As far as we know, Dropcam is the only company approaching the consumer IP camera problem with a completely cloud-native solution. The Avaak Vue comes close, but it requires a base station connected to the router to coordinate all the cameras in the house. It is possible to install multiple Dropcams in the same house, but the coordination is actually done by associating the camera with a particular login.

The importance of a cloud based approach is underlined by the fact that consumers want to watch their IP camera videos from anywhere (home, work, on the go) and that the video should be saved offsite (no computer is necessary at the recording location). Dropcam's solution provides 24/7 surveillance and monitoring.  The video is always streaming, whether there is motion or not. The online DVR functionality is an added advantage, which we will cover at the end of this section. The recording is available for all cameras associated with an account, not just one-at-a-time. Unlike the Vue, the cameras don't have to be in the same location near a base station.

Another advantage of the cloud based approach is the fact that analytics such as motion and audio detection may be offloaded from the processor inside the IP camera. The cloud also offers the opportunity to implement many features which might not be possible in an embedded processor.

Generally, if a consumer wants to access an IP camera from outside of the home network, he needs to know how set up a static IP address (Dynamic DNS) and open up the router port. It is unfair to expect the average consumer to do such things. Tech enthusiasts often take these cameras and set up a local DVR (like Milestone).  This usually means setting aside a computer to handle the processing power. Again, this is difficult for the lay person. Dropcam's cloud based approach makes it the iPod of IP cameras - easy to set up and does all the things you'd expect it to do out of the box.

The Dropcam iPhone App : Portrait View

The cloud based approach also opens up the technology to more than just security. Consumers who would never put up a computer in, say, their nursery, can easily set up a Dropcam and share a live video of their baby with relatives across the globe. I digress a little bit now to note how I personally used the review unit a couple of days back. Happening to live in an apartment complex, receiving packages that require a signature through UPS or FedEx is often a hassle. I was expecting a package I had to sign for one day, but had to do some short trips outside. I setup the Dropcam on the porch (the Dropcam is not meant for outdoor use in general because it is not waterproof) and kept checking the video stream on the iPhone for a sign of the UPS truck. Once I spotted the truck turning into the driveway, I cut short my trip, and returned to catch the delivery guy before he left the complex!

The Dropcam iPhone App : Landscape View

Once the IP camera talks to the cloud, the possibilities are just limitless. These applications also indicate that IP cameras are going to be something everyone uses in the coming few years - the technology which can enable this is an interesting amalgamation of imaging, video capture, streaming, and cloud services.

The cloud approach pays off with the 'Share Camera' feature of the Dropcam. An e-mail address can be supplied to which an invite gets sent. Access to the invited account can also be selectively restricted. This fine level of control is a unique feature in the consumer IP camera domain. Another advantage is that the Dropcam can get better on its own, transparent to the user. Better stability, more online features and management, and smarter detection and notification features can go out to all users as an automatic download. The user does not need to worry about learning how to flash firmware. All these features are enabled because of the cloud approach.

The mention of cloud services always brings with it the concern of security and uptime stability. In order to secure the connection between a Dropcam and the online servers, 2048-bit RSA with ECDH ephemeral keys + AES256 is used. This means that the video stream is encrypted even while going over open Wi-Fi networks. Furthermore, Dropcam claims that their servers can never be spoofed. It must be noted that videos can not be viewed or recorded if the Dropcam servers go down or offline for any reason. Since the camera is just an Axis M1031-W, a simple firmware update can be issued by Dropcam any time to restore it to the Axis functionality mode. Such an update would lead to the loss of all the advantages delivered by the cloud approach, but there is not much alternative if the servers go offline. Another issue with a purely cloud based approach is the fact that viewing a Dropcam within a local network would require that the video travel all the way to the Dropcam servers and back. Because of this, a cloud based approach is not very suitable for monitoring within a local network.

Let us conclude this section by discussing the online DVR functionality. Every Dropcam purchase comes with a complimentary 14 day free DVR trial. After this, a 7 day recording plan costs $8.95 per month, while the 30 day recording plan costs $24.95 a month. Depending on the usage scenario, one of the plans may be chosen. If the user decides to forgo the DVR functionality, he is left with only the live view function. For security applications, users who do not have the technical know how or the patience to setup their own DVR with the DropCam can opt for the 7 day plan with a moving window. This gives the user an opportunity to download or review the video from any time in the previous 7 days in case something of interest occurs. When the online DVR functionality is enabled, the user gets a 'Generate Video' button by the side of their video on the Dropcam page. One needs to select a date and a time interval, and the site promises to get back to the user with a link for the file to be downloaded within 48 hours. In my personal experience, I got the file download link delivered to my registered email account within 1 hour.

