Logitech Alert review: video surveillance over power lines

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.

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TOPICS: Security, DIY
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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

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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12 comments
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  • It is over priced for the functions

    Powerline network adapter can be purchased at $40-50. It should not be the reason why these camera are so expensive. From Logitech website, online quotation of above surveillance system costs about $3,000.00, too much for me:-)
    zhu_junca@...
    • Tend to agree

      I have to agree that Logitech has become pretty proud of some of their stuff. But when you can buy a WiFi version of a camera for under $50. Not sure why I would choose this? I am really surprised not more has been done with electrical distribution of services like video, internet and phone.
      JohnnyES-25227553276394558534412264934521
      • Apples to apples

        These are outdoor cameras, not indoor cameras. Take your $50 WiFi camera and compare it to this camera. There is a huge difference in the quality and durability of the housing and weatherproofing. The outdoor WiFi cameras are mostly limited to 640x480 vs 960x720 for the Alert camera. That is a big difference.

        Logitech recently updated their iOS app to use local WiFi instead of streaming from the data center. The horrible delay when your onsite is gone.

        It's a good system for people who don't have Ethernet ports prewired in their homes and/or don't want to mess with 3rd party DVR software. The Logitech cameras are compatible with 3rd party software like Blue Iris if you don't want to use the Logitech software.
        zlandar
  • Obvious solution

    If you want a 15-30 sec play back, all you need to do is have your iPad next to your Nexus. Nexus will show it near real time, and you'll have a convenient 20 sec play back right next to it.
    bspeertx
  • Licensed transmitters can legally interfere with it

    And your neighbor listening to shortwave radio has a legal case to shut down your Homeplug system for interfering with reception.
    ka5s@...
  • No UPS

    I assume that the "no UPS" rule is not because of the usual low-grade UPS units that do not deliver pure sine wave power on battery? Pure sine wave UPS units have become more common (I've been buying CyberPower's for years now), but I imagine the UPS' penchant for "cleaning" the power (not just providing backup) is what adversely affects this system?

    Either way, back in 2010, Logitech users were discussing using PoE to get around this limitation:
    http://forums.logitech.com/t5/Alert-Security-Systems/Connecting-the-750e-i-Master-System-with-my-UPS-Uninterrupted/td-p/549280
    Is the above solution not possible with the system that you tested?
    sjobs84
    • Yep!

      After digging around the Logitech site more, the HomePlug capability is just a power adapter with an ethernet end that enables data over the home power as well. That may be fine for Joe I-have-no-clue-what-PoE-or-Cat6-is, but I'd prefer to use a PoE switch (or router, if you still want it on its own network) and connect *that* to a UPS. According to Logitech, the Alert system products are "48V PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) compatible."
      sjobs84
  • Mobile Phones as security IP cameras

    Been doing this for years both in residential and commercial premises. Mobile phone is impervious to power cuts with its own battery. X10 cameras can easily be shutdown by blowing the mains fuse.
    Using wifi to monitor, store, and route IP mobile phone webcams works well.
    With capable phones easily obtained from under $50, I don't see any point in this type of cameras.
    warboat
    • mobile phones

      @warboat: Can you point me to a tutorial on using mobile phones? What software would you use? Where can I find phones for $50? Thanks.
      J.Lebel
    • offsite storage

      No one seems to have mentioned their offsite storage service. It's $100/year making cheaper than anyhting with this resolution and 15 fps.
      aheiden
  • Article needs to be updated...

    Pro: The latest update from Logitech provides support for up to 16 cameras.
    Con: The update check is done AFTER teh initial install. Result... you have to do the whole re-install over again.
    Pro: These are great little cameras and the system is feature rich.
    Con: The cameras are prohibitively expensive ($200+ each!!). This would prevent me from buying or recommending this system.
    My comments are derived from being a field engineer for 35+ years AND installing a single camera system at my Daughters residence this Christmas. When we starting checking for availability and cost of add-on cameras (they need at least 3 more), our fairly positive experience was quickly soured.
    Lynster.e
  • Easy, yes, Good system,... Meh!

