Review
Hands On: Piper Home Security Smart Camera
Piper smart security camera can expand into a simple home automation system.
July 29, 2014 by Grant Clauser

Most new home security cameras are wireless IP cameras that connect to a home Wi-Fi network. They’re pretty common these days, with Dropcam (recently acquired by Nest) being one of the most popular brands. Piper came along recently to join that market, and while it’s another IP security camera, there’s nothing common about it.

Piper, made by Blacksumac, started out as a Kickstarter campaign, and became one of those success stories that actually resulted in a real product (and was recently acquired by Icontrol Networks). What makes Piper different from the many other smart Wi-Fi security cameras on the market is that it can also be the foundation of a DIY smart home system.

Built into Piper is a Z-Wave radio, which is a kind of two-way radio used by many home automation devices. In addition, the unit includes a motion detector (which all security cameras have), plus sensors for light, sound, temperature and humidity. Together with Piper’s free app, the product can connect and operate many other devices to make a complete, though basic, smart home system.

Of course padding all that into Piper does make the camera itself large. It’s not something that’s easily hidden, so guests to your home (even uninvited ones) will know you’re monitoring them.

Piper sets up fairly easily, and connects to your Wi-Fi network to make cloud video recording and app control possible. The real action comes in the app.

The app itself is nicely designed and easy to use. There are four modes built into the system: Stay, Away, Vacation and Off. You can customize each mode to send notifications (in the form of push messages to your phone, text messages, phone calls or emails) based on events detected by Piper. For example, in Away mode you can set up Piper to record video if it detects motion or a loud noise.  When setting up your Piper, the app is where you’ll spend most of your time, though the interface’s simple design makes it easy to figure out.

The simple design of the app is what will make Piper appeal to first-time DIY people or people not familiar with smart home products. When you first activate each mode you’ll be prompted to set up rules for that mode. For example, in Vacation mode you can have Piper trigger a loud siren and call your neighbor if motion is detected, rather than just call you, because of course, you’re on a beach in Aruba and can’t do anything about it. For Stay mode you might want to set up a rule to send you a push message when motion is detected, but skip the siren, because you’re probably upstairs sleeping and don’t want to wake the whole family for possible false alarms. The one glaring omission in the modes is the lack of a Night or Sleep mode. I can understand why a person would want different rules for Stay vs Sleep, though a user could use the Notify Only option in this case. There is a Bedside mode that includes a Panic Button to turn on the siren in case of a zombie attack or something like that.

As a security camera, Piper has some huge things going for it, mainly the great big lens. The large lens actually allows you to pan around the image and even focus on small areas if you want. The picture is bright and clear, and the device includes a two-way microphone so not only can you hear what’s going on, you can speak into your smart phone and talk through Piper. This could be useful if you spot your kids getting into the booze cabinet or you want to tell the dog to get off the sofa. The video recordings are only about 45 seconds long, but it will record multiple clips if motion keeps happening. Recordings stay on Piper’s cloud service (which is free by the way) until you delete them, but you can’t offload them to your phone (you can only view them on your phone).  You can always just take screen shots of paused video if you want to save the picture of a thief.


Piper’s view of my living room.

The one problem the Piper camera has is poor recording in darkness. There are several night-vision cameras on the market, which tend to be a bit more expensive, but dark recording seems like an important issue to me in a security camera. There is a workaround, which I’ll get to in a moment.

If you’re buying Piper just to help you keep an eye on your home, maybe spy on your pets and alert you if an intruder walks through your living room, this IP camera is more than capable. But it really expands when you start taking advantage of the Z-Wave capabilities. Z-Wave is an RF protocol that creates a wireless mesh network around your house to connect various smart home devices. Many other smart home systems, such as Iris and Revolv use Z-Wave, but with those systems you have to first start with the main hub and then add the devices, including cameras, as you want them. With Piper you get the camera and the hub all in one. If your plan is to make the home security features of Piper more complete you can get multiple door/window contact sensors to let you know if someone has entered the house while you’re away. You can get lamp or lighting controllers to add the ability to turn on lights with the Piper app, or integrate those devices to Piper’s built-in features. For example, a great way to work around the camera’s poor low-light abilities is to add a Z-Wave outlet adaptor and configure Piper to turn on a lamp when it detects motion, thereby giving the camera some light to record by (and probably startling an intruder at the same time).

Like any of the DIY smart home products that have recently hit the market, the Piper wireless security camera is not competition for professionally-installed home automation systems like Elan, Control4 and Crestron, but it’s a good basic option for smaller homes or apartments and people who want to take small steps into this technology. The fact that you can start out with a pretty good security camera, and then add on features as you go, makes it one of the more compelling choices available.

Piper Smart Security Camera
iOS and Android compatible app
$199
http://www.getpiper.com

More about smart home devices:
Hands On: SmartThings Smart Home Control and Automation System
Staples Connect Smart Home Adds Devices, Gets Cheaper
Hands On: Revolv Smart Home Hub
Hands On: Lowe’s Iris Home Security and Automation

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
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.

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