicate when there were previous event or audio events detected. Click on one of these markers and you can jump back to that point in time to see (and/or hear) what happened. Finally, the Dropcam Pro Plan costs $24.95 a month and includes 30 days of recording. Overall, this pricing is very reasonable for what you’re getting. And most people will find that the $8.95 Go Plus plan meets their requirements. In comparison to traditional alarm systems with subscription plans, Dropcam requires no yearly contracts, and you can drop down to the Free plan whenever you want and the device will still work for live viewing.
As for competition for Dropcam, Logitech does offer some similar video security products, but in our opinion, the only truly comparable product out there right now is the consumer focused Vuezone Personal Video Network which comes with multiple cameras and has apps available for it for iPhone, Blackberry and Android. However, Vuezone does not offer motion alerts, which if you ask us makes the product 75% less useful. Putting those competing products aside, we really can’t get over what a great job the folks over at Dropcam have done in producing a well thought out, easy to use home security product that actually works – especially since they are a startup! Overall, we can’t emphasize how impressed we are with Dropcam. This has got to be the easiest to use and most efficient consumer oriented / online viewing / IP camera home security system on the market. The system is reasonably priced, it’s a cinch to set up, the interface is easy to use, the iPhone app is super convenient and the email alerts never fail – even if they can be a bit sensitive at times. If you’ve been looking for an affordable and truly easy to use way to keep an eye on your home or business remotely, look no further.
The Good: Super easy and quick set-up process, offers ability to receive motion detection alerts via email, live video feed is consistent and reliable, affordably priced, iPhone app with push notifications is super convenient for iPhone users, multiple cameras are supported, both Macs and PCs supported.
The Bad: Audio alerts can be too sensitive, nightvision is just ok, video is not HD quality but still does the job.
Update 2/6/2012: Check out our review of Dropcam HD.