Jesse Ferrell

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Dropcam: The Future of Weather / Security Cameras

January 19, 2014; 4:32 PM ET

UPDATE 4/2/2014: Dropcam has added time-lapse capability to their cloud recording cameras! I now have several Dropcams online; check them out on my new Live Weather Cams webpage.

WOW. I said a few weeks ago that I was looking forward to reviewing the Dropcam Pro, but I had no idea how groundbreaking it was. It is truly in a different class. This is the last weather cam / security cam / webcam you'll ever need to buy! I could replace the six cams I have now with two of these!

Here's what the Dropcam Pro looked like being unboxed (photos also include the earlier version of the Dropcam, see below):

You can see the live Dropcam Pro feed that I'm testing at this link. Here are a couple of video tests to show you the quality of the camera. (Please switch YouTube to HD before viewing.) The first two are from the DropCam Pro, in State College, Pa., at night (yes, that's night!), then a daytime test, then a daytime test of another Dropcam I installed (the original model) in York, Pa., (streaming live here). Notice how smooth the video is, even though it goes up to the cloud and back. With competing IP cameras, I've had choppy streams from inside the network, much less the extra trip to the cloud. Another advantage here is that Dropcam.com does the serving of the video feed, so you don't slow down the frame rate of your camera (or your internet connection!)

The key features of the Dropcams are as follows:

1. Cloud Video Recording (CVR): In the future, this is how security cameras will work. Dropcam is the first consumer company to do this. What this means is that you no longer have to have the expense of an additional hard drive or DVR to store streaming video from your cam (or face your computer hard drive filling up every few days). Dropcam constantly streams the video from your cam to their servers, where it can be streamed back in real-time (without slowing your cam's feed down), or you can pick a date/time to play the video back (or export it to a file!).

2. Wide-Angle, Retaskable, Low-Light Lens: The 130-degree lens on the DropCam Pro is incredible. Every other security camera I've reviewed has suffered from an extremely narrow POV, probably less than your average camera. To give you an idea, I can see twice as many houses across the street on the DropCam versus other cams. It's like having a streaming GoPro in your window! Another innovation is the software retasking that the lens can do. Want a closer look at something? Zoom in 8x digitally then ask the camera to refine that area! It's like something out of the movies. The video is also HD 720p (1280×720) which is much larger than most consumer network cameras. The camera also sees great in low-light and includes an Infrared mode for inside use (see below).

3. Artificially Intelligent Motion Detection: This is brilliant. Dropcam thought: Why have to define areas of the screen that can detect motion, when it can learn repetitive motion and allow you to label it on the timeline? Now instead of ignoring the top part of my cam screen, I can teach Dropcam the motion of eastbound and westbound cars on my street, then tell it to ignore those and only alert me (email, cell phone or handheld device) when there is unknown motion detected.

4. Super-Easy Setup and Maintenance: You literally take this thing out of the box, plug it in, and you're ready to view the camera from your computer, the Internet and your cell phone. The other IP cameras that I've reviewed almost require a degree in networking to get them to go online and stay online and to be seen outside of your network, on the Internet. The "cloud" solves this and takes IP addresses, routers and firewall out of the picture.

5. Apps: You can view and configure your Dropcam remotely not only from your computer, but from most cell phones and tablets (unlike other IP cameras that don't have those apps). If I walk out my door, my cellphone will beep as it detects motion detection and link me directly to the cam through the app.

After testing the Dropcam Pro at home, I grabbed another one from Amazon.com on Black Friday (for $80) to give to my father-in-law in York, Pa., as a Christmas present. This was the earlier model (just called the Dropcam). It has slightly less wide angle, clarity and zoom, but I didn't really notice the difference. You can read more about the differences on their website:

Are there any cons? None that override the benefits. It's not cheap, though at $150-$200 is under many other security camera systems that lack the benefits of cloud recording (I talked more about these in my Weather Cam Review last month). The service to maintain a 1-week archive on their servers (which really makes it like a security cam that you can review later) is $10/month for the first cam and $5 for additional cams, but it's not required.

Probably the biggest con is that the cam sometimes runs behind real-time... as little as 1-2 seconds, but as much as 8-10 seconds, in my observation. This is expected because it's "in the cloud" (streamed from your house to the cloud and back to you). Then again (sadly) I've had this problem with other network webcams that weren't in the cloud. Other minor inconveniences include the lack of a timestamp and the fact that the infrared mode won't work to look outside from inside a window (because the infrared bulbs reflect in the window). This, however, is true of other night-vision cams, and with even a little ambient outside light, the Dropcam practically sees in the dark. There's also no outside version of the Dropcam yet. All of these cons are frequently requested on the feature requests for future Dropcams.

DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions only. Product was provided for this review.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.