    Im not sure what "kick backs" you got for your review, but for someone who is labeled a computer scientist, Im not sure how you could be at all pleased with this system, since its a computer based system? It stores on the Sd cards, yes, it back up on the HDD of your computer, yes, but why would you want to clutter up your cloud storage with all these countless short videos? that's personal choice , ok lets move on to the important stuff.
    Ill start off with the night vision,... blurry, choppy, and if you have security lights to accent your security "system", these cameras take FOR EV ER to "switch" from night vision to "lighted" aka "day" vision when someone or something triggers the lights. So there is a ton of time where its complete darkness for whatever thug to casually walk right past the camera and kick in your door, now what? especially since you make it clear you only have outside cameras with this system.
    There are so many issues with this system, I do not know where to begin actually, I just started with the night vision as I am struggling with it as I write. Let me just try to break down a simpler list for time/type saving here.
    Make sure you purchase it from a specific place of business, even the most legitimate business might not be on their limited list for warranty support, then youre SOL on ant support with the supposed warranty.
    The cameras are very expensive, and daytime picture is DECENT, but movement is always blurred, so if you see these cameras set up, just keep moving, and they'll never get a clear image of your face, or even your body type for that matter.
    Night vision, FORGET IT, its blurry and worthless, unless you happen to get infiltrated by a group of still models who love to stop and pose for the camera(s).
    God forbid you have security lights, then as stated above, the system takes so long to switch , you can even hear it click, but by then, the flipping lights turn off and youre in complete darkness through the camera s eye, then the camera finally clicks loudly and the security lights pick up movement again, and POW, youre back to blurry, then grainy darkness, vicious cycle. there was mention of the night vision lighting up an entire back yard, that must be one SMALL backyard, even though it was mentioned how cheap land is in Florida, you must have spent it all on a separate area, maybe a tennis court? these cameras barely reach the end of my small driveway in the dark, and at that point its so grainy and depleted, its worthless again to make out anything.
    Don't get me started with the "customer service", theyre reading from a script, and make you do the same exact things over and over again that never fix anything, then they send you a report that has a scam clause that states if you do not respond within so many days, this case is considered CLOSED AND SOLVED, LMAO. And they send that scam clause with EVERY report.
    This system would be ok for maybe a DAY care facility, key word,... DAY.
    But sorry to say, anything more than that, like if youre wanting a SERIOUS security camera system, youre going to spend a ton of money for easy set up, and pathetic actual security, because lets face it, most "security needs" arise during the night and late hours, aka, In The Dark. And this system will LEAVE you in the dark, that is when the cameras are actually picking up a "signal". Logitech will blame your internet provider, and or your electrical system, every GD time too, and send that scam report with the scam clause.
    You will hear so many excuses about proper camera placement, away from anything reflective, etc etc etc, your electrical system isn't compatible, your internet is too weak, or too slow, or your wifi system is flawed, your router isn't recognizing your cameras etc etc etc etc etc blah blah blah.
    The last I looked, Logitech advertises how easy and simple this system is, and how compatible it is with your wifi and electrical system.
    I told them this, its simple, YOU made this system to connect with our homes electrical system, and our WiFi systems, YET YOU BLAME THEM for not being Compatible?! that's is absolutely asinine.
    This is YOUR SYSTEM, its YOUR RESPONSIBILTITY to make it work with EXACTLY what you ADVERTISE it to work with, ITS NOT the other way around, sorry not buying the scam.
    the internet provider not only does not make their service for your product, they do not advertise any compatibility with it either, THATS ALL ON YOU, AND IN ALL YOUR SALES PITCH.
    Out homes were not built around compatibility with YOUR system when it comes to their electrical system, AGAIN, THATS YOUR RESPONSIBLITY!! COMMON SENSE.
    Don't advertise what YOU PURPOSEFULLY do not support Logitech.
    They are enjoying a ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY attitude, hidden in their secret warranty clause that is NOT STATED ANYWHERE on their product, website, anywhere!
    Don't let them steal your money if you want a serious actual SECURE-ity system, do your research, there are plenty of reports to back up my factual and personal statements and findings and experience on the web, just look it up for yourself.
    Oh, and BTW, I use Comcast BLAST internet now, and my Logitech system actually got worse, with the faster and more powerful speeds im getting now, FTW?
    The Sicilian