Netgear’s Arlo Technologies subsidiary recently re-launched its Arlo Ultra 4K wireless security camera after experiencing issues during its initial availability. The widely reported issues, which caused the company to pull back on the launch.
With several firmware updates under its belt that addressed reported connectivity issues and bugs that users experienced, Arlo feels that their 4K security camera is now ready for prime time. How does it stack up to the Arlo Pro 2? Should you consider upgrading? Watch our hands-on video impressions for the details.
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As a recent adopter of a 6-camera Arlo Pro 2 system, I was keenly interested to see how Arlo’s latest offering compared to the setup I already had installed. What makes Arlo cameras so good is that they are truly wireless, running off rechargeable batteries. With this in mind, by default they only record when motion is detected in order to save battery. You can connect to a permanent power source if you choose to, but easy anywhere-installation is what makes these camera so compelling.
The Arlo Ultra boasts several notable improvements over its predecessors, including:
- 4K video capture with HDR
- Wider 180 degree field of view
- Integrated security spotlight
- Enhanced 2-way audio
As expected, the enhanced camera is the highlight of the Arlo Ultra, as the higher resolution, and super-wide viewing angle are features that previous Arlo cameras lack. The integrated spotlight and more capable 2-way radio are additional enhancements that set the Arlo Ultra apart from its predecessors.
Arlo Ultra 4K wireless security camera hands-on impressions
New Smart Hub
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Arlo Ultra 4K is that it comes with an updated Smart Hub. The new Smart Hub is a simpler take on the previous hub that shipped with the Arlo Pro 2. Missing is the built in siren, which is now directly integrated within Arlo Ultra cameras.
Having the siren built right into the product that triggers the alarm makes sense, but I found that the siren lacked the loudness necessary to be an audible deterrent. It doesn’t outright hurt your ears like the siren integrated inside the Arlo Pro 2 Smart Hub does.
The USB ports on the Arlo Pro 2 Smart Hub allowed users to connect external drives to save camera footage locally. The new Smart Hub omits the USB ports in favor of a micro SD card slot hidden away on the bottom of the unit.
Initially I was concerned that the new hub would only work with new Arlo Ultra cameras, but my fears were allayed when I was able to pair my already existing Arlo cameras with the new Smart Hub.
Arlo Ultra 4K
The Arlo Ultra 4K looks similar to the Arlo Pro 2, but it features a bigger unibody design that’s slightly heavier. Of course, the camera technology is much improved, with a new 4K capable sensor, HDR, and a 180 degree super-wide viewing angle.
Unfortunately the batteries used on the Arlo Pro 2 are not interchangeable with the batteries found in the Arlo Ultra. You’ll also find a new magnetic charging interface instead of the micro USB ports used to facilitate charging in the Arlo Pro 2.
The magnetic charging interface on the Arlo Ultra is easier to use, but the included cable is much shorter than the micro USB interface found on its predecessor. Users who want to provide their cameras with constant power will need to purchase an 8- or 25-foot magnetic charging cable, or opt to install a solar panel charger.
Another big difference between the two cameras involves the magnetic mounts. Sadly, the mount used by the Arlo Pro 2 is not interchangeable with the Arlo Ultra mount. It means you can’t simply swap out an Arlo Pro 2 camera for an Arlo Ultra camera, as you’ll need to install the new multi-axis magnetic mount first.
Arlo Ultra 4K mounting
Arlo packs mounting hardware inside the box, which includes the multi-axis magnetic mount, screw, anchor (if needed), and mounting bracket. I decided to mount the Arlo Ultra inside my garage next to my existing Arlo Pro 2, to make it easier to compare the two cameras.
Mounting was as simple as drilling a small hole into a wooden beam inside my garage, and screwing in the included screw with the mounting bracket. The magnetic mount then slips over the mounting bracket, fastening securely into place.
From there it’s just a matter of sticking the Arlo Ultra to the mount via the strong multi-axis magnetic mount connection. Users have the option of positioning the camera pointing up or down, and adjusting the camera to various degrees left or right.
Arlo Smart Premiere subscription
Arlo Ultra kits come with a complimentary 1-year subscription to Arlo Smart Premier, which includes support for up to 10 cameras, 30-days of cloud recordings, up to 10GB of cloud storage, along with person, vehicle, animal, and package detection, as well as unlimited support.
