Remember house sitters? Do people still do that anymore? I mean, who hires (or asks) someone to stay in their house while they’re away to make sure nothing crooked happens? That’s what dogs are for—unless your dog’s a lazy coward like mine (no, really, he’s a vicious killer). If neither dog nor house sitter works out for you, you can try a video surveillance system.
One of the primary goals of a home surveillance system is to enable you to keep an eye, or several, on your things while you’re away. Video systems like this can be very expensive or they can be very cheap, and what you get often matches what you pay. Lately I’ve been using a DIY system that falls in the middle and largely delivers more than what you’d expect for the price.
The Logitech Alert system I’m speaking of is a basic video surveillance package, but what makes it stand out is how easy it is to set up and network.
The base system includes one indoor network camera and a network adaptor, plus some software for managing and monitoring your camera. Additional cameras (up to six total) can be added. Logitech also sent along a weatherproof outdoor camera (model 700e), so my system consisted of just the two cams.
The trick with network cameras is, of course, in the networking. Many DIY systems rely on Wi-Fi or require direct wiring to the network. Both of those options can be a problematic. Wireless sounds nice, but Wi-Fi tends to be buggy, and then you’ve still got an AC wire to deal with. Wired cameras are usually more for professional installers and require drilling into walls.
The cameras come with an assortment of installation accessories to make mounting easy. The supplied Ethernet cable is the flat variety, which is easy to paint to match your walls.
Logitech’s system uses HomePlug Powerline networking that takes advantage of your home’s existing electric wiring to send data signals. Anywhere you’ve got an outlet, you’ve got network access. Making the system even easier is the fact that the cameras derive their power from the network connection (called Power over Ethernet or PoE) so you don’t need an additional power cord for each camera. You plug the network adaptor into your outlet, then plug the camera into the adaptor via an Ethernet cable.
To get started, I plugged an Ethernet cable to the network adaptor and then to my router. Then I plugged the adaptor into a nearby electric outlet, which happens to be directly behind my router.
Next, I plugged an Ethernet cable to the camera and to another network adaptor, and plugged that adaptor into another outlet, in this case in another room. I connected the outdoor camera in essentially the same way, except the outdoor network adaptor is a bit more rugged to defend against water and weather.
Once all that’s done, you run the Alert Commander software and let it find your cameras, which it did in my house almost immediately. Alert Commander lets you view your camera feeds and do a few small tweaks such as adjust the contrast and brightness. It also set up alerts when the camera’s motion sensors detect activity. To fine-tune the motion sensors, you can select specific areas of an image for it to monitor, or the whole image. For the outdoor camera I selected my driveway entrance and a door. For the indoor camera I highlighted the doorways. The purpose of that is to prevent alerts from triggering when people who are already in the room or area move around normally, but any new entrant will set off an alert. Alerts with snapshots can be sent to your main desktop or to an email address or smartphone.
If an emailed alert has you sufficiently concerned, you can view your cameras remotely from any Internet-connected computer or a smartphone. On a computer, just log into the site to view your cameras. For smartphone use (iPhone, Blackberry and Android) you first need to download the free app.
With the web site or app, you can’t do much more than view your cameras. If you upgrade to an $80-per-year subscription plan, you can manage your cameras remotely just as you would from the desktop software, and that includes viewing recorded video, sending clips and managing your alerts.
The Logitech cameras record 720p resolution at 15fps, which is plenty for security cams. Video in daylight or moderately dim indoor light is very good. In the dark, the outdoor camera really needs some exterior lights for you to be able to see much of anything. Tweaking the contrast control helps, but without any outside lights, you’re just viewing a field of black. That said, unless you have an infrared camera, night video is always going to look bad.
Video quality is best when viewed on the main PC where you have Alert Commander installed. Over the iPhone app or web portal, the quality drops down quite a bit, but it’s still good enough to see what’s going on in your yard or living room.
Video is backed up on your connected computer, but when you’re not home and your computer is turned off, video is recorded directly inside the camera on a 2G micro SD card. When you turn the computer back on, the SD card dumps onto your PC.
The Logitech Alert system shouldn’t be viewed as a solution for someone who wants a complete security system. You can’t integrate window or door sensors, customization is limited, and it won’t tell the authorities if your house has been broken into or burned down. Also, you’re on your own to figure out what to do about the alerts it sends out. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for an electronic house sitter to keep tabs on your place while you’re away or want to know which of your dogs is chewing on the furniture, this system delivers everything you’ll need.
Easy to install
Free mobile apps
Limited night viewing
Alert 750i Master System
(includes one indoor camera)
$299 (additional indoor cameras $229)
Alert 700e Outdoor Camera
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.