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.

Odd remote behavior

A big part of having an Internet-centric, mobile-enabled video surveillance system is Internet and mobile. It's here that the Logitech Alert system has some odd weaknesses.

First, the good: you can access your cameras (and, with a yearly fee, your recordings) from anywhere in the world via either a Web interface, an Android app, or an iOS app.

Both the Web interface and the Android app display what's happening in near real-time. They're each delayed by about a half second from the actual real-time display of the internal Commander software and actual meatspace activity. That means that if you're watching a person walking up to the house, the subject is probably about one step closer to the house in reality than what you're seeing.

For access all over the world, that's not a bad delay at all.

And then we get to the iOS version. I tested this on a third generation iPad and an iPad mini. With both of these, what's shown on the iPad is anywhere from 20 seconds to about 90 seconds behind real life. If a car drives by, you can say "one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi" a good 20 to 30 times before the car drives by on the iPad.

This doesn't render the product unusable on the iPad, but it's certainly not ideal. And given that both the Web interface and the Android version on my Nexus 7 displayed in near real-time, it's not my network connection or even the delay to Logitech's data center and back. It's the iOS app.

I have one more possible deal-breaker complaint about the remote implementation, and this applies to Web, Android, and iOS equally.

Monitoring remotely is time-limited. What I mean by this is you start monitoring, and after 5-10 minutes, the monitoring stops. You're actually presented with a display arrow that invites you to tap it to start monitoring again.

This completely defeats the idea of having a browser window at work open all the time to see what's going on at home, or a Nexus 7 sitting on the night table to monitor the baby. You can check in and see what's going on, but you can't just keep an eye on things.

Presumably, Logitech thinks you'll get an email alert, and then want to see what's happening. A more cynical view is they're limiting the time the connection is live to save overhead at their data center.

In any case, it's a serious flaw and Logitech needs to step up and fix it before this solution can be a truly credible remote monitoring solution.

Update: the Web interface has stopped showing one of the cameras claiming "Error getting camera settings", while the Commander PC-based interface works fine. I haven't had time to reset everything to see if it comes back online, but remote monitoring is definitely a bit more troublesome than local monitoring, which is rock-solid.

Wish list

I've been using the system for a few weeks now, and with the exception of the remote monitoring functions mentioned above, I'm quite impressed. I did find a few features I would have liked to have seen, and so here's a short wish list for future versions.

Many security systems have a way for the system to toggle between each camera in rotation in full screen. While Logitech Alert can display all six feeds simultaneously in a grid (which, by the way, is slick as heck), I'd like to see (or haven't found) the option to simply toggle between all six views in order, continuously.

The other thing I'd like is an instant 15-second or 30-second rewind. I'm probably spoiled by my Tivo, where you can easily jump back 15 seconds to replay what you just missed, but I found I really wanted that feature on the Logitech system. I'd often see something out of the corner of my eye, and rather than going into the recording system and trying to pull up the right recording, I just wished I could hit a quick replay button and see it play back.

The rest of the story

I told you about how Jerry the electrician didn't believe this thing would work. After completing the installation, his first comment was "Wow, it works." After all six cameras came online, he was enthusiastic enough about the product that it looks like he'll be recommending it to his clients.

Maybe next time I come up with some scheme I want his help with, he won't be quite as dubious. Nah!

Final recommendations

I've always generally liked Logitech products and for my purposes — seeing what's going on throughout the property and recording what I don't see — the Logitech Alert system performs quite well.

Technically, in terms of setup, running video over power, and even night vision, the system performs outstandingly well, substantially beyond both my expectations and what my electrician thought was possible.

However, while remote monitoring works, it has a few flaws. The delayed playback on iOS is annoying and the system does have a potential fatal flaw in that you can't perform continuous monitoring remotely, which means you can't set up tablet or browser at a security desk and monitor a whole building, watch the baby from the couch, or keep an eye on kitty from the office.

Because the monitoring stream cuts off after a few minutes, I simply can't recommend this system if you want continuous remote monitoring.

With everything else working so well, I do hope Logitech remedies this one flaw in a future update. At that point, I'd be able to recommend it unreservedly.

Busted videos

Logitech has collected quite a few surveillance videos showcasing some interesting behavior. They call these Busted Videos and some are a hoot to watch. My favorites are the large black bear and the small white cat:

Topics: Security, SMBs


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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