Michael Brown Aug 05, 2010

Logitech Alert Video Surveillance System Review

We’re long-time fans of Logitech’s Wi-Life security cameras—they’ve protected Maximum PC Lab North since the home was built in 2007. Now we can’t wait to retire that system and replace it with Logitech’s all-new and vastly superior Alert system.

Logitech wisely carried forward everything we dug about the old Wi-Life system: The cameras (there are indoor and outdoor models) are equipped with customizable motion sensors, they can be programmed to record video when those sensors are activated, and the software sends alerts via email (or a message to your phone) with video clips attached.

Logitech's new outdoor surveillance camera is considerably more rugged than the old model, which had a plastic housing.

Everything else about the system has been vastly improved, starting with the cameras themselves. The shell of the outdoor model is fabricated from zinc (the original models were plastic), and its power supply and network interface components are contained in a separate, weather-resistant module. On the upside, this design renders the camera less susceptible to heat; on the down side, it leaves you with a large box to mount next to your electrical outlet. The outdoor camera’s best new feature, though, is its integrated night vision.

The new indoor camera is slightly more attractive than the original, but its wide-angle lens is fixed (the original swiveled inside its housing). The indoor camera does not have night vision, and it relies on an unsightly power supply/network adapter. Both cameras can be mounted to any flat surface (e.g., a wall, the ceiling, or a roof eave). The indoor model comes with a table-top stand and a suction cup so you can stick it to a window. Both the indoor and outdoor models are equipped with microphones, so you can record sound as well as video, but there is no provision for two-way audio.

The Wi-Life system used first-generation HomePlug power-line networking, which makes networking extremely convenient because you simply plug the cameras into power outlets and a powerline-to-USB adapter into your PC. The problem is that first-generation HomePlug technology delivers very poor data throughput (about 6Mb/sec, according to the HomePlug Powerline Alliance). The Alert system is based on the HomePlug AV standard, which delivers TCP throughput of 150Mb/sec (under ideal conditions).

This, combined with improved optics on the cameras, enables the Alert system to deliver high-definition (960x720) video at 15 frames per second. The original system maxed out at resolution of 640x480 pixels at 15 frames per second, with fallback to 320x240 and refresh rates of five or 10 frames per second if there’s a lot of noise on your power lines.

The indoor camera in daylight. The outdoor camera with its night vision.

Logitech has altogether eliminated the need for a host PC: Each camera is equipped with a MicroSD memory-card slot and stores its video clips locally (Logitech provides a 2GB MicroSD card with each camera, but the cameras can host memory cards as large as 32GB). The HomePlug-to-Ethernet adapter connects directly to your router. When you do run Logitech’s Commander software on a local PC, to monitor the cameras live or to play back recordings, the software automatically backs-up each camera's recorded videos to the PC’s hard drive.

This screenshot shows the system's user interface in playback mode with two cameras.

You can watch a live feed from any of your cameras remotely via the Web or with a free app for your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android device. If you wish to manage the system or play back recorded video from a remote location using a PC or smartphone, you’ll need to spring for Logitech’s Web Commander/Mobile Commander package, which costs $80 per year.

Logitech Alert is relatively expensive compared to the typical IP camera: The indoor master system goes for $300 and the outdoor master system costs $350, while each add-on indoor and outdoor camera will set you back $230 and $280, respectively. But when you consider the cost of weatherized enclosures so you can mount your IP cameras outdoors, the hassle of running Ethernet cables, and the need for a dynamic DNS service so you can view your IP cameras remotely, Logitech Alert doesn’t look so pricey. The Alert’s superior video resolution, remote viewing capabilities, alert features, and local storage further sweeten the deal. This is one fabulous video-surveillance system.


Logitech Alert Video Surveillance System

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