Video Surveillance: Easier Than You Think

Nov 13, 2013 camera, dropcam, home network, 0 Comments
Video Surveillance Made Easy


Video surveillance, when used properly, is one of the best ways to protect your property and loved ones. No, it’s not going to stop someone who is dead set on breaking in or causing harm, but it can help apprehend that person, when properly installed and configured.

Back when the practice was fairly new, the cameras were bulky and users needed a VCR to record the images. But now, we have digital video and digital video recorders (DVR).

The explosion of networking and the Internet has taken us light years beyond the “old days” of analog cameras and clunky VCRs that the “bad guy” could foil simply by taking the tape. CDs and DVDs weren’t much better, either. Criminals could just simply hit the eject button, take the disc, and be on their way.

Networked Video Surveillance Offers More Options

Video surveillance manufacturers saw the benefits of IP technology relatively early and started marketing their technologies and products to businesses and government a couple decades ago. The technology has, in the last few years, matured enough that the price point has reached a level that the small business or homeowner can now afford it and have the flexibility they previously couldn’t.

Dropcam is one of the newest entrants to this ever-expanding market. They are marketing a small, wireless camera that connects to your Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) network. What this means is that you can bring up a browser, go to a specific page and view the action as seen by your cameras. Dropcam’s Pro offering, however, gives you more than just the option to passively watch the video.

What about when the action moves out of the range of where the camera is currently pointed? With traditional video surveillance systems that had the necessary equipment, you could always grab the joystick and command pan, tilt, and/or zoom (PTZ) actions by the camera. Panning is the action of moving the viewing area of the camera left or right, tilt is moving it up or down, and zoom, obviously, is the action of zeroing in on a smaller area in the video frame.

The problem with traditional systems is that the equipment and cameras required have been pretty expensive and require expensive wiring and power. With this new offering from Dropcam, the control functionality is built into the camera, while the commands are generated within the browser session. Although, they haven’t totally eliminated the wires, since the cameras need a USB cable to operate. Also, it unfortunately doesn’t appear that they’ve been able to incorporate pan and tilt yet, but they have done an excellent job with the zoom, allowing you to focus in on a tiny portion of the viewing area and enhance it dramatically. Not sure about that car parked in front of your house? Simply highlight with the mouse and the software will zoom in on it.

What Else Does It Do?

Picture this scenario: You’re expecting an important package and just sitting down to enjoy dinner with the family when the doorbell rings. Normally, you’d have to get up to answer the door if it was the package you’ve been waiting for, or if it was a salesperson (or Jehovah’s Witness), you’d have to get up and answer the door. However, with this new video surveillance camera system from Dropbox, you can now interact with the person at the door. Interact! If it’s the package you’ve been waiting for, you can tell the delivery person to leave it at the door or someplace safe; but if it’s someone you don’t want to deal with, you can tell them to go away.

But what if it’s dark outside and you forgot to turn on the outside light? Not a problem. Dropcam Pro is what we call a “low light level camera” and is also equipped with an infrared LED light (picture those videos on YouTube with the unearthly green glow) to greatly assist in low light level viewing. Yeah, it looks pretty weird, but still the image is quite clear, although, the infrared light will reflect off glass and cause glare in the image.

Sounds Expensive and Hard to Use

Nope, not at all. There are two camera options. The first is the basic Dropcam that runs $149, has a 107° field of view (FOV) and a four times zoom. The other option is to go Pro for $199, which gives you a camera with a 130° FOV and eight times zoom. Both cameras pick up video in 720p HD. For $10 a month, you can add an online DVR service that’s hosted “on the cloud.” This allows you to record up to seven days of footage ($30 gives you 30 days). You can even share video footage with friends and family.

Setup is easy. Simpy plug the camera into a USB port, give it a name, and configure it for network access like you would any other Wi-Fi device and you’re ready to go. There are even mobile apps for Android and iOS devices.

Photo Credit: Headlines & Heroes


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Mike is a certified low voltage installer with over 10 years of professional experience in the field, much of it working for Cable TV companies. He also has over a decade of experience in the computer field as a network engineer and support specialist. Mike's hobbies include installing high-end audio and video systems.

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