Hi, my name’s Dan and I’m a snoopaholic. (“Hi, Dan.”)
I didn’t used to be. I used to have a healthy respect for people’s boundaries. Heck, I wrote a book on privacy. Then I installed Dropcam, the WiFi cam that has a cult following. And now I can’t stop myself from using it to peer into the lives of family members and total strangers.
I have installed a $200 Dropcam Pro. This model was introduced last October; it offers a wider field of view, better night vision and double the zoom range of the original Dropcam that debuted in April 2012.
Why do I love it so much? Here are three excellent reasons:
1. It’s idiotproof.
All devices should be this easy to set up. Just plug Dropcam into your computer’s USB port, and then log into your WiFi network and your Dropcam account. Remove the device from your computer, plug it into an outlet in range of your network, and you’re done — wham, bam, thank you, cam.
(By contrast, setting up a traditional IP camera from D-Link took me an excruciating hour and a half, and I still can’t get it to work with WiFi.)
You can then view the cam via Dropcam’s website or an app. Change your mind and want to move the cam? Just plug it in somewhere new and wait a minute. Dropcam automatically reconnects to the WiFi network and comes back online.
2. It’s a time machine.
Unlike most WiFi cams, which are marketed primarily as home security devices, Dropcam is also designed to capture life’s magic moments — like your toddler’s first steps, the rare instances when the teens are not bickering like an old married couple, or that time Dad dropped his phone in the soup bowl.
So in addition to the camera, Dropcam offers a cloud recording service — what it’s calling a CVR — that stores a week’s worth of video for $10 a month or a month of video for $30. In other words, you can go back in time either seven or 30 days to review clips, save them and share them via email, Facebook or Twitter.
Dropcam detects motion and sound, so it will automatically record video when there’s any action in the room. You can store up to three hours of clips and then download them to your hard drive to make room for more. Dropcam comes with a free two-week trial of the cloud recording service; if you decide not to pony up for it, you still get live 24/7 viewing, but you can’t record or share clips.
Other wicked-cool features: You can put Dropcam on a schedule — so it turns on only when you’re asleep or away from home. You can add as many cams as your network bandwidth can handle and view them all from a single app. And Dropcam features two-way audio, so I can listen in on the action as well as see it, and talk to whomever is in the room (what I’m calling the “Voice of God” feature).
3. It’s a voyeur’s Valhalla.
You can also make your camera public so others can see it. Dropcam offers a selection of featured cameras on its site and via the app, which has become my new obsession. Instead of doing actual work, I procrastinate by flipping from the naked mole rats cage in Seattle’s Pacific Science Center to a Maserati dealership in Cincinnati to the old dudes playing pingpong at the East Northport Table Tennis club on Long Island. It’s like 100 different versions of the Truman Show, only without Jim Carrey mugging for the camera.
To be fair, though, it’s not just Dropcam that has inspired my latent voyeurism. I am also partial to Piper, which has a few features Dropcam doesn’t (in particular, the ability to pan 180 degrees, to split one image into four views, to control other devices and to sound a deafening alarm if an intruder crosses its path).
My daughter, on the other hand, truly hates my new-found obsession with spying. I trained Dropcam on her computer, hoping to catch her in yet another Sims marathon. I was planning to use the Voice of God feature to tell her to quit playing and start doing her homework.
But I never quite got there. She found the cam almost immediately. This is the Dropcam view I was presented with yesterday morning.
OK, point taken. I’ve been overdoing it with the cameras. Apparently some people don’t want to have their moments, magical or otherwise, captured for posterity. I get it.
So I moved the cam to my office and went back to watching the mole rats. At least they don’t complain about it.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.