Dropcam has been around since 2009, but only truly became a player in the app-enabled home security space early last year with the release of the Dropcam HD Wi-Fi video monitoring system. It separated itself from the normal cast of IP video cameras by offering an insanely easy setup process, beautiful software, and effortless mobile device integration (iOS/Android). These wireless cameras have become so popular that Dropcam is now processing more video than YouTube on a daily basis.
Building on the success of the Dropcam HD, the San Francisco-based startup is now launching the Dropcam Pro. It will not be replacing the HD, but rather joining it as ‘step-up’ version for users who want to get the absolute most out of their video monitoring setup. The Dropcam HD will now be known simply as “Dropcam.” We had the opportunity to spend an entire week with the Dropcam Pro. Keep reading to find out if it lives up to the high expectations set by its predecessor.
What does it do?
Dropcam aims to bring a fully-featured video monitoring experience to consumers by cutting out the over-technical setup process, cable running, and expensive equipment usually associated with these types of systems. The mobile apps make ‘dropping’ in on your family, pets, or empty house while you’re away on vacation an extremely simple task. Within seconds of tapping the Dropcam app you are viewing and controlling all of your cameras. They even offer a cloud-based service to add DVR-type functionality to your video streams, making it easy to jump back in time and review noted events or any specific moment in recent history. Additional features like two-way audio, 8X zoom, and a 130-degree viewing angle help it match up to other IP video cameras currently on the market.
Dropcam boasts that a new camera can be setup in just 60 seconds and our experiences absolutely confirmed this claim. In the past, the initial setup of a Dropcam HD required a Mac or PC, but the new Pro version takes advantage of Bluetooth low-energy technology to allow setup to be completed exclusively on a mobile device. This feature requires an iOS device no older than an iPhone 4S, iPad 3, or iPad mini. The first time we tested the Dropcam we went through the Mac setup process and it couldn’t have been any easier. You simply tether your new camera to your Mac or PC via USB and launch the installer app from the desktop. This setup wizard will walk you through creating a Dropcam account, connecting to Wi-Fi, and placement of the camera. The entire process really is a breeze.
The camera is not completely wireless, as it requires the unit to be plugged in at all times and does not include a battery backup for power outages or other downtime. This makes it a bit tougher to find the perfect place to setup, but it is not uncommon for these types of cameras. The actual camera is about 5 inches tall and stands on a circular base for maximum stability. The body is made of aluminum with a nice matte black finish and feels strong. It includes a plastic mounting bracket and screws in case you wish to affix the Dropcam to your ceiling or wall. The arm of the unit manually tilts to help you find the perfect viewing angle.
The Dropcam Pro features a new six-element all-glass camera lens, more sensitive microphone with double the sampling rate of the HD model, and a louder speaker. The Dropcam Pro supports up to a 1080p HD video resolution, compared to just 720p on the regular Dropcam. However, it isn’t all about the resolution here. The new larger image sensor produces amazingly smooth video even during high-action events. I had no problem identifying people entering a room, reading a nearby sign or understanding exactly what was going on at any given moment.
Both the standard and Pro models will be recieving an over-the-air software update which will bring a new enhancement and zoom features to both systems. The zoom feature is activated in the mobile app by simply pinching on an active video feed. In my experiences the zoom feature worked smoothly and was extremely responsive. Dropcam Pro will zoom up to 8x, while the regular Dropcam can only go up to 4x due to its limited hardware capability. The ‘enhance’ feature can freeze the current frame and really bring that static image into focus. Colors become more vibrant and true to real life. I could imagine this type of feature being perfect for snapping a shot of a potential burglar or license plate of a thief outdoors.
I was most impressed by the night vision mode. In a completely dark room I was still able to dial into my video feed and get a clear picture of the items in the room and the current activities. Dropcam Pro’s low-light capabilities are seven times stronger than the original Dropcam. This improvement alone may be worth the upgrade price for some. You can choose to have the camera auto detect low-light and adjust accordingly or you can manually turn night vision on or off from the setting menu. This option comes in handy in areas with extreme variances in light levels. In this situation the camera may get confused and continually turn night vision on/off, but you can combat this by overriding the auto-detect feature and manually activating night vision.
The Dropcam Pro features a 20% larger field of view over the Dropcam, which makes it easier to get an entire room in your shot. It is worth noting that the video image will have a slight fish-eye effect due to the 130 degree field of view, but it’s not too distracting and does not take away from the overall video quality.
