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Logitech WiLife Video Security System (9/08)
by Douglas Dixon
Are you locked away in an office cubicle or back room home office? Want to be able to keep an eye on what's going on in the world around you? Would you like to watch for people entering the reception area, or for a delivery truck pulling up outside? Instead of running video wires all around the site, you can use IP-based webcams that transmit the video over digital networks, so it's easy to display and analyze on your PCs.
The Logitech WiLife video security system provides PC-based surveillance for residential and light commercial use (www.wilife.com). Starting at $299, the WiLife system includes options for indoor and outdoor cameras, with Windows software to monitor up to six cameras and record clips when detecting motion. The system even works out of the box with HomePlug networking over your existing electrical wires, so there's no messy networking setup with wired or wireless routers.
You can start with a WiLife Master System, including one camera, HomePlug USB receiver, and the Logitech Command Center PC software. These are available with three camera options: an Indoor or Outdoor waterproof camera for $299, or a Spy camera (disguised as a working digital clock) for $329. There's a wide-angle lens for watching a larger area, and a NightVision IR lens and Illuminator Kit for use in the dark.
The base system includes motion detection for change in areas of the frame, capture of the associated video clips, e-mail and cell phone alerts, and access to your cameras over the Internet or mobile phones. The WiLife Platinum option adds scheduled and more flexible alerts, desktop notifications, password access, and broader online access, including online storage and sharing of your clips ($80/year).Logitech - www.logitech.com/index.cfm/webcam_communications/video_security_systems/&cl=us,en
Find the WiLife Indoor Starter Kit on Amazon.com
I tested the Indoor Camera Starter Kit ($299), plus the optional wide-angle and IR lenses. The system and software worked cleanly out of the box, although it did need to be reset occasionally in 24/7 operation. It's designed to work with up to 8 cameras (available separately for $229, refurbished $185).
The HomePlug networking electrical wires worked well. You just plug the camera into an electrical outlet, plug in the HomePlug USB receiver to another outlet, and connect it to your PC with the USB cable. The Logitech Command Center PC software then scans for cameras over the HomePlug network.
I did my initial network testing with the camera and the USB receiver plugged in to the same extension cord, so there was no issue about connectivity. But the system also worked fine from several other outlets in different rooms and on different floor, although all wired to the same electrical box. (There's also an Ethernet adapter available if you do want to run the cameras over standard network cable.) The software finds the camera quickly after being launched, and recovers without complaint if you unplug and then re-attach the camera. You also can manually scan to re-connect to known cameras, or do a full re-discover to search for all available cameras.
I actually set up the Indoor camera on a window facing out towards the street (the camera housing has suction cup mounts so that you can attach it facing either direction). The product also includes a desk mount to stand the camera on a surface and a wall mount
Indoor camera view, mounted on window
The camera lens mount is on a pivot, so you can rotate it to point off-angle. The lens itself screws in, so you just turn it in or out to adjust the focus for your setup (this is really a two-person operation to turn the lens
The Command Center software provides camera controls including auto brightness or contrast and brightness. You also can adjust the resolution, frame rate, and bit rate from the standard 320 x 240 (QVGA) depending on the number of cameras and power of your system. The full-size 640 x 480 (VGA) video at 15 fps, 400 kbps worked well to provide sharp pictures from the single camera.
The camera auto brightness option worked well in most situations, although manual control worked best in overexposed strong sunlight, and was really necessary at night in low light.
To enable motion detection alerts and recording, define up to 16 zones to be monitored. These are defined by drawing a rectangle on the video frame. Unfortunately you cannot then resize the rectangles, although you can individually delete and redraw them.
When motion is detected in a zone, the Command Center software highlights the rectangle on the display, sends alerts as defined, and records a video clip while the motion is being detected. (Even better, the recorded video actually begins before the alert, so, for example, you can see a truck drive down the street before it actually crosses the detection zone. You also can set up timed events for continuous recording.
When viewing the street, the motion detection worked well for capturing cars and trucks, as well as for some people walking by (if they did not move too slowly). But it also generated false alerts from the shadows of trees when the wind was blowing. Ramping down the sensitivity cut out the shadow alerts, but also meant that the system no longer detected most pedestrians.
This kind of motion in the environment (like blowing leaves or a bird flying close to the camera or curtains blowing from the air conditioner) is a difficult problem for computer video analysis to distinguish from real moving objects, so these kinds of consumer-level surveillance systems are best used under controlled circumstances.
In playback mode, the Command Center software shows a timeline with the recorded clips, which you can step through and play. Unfortunately, the first frame of each clip is typically just the background (since the recording includes some time before the alert is detected) -- it would be helpful to have a nicer interface for browsing through representative thumbnails of the captured clips.
The Wide-Angle lens is designed for use with the indoor camera ($24). It was a definite improvement for monitoring the street front, increasing the view from approximately 80 to 120 degrees without significant distortion in the main area of the scene.
The cameras do still provide useful images in low light (they are speced down to 2 Lux , about twice the light of a full moon). In my testing, I still could see people and animals in the street by the light of a near-by street light.
Wide lens, night
For better views at night, there's the WiFi NightVision Illuminator Kit, which includes an 80 degree IR lens and an IR illuminator to provide otherwise-invisible light for totally dark scenes. The illuminators consist of 28 LEDs with a 70 degree illumination angle. They are designed for indoor use, the NightVision 20 illuminates up to a distance of 10 feet (3 meters), and the NightVision 50 ($59) up to 30 feet (10 meters).
IR lens, day
When watching the street, the IR lens provided clear images during the day (albeit with bleached colors that made the scene look snowy), and then clearer images at night. It does require manual adjustment of contrast and brightness, and the image is grainer than during daylight.
IR lens, night