D-Link vs. Dropcam Shootout

By Derek Ward, Published Jan 29, 2014, 12:00am EST

D-Link is not happy.

Over the last two years, upstart Dropcam has received a ton of coverage from dozens of publications, including IPVM (see our 2 Dropcam tests - original camera and new 'Pro' camera). 

Meanwhile D-Link, who reports selling far more IP cameras than Dropcam to consumers, is ignored. Worse, D-Link emphasizes that they offer recording for free via on-board SD card while Dropcam requires paying $100+ per year.

So, who is better for home use? The incumbent D-Link or the upstart Dropcam?

In this report, we decide, doing a test of D-Link's 720p DCS-2132L [link no longer available] and contrasting that to Dropcam. Beyond the normal video and bandwidth analysis, we focus on two key areas of importance for consumers:

  • Which is easier for non technical people to setup? By how much and why?
  • Which is better for non technical people to access, search and download recorded video?
  • Here's how D-Link stacks up against key competitor Dropcam on major usability factors:

    • Setup: Setup was moderately more complex than Dropcam, requiring users to first visit the mydlink support page to download software, connect the camera to their router either through WPS or by using an ethernet cable, and follow an installation wizard. Dropcam requires the user only to plug the camera into their computer via USB, which launches the wizard and walks through the setup process.
    • Live Video: Viewing live video from D-Link devices is simple, with little latency. No special plugins are required for proper operation.
    • Recorded Video: Archived video is complex to view and download. Viewing clips requires browser plugins to be installed, and clips are often not listed chronologically. There is no timeline view such as Dropcam uses. Clips cannot be downloaded from the mydlink interface, but must be downloaded directly from the camera's web interface, using a separate login and user interface.
    • Model Selection: D-Link offers numerous Cloud compatible models in multiple form factors, including cubes [link no longer available], bullets [link no longer available], domes [link no longer available], and panoramic [link no longer available] models. Dropcam offers only a single form factor, with no outdoor models.
    • Price: The D-Link DCS-2132L sells for ~$140 online, slightly less expensive than Dropcam, with no recurring charges. Dropcam cameras sell for ~$150-$200 USD online, depending on version (Standard/Pro), with recurring charges of $9.95 or $29.95 for cloud recording plans. Without monthly charges, only live video is available.

    Other Key Points

    Here are other key findings from this test:

    • Narrow field of view: The DCS-2132L has a relatively narrow 57.8° horizontal field of view compared to the extremely wide 100° of the Dropcams.
    • Long power cord: Unlike many cameras targeted for the home market (but similar to Dropcam), the DCS-2132L includes a 10' power cable, allowing it to be placed in out of the way areas. However, the included Ethernet cable is only 3' long, so users should expect to purchase longer cables if the camera must be hardwired, or user wireless.
    • Weak IR illumination: We found that D-Link's specified IR range, 5m, was close to accurate, though weak. Illumination was better at ~9-10', with subject details much easier to make out. This range may be sufficient for home use in small rooms, but is likely too short to be of much use in even small business settings.
    • SD Card not included: Users wanting to record footage to a SD card are going to have to buy one separately, or use a spare card, as one is not included with the camera. Users will also need to format the card prior to saving recordings, which can be done in the SD Card setup in the advanced setup tab form the web interface.
    • SD Card Recording Defaults Not Optimized: Using default settings for continuous recording, clips maxed out at about 5 seconds per minute due to hard file size limits. D-Link says they intend to remedy this in a future update, but for now it may be avoided by reducing framerate and increasing compression. D-Link SD cameras do not suffer from this limitation, due to smaller bitrates.
    • High Bandwidth: Bandwidth consumption of the D-Link model was far higher than competitive 720p HD cameras, 2x to 3x more than most. This would be another issue in recording to a limited SD card.

    Recommendations

    Dropcam is a lot easier for the non technical consumer than D-Link. The only clear advantage for D-Link is its offering of multiple form factors.

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    If you are recommending something to a friend or family member (and do not want to be dragged in to hours of free technical support), Dropcam is clearly the way to go.

    If D-Link improves recording management (like shipping with a pre-formatted, ready to go SD card, improved search UI, integrated downloading), it could become a very attractive alternative to Dropcam.

    Operation/Configuration

    In this screencast we review use of the mydlink portal for viewing and configuration:

    This video shows the challenges of using the DCS-2132L's SD card functionality:

    Physical Overview

    We take a look at the physical construction of the DCS-2132L in this brief video:

    Image Quality

    We compared the D-Link DCS-2132L to the ACTi D11 and Geovision GV-UBX1301 to measure image quality against similar fixed lens 720p cameras.

    We did not compare image quality to Dropcam as the vast difference in FoV (D-Link narrow, Dropcam wide) makes comparisons difficult to be meaningful. 

    In full light, the DCS-2132L is moderately overexposed, washing out the chart around line 6 and below.

    In low light, the DCS-2132L is much noisier than the UBX1301 due to its much weaker IR illluminator, making it difficult to discern details in our subject and chart. 

    Finally, we tested the D-Link's IR range at various distances from ~3-22 feet. Past the claimed IR range of ~15' (5m), it was difficult to discern characteristics of our test subject. At 15', our subject is more noticeable, but we cannot discern a face. At ~9', we can begin to see our test subject's face more clearly due to better IR power. Very close to the camera, only about 3' away, our subject is clearly visible without overexposure.

    Bandwidth

    Bandwidth was quite high compared to other cameras tested with the same resolution. 

    The D-Link DCS-2132L defaults to VBR, or "fixed quality" as it is displayed in setup. We kept FPS set to the default 30 FPS, using H.264 codec, and ran bandwidth testing in our conference room scene.

    Strangely, in full light, frame rate was actually 40 FPS, faster than was set, while in low light, it dropped to 16 FPS. Q-level remained at ~27 in both full light and darkness.

    Note that lower resolution streams (480p and 240p) are served by default for web viewing.

    Test Your Knowledge

    Take this 7 question D-Link vs Dropcam quiz to make sure you got the key points of this test.

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