Analyzing the Dropcam Hardware Image & Video Quality
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  • papounet - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    Very interesting product, yet one caveat:
    your security system relies on Internet being up; If you go on vacation and switch off the mains, you won't have either current for the cam, nor for Internet.

    in europe, several companies are trying to lure small business into setting up IP surveillance cameras, intrusion detection and transmission onto a smartphone (on demand only, in order not to burst the data traffic cap). IP camera like the Axis) have both intrusion detection software onboard and a hardware current loop switch (which could be used for intrusion detector).

    the largest issue with video surveillance as i see it: (on my remote screen ;-)) is the lack of support for the megapixel cameras such as the Axis 207MW which have been around for a decent price for some time now.

    I highly suspect an artificial restriction by manufacturer of NAS on entry-level systems

    I have setup a surveillance DVR 24/7 with a Qnap 219 and 2 * Axis 207MW with few issues except that the QNAP F/W for that hardware does not allow the use of the camera in megapixel res: i am stuck with 15fps 640*480 AVI recording
    Yet, using curl, I was able to reach 10 fps at 1280*960 in JPG mode directly from the linux shell.

    I am looking seriously into switching to synology because of their more honest way to handle additionnal camera through licenses
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    Sounds like they have a good start, but I wonder if this model will be sustainable in the future. If a user installed more than one of these, or if/when they produce HD models, the bandwidth usage could quickly get out of hand for tiered access plans. Perhaps for a more extensive home installation they could offer some type of a base station, either a USB device or some type of nettop, that could handle the recording functionality of local cameras. This device could integrate its own access point, so that setting up individual cameras would be as easy as plugging in over USB or ethernet for an initial setup, then putting them on location. They could also then make the mobile app location aware, so that video would only be streamed to their servers when the primary phone was away from home, or on request. Then all other video, such as when they are sleeping and not watching their phone, can be stored locally and not take up bandwidth.
  • rcc - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    The camera itself handles motion detection very differently. If set to motion detection the camera doesn't output data at all, until you have a motion event. Sounds like this is one of the features they disablled so they could charge you for continual recording.

    One of the advantages of IP cameras in general, and one of the things that makes them a bit more expensive that Analog cameras, is that there is a fair amount of intelligence built into the cameras for functions like this.

    Axis makes many decent IP cameras, this one is near the bottom of their line, as expected given the price point that people will want.

    Since drop cam is not making the camera, I think they should concentrate on the "cloud" end of things, and setup, and let the consumer pick from a range of cameras.
  • jmke - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    Cut power & internet connection; if possible from a street service panel accessible to anyone with a large cutter.
  • Rick83 - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    And wake everyone who has a UPS in the entire block?
    Because figuring out which internet connection goes where isn't that easy.
    And I expect the same for electricity.
    And then you have to hope that there isn't a backup battery and backup wireless internet connection....
    Probably not worth the hassle for a quick enter and grab....
  • Roland00 - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    But since it operates on wifi, and wifi is a very select range of frequencies usually 2.4 ghz or 5 ghz and sometimes 3.6 ghz, wouldn't it be possible to "overload" those bands in a short range with something that produces enough frequency noise.

    Thus anything that isn't using cables won't be able to communicate. Doesn't matter if the ip cameras are storing there info locally or to the cloud, if you can't talk to the router than the effectively can't communicate.
  • mados123 - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    This was on one of those CSI episodes where they jammed the signal. WiFi jammers do exists like any other wireless signal blocking.
  • rcc - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    As I recall, that camera also has an Ethernet port, and works off POE if Dropcam supports it.

    Hook up the POE switch, router, and modem to a decent UPS and you are ready to go through basic power outages. If you are really concerned about someone cutting your Internet connection, Talk to one of the companies that provides video over 3G cell phone networks. Pretty pricey tho.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    Would something like this even be valid evidence? Even if you had this camera running and recording an area where something was swiped, assuming the criminal took basic precautions such as covering their face and any other distinguishing marks all you would get from a VGA video is a basic idea of their size. Anything that is going to help bring a criminal to justice is going to come from more traditional investigation.

    I would imagine the use of this is more as a nannycam, or for example if holes are being dug in your yard and you want to see if it is the neighbor's dog, or a situation like the author described.
  • rcc - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    Look at the bright side. Reviewing the footage (byteage?) would show the forensics guys where to look for more evidence.

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