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.

TOPICS: Security, DIY

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, DIY


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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  • 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:-)
    • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    Is the above solution not possible with the system that you tested?
    • 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."
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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