Dropcam: Socialize Your Home Security

Dropcam Pro Review poster

This post brought to you by Dropcam. All opinions are 100% mine.

People are just cooler and hipper than I once was.  The other day I was enjoying a Pixies concert, and everyone my age was also enjoying the punk-rock goodness.  But the few twenty-somethings in the crowd were recording the concert on their phones.   Why watch a postage-stamp sized video with blown audio later when the real-life version is right in front of you?  I’m guess I’m not cool enough to get it.

The same cool, hip people who want to record every facet of their life now have a new socially-connected home security camera with full CVR service that you can monitor from your phone or tablet so you never miss the life in front of you.

Did your puppy just have a new litter and you want to see when they open their eyes?  Set up a camera and rewind the footage until you see something cute.  Want to see which roommate keeps putting hand soap in the dishwasher?  What about getting an email when your kids get home from school?  All of this and more can happen with the new Dropcam Plus.

Dropcam is a cloud-based Wi-Fi video monitoring and DVR service that features free live streaming and two-way talk.  The Dropcam constantly streams video that you can view live.  If you subscribe to their CVR service (Camera Video Recorder) then you can rewind and review footage of the past 7 or 30 days.  You can even mark clips with your device and instantly share them on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Dropcam features

  • Watch your video via iOS, Android and web apps, anytime, anywhere
  • Automatic updates
    Get new features with camera, cloud and app updates
  • Location Awareness
    Turn your camera on and off based on where you are
  • Scheduling
    Turn your camera on and off at specific times of the day or week
  • Sharing
    Invite your friends to view your stream or make it public and show the world
  • Cloud Recording (optional)
    Review footage from the past week or month.  Save and share favorite clips

There are two versions of Dropcam, the Dropcam Plus and Dropcam (formerly known as Dropcam HD).  The main differences between them is that the Dropcam Plus has a higher zoom range (8x vs 4x), wider angle (130° vs 109° field of view), and Bluetooth support.  Both versions feature Wi-Fi networking, night vision mode, USB power, and record 720p HD video.


Configuring the Dropcam

The Dropcam camera is very easy to set up.  Just connect the included micro-USB cable to the camera and then to your PC (or Mac).  The camera’s status light will begin to blink yellow and then a storage device appears on your desktop that has the configuration software.  Running the software allows you to set up your camera to your Wi-Fi network and configure your Dropcam account.  For the Dropcam plus, the procedure is similar, but you can pair the camera with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth and then run the configuration.  More detailed instructions can be found here.


How much bandwidth does it use?

Since you’re uploading a constant stream of HD video, you might want to know about your bandwidth constraints.

Each Dropcam uses 0.2 Mbps of upload bandwidth and peak up to 0.5 Mbps.  So remember that if you have two Dropcams then you’ll need to reserve about 1Mbit of your upload speed.  Even if you have a fast cable or fiber internet connection you must consider the limitations of Wi-Fi routers.  Even a fast one will average about 1.5 to 2 Mbits per second, so perhaps now would be a great time to set up a second wireless access point that’s dedicated to appliances.  If you do have bandwidth problems then you can easily configure the camera to record at standard-definition resolution.

As far as camera quality goes, you can take a look at some published Dropcam feeds here  to get a feel for what they’re capable of.


Using the software

Once you have the device configured, you can view the stream from your phone, tablet, or any standard web browser.  When using a device, you can pan and zoom using familiar touch controls, such as pinching with your fingers.  With the CVR service enabled, you can use the software to rewind the feed and make clips of notable events.

 photo Dropcam-product-iPad-72dpi_zpsf543ba15.jpg

The web-enabled sofware has a simple interface that is easy to navigate.  Significant events can be marked, and if you miss something that happened, you can press the “30-second rewind” button.  If you’re reviewing past footage, you can click the “Live” button to resume the live stream.  You can even pan and zoom around while paused or watching a stream.  The tablet devices have an “enhance” feature to clear up blurry things at extreme zoom.

You can even make a clip by using the “Make Clip” button when reviewing footage.  Use the software sliders to select footage and then click Save Clip which creates a clip when you can then download or automatically post to your Facebook, Twitter or YouTube accounts


Email alerts

Get this: the Dropcam service can alert you when something happens.  You can set up email or phone alerts when there’s a change in motion, the sound changes, or if the camera goes offline.  You can even set a time schedule to ignore these things at certain times.  You can set up the software to ignore when your teenager gets home from school at 3:15 every day.


The CVR service

Much of the coolness of this device comes with its CVR service, which keeps a 7-day or 30-day buffer of what your Dropcam has been streaming.  The 7-Day service costs $9.99 per month (or $99 a year), and the 30-day service costs $299 per year.  They even offer 50% discounts for multiple Dropcams.

Having tested several security camera systems, subscribing to a cloud feed is way simpler than dealing with the maintenance, configuration, and noise of local hardware.

The video is encrypted at 2048-bit RSA, so only the people you want to see your video can access it: not even Dropcam itself can see it without your authorization.


Dropcam appears to be more than just a home monitor, but an always-on sharable social channel that anyone can join at any time from any device.

If you’re one of those people who share pictures of their breakfast every morning, then not only are you hipper than me, but you will find extreme value in being able to record, review, and share your world, no matter where you are.

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Alan is a web architect, stand-up comedian, and your friendly neighborhood Grammar Nazi. You can stalk him on the Interwebs via Google+, Facebook and follow his ass on Twitter @ocmodshop.