Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Dropcam HD Security Camera: A Quickie Review

To supplement my traditional alarm system I now have live, internet-accessible video and audio of my home via my hi-def Dropcam video camera.  Here's a quick review based upon about a week's usage.

Sample Dropcam HD (high definition) Video

internet-accessible security camera, room / baby / pet / sitter monitor
Sample Dropcam HD Video

What's a Dropcam HD Camera??

With my Dropcam video camera, even though I'm currently in New York City, anytime day or night I can pull out my Droid and get a live "hi-def" view of what's happening at my home in Houston (similar to the sample shot above). Not only that, but if there is movement or sound
above my threshold level the system sends a notification to my phone to alert me. Combined with my traditional home security/alarm system this gives me a level of comfort I haven't had before.

Some key features for me:

  • Connects to my home wi-fi network
  • Records audio & high-definition video
  • Viewable live anywhere I have internet access (via PC and/or the smartphone app)
  • Nightvision
  • Notification of audio or video events
  • No monthly fee for basic service (Hardware is $150)

Dropcam Problems: 1. Setting Up

Creating my initial account was not as smooth as I had hoped. After entering my name and a password, I clicked "create account." I sat in limbo for over 15 minutes waiting for a response. Finally, I received a "cannot display the webpage" error message from my browser. Did the site crash? I can't be sure.

When I tried running setup and creating an account again, I was told my username already existed -- a good sign. However, when I tried to login to the existing account I again received the "cannot display the webpage" error. At about the same time, I received the welcome to Dropcam email, so I was hopeful.

Finally, I tried logging in again. The third time was the charm. After logging in, connecting the camera to my wi-fi network (which you do need your PC for) was uneventful.

Dropcam Problems: 2. False Alarms ("False Positives")

I have the system configured to monitor both motion and sound "events." I originally set the system up to notify my phone, and to send an email to my primary email account. However, I soon turned the email notification off; too many "false alarms." The systems is identifying roughly ten motion or sound "events" a day, and as a result was generating more email traffic than I wanted to deal with. Since not one of these alarms has been caused by an actual intruder, I consider them "false positives" (generating an alarm when I don't want one).

Motion Events

Because I'm not at home, I can't be completely sure what is causing all of my false alarms. However, it appears that shadows are causing most of the motion "events." I knew this was a possible problem. Therefore, before I left home I a) faced the camera away from the windows, and b) covered the blinds that get the most direct sunshine. However, I went on vacation soon after installing the Dropcam, so I didn't get much time to test. I'll have to make more adjustments once I'm back home.

Sound Events

Because of my limited "testing" period, I was also unable to fine-tune the sound monitoring. I don't want normal household sounds triggering sound events, so I turned the phone off and routed all calls to voice mail. In addition, I set the microphone sensitivity low enough so that the a/c cycling on and off would not trigger events. Still, I'm getting sound events.

One source of false sound alarms is thunder. There's probably not much I can do about that; if I set the sensitivity so low that thunder doesn't trigger an event it probably won't pick up the alarm from my traditional security system either. Most of the other sound triggers seem to be a clicking sound that I don't ever remember hearing while at home. Something else I'll have to troubleshoot once I'm back home.

Multi-Purpose Camera: Security Camera, Room/ Baby Monitor, Dog/ Babysitter Monitor, ...

Overall, I've been impressed by the quality of the video -- especially the night video. I also like the fact that I do not have to leave my PC running when I'm away in order for the camera to work. Since the alerts are close to real time, it helps to have the smartphone app so that I'm notified as soon as an alert is triggered. It is definitely reassuring to be able to pull out my phone anytime day or night and see that all is well on the home front.

I use the Dropcam solely as a security camera. However, it has many other obvious uses: baby monitor, pet monitor, babysitter monitor, etc. Though it's not a huge benefit to me, I'm sure many users like the two-way audio as well.

Finally, for a small monthly fee you get access to a virtual DVR with up to a month of recorded video. On the recorded video, sound and video events are marked for easy identification and playback. New customers get a free two-week trial of the DVR service.  I'm still in the trial period, and haven't decided yet whether I'll keep it after the trial period. But, I'm definitely keeping the camera!

August Update to Dropcam Problems: False Negatives

Ok, now I'm getting worried.  I can deal with a few false positives (Dropcam notifying me unnecessarily when nothing untoward has happened).   However, false negatives (not being notified when I expect to be notified) are another story.

Recently, I did a quick experiment.  In essence, I was trying to see how much motion it would take to trigger a motion alert; I was disappointed.  In the experiment, I started by walking near an item that I was monitoring, and escalated the activity level until I triggered a motion alert.  It took significantly more activity than I had hoped before I triggered the alert.  However, on another occasion, a simple walk-by was all it took to trigger the alarm. Until I'm convinced that activity like this will consistently trigger an alarm, I'm comfortable using the Dropcam as a supplement to my alarm system, but not as a replacement.

P.S. Dropcam HD Internet Data Usage

Based upon my internet data usage report from my ISP, it looks like running one camera full-time for a month uses about 50GB of bandwidth. Not a problem for me since It's basically replacing my normal usage. However, if you're adding it on top of your normal usage, and especially if you have multiple cameras, you might want to monitor to make sure you don't exceed your ISP's data limit.

Related Materials

Dropcam review from PC Magazine
Dropcam official website
More Android Apps : More of my favorite apps.
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Copyright © 2012                 Last modified: 12/17/2012

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  1. You can set up your very own DIY pet monitoring system by using any simple, off-the-shelf webcam. Even old, unused ones that you may have lying around will work. Decide on the number of cameras you wish to set-up (usually - one in every room that your pet may walk around in, with a maximum of 4 cameras). Once you're done with this, use a webcam software like GotoCamera that's easily available on the internet. Some of them even offer a basic version of this service for free. By paying a bit more ( usually, not more than $4 a month), you will get a whole bunch of added benefits such as motion detection, email alerts, mobile alerts, etc.

    1. Readers, Here's another approach. For some purposes, this approach may work and be even cheaper. If I get a chance, I'll give it a try as well.

      Thanks for the heads up SS.

  2. Most of these wireless units have a high-resolution image that makes it very easy to identify faces and other physical characteristics. This makes the cameras ideal for use as part of the security for research facilities and other establishments.
    frontpoint security reviews

  3. high resolution is a very good opportunity, but if you have slow internet connection , it is very useless to give more money. you should check your internet speed befpore buying such a product.

  4. I pretty admire the effort of the people on adding good information for the discussion. I found your website perfect for my needs.home alarm system reviews


  5. www.security360cameras.com provides affordable surveillance equipment for business and homes that can be remotely monitored with any PC, smart phones, i-pad, i-phone,mac or laptop. Clients do not have to pay a monthly fee. The apps are free and easy to use. The Stand Alone DVR's are easy to use . One can add as much Hard drive as they wish, We provide special AV( Audio Video) specially made by western digital for this purpose security cameras.

  6. Odessa,
    I am still using my Dropcam. I THINK they have reduced the false alarms, but have not done a rigorous test. I am even considering trying the "dvr" capability again. However, still keeping my traditional alarm system as well.

    I have not tried SS's approach, but would love to hear from someone who has.

  7. This dropcam is fascinating. We actually have an HD CCTV here in our store, and although it doesn't have the same capabilities as the one you're using, it has this feature that lets us monitor our business even when we're out on vacation (as long as our wifi in the store is working fine). Anyway, this is definitely a good read; I kind of want a drop cam now.


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