Logitech Alert review: video surveillance over power lines

Summary:This is the final article of a three-part series where David Gewirtz tests and installs a full-perimeter, Internet-centric, mobile-enabled video surveillance system. In this installment, David reviews the pros and cons of the Logitech Alert system.

Yesterday, I discussed the basics of the Logitech Alert video surveillance system. Today, I'm going to do a more formal review.

The company provided me with a master unit and six cameras. I paid for the electrician out of pocket. Before I found the Alert system, I had originally wanted to set up nine cameras, but the Logitech system maxes at six, in any combination of indoor and outdoor cameras.

Although I was slightly disappointed that I couldn't string cameras everywhere without limits, the six cameras do cover the entire perimeter field of the building. Each camera has a 135-degree field of view, and while you can digitally zoom, I left them all at full, wide-angle and we are able to see everywhere on the property.

Let's start with the basics

The video-over-power technology works, and works quite well. Quality video over internal power is surprisingly solid, regardless of whether or not appliances like dishwashers or clothes dryers are running.

The system booted up and routed video properly from the first. It runs just fine. Since that was the biggest question mark, it was nice to see the technology perform with rock-solid reliability.

That's not to say there aren't some issues. There are, but nothing that can't be mended in subsequent software updates. The core of the system just simply works — and that's a darned rare thing to say about any networking product, let alone one that mixes video, power distribution, and the Internet.

As I mentioned in the previous articles, I only installed outside cameras. Each camera has its own array of infrared LEDs that are designed for night vision.

To my considerable surprise, this works amazingly well. I have a relatively large yard (land is pretty inexpensive in Florida), and the cameras illuminate all the way to the street in front and to the fence line in the back. Everything is in black and white at night, of course, but we can see the entire yard in pitch black, perfectly.

Daytime video quality is also quite good. It's not full HD, but 960x720 isn't something to sneeze at, especially when you're pumping six of those feeds through the building power. I haven't noticed any lost frames.

It looks more like 15 frames a second than 30, but even so, you can easily see someone walking up or driving by without any loss of action or fidelity (at least during the day). At night, you can't make out facial features, but you can see if there's an animal or a person walking around.

Recording

The system is set up to trigger recording on motion. You can select motion zones, so recording only happens if there is activity in certain zones. One camera in our back picks up street traffic from about two blocks away through the very edge of its view interface, so I turned off motion sensing for that small zone.

While we're talking about the motion sensing system, I should mention that the Alert Commander does offer email alerts and pop-up alerts. Since there's almost always some motion outside, I turned these off, but I can see how they'd be helpful, especially with indoor monitoring.

The system first records to 2GB microSD cards installed in each camera. If you want a bigger card, you can load up to a 32 GB micro SDHC card in each camera.

The Logitech Alert Commander software downloads the video from the cameras' microSD cards to a location on your computer, so there's another copy of the video available. I added a third backup. I've got a script that monitors the backup location and uploads the video to a remote cloud backup server. Each motion video clip is a simple MP4, so you can manipulate and examine the recorded video using standard tools.

The Commander software allows you to set a maximum amount of storage, and then deletes older recordings. At about 2GB a week, a relatively small amount of storage can store pretty nearly a year without blinking.

Installation

Installation is, in theory, quite simple. Certainly for an indoor camera, all you do is plug a cable into the camera and into the power brick, and plug that into the wall.

Logitech recommends a similar procedure for outside cameras. In fact, on the instructions, Logitech has a somewhat silly illustration showing a cable running from the outside camera, down the side of a building, to an exposed power socket. While this might be easy installation, having the camera's power right under the camera kind of defeats the whole security concept.

That's why I had to involve an electrician. First, my house has unusual wiring. As I've mentioned before, when we bought this house, it was a fixer-upper in the worst way. We pretty much gutted it and rebuilt it to my geeky specifications. As a result, we've got a power infrastructure normally more suited to a small data center than a house. Since I operate my office from home, that was a necessity.

2013-05-soffit
Image courtesy Logitech.

Second, though, I didn't want to expose all the camera wiring both to the outside elements and to potential threats. The electrician mounted all the cameras to the overhanging soffits around the house, then ran the cable from the camera into the attic to the interface brick. Those power-interface bricks were installed in an array in the attic, and then ran on their own dedicated circuit back to the circuit breaker panel.

The HomePlug system is a security win as well, since the wire that extends outside the house to the camera isn't on the internal LAN, it's effectively firewalled into the camera's own private HomePlug network.

Since I needed everything installed to code, I used the same licensed electrician we used to run our power infrastructure and GigE to install the Alert system. You might not need an electrician, but keep in mind that if you're touching the circuit breaker box, some ordinances require licensing to do the work (and, of course, if you don't know what you're doing, you could be in for a nasty shock).

While we're on the topic of installation, I need to point out that you can't plug the cameras or the central hub into a UPS. Here in Florida, we have many power fluctuations, and so everything (including our crock pot) has a UPS between it and the the power grid. Logitech claims the cameras have built-in surge suppression, but we had one power failure recently which corrupted one of the SD cards:

2013-05-logitech
Image: David Gewirtz

I was able to reformat the card remotely and continue operating, but I do wonder how these cameras will perform over the long haul in the face of central Florida's weather and its impact on the power grid.

Next: Odd remote behavior and final recommendations.

Topics: Security, DIY

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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