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When we hear hype that something is the “easiest” thing in the world to set up, we usually put on our hip waders and prepare to slog through a waist-high pile of dung, because 19 times out of 20, it's usually a load of crap.
Well, believe us when we say that the Dropcam HD is the easiest Internet camera we’ve ever set up. We mean it. To set up the Dropcam HD, you just plug the camera into your PC via USB. The setup files are stored in flash, which kicks up a configuration utility. This lets you create an account with Dropcam and connect the device to a Wi-Fi network. Once you’ve done that, you unplug the Dropcam HD, move it to the area you want to monitor, and plug it in via the included 2-amp wall wart. That’s it; you’re done and streaming 720p video to the Internet in about two minutes flat. The lens is a wide 107 degrees, which is enough to let you see most of a room. The video quality is good, and while certainly far better than QVGA surveillance cams, the compression is heavy enough that you won’t be picking out license plates with it.
The Dropcam can be removed from the unique mount, if needed.
The video is available anywhere you have a Flash-enabled browser, and the company offers free iOS and Android apps that work reasonably well. The Android version we looked at required installing Adobe AIR but it’s fairly fully featured, allowing you to turn the cam on or off, flip various settings, and also review previous events recorded and stored in the cloud.
That’s one of the strengths and weaknesses of the Dropcam HD. Unlike most surveillance cameras that stream directly to you or an always-on server in your home, all of the video from the Dropcam HD is fed to Dropcam’s servers via an encrypted feed. By logging in, you can review seven to 30 days of footage. This is the part that doesn’t come cheap. The free account gives you real-time access and nothing more. For Dropcam to “DVR” for up to seven days, it’ll cost $9.95 a month or $99 a year. Dropcam can store up to 30 days of footage for $30 a month or $300 a year. The plan price is halved for each additional Dropcam.
That ain’t cheap, even if the company is doing all the heavy lifting of storing and serving the data. Without a plan, you really can’t do much. Even if you were watching the Dropcam HD when you caught your neighbor stealing your paper, there’s no provision to take a snapshot or video clip without a DVR plan. This isn’t a problem if all you want to do is create a public cam of your turtle in a terrarium, but as a surveillance device, it’s a bit limited.
The Dropcam HD video is uploaded to Dropcam’s server, where it can be stored for seven to 30 days—for a cost.
We will say that cloud storage makes the Dropcam HD far more responsive than other cams we’ve tried. Other cameras we’ve used take a minute or several minutes to connect from a phone. That may seem like nothing, but one or two minutes is an eternity when you have the alarm company on hold and they just told you the motion detector in your living room went off.
Another thing to consider is the amount of bandwidth consumed. The Dropcam HD is constantly streaming video to the Dropcam server at about 400Kb/s. The company estimates that if left on 24/7, the Dropcam HD would eat about 50GB of data.
All told, we’re floored by the Dropcam’s ease of use, and the device seems to have addressed every single weakness we’ve seen with other cameras—except for the limitations of the free plan. Perhaps a one-day or even 12-hour DVR plan is in order.
Easy as hell to set up; wide-angle lens; responsive mobile apps.
Slightly pricey DVR plans; consumes a lot of bandwidth.