A few weeks back we ran a post with an interesting bit of news -- Logitech had announced OS X support for their Logitech Alert security camera systems. Shortly after that, the company sent a trial unit to try out, and I'm happy to say that the entire system is simply the best web/security camera setup I've had the pleasure to test.
Installing a Logitech Alert system requires the initial purchase of a master system, which creates a powerline network that is Internet-connected. The master system either comes with an indoor camera (US$299.99) or an outdoor camera ($349.99). Both feature IR night vision; the outdoor camera can "see" in total darkness up to 100 feet away, while the indoor camera has illumination for up to 50 feet.
Compared to many webcams or monitoring cams we've reviewed on TUAW, the Alert systems are expensive. Before you dismiss them just because of price, you've got to understand that these cameras provide a live 960 x 720 pixel, 15 frame per second wide angle image that surpasses any webcam or security cam I've tested so far. Additionally, you can put a camera anywhere there's a wall plug -- inside or outside. Setup is easy enough that anybody can do it.
Let's look at the components of the indoor master system, which goes by the full name of Alert 750n Indoor Master System with Night Vision. First, there's the camera (image above), which has one of the largest lenses I've seen on a webcam of any sort. The camera comes with a variety of mounts -- there is a simple dock for placing it on a table or desk, a suction cup for sticking it to a window, and a ball-and-socket mount on a short arm that can be mounted on a wall.
On the back of the camera is a removable door into which a flat cable with an RJ-45 connector is plugged. There's a button for turning off the red LED on the camera, something I highly recommend unless you like seeing red lights flash every time you move. One other camera feature I almost forgot to mention is a 2 microSD card to retain images even if your network goes down.
On the other end of that flat cable is the power unit, which plugs into a standard wall socket. The system includes interchangeable plugs for a variety of outlets. The power unit has a couple of LEDs, a green one for telling you that the unit has power and a blue one that indicates a connection to the powerline network. There's a switch to shut off these two LEDs as well.
The outdoor camera system, which I did not test, has a weather-resistant casing that looks like most outdoor security cameras you've seen. The company sells power/networking cable in lengths up to 100 feet, so your system can cover a lot of area if you so desire.
Rather than have physical PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom), the Logitech cameras use digital PTZ. To be honest with you, I prefer this as most of the physical PTZ cameras (meaning that they actually move upon command) have a real problem with Internet latency and often overshoot their target. You try to aim at a specific spot in a room and find your camera is pointing somewhere else. I'll describe the digital PTZ feature a bit later in this review.
Let's move back a step and talk about the second major component of the system, which is the HomePlug powerline network base station. This device looks just like one of the camera power units (image below), but instead of plugging a camera into it, you run one of those flat cables to your router. In this case, I plugged the unit into my AirPort Extreme Base Station. Once the HomePlug base station is plugged into the wall and your router, your entire home electrical system becomes a wired network. All cables are color-coded for easy connection.
Why did Logitech decide to use a wired network? Simple -- the HomePlug system provides up to 200 Mbps of bandwidth, and even when you have multiple cameras sending HD video out to the Internet, it's not tying up your Wi-Fi network. It also makes network setup truly plug-and-play easy.
With the Master System, you essentially get the base station and a camera. To expand the system, you can buy as many indoor ($229.99) or outdoor ($279.99) cameras as you want, placing them at strategic spots around your house.
Now let's talk about the software, which is the main reason I'm doing this review. The Alert Commander software for setup and monitoring of the cameras used to be Windows-only. Several months ago, Logitech released the software for OS X 10.6.8 or higher. This software makes the difference between some of the other monitoring systems we've reviewed and the Logitech Alert system.
As you can see in the following gallery, Alert Commander takes you step by step through the installation of the system and then making any settings changes that you desire.