If you want to see a reporter’s eyes roll, open your product pitch by saying your new widget is a “[insert name of longtime category leader here] killer.” So my eyes rolled hard when Panasonic’s PR representative told me the company would announce a “Dropcam killer” at Mobile World Congress this year.
My reaction, as it turns out, might have been off the mark. If Panasonic delivers everything it’s promising with its Nubo security camera, it could very well knock Google’s Dropcam off its perch. There’s just one hitch: Panasonic doesn’t plan to ship the camera in Europe until the fourth quarter, and it won’t be available in the U.S. until the first quarter of 2016.
So what makes the Nubo so cool? First and foremost, it doesn't rely solely on Ethernet for Internet connectivity, so you can set up the camera in a much wider variety of places. The Nubo ships with a SIM card and a 4G data plan in addition to Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) support. Part of the reason the product won’t be available in the U.S. until next year is that Panasonic hasn’t signed a contract with a 4G carrier in the U.S. (Vodaphone will be its service provider in Europe). The 4G data plan will require an optional monthly subscription, but fear not, the camera won’t be useless without it (more on that later).
Onboard storage and other features
There’s onboard storage for video clips and images, thanks to a microSD card slot that supports super-capacity SDXC memory cards. Those cards can store up to 2TB of data. But before you get too excited about all that capacity, know that you can’t buy a 2TB microSDXC card today, a 512GB card costs more than twice as much as the camera, and no card will be bundled with the camera (that last bit’s not that big of a deal). The camera runs on AC power, but Panasonic will also offer an external USB battery pack that will give you the option of taking the camera on the road to monitor your car, your hotel room, or even your campsite.
Unlike the Dropcam, the Nubo will be weatherized for both indoor and outdoor use. While the enclosure will be made primarily from plastic, Panasonic says it will carry IP-66 certification to prevent the incursion of dust and water (you’ll be able to hose it down without worrying that water will get inside). The lens itself is fabricated from glass and delivers a 140-degree field of view.
As you’d expect of a camera in this class, the Nubo will have infrared illumination for night vision, and a passive infrared (PIR) motion sensor. When motion is detected, the camera captures snippets of video and uploads them to the cloud. An algorithm on Panasonic’s servers will analyze the video clips to determine if the detected motion was caused by a human being or something else.
When motion is detected, Panasonic's servers will send the user an alert with a snapshot of what the camera saw. These Alerts can be limited to when only human motion is detected.
It's a connected-home hub, too
In addition to those camera features, the Nubo will have Bluetooth and ZigBee radios that enable it to operate as a connected-home hub. That will enable it to control devices that operate on those protocols (such as door locks, thermostats, and lighting systems), and it can be triggered by sensors (door/window and external motion sensors, for instance) that use those protocols. Finally, the Nubo will be capable of operating as a video intercom system, being outfitted with both a microphone and an internal speaker.
You’ll need a smartphone or tablet to use the camera, as Panasonic will support only the Android and iOS operating systems at launch. A web portal and/or a desktop app that will allow you to view and manage the camera using a Mac or PC will come later. Panasonic has sensor packs on its product roadmap, as well as a Pro model that will have additional features that might include Power over Ethernet support.
Codecs, resolution, security, and pricing
The camera will capture video at 720p resolution at up to 10 frames per second for cloud streaming, and at 1080p resolution and up to 30fps for streams over Wi-Fi. Video is encoded using either the H.264 or Motion JPEG codecs, with the former being the default choice for streams uploaded to the cloud. Video is encrypted using 4096-bit SSL keys whether video is sent to the cloud or to a local wireless network.
Panasonic has not finalized pricing, but during an embargoed briefing with Panasonic Cameramanager CTO Tijmen Vos, Vos said the company expects to sell the Nubo for around $250. Buyers will get a three-month trial of the optional 4G data plan, which will cost between $7 and $10 a month. That will buy you 250 alarms per month and seven days of cloud storage for your video clips. Additional plans will also be available, culminating in a $50-per-month plan that delivers 2500 alarms and 90 days of cloud storage (that plan will be aimed at business users).
Once you’ve reached your data cap, as measured by the number of alarms you’ve received, you won’t be able to see any more of the video clips that the alarms are based on, but you will continue to receive alarms and you’ll be able to purchase more data via the app, so that you can continue to view those clips.
A “freemium” model depends on the camera being connected to your own Wi-Fi network, and it doesn’t include any cloud storage. You’ll still get alarms, however, and you’ll be able to be able to view both a live stream from the camera and video clips recorded on the camera’s onboard memory card (provided you’ve purchased one) while you’re on your local network.
Needless to say, we’re looking forward to evaluating the Nubo. Panasonic’s Cameramanager division has lots of experience developing and operating cloud-based video-surveillance systems, but they’ve focused on the business market until now. They’re sure to learn valuable lessons serving European consumers before they come to the U.S. market. In the meantime, Google has lots of time to improve its Dropcam product. May the best camera win!