One of the problems in traveling with a dog in an RV is that there will be times when you can't take him with you. Restaurants, museums, most stores and many of the hiking trails in various state and national parks prohibit dogs, even when they are on a leash.
So there are times when we leave Tai alone in the RV for as long as a couple of hours.
That's one of the reasons we have gone overboard on solar and all the lithium ion batteries we have on our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL. We can power on the air and know it will reliably last many hours, keeping our double-coated Norwegian Elkhound comfy and cool.
But still, we worry.
So one way to ease our concern when Tai is in the coach and we're somewhere else is to be able to “tune into” him via video and audio, thanks to the Belkin Netcam HD that I recently installed. Verizon sells it for $129. And although it lacks some things that other units have, like a temperature sensor alarm found on the Motorola Focus66 ($78 on Amazon) or the Lorex LNC201 ($134 on Amazon), and the super high quality of the Dropcam Pro ($199), I am familiar with the Belkin name and knew it was super simple to setup. Besides, Verizon sent it to me to test out.
The key to a Wi-Fi camera, of course, is having Wi-Fi. In an RV, that can conceivably be done through a campground Wi-Fi system. But, seriously, has anyone ever found a campground Wi-Fi system that works well enough to actually do anything online? Since the camera sends audio and video out to the Internet and that requires a fairly robust connection that is not shared by every other RV in the campground, you really need to have a solid Internet connection.
As a sponsor of my RV travel podcast, Verizon has provided me with the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 6620L to create my own Wi-Fi network in our RV through Verizon's 4g LTE network. I have found that with Verizon, I have a very solid and speedy Internet connection just about everywhere we go. In extremely remote areas, I still get a great signal by using the Wilson Sleek cell phone booster with an outside external antenna. Here's a story about how the Sleek works from a previous post. But in 80 to 85% of the places we go – and we hit some spotsfr off the beaten path – I have no problem pulling in a solid signal without the need for the booster.
My point is you need Wi-Fi to have the camera work. You can get cell phone boosters for other carriers and similar mobile hotspots from other carriers. The Belkin Netcam also works on all carrier networks.
Setup is super simple. First, download the Belkin Netcam app (for iOS or Android). Then, plug the Netcam into a 110 volt outlet in the RV and turn the camera on. The app finds it and once you enter the password for your Wi-Fi network, it's running – sending high quality video and audio to the Net, which you can then viw on your smartphone or tablet via the app. By defauly, the feed is private, only accessible to you, though you can share it by inviting others.
You can also record the feed you are getting and save it to your device.
Here's a video and audio sample I recorded with my Belkin Netcam from inside the Roadtrek.
The camera comes with a small baseplate that can be set up on a countertop or flat surface. Turned around, it can also be mounted on the wall. I opted for that solution, screwing the plate into the felt headliner above the rear view mirror. I then snaked the AC power cord behind the trim and ran it to an AC outlet I had installed as an extra right above and behind the driver's set (see the outlet I installed towards the end of this How We Roll Video about some of my electronics).
I know some are reluctant to drill holes in their RV walls. The screws used to axix the mounting plate made minimal holes and because they went into the felt like covering at the front of the vehicle, they are hardly noticeable. But I will likely leave the camera there for the next owners, as a sort of value added offering.
I have the camera pointed straight back and it shows the central aisle where Tai likes to lie and the rear sofa, where he also hangs out. The wide angle lens completely captures the entire front to back and side to side interior of our Roadtrek. It also comes with night vision capabilities, providing excellent resolution in the dark.
It can be tilted or adjusted side to side and then locked down if I want another view.
Warning: Video and audio streamed across the Internet can gobble up lots of bandwidth. My Wi-Fi connectivity is a business expense – I need to to run my business from the road – so, while concerned about racking up too much in data charges, I probably have a little more leeway than the average RVer. My point is that you should only stream the video when you need it, not all the time because your data charges would break the bank. Run it for an hour or so here or there, maybe two hours or so while on a hike or bike ride, and then turn it off when you get back to the RV.
I'll share my exact data useage breakdown after a couple of months on the road.
The camera measures 3.8 x 8 x 7.1 inches and works with the biPod touch, iPhone, or iPad with iOS 4.2 or higher or an Android device with version 2.2 or higher.
When it comes to viewing the images, I just tap on the Belkin app on my smartphone and, as up pops the streaming video and audio from our Roadtrek. I can clearly hear the AC on and you can tell if Tai is stressed in any way. Someone suggested that I could put a thermometer in range of the camera if I wanted to know the exact temperature inside the coach but, so far, I'm satisfied with just checking in on what;s happening inside via the app.
I'm sure the other camera brands mentioned above would do an equally good job but for my needs, this little camera provides great peace of mind and reliability.