Hands On: Dropcam HD Wireless Monitoring Camera
We spy our little eye on this affordable WiFi-based security solution.
Installing home security can be kind of a pricey endeavor, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Over the years, there have been a variety of webcams, allowing users to get a glimpse of their home from anywhere there’s a web connection. Very few can claim to be as easy (or as cheap) as the Dropcam HD.
The Dropcam HD is a new web camera that promises 720p H.264 video using AES 256-bit encryption, as well as automated night vision and email alerts. All of those goodies come with the camera’s $149 hardware price. If you don’t find yourself peeking in every three seconds (or don’t want to), Dropcam also offers a cloud-based storage. For $9.95 per month, the Plus plan provides 7 days of storage, with a Pro version offering 30 days’ worth of full-motion video for $29.95.
The Dropcam HD has an installation that’s as easy as advertised. The camera itself is tiny—not so small that it’s easy to hide, though. That said, it shouldn’t take up too much space, making it easy to place and move around, as needed. It also offers mounting options, for a fixed solution.
Before you start placing and staring, though, you’ll need to get the camera on your home network. The Dropcam HD doesn’t offer any type of hardwired Ethernet setup, which is just fine. It’s a WiFi camera, making it even easier to place and move about. All of the necessary software is stored on the actual camera. Hook it to a Mac or PC with the included USB cable, and the camera’s yellow light will flash and launch setup software.
Setup involves creating a Dropcam account, with a user name, password and email address. You’ll also need to supply your WiFi password, assuming you have one of those (right?). Once those “chores” are complete, all that’s left is placing the Dropcam wherever you want it. It does need to be near an outlet, since the Dropcam HD doesn’t have any type of battery power. Otherwise, the world (or the home) is pretty much your oyster.
It’s important to note that the Dropcam HD offers two viewing options. Users can peek through a computer or the free Dropcam app, which is available for iPhone and Android devices. Both were very easy to use, and offered access to alerts and two-way audio. For panning and some of the tweaks, however, you’ll need the computer.
I started with the Dropcam HD in my 5-year-old’s room. Once bedtime passes, it always sounds like major construction is going on up there, so it was nice to get a glimpse at just what the heck was going on. The Dropcam HD does provide a very nice peek, but not exactly the type of quality you’d expect with something labeled “HD.” I could see my kid with his devil eyes from the night vision, but sometimes it was hard to make out exactly which toys he was playing with. That said, I did know he wasn’t sleeping, and that was the point.
Actual video is pretty seamless, with a few seconds of delay. The on-screen interface provided a decent view of his loft bed, with panning features offering a slightly more localized view. There are no zooming or tilting features, so overall, what you see is pretty much what you get. In other words, if he plans to get up and do any of the aforementioned construction, I’m not actually going to be able to see it.
What’s more important, though: Seeing or supervising? The Dropcam HD offers a 2-way audio feature, which means I could instruct my son to lay down or wish him a final goodnight. On the receiving end, the Dropcam HD sounds pretty good. Listening in, however, he sounded a lot like one of the adults on the Peanuts cartoons (“wah-wah-wah-wah”). I could make out his words here and there, but it was pretty muffled overall.
Moving the camera to the living room offered a slightly wider image, but not by much. The couch was pretty much the main focus, with no options to go for a wider shot. Despite being in an area that gets more natural (and not-so-natural) light, the Dropcam HD still performed about the same as upstairs. During daylight hours, the dog laying on the couch looked fine. At night, the dog laying on the couch looked like a possum on the couch. It was hard to make out what type of animal was there, but there was something.
Alerts worked fairly well for the most part. I knew when the dog was jumping on the couch and jumping off. Once in a while, I’d get an email that something was going on in my son’s room when he wasn’t even on that floor. It could have been ghosts, but we live in sort of a windy area, so I’ll blame it on that. Just don’t jump to freak out if you get a random alert. It doesn’t always mean that burglars are afoot.
So what type of price do you want to put on security? If it’s not that much, think about getting the Dropcam HD. The company should really consider dropping that HD part, because it would make this seem like such a better product. The image is decent, but isn’t going to rival your TV. That said, for $149, it’s a nice solution for those looking for a single-room solution that’s easy to set up and use.
Want to get a little peek at the quality of images that were caught on camera? Check out the Dropcam HD Review slideshow.
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