Testing VSaaS / Dropcam HD

By: John Honovich, Published on May 14, 2013

Dropcam is pretty clearly the strongest upstart in the VSaaS market. While Axis has pushed their hosted service offering for years, it is beset by poor ROI and weak performance. There are dozens of other VSaaS Startups but no one matches Dropcam's relatively huge VC funding and dominance on Amazon. However, is Dropcam just a sales and marketing play?

To find out, we bought a Dropcam HD and tested it. If you are interested in consumer use, there's 600+ Amazon reviews as well as a teenage blogger's video review [link no longer available] that we found impressive.

Here is what makes Dropcam easier to use than essentially any other VSaaS / IP camera offering:

  • No codes nor IDs are needed. Even other 'plug n play' cameras generally require finding and inserting a code placed in the box, the camera or supplied by a distributor. This is not needed with Dropcam.
  • No need to discover the camera on a network or use a CD. Dropcam plugs directly into one's PC via an included USB cable. The software automatically detects and connects to Dropcam's website.
  • The setup process is simple. There's only two steps - (1) setting up a Dropcam account and (2) connecting to a wireless network. Dropcam automatically registers the camera and links it to your account without doing anything.
  • A 10 foot long cable. Most consumer IP camera come with a 3 - 6 long cable which often makes it hard to reach an outlet. The much longer cable Dropcam provides simplifies that.

Here is a video that demonstrates each of these key usability points:

While it takes about 5 - 10 minutes to setup, more than the claimed '60 seconds', there are really no intellectually complex nor difficult decisions to be made. As such, the risk that a user gets lost or gives up is quite low. This is clearly the most important differentiator.

Features / Configuration

Dropcam has very few features, fairly consistent with other home / consumer offerings. Here's an overview of them:

However, there are 2 key features that stand out:

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

  • Motion Detection Alerts / Low False Positives: Unlike most IP cameras that have a high amount of false positives (i.e., alerting against wind, dust, shadows, etc.), Dropcam has a relatively low amount of false positives but does have more false negatives than others (particularly when a person might be passing only through a part of the field of view or in the background). In addition, Dropcam only sends an email alert once per 30 minutes, regardless of how many alerts there are. While Dropcam talks about  'more advanced motion detection', our test results indicate that it is similar technology but better tuned to the expectations / needs of the consumer market.
  • Location Based Scheduling: This feature is unique though probably not useful for families. One's iPhone can be synced up with their Dropcam. When the person with the iPhone leaves the location (typically of their Dropcam), a signal is sent to the camera to start recording and sending alerts. Vice versa, when the phone is detected back at the location, the camera is turned off. This is useful for those who want privacy. See our review of Dropcam's location based scheduling.

The Camera Itself

Dropcam uses an Ambarella chip, like many other surveillance products. Ambarella actually has a reference design for similar miniature cameras. Here's what it looks like:

 

Not 'Real' HD - Bandwidth Analysis

Last, but certainly not least, Dropcam's HD is not 'really' HD. The pixel count is certainly 1280 x 720 but Dropcam generally uses such heavy compression to fit in its low bandwidth allocation that the resulting quality is far lower than HD. For instance, in our testing, most professional IP cameras use a quantization level between 27 - 30. However, Dropcam typically uses a far higher level (almost 40), which significantly reduces visible quality. For background, see our video quality and how to measure video compression tutorials. The screencast below examines Dropcam's quality and compression levels:

Dropcam estimates 200Kb/s stream though, in our tests, it was typically closer to 100Kb/s. Either way, for a 720p / 15fps feed, that bandwidth level is far too low to deliver HD video without very high compression that degrades video quality in all but the simplest scenes.

Ongoing Costs / Storage & Bandwidth

We estimate that Dropcam spends ~$1 per month or less for storage/bandwidth for their $9.95 seven days storage plan (based on large scale Amazon storage pricing as a metric and assuming ~10GB of storage per account). Lowering the compression level to give 'true' HD quality could easily triple their ongoing costs. That said, for consumer use, it is probably good enough, unless they had a strong direct competitor that offered full HD with edge storage but that's not a practical threat for them today.

