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Dropcam powers up connected video with new Pro camera

Do you have pets or family members you enjoy checking in on remotely? Or a home that makes you nervous when you're not physically in it, worrying about your stuff? When you think about ways to soothe your anxiety and keep an eye on the things you care about, the mountable, networked, USB-powered, WiFi-connected cameras of Dropcam are there to help.

Today, the camera and cloud video company is announcing its revamped, souped-up camera: Dropcam Pro. The improved unit takes the features of the older Dropcam HD (now renamed to just "Dropcam") and improves video, audio (two-way talk), wireless connectivity, night vision -- even adding Bluetooth LE support to position the Pro as a potential hub for the connected home. The iOS Dropcam apps have been revamped too, with direct setup for cameras and a Hollywood-style "zoom and enhance" mode that has to be seen to be believed.

The genesis of the original Dropcam, launched in 2009, began with the founder's father and a wayward pooch. "My dad wanted to catch the neighbor's dog pooping in his yard," CEO Greg Duffy says. But the challenges of rigging networked cameras and getting a finicky PC to serve as a DVR were too much for even a technically sophisticated guy, and Duffy teamed up with co-founder and COO Aamir Virani to build a cloud solution to make everything work together, out of the box. Now the core use cases of "Parents, Pets & Property" are all big business for Dropcam, but Duffy points out that there's a very long tail of other use cases -- animal adoption centers with an adopt-a-cam, small businesses that want to share a view or (one of his favorites) live streaming from the back of a 16-year-old tortoise.

The new Dropcam Pro sports a larger image sensor for better standard and low-light performance, and an all-glass lens for max clarity. It covers a 130-degree field of view -- and when you use the pinch-zoom-enhance feature, you can identify a smaller area of that wide field and watch it magically clear up as the camera selectively streams just that section of the image. It's a CSI-style feature that will definitely impress your friends as you easily identify exactly what Fido is chewing on back at home.

My testing of Dropcam bore out the coolness of the zoom feature, and also the dead-simple setup -- connecting the camera to a laptop for a few minutes was enough to get the WiFi connectivity rolling, and anyone with an iPhone 4S or newer plus the latest Dropcam app can set up directly from their phone. The video and audio quality was definitely a step up from Axis or other IP cameras, with plenty of detail and good responsiveness.

"At its core, Dropcam is a software and services company. That means Dropcam gets better over time with hassle-free automatic updates to the camera, cloud service, and apps," says Duffy. That optional Cloud Video Recording (starting at US$9.95/mo for a seven-day history, $29.95 for 30 days) means that customers can access stored footage or share it out easily to other services.

Dropcam Pro will be hitting shelves at $199, while Dropcam (formerly Dropcam HD) continues at $149. Both cameras are available today at Amazon.com and Dropcam.com; other physical retail outlets are on the way.