Logitech WiLife, The Best Inexpensive Wireless Security Camera (probably)
In one of my last hubs I promised I'd come back to recommend one of the best wireless surveillance cameras available based purely on what I consider the most common show-stopping element, ease of setup. So I'm back to live up to that promise with my recommendation of the Logitech WiLife digital video security camera. This might be another epic-length hub which I'm trying to get away from lately, but there's a lot to cover and some important things you really should understand before you buy wireless surveillance cameras online (this brand or any other.)
To start, after seeing some of the reviews online, you might conclude that I'm an idiot (most days my wife would probably agree with you but for other reasons). The reason you might conclude I'm an idiot is that a few people, including a senior citizen, commented that they found this camera difficult to setup. Others claim it was a piece of cake to setup. Which of them is lying? Neither one. But the overall user review of this camera is lower than it deserves to be thanks to those few bitter experiences. I'm going to come back to this and explain why you should take those negative experiences with a grain of salt later in this review but let's talk a bit about the product first.
Logitech's WiLife home security camera is a feature rich
tool with some nice enhancement options (for additional money, of course)
available. As I stated in my previous hub, it overcomes the greatest frustration
I've encountered with other wireless security cameras (installation) by
bypassing the de facto setup option most manufacturers depend on - wireless
networks. Why is that good? Well, because precious few of you have the
necessary experience to understand wireless networks, router configuration,
TCP/IP and other technical skills you'll desperately wish you had should you
run into problems. How does Logitech get around these problems? Simple! By not
bothering with network dependency at all!
Now I could write several thousand words, hell, pages on networking and protocols alone. That should make it clear that networks can be complicated affairs and it takes no small amount of time, experience and studying to fully understand them. Having a device depend on them means a large percentage of the population is utterly in the dark and totally dependent on quality instructions and superb customer support to get them out of trouble if their installation doesn't run smoothly. But, as my previous hub on wireless video cameras made clear, quality support and clear instructions are tough to come by.
By taking networking out of the equation entirely, Logitech has already made a HUGE leap forward in plug and play, but they don't stop there. Included with this camera are superb, detailed, easy to follow directions in both hardcopy and on the included CD. And their customer support (in both my experience and the experience of even some of the bitter complainers) is friendly and helpful. That's three great bonuses I've not encountered with any other wireless security camera I've tried, folks, and it really makes a difference when you're struggling.
How does Logitech WiLife avoid using a wireless network?
Logitech's WiLife avoids the complexity of wireless
networking in an ingenious yet simple and elegant way. It uses the wiring
already built into your home! Essentially, you plug one end of a receiver a
power outlet near your computer and the other end into the USB port on your
computer, then plug your camera into any power outlet in your home and that's
it. No network configuration required. No router configuration required. No cables
to run. Not much of anything required! The signal is simply carried over the
electrical wiring and to your computer. I LOVE IT!
That's it? Well, no. Before you do any of that you must
install the software and this has been a sticking point for some. A quick
disclaimer here – I have a high-end system. I like riding near the crest of the
tech wave so my system gets replaced fairly frequently. Why is that important?
Well, because some people have reported problems with the software.
Specifically, installation takes more than the 15 minutes the included
literature claims. In my case, it was significantly less than 15 minutes. If
you have an old computer, it may take longer.
If you've never used wireless network camera software before, you might have a small learning curve but, I assure you, it's no more complex than any other security camera software out there and easier than many. The software allows you to setup your camera for motion-detection and stores a timeline so you can go back to any point in the day's recording and see what triggered your camera to activate (birds and a curious window-peeping squirrel are my most captured images).
What do I get for my money?
Well, easy setup. I know, I know, I'm repeating myself but I can't emphasize how important this is and how pleased I was with Logitech. But, seriously, the Logitech WiLife master system includes one indoor security camera, the USB receiver I mentioned, a power supply for the camera, the Command Center software (PC), several mounts for the camera (window mount, desktop stand and wall mount), window decals, a USB cable and a 10 foot Ethernet cable (for direct-connection to the camera for those who are so inclined and for help troubleshooting). Not mentioned in the list (but it should be so I will) is superb directions and exceptional technical support.
Actually, let me correct that. There are several master systems you can buy so make sure you're getting the one you want. The offerings are the indoor, outdoor and hidden camera master systems. The thing to note is that you have to have a master system before you can buy an individual camera.