 

3 reports cite this report:

Goodbye Dropcam, the $50 Home Security Camera Era Is Here on Feb 10, 2016
Remember those days not too long ago where a $200 home security camera with a...
Startup: Smoke Detector As a Security System on Aug 28, 2014
Fresh off a successful fundraising campaign, Novi Security is making some...
Google Acquires Dropcam For $555 Million on Jun 20, 2014
Google, via its Nest Labs subsidiary, has acquired home security specialist...
Comments (16) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

YOLOv5 Released Amidst Controversy on Jul 27, 2020
YOLO has gained significant attention within video surveillance for its...
Directory of 96 Video Surveillance Startups on May 20, 2020
This directory provides a list of video surveillance startups to help you see...
Verkada Speaks On Disrupting Security Sales Channel on Aug 28, 2020
Verkada's fast growth has taken the industry by storm and their enterprise...
Sunell Panda Cam Body Temperature Measurement Camera Tested on May 14, 2020
Sunell is far less well known than its gargantuan domestic competitors Dahua...
HID Presents Signo on Apr 23, 2020
HID Global presented their new Signo readers they claim read farther and...
Anixter Runs Fake Coronavirus Marketing Using Shutterstock Watermarked Images on Jul 24, 2020
Coronavirus faked marketing is regrettably commonplace right now but Anixter...
Startup Videoloft Presents Cloud Storage on May 27, 2020
Videoloft presented offsite cloud storage at the May 2020 IPVM Startups...
The Booming Multi-Billion Coronavirus Fever Camera Market on Apr 21, 2020
The market for elevated body temperature detection cameras, aka 'coronavirus...
ADT Slides Back, Disappointing Results, Poor Commercial Performance on Aug 06, 2020
While ADT had an incredible start to the week, driven by the Google...
VSaaS Will Hurt Integrators on Aug 06, 2020
VSaaS will hurt integrators, there is no question about that. How much...
Deep Sentinel Presents Crime Response For Business on Jun 11, 2020
Deep Sentinel presented its anti-intrusion and live response for home and...
Verkada Falsely Claims "First Native Cloud-based Access Control and Video Security Solution" on Jun 18, 2020
Verkada's false claims continue, this time to be the first native cloud-based...
Fever Camera Sales From Integrators Surveyed on Jun 01, 2020
Fever cameras are the hottest trend in video surveillance currently but how...
Sunell "Panda Cam" Thermal Body Temperature System Examined on Apr 09, 2020
Sunell's Panda Cam is the most visually recognizable coronavirus camera, sold...
Camio Presents Coronavirus Social Distancing Analytics on Apr 20, 2020
Camio presented its social distancing analytics for responding to coronavirus...

Recent Reports

Hikvision Sues Over Brazilian Airport Loss on Sep 24, 2020
Hikvision was excluded from a Brazilian airport project because it is owned...
China General Chamber of Commerce Calls Out US Politics on Sep 24, 2020
While US-China relations at an all-time low, optimism about relations...
Verkada Disruptive Embedded Live Help on Sep 24, 2020
Call up your integrator? Have someone come by the next day? Verkada is...
IP Networking Course Fall 2020 - Last Chance - Register Now on Sep 23, 2020
Today is the last chance to register for the only IP networking course...
Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial on Sep 23, 2020
An easy-to-miss cabling specification plays a key role in access control, yet...
IPVM Camera Calculator User Manual / Guide on Sep 23, 2020
Learn how to use the IPVM Camera Calculator (updated for Version 3.1). The...
Installation Course Fall 2020 - Save $50 - Last Chance on Sep 22, 2020
Today is your last chance to save $50 on registration for the Fall 2020 Video...
SimpliSafe Business Security Launched Examined on Sep 22, 2020
SimpliSafe has launched "SimpliSafe Business Security" that the company...
FLIR CEO: Many New Fever Entrants "Making Claims That The Science Just Won't Support" on Sep 22, 2020
FLIR's CEO joins a growing number calling out risks with fever / screening...
China Bems Temperature Measurement Terminal Tested on Sep 22, 2020
Guangzhou Bems (brand Benshi) is the manufacturer behind temperature...
Axis Exports To China Police Criticized By Amnesty International on Sep 21, 2020
Axis Communications and other EU surveillance providers are under fire from...
Milestone XProtect on AWS Tested on Sep 21, 2020
Milestone finally launched multiple cloud solutions in 2020, taking a...
Mobile Access Control Usage Statistics 2020 on Sep 21, 2020
Most smartphones can be used as access control credentials, but how...
Axis Compares Fever Camera Sellers to 9/11 on Sep 18, 2020
Axis Communications, the West's largest surveillance camera manufacturer, has...