The Arlo Smart Premier plan normally costs $9.99/month, which is what you should expect to pay after the first year. You don’t need a subscription to use features like push notifications, local recording to SD Card, and two-way audio, but as a security camera, it’s much less useful without cloud recording.
For Arlo Ultra customers, there is an extra $1.99/month (per camera!) optional add-on for enabling cloud storage for 4K videos. Without this add-on users have access to live 4K video playback when on the same network, and can save 4K videos to local storage, but all videos stored in the cloud will be stored in 1080p resolution.
If you’re an Arlo Ultra customer, I think it makes sense to consider forking over the additional two dollars to gain cloud access to all of your videos in a much higher, better-looking resolution. Otherwise, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the better camera.
Arlo Ultra 4K exclusive features
Setting up the Arlo Ultra is a simple affair that’s accomplished by launching the Arlo app and stepping through the guided pairing process. Once the camera is paired, you can configure it to your liking via the Arlo app’s preferences.
Lots of new Arlo Ultra-exclusive features
Arlo Pro 2 users will notice a wealth of new features that are exclusively available to Arlo Ultra cameras. Venturing into the video settings will reveal new additions like Auto HDR, Local 4K Live Streaming, Auto Zoom & Tracking, as well as a new Low Light settings panel for configuring the spotlight and various related behaviors.
Does 4K matter?
Arlo Pro 2 1080p footage
Don’t expect the kind of high quality 4K video you’d normally see while watching an Ultra HD movie, but you’ll definitely notice improved visual fidelity when compared to the video coming from the Arlo Pro 2.
Arlo Ultra 4K footage
Arlo uses HEVC to encode its 4K content — the same codec used by the iPhone — which places an emphasis on keeping file sizes low while maintaining visual fidelity. It therefore keeps the camera from having to transfer large amounts of data typically associated with 4K videos, which would severely hinder battery life.
Arlo Ultra maintains good detail when zooming in
4K allows users to zoom in on content, while maintaining a higher visual quality than you would get when zooming in on a 1080p frame. It’s also why the Arlo Ultra 4K comes with a new Auto Zoom & Tracking option, which automatically pans and zooms around the frame in order to track subjects.
Along with support for 4K, the Arlo Ultra also features high dynamic range support, which can be very useful for security cameras that are placed outdoors. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, meaning that it’s able to capture a wider range of brightness levels, and present them in a way so that one level isn’t too bright or too dark. It’s basically a good way to make sure images are not severely overexposed or underexposed in certain areas of the frame.
Notice the overexposed windows
With that said, HDR would be very useful for my Arlo Ultra setup, which is placed inside of a dark garage with windows that catch lots of sunlight. Inevitably the windows are blown out from overexposure on my Arlo Pro 2 camera, but sadly it’s not much better on the Arlo Ultra. Admittedly my setup is a bit on the extreme side when it comes to the amount of dynamic range required. I’ll provide more feedback on HDR performance in a future rewind update.
Three viewing angles
Limited Arlo Pro 2 field of view
A new Video Mode panel allows users to configure the Arlo Ultra using one of three viewing angles — 180 degree super-wide, 155 degree wide, and a 120 degree full view. The super-wide angle, in my opinion, is the most impressive new camera-related feature outside of 4K, as it covers an area lesser cameras in Arlo’s ecosystem simply aren’t capable of.
A much wider 180 degree Arlo Ultra field of view
Both of the wide field of view options will attempt to automatically reduce the fisheye effect that occurs with a wide viewing angle. There are limits to how well that works, so temper your expectations, but it does a reasonably good job of reducing distortion of what’s in frame.
Arlo Ultra 4K integrated security spotlight
The integrated spotlight fixes one of my main complaints about the Arlo Pro 2. Now instead of having to install a separate Arlo security light, the Arlo Ultra 4K offers both a camera and spotlight in one combined product.
Built in spotlight functionality on Arlo Ultra
Not only is the spotlight good to have for illuminating a dark environment, it works in concert with the Arlo Ultra’s 4K camera to capture higher quality images. Arlo boasts about its enhanced night vision that allows the camera to see colors in the dark, but that seems a bit disingenuous since it requires that the integrated spotlight be triggered. It’s color night vision, yes, but that’s because there’s a built-in light allowing it to see colors. In other words, if you choose to disable the spotlight, color night vision is disabled as an option.
