Some Thoughts on Dropcam, UniFi Protect, HomeKit, and Notifications

In a few days, Google is going to drop support for Dropcam and Dropcam Pro cameras. It’s understandable considering the age and history of these products. They also gave plenty of notice and offered a couple free current cameras so at least they did things the right way. 

But I still used this motivation to switch to something different. 

Out with the old:

Eleven Years of Dropcam

I’ve been using Dropcam/Nestcam for over a decade. We had 11 cameras in and on our house. It’s mostly been a good experience. The video retention and motion alerts were solid. Previously you had to pay per camera but now there is just a yearly “all inclusive” option. It was made better when the Starling hub came along and put most of the benefits right inside of HomeKit.

But I was tired of a few things:

  1. All of our personal videos going to Google servers
  2. The high bandwidth needs to cameras (upload) and starling hub (download)
  3. Having to use both the Nest app and Google Home app to see and manage devices

I won’t go through the full history of how this all happened. If you’ve been a long time Dropcam user than you already know it. This post is more about the new options. Hopefully it’s helpful in the same way that this post was helpful for me. 

Unifi Protect Considerations

I ended up going with the Unifi Protect line of cameras and video recorders. In addition to being nice gear with a very simple setup, it checked all three boxes:

  1. All of the video stays local in our house except for some very specific scenarios where events are sent to HomeKit Secure Video. (Free with iCloud+ and also end-to-end encrypted)
  2. Because all of the video stays local, there is no upload and download happening constantly from our house. As best I can tell, this has cut our ISP data utilization in half.
  3. Unifi Protect has apps for iOS and iPadOS. (The latter of which can be ran on a Apple Silicon Mac as well.) I now have zero Google apps on my devices.

Rather than do a full writeup and tutorial, I’ll just list out some things I’ve learned that should help anyone else considering the move. 

  • The G4 Instant camera is nearly a drop-in replacement for any Dropcam. It uses wifi and a power outlet. In most cases, I just swapped one for one.
  • If the cameras are too noticable, the official covers are nice and help blend things better with the background.
  • If you have less than six cameras, you should consider the Unifi CloudKey+ to run Protect and keep your videos local. 
  • I went with the Unifi NVR (Network Video Recorder) because I have twelve cameras and will likely grow with more gear. This can remain the Protect hardware even as I add network equipment.
  • The mounting base for the cameras leaves a bit to be desired. It’s solid but just misses the right angle often enough. These mounting brackets are helpful when that happens.
  • Until Unifi has native HomeKit integration, the plugin for Homebridge is really incredible. I absolutely love that it is opinionated software and the default settings really are the most beneficial to the most people. Read all of the docs carefully before you start making changes.
  • As suggested in those plugin docs, I have the NVR doing most of the smart detection and then sending all notifications to HomeKit. Then, I use HomeKit to decide on when/where I want to get the notifications. (remember, this is a per device setting so do it on your iPhone, iPad, Apple TVs, etc, just the way you want it.) It works really well. This is how it looks in HomeKit: 
  • For HKSV, I set HomeKit for streaming and recording while home and away. For me, this will only record motions that contain people and/or vehicles. I mostly have this turned on in case my NVR is ever stolen. It’s also a nice way for family members in the home to have access to clips without giving them full access to the NVR.
  • When I do want to save a clip, it’s always from NVR with full resolution. It’s so fast and easy since it’s local.
  • Removing the Dropcams from our network and no longer using Starling for the HomeKit integration has really decreased the traffic. (I’ll trash the Dropcams and likely resell the Nest Cams that are still operating.)
Nestcam devices removed on Tuesday night
  • I still use the Starling hub to put my Nest thermostats into HomeKit. They are so nice and work so well. I’m not ready to remove them from my home. With them being available in HomeKit, I don’t have to use the Google Home app at all. There is also a homebridge plugin to do this.
  • Now that everything is local, I no longer have a yearly subscription to pay to Google for storing and analyzing video. The math works great long term.

A Needed Change

In short, I’m very happy with the changes. I probably wouldn’t have done it without the notification from Google that they were moving. Sometimes the Google Graveyard can be helpful.

Update: I’ve been so impressed with the UniFi gear that I have also changed from Eero to UniFi hardware for my home network. It’s been incredible.

Feedback? Send me an email.