Speaking of additional cameras, the software included in the master system can manage up to five
additional cameras (there are 3 types) in any combination for a total of 6
cameras. For example, one camera in the Logitech WiLife family is an outdoor
camera. Simply plug in and let the software find it and you're on your way.
Does it cost extra? Well, yeah, but let's be reasonable here. How many cameras
do you expect for around $300 ($224 for the indoor master system)? While I certainly would have liked 2 cameras
included in the starter package, I would also have expected to pay more.
Aside from the physical items included are the perks. Logitech WiLife allows for email and cell phone alerts. Since your camera can be set up for motion capture, it's nice that it can send you updates when it captures action (including a little snippet of video). My experience with this feature involved my former physcho neighbor plowing into a parked car one afternoon, backing up and then parking down the street to hide. The person's car she hit came knocking door to door a few minutes later trying to find out who hit his car. I was at work at the time and my wife was at home. At the same time this guy came knocking on our door trying to find out who hit his car, I was on the phone with my wife telling her about the alert I'd just received from my camera. I then reviewed the full scene remotely (another great feature) and we gave the guy the info he needed to snag the culprit! He was so appreciative that he had a fruit basket delivered to us two days later as a thank you.
What additional items might I want with my WiLife camera?
Well, as mentioned, you might want more than the one camera that comes with the master kit. The included camera is an indoor-use only model but Logitech does sell an outdoor version that is just as easy to setup (providing you have a power source nearby). For those of you with a little 007 in your blood, there's also a discrete spy-cam version that looks (and acts) like a digital clock. Finally, Logitech offers an IR illuminator and lens in a kit so you can modify your camera for low and no light use. All of these add-on products cost extra but function and integrate well.
So what's the down side?
Let's go back now and address those complaints in online reviews I promised we'd come back to. The simple truth is that, with this or any other wireless surveillance camera package, you MAY have problems. This isn't a comment on the Logitech WiLife, but on technology in general. Any company producing a piece of technology meant to work with computers will face hurdles. At one end of the spectrum are brand new machines which weren't around when their product was designed. At the other end are archaic machines which simply aren't capable of handling newer technology. I have never met a piece of technology designed to work with computers that worked universally well on all platforms and it is unfair and unrealistic to expect any different from the WiLife.
The point to remember is that, relative to the overwhelming majority of wireless video cameras available, this one is by far one of the easiest you'll find to install and get running in the shortest amount of time. If you struggle with this one, you'll likely struggle with any of them. The upside is that if you run into problems, both documentation and technical support are head and shoulders above what I've experienced with most technical products. It is the ease of setup, documentation and support that make this product one of the easiest I've ever recommended. But, if for some reason you can't get yours to work, don't blame me. Some technical experience is still helpful here (knowing how to disable your firewall and anti-virus software during initial installation, for example). Without that and with a computer with serious age or compatibility issues, you may find your installation more frustrating than I found mine.
I've seen some complaints that this camera doesn't allow for audio recording and I hear and feel your pain. Having said that, audio is rarely relevant when you're trying to protect your property. There's another factor most aren't aware of and that is that there are whole books devoted to wiretapping laws focused entirely on audio, but relatively few surrounding video (due to it being a newer technology). It might come as a surprise to some to realize that they could be perfectly within their rights to record video footage on their property without telling those being recorded but that they could be in violation of the law if that video includes audio. Funny stuff, laws. But the lack of this feature with Logitech's WiLife might actually be a benefit.
There is also a hidden cost with this package should you want premium service (off-site storage of video). Is that a bad thing? Well, a little bit because video footage recorded to your computer doesn't do you a bit of good if somebody breaks in and steals your computer. But in this case, it's largely irrelevant because even the premium package which allows for offsite storage requires you to manually upload the footage. Frankly, that's pointless unless for some strange reason you feel the need to retain a ton of recorded history of nothing interesting going on.
Wrap it up! I'll take it!
So let's wrap things up there. I was planning to include a
pros and cons list but there are plenty of those on the web and I've covered the salient points already for the Logitech WiLife so no
point in reinventing the wheel. I just ask that you keep that one point in mind
that many of the complaints come from those with no prior wireless surveillance
camera experience. Had they tried other products first, I suspect they would
have a much higher opinion of the Logitech WiLife camera system. Despite that,
the camera still ranks 3.5 stars out of five or better on most consumer reviews which is respectable. For my part,
any downsides to this camera are offset by the good and by how much worse other
systems I've tried have proven to be.
For an inexpensive home wireless surveillance system, the WiLife is great. To do much better you would have to shell out considerably more money for a professional system.