The audio quality is adequate. In my testing it was able to pickup conversations from all around the main viewing room with ease, and even caught sounds from a bedroom down the hall (with the doors open). Even the creak of a door was registered and clearly heard on the video feed. I do not think the overall audio quality or microphone sensitivity is less than desirable but I do think there is room to make it even better in future Dropcam releases. Carrying over from the original Dropcam, the Pro version also includes two-way audio. This means that you can broadcast sounds over the camera via a built-in speaker. This is a great way to scare off burglars or ease a baby to sleep. I used this feature to play with my dog and utterly confuse her. The projected sound is clearly audible throughout the room, but don’t expect to hold a conversation with someone through the camera as it has a slight delay that will throw off speech timing.
Cloud Video Recording (CVR) and event notifications
All Dropcam purchasers can freely ‘drop in’ on their video stream whenever they’d like, but if you’d prefer to have a recording of stream for future playback you will need to subscribe to one of Dropcam’s CVR plans. They offer a couple of plan options: $9.95/month for seven days of continuous recording, $29.95/month for thirty days, and discounts for annual subscriptions and multiple cameras.
The Dropcam Pro unit we used was equipped with the CVR service and it works exactly as advertised. I setup event notifications for both movement and sound. When Dropcam detected a change in the environment it immediately alerted me via email and/or a push notification. I was then able to pop on to my Dropcam app and re-watch the segment of video that triggered the notification. If you don’t have a CVR plan you can only jump into the live feed when you receive an alert. If you are planning to use a Dropcam for any level of security I highly recommended you opt for CVR. Don’t worry, this is the only ‘add-on’ feature to speak of for the Dropcam. A brand new beta feature coming to the web player only is Activity Recognition:
Using advanced computer vision and machine learning technology, Dropcam Cloud Recording can now recognize motion patterns in your video stream and group together like activities. Customers can name these activities and customize alerts for them.
Room for improvement
The Dropcam Pro is a truly wonderful product but there are a few areas where it could improve. The CVR works seamlessly and is a breeze to setup, but I would love to see the option for users to store their video recordings locally. I understand that in some cases it is less expensive to use Dropcam’s cloud service due to upfront hardware costs and excessive electric bills, but I think this option should be available for power users who want maximum security. To be fair, when I spoke with Dropcam CEO, Greg Duffy, he mentioned that they have been discussing this feature but haven’t launched it yet. Also, the Dropcam Pro’s 130 degree field of view is superb but I still wish it had the ability to tilt/swivel the camera remotely so it can truly capture every inch of the room. Finally, I’m not sure it is realistic to expect a completely wireless 24/7 surveillance camera, but I would like for Dropcam to include some sort of battery so it can withstand short power outages. A small built-in battery would be much more convenient and versatile than positioning a bulky UPS near the camera.
Availability and pricing
The new Dropcam Pro is available beginning today from Amazon and Dropcam.com for $199 and the original Dropcam remains at $149. Dropcam expects to offer their cameras in brick and mortar retail stores within the next few months.
More on that later.
Update: As of today, 10/24, the Dropcam Pro is now available in Apple retail stores and the Apple online store.
Wrap-up and giveaway
The new Dropcam Pro is a tremendously easy to setup and offers great audio/video quality for consumers and small businesses. The addition of Bluetooth LE, dual-band Wi-Fi, and a wider field of view are all worthy updates that help make the Dropcam Pro one of the best Wi-Fi video monitoring systems available. It truly makes checking in on any location as simple as can be thanks to the iOS and Android mobile apps. There are a few areas of opportunity for Dropcam but not enough to hold it back or stop me from recommending it. It may not stack up spec-for-spec with some competitors’ offerings, but it makes up for that with a brilliantly designed web interface and mobile app.
At its core, Dropcam is a software and services company. That means Dropcam gets better over time with hassle-free automatic updates to the camera, cloud service, and apps, said Greg Duffy
That type of company outlook and vision shows their dedication to costumer satisfaction and overall value of their cameras. I can absolutely recommend the Dropcam Pro as one of the best ways to monitor your family, pets, and business.
Update: the contest has ended and the winner has been contacted.
Dropcam was nice enough to provide a brand new Dropcam Pro as a giveaway for 9to5Mac readers. To be eligible to win the camera simply retweet this post and make sure you are following 9to5Mac on Twitter so we can direct message the winner. It also wouldn’t hurt to leave a comment on this article. The winner will be chosen at random next Thursday, October 17th.