Full Product Name, Model: Dropcam Echo
Manufacturer's URL: http://www.dropcam.com
Pros: Easy to set up; monitor video over the Web or with a free iPhone app; includes audio; one month of free 24/7 video recording.
Cons: Price for both the camera and the service is high.
We've seen several video surveillance systems that promised easy plug-and-go connectivity for non-technical consumers, but we've never found one that truly delivered with simple setup and use. Until now. The Dropcam Echo is everything you want a wireless security camera to be. Using it is a breeze, and it delivers great images and audio, even over mobile connections.
The Dropcam Echo is a compact white camera that measures only 3.7" x 2.3" x 1.3" (height x width x depth). Stand it up anywhere or use the included vice stand to mount it to tables, pipes or beams. The "Echo" in the name means that this is the audio-enabled model, since the standard Dropcam doesn't capture sound. The price is the product's only downfall, as the Dropcam Echo lists for $279 (and the standard Dropcam goes for $199).
Thanks to well thought-out installation procedures, we were able to get the Dropcam Echo working in minutes. Start by connecting the camera to your router with the included Ethernet cable, then plugging it in. Visit the Dropcam start page on a browser and it walks you painlessly through the rest of the steps. You'll identify and name your camera, then input your Wi-Fi password.
After that, you're done. Unplug the camera from your router and place it anywhere in your Wi-Fi router's signal range. When you first plug the camera in, a light around the lens blinks green, yellow, and red for a minute, then stops on green. A solid green light means the camera is connected with your online account and the camera is working as it should.
We loved the flexibility that the Echo offers. Set it up in the living room to watch for activity when you're away. Set it in a window to keep an eye on what the dog is doing outside. It's as easy as plugging the camera into a new outlet and waiting a few seconds for it to connect to your router. There's nothing more to set up each time you move the camera; it just starts working.
When you want to watch the video from your Echo, visit the Dropcam watch page (you get the URL during installation). Sign in and you can see a clear picture from your camera and hear the audio it's recording. If you have multiple cams on your account, you can switch from one to another in seconds. We were consistently impressed by the bright clear image the camera produced.
New users get 14 days of full recording service with the camera. Your online account automatically records all video from your camera around the clock. You'll find a timeline below the image screen, which you can use to jump to any point in the recording stream. Click a new time and you'll view the recorded video in seconds.
The Dropcam service can monitor for activity, and you'll find helpful yellow dots on the timeline that show you when movement was recorded. Click it to those areas to see exactly what was recorded while you were out.
After your two weeks are up, you can pay $8.95 per month for seven days of recording, which is all stored on Dropcam's servers, or $24.95 per month for 30 days of recording. Those prices seem high, so we're hoping Dropcam will cut each one in half. On the plus side, you can add multiple cameras to your account and the monitoring price is the same. If you don't want to pay a monthly fee, you can use the free service to view your live stream, but it won't be recorded.
If you see something on camera that you absolutely need a record of, Dropcam makes it easy to get a copy of the video (as long as you have a service plan). Click the button labeled "Generate Video Clip," then enter the date for the clip you want, as well as the clip's duration. In up to 48 hours, the site tells you, you'll have your clip. In our testing, we got our clip in about 2 hours. The service batches its requests together to save resources, a press representative told us, and that 48 hours number is the outside maximum.
Dropcam offers a useful sharing feature, so that you can ask a friend to monitor your video stream if you're unable to. We love the free iPhone app, which lets users monitor their video from anywhere, even over 3G connections. We only had to wait a few seconds upon opening the app to view the live stream.
Finally, there's a truly simple wireless camera for monitoring activity. If you'd like to keep an eye on your world when you're not around, give the DropCam Echo a try.
Bio: Troy is a senior staff editor at StreamingMedia.com and OnlineVideo.net, and is also a regular contributor to Computer Shopper and PCMag.com's blogs. He writes a weekly consumer technology column which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TDreier.