If you're a fan of The Office, you might recall the character Angela setting up a live stream camera so she could watch her cats while at work. There are, obviously, more practical uses for live streaming cameras, such as home security or a nanny cam, but many IP (Internet protocol) cameras are a pain to set up. Dropcam ($200 as of March 1, 2011) is different: Setup is incredibly simple and monitoring your camera is a cinch. Dropcam also has compatible iPhone and Android apps, so you'll always have access to your camera--even when you're out and about.
Activating your Dropcam is incredibly simple. First, you plug the Dropcam into a power outlet (with the provided adapter) and into your router (with the included ethernet cable). Then, on your PC, go to www.dropcam.com/start to enter in your registration code, which you'll find on the simple single-page installation instruction card. After a few seconds, the Website will verify your code.
Next, you need to look at your camera to see whether it is connected to your local home network or not. You determine this by observing the color of the flashing front light on your camera. Initially, our camera flashed red, green and yellow simultaneously. According to the site (and the instruction card), this combination means that the camera is booting up. After a few seconds, the light turned green, indicating that the camera was online and secure.
And that's it! Our camera was set up and ready to go within a few minutes. You can tune into your feed via the Dropcam site. Simply log in to your Dropcam account and voilà: You're watching your Webcam from your office PC or your home laptop. As long as you have Web access, you can see your stream.
The video quality looked pretty clean overall. A bit of pixelation is detectable, and we noticed some jaggies whenever something (such as a cat) moved quickly across the screen. Our review unit wasn't configured to capture sound; if you want to record audio, you'll have to opt for the Dropcam Echo ($279).
The free Basic plan gives you free live viewing;, but to record footage, you'll have to pay for one of the two premium plans. The Plus plan ($9 per month) gives you 7 full days (168 hours) of online recording on Dropcam's servers. You can also download screenshots or video clips for permanent archiving. The Pro plan ($25 per month), gives you 30 days of online recording.
Dropcam App for Android
If you want to access your camera while you're on the go, be sure to download the compatible Dropcam app for Android or iPhone. We tested the Android app, which lets you use your mobile phone to watch your own camera as well as other feeds you subscribe to.
When you start up the application for the first time, it asks you whether you already have a Dropcam account. If you indicate that you're new to Dropcam, the app will jump you to a page with more information about the service, rather than to a sign-up screen. To sign up for a new account, you must go to the Dropcam Website and create a new account there. The process is quick and painless, though we wish that Dropcam had given us the option of signing up via the app as well. Once you sign into the app with your account number, you'll see a list of all of your Dropcam video feeds. From there you just tap the stream you want to watch; after some loading, a live video feed will be available from any of your subscribed channels.
Because the app relies on Adobe Air, you'll need a phone that can run Android 2.2 or higher. Disappointingly, you can't manage your streams via the app--you have to do everything through the Website. Video loading can take anywhere from 1 to 15 seconds, depending on your connection, and you can choose to receive notification alerts from your feeds. Video quality was acceptable, but the video stuttered a bit when we entered an area with poor coverage.
You can set up the app to alert you when there's new motion on your camera. For example, if your camera is set up for surveillance of your front yard, you can receive a push notification if someone starts trampling your rosebed.
Overall the app works well with the camera, but we missed having the ability to add more streams from the phone. We hope that functionality is added in a future update.
This story, "Dropcam Live Stream Camera and App: Easy to Set Up and Access" was originally published by PCWorld.
Dropcam makes live streaming a snap with simple installation and a handy accompanying Android or iPhone app.