Earthcam Competitive Positioning Reviewed
Earthcam is one of the biggest video streaming sites on the Internet, getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month to their network of cameras. Underlying this free webcam array is a business of selling IP cameras to business. Security professionals often run into Earthcam in competing for new installs. In this note, we examine what Earthcam offers and how it stacks up against leading network camera and surveillance product offerings.
EarthCam is one of the best-known construction and tourism camera services, in operation since 1996. They maintain a high-profile web presence, due to involvement in a number of notable projects, such as Yankee Stadium and the new World Trade Center, and a number of tourist attractions, such as the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.
EarthCam offers a variety of construction cameras, ranging from VGA to megapixel and panoramic. These cameras are divided into two groups:
- HD project documentation: Cameras in this category generally have higher resolutions and lower framerates, and are used to create time-lapse project videos, not for live look-in. Framerates for this application are generally one frame every 15 minutes. The most interesting models in this series are the MegapixelCam Advanced ($4,495), a 16MP fixed camera, and the MegapixelCam Robotic ($13,495), an 8MP PTZ model which automatically stitches together a 288MP panoramic image.
- Real-time project management: This category's cameras, the ConstructionCam Series, are intended to be used by management staff to check conditions on-site. As such, they allow up to 30FPS streaming, in VGA through 1080p resolutions. The ConstructionCam series ranges in prices from $2,245 for the VGA ConstructionCam Lite to $6,295 for the 1080p ConstructionCam HD.
Many of these models are dated, compared to current IP camera models, using MJPEG or MPEG-4 encoding only. For time lapse images, this is less of an issue, as images are only storage once per fifteen minutes. This could be an issue for remote live viewing, however, as H.264 would put less strain on low-bandwidth internet connections.
EarthCam Control Center
EarthCam's cameras are managed by their Control Center software. This software is specifically tailored to the construction industry, with some novel functionality most VMS platforms do not have.
- Time lapse archive management: Time-lapse movies may be automatically generated from archived video and viewed at any time.
- Image comparison: This feature allows current images of a section of the site to be overlaid on top of archived video, showing progress on that section. For example, managers may use this feature to check the progress of excavation or bridge footings from one week to the next.
- Project notes: Archived video may be flagged an exported with accompanying notes, so this data may be entered into project records in progress meetings.
- Dashboards: Weather, power, wireless signal, and other data may all be viewed on a dashboard, so management staff may get a snapshot of system status on one screen. The weather dashboard also includes forecasts, historical information, and radar, so weather's impact on the project may be recorded, and on-site staff notified of oncoming inclement conditions.
This image shows the main interface of EarthCam Control Center:
EarthCam offers design and installation services for all their products, along with solar power and wireless connectivity systems. They also offer web development services, to assist users in making their cameras available on the public internet, and project archiving services, creating and editing time-lapse videos from one or multiple cameras, at the end of projects. These services are all offered as negotiable additions to the EarthCam sale.
Construction managers may find EarthCam's vertical optimized features attractive. Specifically, automatic time lapse generation and the ability to easily document video and weather data as part of the project record are likely the most useful features not found in standard VMS platforms. Further, EarthCam's web development and production services help to provide a one-stop, prepackaged offering, for those who do not have these capabilities in-house, or do not want to shop them out piecemeal. Finally, EarthCam's strong web presence means they can reach out to many end users without having the need of a resales channel.
For those who simply want a camera, to overview a construction site in real time, standard IP cameras are likely a simpler and less expensive option. Using standard IP cameras also provides users with far more choice in cameras to accomodate changing site conditions. Many manufacturers provide instructions for embedding their cameras' images directly on web pages, not a difficult process for those with basic HTML experience.