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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  • vgribok - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    Security camera footage is just one kind of data generated by households that one wants to make accessible on the web in a secure, authenticated manner while not having to tinker with routers, IPs and such. Real problem is that it's very hard to create any web-based application that is easy enough for a non-technical person to install, and yet secure enough to expose it on the web. That's why there are very few redistributable web applications for consumers and small businesses, while large corporations moved to web based apps long time ago.

    An ability to build easily-redistributed web-based applications that can be installed inside LANs but still be securely exposed on the web without making non-techy people fiddle with routers, DNS, etc. is the idea being implemented by UltiDev HttpVPN ( It will be paired with Apple-like application store allowing creation and distribution of web applications for customers with no technical skills required to setup secure web hosting on premises, like consumers and small businesses. Home surveillance systems would be a perfect example of who would use HttpVPN.
  • ipvideomarket - Saturday, August 14, 2010 - link

    Dropcam has dozens of competitors with more mature offerings delivering cloud native solutions.

    For instance, Axis has over 12 partners world-wide supporting Axis's Video Hosting Service.

    Also, contrast to Viaas who is delivering a more sophisticated end to end solution.

    Finally, a free 'cloud integration' service is offered by Lorex providing no-cost live video monitoring at half the up front cost of Dropcam.
  • Lonbjerg - Saturday, August 14, 2010 - link

    Who in their right mind still thinks a MAC filter gives any form of security?
    It's spoofed in less than a second...madre mia :/
    Anyone still using MAC filtering should turn in their network-man-card.
  • xtian78h - Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - link

    I'm NOT associated with this company before I'm accused of shameless plugging, but given the subject matter I'm surprised no-one has mentioned (Video Intelligence As A Service). It looks to be similar to Dropcam.

    Key differences appear to be - that Dropcam has audio support & iphone monitoring (big plus) - The Viaas cameras come with a micro SDHC slot which allows for the loss of internet connectivity and a can also provide a buffer allowing the user to impose bandwidth / traffic shaping over DSL etc. Other challenges with Viaas - no iphone support.. lack of UK presence (pricing).

    Whilst some will doubtless argue, why do you need UK pricing, it's a cloud service after all. When you start shipping cameras from the US and need to guestimate import duty, VAT etc - it just becomes tedious. Likewise with fluctuating exchange rates - services billed only in dollars can rapidly start adding up.

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