Dropcam’s new $199 Pro model aims to be the smart home hub

The 27-year-old CEO of Dropcam, the maker of a video camera that streams to the Internet 24 hours a day, is holding a shrink-wrapped box containing the next major version of that device.

On it is a simple front and side shot of the all-black camera on a white background. On the back of the box are the words “Designed by Dropcam in California. Assembled in China.” It’s a not-so-subtle homage to Apple. In fact, from across the room, the camera could be mistaken for an Apple product.

To the untrained eye the camera looks like the one the company began shipping last year — but black in color and a bit thicker. As if channeling Apple some more, Duffy smiles and says not to let looks deceive me. “It looks the same outside, but everything has changed on the inside,” he says.

Despite the name, the $199 Dropcam Pro is not a product aimed at taking over the enterprise. Instead, it’s a new, top-of-the-line camera that can view 20 percent more of its surroundings than its predecessor — and can do it with a sharper image, thanks to an all-glass lens.

That same lens, which was developed in house, also boasts a new “enhance” feature that comes close to sharpening up video detail like you see in movies and TV shows. (Picture some geeky engineer clicking his mouse to make an unreadable license plate come into focus, which leads to the bad guys’ inevitable capture.)

To show off the feature, Duffy pulls up a decidedly less crime-ridden live video feed of the couch in the company’s lobby here. He pinches the screen to zoom in on a copy of Bloomberg Businessweek that’s on the table and then taps a small magic wand icon on the glowing screen of an iPad running Dropcam’s app. A second later it fizzles into near-perfect clarity.

A fuzzy blob turns into a bookshelf of boardgames (Click to see in native resolution.)A fuzzy blob turns into a bookshelf of boardgames (Click to see in native resolution.)(Credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)

It’s a wow feature, and one that Duffy hopes will get existing customers to spend another $200, and entice new buyers alike. It’s also an alternative response to one of the most asked-for features by Dropcam buyers — the option to pan and zoom around the room.

Yet, instead of adding motors and a gear system, the company made the image clearer and sharper with a mix of hardware and software. According to Duffy, adding motors and a gear system to achieve the effect just adds extra costs and can end up shortening a product’s lifespan.

“You have to look beyond what people are asking for and what functionality they actually want,” Duffy says. “We took from that that they want more detail from anything they have in a room.”

Getting that extra clarity was not easy. The new camera takes up about 10 percent more bandwidth than its predecessor. That’s a far cry to where the company was when it was in the initial stages of testing, Duffy says. Earlier, the Pro was using up three to four times more bandwidth, something that was resolved with compression. That’s been a constant push at the company, where three people work solely on squeezing better video into a smaller amount of space. See more at: cnet