Testing VSaaS / Dropcam HD

Author: 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 that we found impressive.

Our test focuses on the competitive positioning of the product and what makes Dropcam different from other VSaaS offerings, both good and bad.

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Ease ** ***

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  • ** ***** *** *** *** ******. **** ***** '**** * ****' ******* ********* ******* ******* and ********* * **** ****** ** *** ***, *** ****** or ******** ** * ***********. **** ** *** ****** **** Dropcam.
  • ** **** ** ******** *** ****** ** * ******* ** use * **. ******* ***** ******** **** ***'* ** *** ** ******** *** cable. *** ******** ************* ******* *** ******** ** *******'* *******.
  • *** ***** ******* ** ******. *****'* **** *** ***** - (*) ******* ** * Dropcam ******* *** (*) ********** ** * ******** *******. ******* automatically ********* *** ****** *** ***** ** ** **** ******* without ***** ********.
  • * ** **** **** *****. **** ******** ** ****** **** **** * * - 6 **** ***** ***** ***** ***** ** **** ** ***** an ******. *** **** ****** ***** ******* ******** ********** ****.

**** ** * ***** **** ************ **** ** ***** *** usability ******:

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Features / *************

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  • ****** ********* ****** / *** ***** *********: ****** **** ** ******* **** **** * **** ****** of ***** ********* (*.*., ******** ******* ****, ****, *******, ***.), Dropcam *** * ********** *** ****** ** ***** ********* *** does **** **** ***** ********* **** ****** (************ **** * person ***** ** ******* **** ******* * **** ** *** field ** **** ** ** *** **********). ** ********, ******* only ***** ** ***** ***** **** *** ** *******, ********** of *** **** ****** ***** ***. ***** ******* ***** *****  '**** ******** ****** *********', *** **** ******* ******** **** ** ** ******* ********** but ****** ***** ** *** ************ / ***** ** *** consumer ******.
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The ****** ******

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Not '****' ** - ********* ********

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Ongoing ***** / ******* & *********

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Comments (16)

I've bee using Dropcam for at least a year now at my house and love it. It's ease of use, mobile access, flexibility - all the reasons you mentioned. They desperately need an outdoor version though. We have young children and when they're playing out in the front yard my wife will simply move the camera to the front window and watch them from the kitchen on an iPad. Having an outdoor version with a microphone would be great to hear better what's happening outside (any crying kids). I find the search function very easy to use. Each motion event will show little GIF images allowing you to get a sense of what's on that particular clip without actually playing it.

Not sure how well Dropcam would scale to a full blown commercial offering, but for residential use needing a couple of cameras around the house, I recommend Dropcam to all my friends.

Although form a video surveillance standpoint it is a little lacking as compared to most major manufacturers IP security cameras, but for a $149 consumer porduct that my mother could install, it's actually quite clever and well delivered and an excellent price point. Ease of use goes a long way in the consumer products market.

A lot of technology innovation has been driven from the ground up, per se, starting in the consumer market where the volume is large enough to generate enough revenue, even at low margins and eventually leading to development for the business world. I'm sure the future of VSaaS for business will evolve initialy out of the consumer market.

Although its lacking in features, most end users that this type of product is targeted to probably dont want all those features because it just ends up confusing them anyways. I think they were geniuses when they made this because they made it so simple to setup. Simplicity is such a huge thing.

Dropcam is a gimmic that has been well marketed. There are other products that are 25% - 50% more for the hardware that are just as easy to install and use that work better.

You get what you pay for and you see better with more light!

All, thanks for the feedback.

David, if you have specific recommendations, please share and we can review.

I think that one of the most important points in their solution is the server ability to stream Adobe Flash compatible streams (FLV) to the client, meaning that the client software could be Web based (Flash based) and the end user doesn't need to install anything else besides a Web browser and the Flash plugin to watch video streams properly - like Youtube does.

Considering other VMS/VSaaS solutions, this is the only one I know capable of Flash streaming. Probably because their camera already send the streams in Flash compatible format (or at least using the H264 Flash codec - would need to check that using a network sniffer), so the server doesn't need to transcode it to Flash. Other cameras with mjpeg/mpeg4/h264 standard codecs would need the server to transcode the video streams to Flash video to accomplish that - at a huge CPU cost.

This is one of the limitations of most VMS Web clients that usually ask for an ActiveX plugin (compatible only with Internet Explorer), or use a JPEG/MJPEG solution (like Milestone Web client) to use HTML only and allow cross-browser compatibility - forcing the server to transcode video streams to MJPEG.

It's a fact that Adobe Flash is an abandoned technology (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/11/adobe-kills-mobile-flash/), the new HTML5 Web standard is going to replace it, but, in my opinion, as a VMS developer, I think they spent a lot of time developing this technology, but it worthed. The Web client is great and allows a very good user experience.

Hey Wagner - Definitely great points on the flash component, and while the demise of that technology platform has been long heralded... Flash browser/market coverage is still totally epic (will be for quite some time) and mobile apps cover the rest!

Great write-up John!

how is this different from the IP camera STARVEDIA sells from Taiwan?, which is also plug n play.

Starvedia is definitely one of the pioneers in the 'plug n play' space (it was one of the first cameras we tested 4 years ago).

Some technical difference include:

  • Dropcam integrates 'plug n play' recording users have to set that up separately with Stavedia
  • Setup is more complex as you have a password card, a thick client and have to discover the camera on the network using the client. With Dropcam just plug the USB cable in, no client needed, no password cards, etc.
  • It appears that their web interface requires an ActiveX control.

All in all, I think Starvedia is pretty good, though not at the ease of use level of Dropcam. Also, from reviewing the website just now, it does not appear that the product has significantly improved in the last few years.

Just a small correction regarding what Wagner said, there are some VSaaS offerings (including ours - NeoVSP) on the market, which offer Flash streaming as the default method (with optional fallback to legacy methods if needed).

It's indeed the most convenient method to deliver video for the consumer market today, albeit it has its own limitations.

That said, our new personal safety cloud platform Eyecam, is built on mix of HTML5 and Flash, in preparation for the moment that browser vendors will finally agree on the common video protocol and codec, and allow us to drop Flash and provide great video experience with native HTML5.

- Starvedia camera needs an ActiveX installation. Works only with IE. Just check their online demo.

- Stas, great to hear that are are solutions offering easy access for the Web. But how does the CPU cost for transcoding affect the architecture and specially the prices?

We avoid it by having the encoding done on cameras (as I presume, Dropcam does).

It always better to distribute the work to end-devices (same for edge-storage), rather than having a central system carry the entire load.

Really ironic that consumers are probably stuck on the idea of framerate being the most important requirment for these cameras when really, for the purposes and limitations of hosted recording and viewing, I think the consumer would be much better served with a default of 2 or 3 frames per second and much less quantization.

This is a very interesting review, but I don't clearly understand whether this is a USB device or an Ethernet device. The review suggests USB but online information suggests Ethernet. Can you clarify this point?

Paul, it's actually a clever approach. It's a WiFi camera (no wireline Ethernet) but it uses USB for power and for initial setup.

When you first get a Dropcam, you connect it your laptop's USB interface, it finds the camera (no need for software) and sets it up. Then you disconnect for your laptop and plug the Dropcam into an outlet and it's online.

We reviewed this in the original test but skipped it here because it did not change.

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