Enhanced 2-way radio
The Arlo Ultra features an enhanced 2-way radio that allows you to both listen and speak to those within range of the camera. The Arlo Pro 2 features 2-way radio support as well, but the fidelity of the audio is noticeably better and more natural sounding on the Arlo Ultra. The Ultra model also makes it possible to engage in conversations without having to hold down the the speak button within the Arlo app.
Opportunities for improvement
The Arlo Ultra is a big improvement over its predecessors, but there are still a few items that I’d like to see Arlo address…
Still no HomeKit support
With recent rumors suggesting that Apple will be fleshing out its support for security cameras in iOS 13, it may be possible that Arlo is waiting to push out support for HomeKit. Until then, there remains a void that prevents the Arlo security cameras from working together with HomeKit-enabled devices.
The Arlo app is good, but there are a few areas that I would like to see addressed in future updates.
First and foremost, we should be able to filter notifications based on the type of recognition. For instance, I don’t want to be alerted every time a cat or other animal walks in front of a camera, but I do want alerts when people come within view of the camera.
On that same note, when you have an alarm siren enabled, the camera should be smart enough not to sound the alarm when it sees someone it knows.
There should also be time of day triggers, so that you’re able to enable or disable Arlo hardware during certain times of the day. HomeKit support would go a long way towards helping in this area.
Web UI still relies on…Adobe Flash Player?
Most people will use the Arlo app to manage their Arlo account and view videos saved to the cloud, but there’s also a web portal available. The web portal feels ridiculously outdated, and you can’t even view videos without installing Adobe Flash Player, which is utterly absurd in 2019.
4K cloud storage up-charge
One of my biggest gripes is that Arlo nickels and dimes its users with a $2 add-on to save 4K videos to the cloud storage, which you’re already paying a monthly subscription for after the 1-year trial. This is absurd, considering that 4K video recording is the flagship feature of the Arlo Ultra. Arlo should do better in this regard.
The Arlo Ultra is hands-down a better camera than its predecessors, but it’s also a lot more expensive, and requires a more expensive subscription to fully take advantage of its features.
In most cases, the company’s Arlo Pro 2 camera kit will be “good enough” for security monitoring, but there’s no denying that the Arlo Ultra is a much more polished offering than any of its predecessors. If I were building a kit from scratch, I’d opt for a four-camera Arlo Ultra for $1000 MSRP over a $800 ($700 on sale) Arlo Pro 2 four-camera kit.
While some features come across as a bit gimmicky — such as the the Auto Zoom & Tracking, and the “color night vision” — there’s no denying that the Arlo Ultra’s higher resolution camera provides an improved experience that lends more visual detail, along with the ability to zoom around the frame while maintaining good quality.
Additional features, like the integrated spotlight and wider viewing angles are extremely useful additions. These can potentially save you money by requiring less hardware when the cameras are mounted in strategic locations.
The lack of HomeKit, and some of the half-baked features of the app experience means that there’s lots of room for Arlo to grow, but there’s already a solid foundation established to work with.
Obviously one of the biggest concerns with any truly wireless camera setup is going to be battery life. How well does the Arlo Ultra, with its ability to live stream and store videos in 4K, perform in this area? Arlo notes that the battery should last between 3-6 months, which seems really optimistic given my experience with the Arlo Pro 2.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for high traffic areas where the camera is often triggered, you’re going to want to purchase an outdoor power cord or install the handy solar power kit. For lower traffic areas the battery should last long enough (think more like once a month) to where it’s not annoying to charge them when they run out of power. I’ll be monitoring the Arlo Ultra’s battery life closely over the next few weeks, and will provide a rewind update of my experience.
Arlo cameras aren’t perfect solutions for everyone. If you need constant recording, or require integration with a local NAS, you may want to consider other options. But if you’re looking for an easy-to setup wireless security camera, and you can budget the subscription prices, not to mention the high price of the initial investment, it’s worth looking into.
Have you invested in a home security camera system? What are your thoughts about the Arlo Ultra? Feel free to sound off down below in the comments with your thoughts, questions, and observations.
This article was originally posted here