Dropcam HD Wi-Fi review: Easy wireless video monitor hits its stride

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MSRP: $149.00

The Good The Dropcam HD WiFi is a Wi-Fi-enabled high-resolution Webcam with two-way sound capabilities. It offers easy setup and flexible mounting options, and you can view a remote video feed over the Internet or on your iOS or Android mobile device via free Dropcam apps. There's no service fee for basic live viewing. DVR functionality is available with a paid plan and recorded video is stored in the cloud.

The Bad You can't tilt or swivel the camera remotely (the lens is fixed) and you may experience some lag with the video and audio, depending on the speed of your Internet service. The need for AC power precludes true wireless operation. Also, there's no native iPad app.

The Bottom Line The wireless Dropcam HD Wi-Fi is an excellent choice for anyone seeking a light-duty Web-enabled remote security camera that emphasizes quick and easy setup.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Earlier this year, Dropcam, which has made a name for itself for providing an easy-to-set-up video-monitoring camera and service, released its new video-monitoring camera, the Dropcam HD.

Unfortunately, the initial units the company shipped had quality control problems and Dropcam had to recall them. However, the production issues -- which affected image quality -- were resolved in April, and I've been testing one of the new units for a couple of months and everything is working well.

As you can see, the Dropcam has a pretty interesting design and is fairly tiny. The camera can be removed from its stand -- such as when you connect it to your computer -- but most people will leave it in its stand and either set it up on a flat surface or mount it on a wall.

The Dropcam HD is available for $149. David Carnoy/CNET

You can't swivel the camera remotely, but you can manually tilt and swivel the camera into almost any position. It's a fixed lens, which means there's no optical zoom, but Dropcam is now offering a digital-zoom feature.

The original Dropcam cameras were manufactured by Axis and used Dropcam's firmware. This new camera has been designed in-house by Dropcam and features an integrated microphone and speaker, so you can both hear what's going on in a room and talk to anybody in the room through the camera. Another nice improvement: setting up the new camera is even easier than the old one.

The image quality of the Dropcam HD is overall quite good (click to enlarge). Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET

The Dropcam HD has a wider-angle lens in the camera than the original Axis cameras, and it's certainly much sharper. Also, because it's a higher-resolution image, you can blow up that image up on your computer screen and retain much more detail. One caveat: even though the camera is technically "HD," don't expect to see the same smooth, crisp 720p image you'd get watching HDTV. Still, it's a welcome improvement, and it gives you a wider image with more depth to it, meaning things in the background appear more in focus.

The Dropcam removed from its stand/mount. Dropcam

You can get a good image without a great Internet connection. My DSL connection at the remote location where I was testing the Dropcam is only fair. With lots of motion, I got some slight choppiness in the video, and there is some lag; but overall it wasn't too bad.

It's worth noting that the Dropcam captures video continuously. If you have a bandwidth cap, it will certainly eat up a nice chunk every month (reports have the number north of 50GB), so you should take that into consideration. I also did experience some dropouts (where the camera went offline), though overall I found the product to be pretty reliable. It's unclear whether the dropouts were due to something on Dropcam's end or a glitch with my Internet service provider -- or perhaps even my DSL modem or wireless router.

The company touts its "60-second setup": you plug the camera into your computer via USB, select your Wi-Fi network, and name the camera, and your Dropcam HD is online and ready for viewing. While it may have taken closer to 90 seconds, I can attest that setup was, in fact, just that simple. Just as importantly, when the camera goes offline due to a power failure or dropped Internet connection, when it comes back on, the camera automatically joins your wireless network and comes back to life. The earlier version wasn't as reliable.