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With the explosion of storage and bandwidth, web surveillance camera usage has grown at a fast pace. For years, webcams have been able to send snapshots of a subject that entered into a protected zone, and more recently, some could also capture video stored either locally or on a remote server. Often, sending photos and storing videos over FTP was inconvenient to setup and to manage. Dropcam has been built to do just that, and more, with an easy setup and a web administration. We’ve tried it for a while, and I’ll share my findings with you.


Context

If you’re not familiar with Dropcam and Dropcam echo, the main difference is that the “Dropcam Echo” can record audio and video, while the “Dropcam” only records audio.

Setup

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Using the clamp is typically more stable than the stand

You have two options use a stand or a clamp (shown above). The stand lets you put the webcam on a flat surface, while the clamp is more practical if you want to place the camera at the top of a shelve unit, or something like that. In both cases, the main issue is to make sure that the power cable (and possibly the Ethernet cable) don’t pull the camera with its own weight. I found the clamp to be just a little too small to use on many things like tables or window frames — anything thicker than 1.1″ will prove to be too thick

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The power cable or the Ethernet cable can pull pretty hard on the camera

The Dropcam setup is very easy. At first, you can connect the camera over Ethernet. From there, its internal software (a web server) should be able to communicate with Dropcam.com. To continue the setup, you will be asked to activate the webcam with a code. From there, you can log-in and see what the camera sees. You can also name it, and setup your home WiFi network so that it won’t need to be tethered in the future. Overall, this is very well done and it’s clear that we have come a long way since the early days of webcam-based surveillance with network address translation.

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The initial configuration requires en Ethernet connection as WiFi will be setup later

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The WiFi setup is simple

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Image quality

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This is actually what I see on my screen – no cropping or reduction

The image quality of the Dropcam Echo is below-average when compared to popular webcams from Microsoft or Logitech. That’s unfortunate because video surveillance would ideally provide a picture that is as nice as possible – In the real world there’s no magic “zoom in” and “enhance” functions like you see in movies. You can only do so much with what you have.

Remote surveillance

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And here's the web intergace (image has been reduced to fit)

With Dropcam, you can remotely tune into what the camera is watching and watch a live video feed. The cool thing is that it doesn’t require you to setup complicated stuff like Network Address Translation (NAT) on your router, and Dropcam handles multiple cameras as well. this works because the camera’s internal software communicates directly to the Dropcam servers to provide the data necessary to relay the video in real-time (with a few seconds lag).

Dropcam also has mobile applications for iPhone that lets iOS users check the area under surveillance on their mobile devices. At the moment, iOS is the only mobile platform that is supported natively.

Photo capture

If you prefer the more classic email notifications, it’s possible as well. Within a few seconds of “spotting something”, Dropcam will send you an email alert. The system works OK, but I think that Dropcam should change the design of their email alerts — the gigantic Dropcam logo is simply ridiculous. If I have a dropcam, and if I check it on the website, I certainly see their logo often enough.

The first thing that you would want to see is the photo (duh). The rest is secondary. The time and date are nice, but most likely, this is around the same date and time than the email itself. The quick link to the live video stream is a good idea though.

Video capture

The video capture quality could also be better: the resolution is low 320×240, but it’s good enough to be useful. Dropcam comes with a basic plan that lets you watch real-time video, including from your iPhone.

Things become really cool if you opt for the 7-days ($8.95/mo) or 30-days ($24.95/mo) of continuous video recording storage (on dropcam’s servers). Yes, you heard that right, you can access recorded video online for up to 30-days. To make things easier to check, Dropcam has added bookmarks that are created by a moving object, or a sound, so that you can quickly get to an interesting moment in the video.

Conclusion

While Dropcam doesn’t provide the best video quality that you can find, it is an efficient and relatively cheap solution for video surveillance. It is *by far* much easier and more reliable than any PC+webcam solution that I’ve seen in the past. On a PC-based system, you would also need to setup NAT and possibly a firewall: definitely not impossible, but frankly annoying. Hopefully, Dropcam will build on its existing service and provide hardware with better optics in the future. In the meantime, its cloud-based recording abilities make it a very interesting video surveillance contender.

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