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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  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    From my own experience (was burglarized a few months ago in broad daylight), thieves are very bold. They will act like they belong there, and most people won't pay attention, especially if they look official. Unfortunately, all security can be bypassed--even a big dog can be dealt with if someone is determined enough. Your best hope is to make your property less appealing than everyone else's. I don't mean go all ghetto, but smash-and-grab people are pretty lazy, so they will pick the easiest targets first. If only they put their time into productive work, instead of making everyone else's insurance go up every year. >:(
  • jquin6 - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Criminals taking basic precautions. Did your nanny drop you on your head? Only 40% have some high school or less!
  • mcnabney - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    The 45GB/mo of upstream should have been mentioned a bit earlier, probably best placed in the cloud section of the article. This product is not really a commercial device and will likely be installed in locations with consumer-grade data connections like cable and DSL (or even wireless like Clear). That type of usage will certainly be noticeable by the ISP. Since this is, as you say, the iPad of IP cameras the likelihood of consumer installs is fairly high and that usage generation will likely come back to bite the customer.

    The cloud usage is really the big drawback, especially when 99.999% of 24/7 data will never ever by viewed. Why pipe it? My first thought was having a two-box solution. One is a camera, the second is small HDD that will store the data. That way the upstream only occurs when requested. It is also easier to haul a little box into court to be used as evidence than to wrangle the cloud. The two box solution could easily be battery backed-up and operate a direct ad-hoc wireless connection.
  • Twoboxer - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    ^^ Previous comment makes many of the relevant points. Constant streaming is ludicrous.

    The hardware needs to do local motion detection, discriminate between simple lighting changes and real motion, and record only the video from several seconds before the motion detection, through the period of motion, and for several seconds thereafter. The recording should optionally be done to a local device, or to "The Cloud". The choice should be an economic trade-off between owning the local disk hardware, or renting the cloud.

    In either case, real-time remote access needs to be made as easy to implement as their current product apparently is. And a small monthly fee for this service, separate from the above, is reasonable.
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    Twoboxer, The scenario you outline is only one of the possible applications. The solution suggested by you works for that particular scenario.

    When you look at apps like nanny cams (where you keep a watch over the babysitter), constant streaming becomes a necessity, irrespective of motion detection. Agreed, this will not be 24 x 7, as the cam in that particular application can be switched off as soon as the user gets back home.

    Another way to think of this is a webcam without a computer ( though one would definitely hesitate to pay $280 or so for this purpose alone :) )
  • rcc - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    As I mentioned above, the hardware does support local motion detection as you describe. It's a dropcam limitation, most like so they can sell you the various rate plans.
  • andrewbuchanan - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    I've written several security applications that store video offsite that clients could access anytime through a web browser, one stored mpeg4 clips of motion detection back in 2005, then other one in 2008 stored jpeg images approx every second.

    Neither company really went far with it. The primary technical concern, as somebody else pointed out already, is that most people get 1/2 to 1 Mpbs upload, enough for a couple of cameras max. And that's pinning their upload, in some cases 24x7, something the customer doesn't really want whether they know it or not. And it's bad with dsl/cable providers, worse with cellular or wireless providers. Makes for a nice sales discussion, you either gloss over it but include it in the fine print or scare them with the though of a huge internet bill. Upside is if your house burns down you still have recordings, and in the case of a break in they can't steal the recorder, downside is that your internet connection going down means you lose recordings and that happens all too often.

    My issue personally has always been that the quality of locally stored video can be 30 fps 2MP+ content (these days), or even 30 fps 352x240 (2005), 640x480-2MP by 2008. If it's for security local content just looks way better. I don't think there's enough market for nanny cams to make it worthwhile. Most people don't want cameras in their house, especially ones you can view over the internet.

    And... axis cameras are overpriced, they are nice, but overpriced. But maybe that's why they targeted iphone/apple :-), people who don't mind overpriced.

    Besides the company's I worked with doing this, there were others, so it's not really novel or unique. In most cases I've steered companies to doing something similiar to what I'm doing now, providing local equipment (nvr/dvr) with flash/silverlight/mobile streaming options. Hardware costs are higher, but there's no monthly, it's expandable, flexible, has much better quality, longer recording history, easy on your internet connection, and can still be watched anywhere.

    Downside being it does require someone to actually configure their router which I appreciate is what they are marketing this product as not needing. But is $25/month cheaper than just calling a professional to set up your router for 15-30 minutes?
  • pkoi - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    So in other word that is
    Webcam + h264 compression + nic adapter.
    for ~300$

    In the Cloud ???, Sorry but you inevitably need local storage/server, preferably hidden, with an UPS.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    The review also brings out the USP of the product as the ease of setup and use (even for the non-tech folks).

    Also, the target market is casual monitoring (like nanny cams / looking after pets etc.), not for those really paranoid about security, I guess :)
  • JNo - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    It's not the $300 cost of the product that will make them money or not, rather this is like selling printers -the money is in the refills, or in this case the subscriptions.

    "After this, a 7 day recording plan costs $8.95 per month, while the 30 day recording plan costs $24.95 a month."

    At these prices (on par with my mobile phone bill) this is way too expensive for your average jo to be a 'nanny cam'. It is clearly aimed at home security imho. And for most people, a decent holiday is 2 weeks, making the 7 day plan pointless. $25/mth is a lot so the ability to record locally is highly desirable. That's a lot of money for home security based solely on a webcam.

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