If you've never heard of Dropcam, it's a startup that's quickly become a leader in DIY home-video monitoring. In many ways it's similar to Sonos, the upstart audio company that's been highly successful in the multiroom wireless-streaming audio space. The backbone of both companies is elegant, user-friendly software that's built around attractive hardware.
Dropcam's been at it for less time than Sonos, but it's taken something complicated (wireless video monitoring) and made it simple while continuing to improve the quality of the video and services you use to monitor it. Oh, and the hardware's gotten better, too.
Case in point: the new Dropcam Pro. It looks very similar to the(released in 2012 as the Dropcam HD, but now renamed as just "Dropcam"). But the Pro has a black stand, is a little thicker, and has a six-element, all-glass lens, and a larger image sensor. Dropcam says you'll get 2x sharper video during the day and 7x better performance in low-light conditions and at night. It also has a 130-degree field of view, which is 20 percent wider than what you get with the standard Dropcam.
I got my hands on an early review sample and have been impressed with the evolution of the new Dropcam Pro, as well as the new software upgrades that Dropcam has added.
Dropcam offers a free app for Android and iOS devices (including a native iPad app), and you can also access your camera -- or cameras -- from a Web browser on a computer. Real-time monitoring is free, but Dropcam also offers a premium cloud recording service, which starts at $9.95 a month or $99 a year for seven days of continuous recording (you can also get 30-day continuous recording but it costs a lot more).
While the video resolution currently remains at 720p with the Pro, you can definitely see a significant difference in image quality, and that new software update allows you to digitally zoom in on parts of the image -- up to 8x on the Pro and 4x on the standard Dropcam -- and then enhance the image after you zoom to bring back some of the detail lost while zooming. Remember that scene in "Blade Runner" where Deckard uses a compact gadget (and his voice) to analyze a photo of a crime scene and turn it into a 3D image, zooming in on various pieces of it? Well, the Dropcam feature is still far from that, but you won't find a consumer-grade video-monitoring service or camera that offers this feature.
While it's cool, there is a bit of trickery involved, especially when you zoom to 8x. That's because when you zoom, the whole image goes out of focus. Then, after you touch the enhance button, the focus comes back so it automatically looks sharper.
But ultimately the key is that the camera is capturing a sharper, higher resolution image that you zoom in on without things totally going fuzzy. Going from the Dropcam HD to the Pro is sort of like going from the camera in the iPhone 4 to the one in the. However, that analogy probably isn't totally accurate because the image sensor in the Dropcam is bigger than the one in the iPhone 5S and other smartphones, so it captures more pixels and works better in low light (at least according to Dropcam).
The zoom works best at lower levels -- say, 2x -- to crop out part of the image and monitor just what's in that zoomed frame. Since the field of view is so wide, you're less constrained by where you initially place the camera. Dropcam sees this as a way around providing electric pan-and-tilt hardware controls that would make the camera even pricier (you can manually tilt the camera stand and even mount it on a wall).