Testing Samsung vs Google/Dropcam

By Derek Ward, Published Jul 14, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Samsung is charging hard into IP cameras. Last year, they attacked the professional market with their WiseNet III launch.

Now, they are going after the consumer / residential market with their "SmartCam" offering.

Not only does Samsung have brand, they are leveraging a strong professional series into this space. Plus, their cloud camera does not charge any monthly fees, even for recording video.

However, Dropcam has established itself a the brand leader in this space, with incredible marketing and now their acquisition by Google.

We bought the 1080p Samsung SmartCam [link no longer available] and put it to the test against the Dropcam HD Pro: 

Here's how the SmartCam stacks up against Dropcam on key factors:

  • Setup: Samsung setup is straightforward, requiring the user to power the camera and connect it via Ethernet to their router. A web-based wizard locates the camera and adds it to the user's account via samsungsmartcam.com [link no longer available]. Dropcam requires the user to plug the camera into their computer via USB, which launches the wizard and walks through the setup process.
  • Configuration Settings: The Samsung SNH-P6410BN does not have CODEC settings, only a simple selection of low, medium, and high quality video in live view. No specific control of framerate, resolution, compression, shutter speed, exposure, etc., is available, similar to Dropcam.
  • Live Video: Viewing live video is simple, and low latency (<1 second delay). A plug-in is required prior to viewing the live stream. Dropcam's delay is latency is significantly longer, ranging from 3 to 10 seconds in our testing.
  • 1080p Live/720p Recorded: While the Samsung uses a 1080p sensor and live video may be viewed at maximum resolution, the camera records only at 720p resolution.
  • Recorded Video: Accessing and locating recorded video is simple, with a simple timeline (similar to Dropcam) which displays all recorded video on the SD card. Samsung does not offer cloud storage.
  • Exporting Limitations: Users can not export SD card footage from camera, and must manually remove the card access files directly. Only screenshots taken during live viewing can be saved directly to a phone or computer. This is a significant limitation compared to Dropcam's fully integrated exporting.
  • Model Selection: Including this model, 3 models are available in Samsung's SmartCam line, but the other 2 are SD resolution, indoor models only, and do not include SD recording.
  • Price: ~$200 USD online, similar to the Dropcam Pro.

Other Key Samsung Points

  • IR illumination: IR illumination is weak and does not fill the entire field of view.
  • SD card not includedThe camera does not include a MicroSD card for recording. Users should account for this cost in their budget, typically ~$20 USD for a 16GB card.
  • No monthly cost: Unlike Dropcam which charges $9.99 or more per month for recording video, Samsung's cost for recording is simply the one time purchase of an SD card.
  • VMS compatibility: Unlike Dropcam, the SNH-P6410BN may be recorded by NVRs/VMSs via ONVIF or RTSP, but this support is inconsistent. In Exacq, for example, only 640x360 resolution is supported via ONVIF, while Video Insight connected at 1080p. 

Recommendations

The Samsung SmartCam SNH-P6410BN is one of the strongest competitors to Dropcam yet, but still falls short in some areas.

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While SD card recording is simple to set up, playback may be confusing for some users due to lack of feedback in the user interface. Additionally, since the UI does not allow export, retrieval of clips from the SD card is difficult and requires the user to remove the SD card.

The SmartCam's image quality is on par or better in full light and WDR scenes than Dropcam, with a wider field of view. However, its uneven IR illumination pattern results in poorer low light video than Dropcam, making it less useful at night.

With technical improvements, Samsung's no monthly cost recording option could be a key differentiator against Dropcam.

Setup and Operation

We begin by demonstrating the initial out of the box setup:

Next, we take a look at Samsung's cloud interface:

SD Card Playback

Playing back SD card video is simple for the most part, with users choosing the date and recording type (motion, manual, alarm, or continuous) and hitting search, with video populating a timeline. However, lack of feedback on the user interface to indicate loading makes it seem as if the UI may be frozen and may be confusing for users. 

This video shows playback operations and these issues:

Since the cloud UI lacks any sort of export functions, users must remove the SD card from the camera and manually browse files via their PC. Files are named sequentially (01.avi, 02.avi, etc.), instead of with the time and date they were recorded, making retrieving video especially cumbersome.

This video reviews these issues:

Physical Overview

We take a look at the physical construction of the SNH-P6410BN in this brief video:

Image Quality

We tested the SNH-P6410BN against the Dropcam Pro in full light, dark, and WDR scenes. The SmartCam was shot in full resolution 1080p while the Dropcam Pro was 720p. The FOV's of both cameras can be seen in the image below.

Full Light

In full light, across a ~22' horizontal field of view, details are similar in the SmartCam and Dropcam. The Samsung camera is able to read 1-2 lines further down the test chart, but reading text this small is unlikely to be required in the residential applications these cameras are intended for. Note also that the Dropcam's white balance and brightness result in a more vibrant image.

Dark, IR On

The SmartCam's IR illuminator has a very bright center hot spot, with dim illumination at the edges, seen here as the subject moves across the room:

Because of this hotspot, the SmartCam is outperformed by the Dropcam Pro, which has a more even IR illumination pattern, making our subject moderately more recognizable, with less artifacting.

WDR

We tested both cameras against an open exit door to test WDR performance. Against the bright outdoor lighting, the SmartCam provides moderately better images of our subject's face when he is still.

However, with the subject entering through the door, the Dropcam Pro requires more time to adjust exposure, resulting in poor capture of the subject as he enters. The SmartCam does not require this adjustment, with the subject visible as he moves through the scene.

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