For simplicity we group cameras into two categories: full featured and basic. Our definition of a full featured camera includes functionality like: Pan, Tilt, Zoom (PTZ), high end sensors, good software with fine grain controls, motion detection and multiple options for alerting and storing video and still images. Full featured cameras tend to be more expensive and often have unique selling features that make them stand out from the rest of the pack. A basic camera is defined by limited functionality. Basic cameras are cheap and usually focus on simply capturing video or stills.
We have used lots of cameras. No really, LOTS of cameras. Picking one as a favourite is like picking your favourite movie. One might be your absolute favourite but it won’t stand up to another in a different category and who knows if the next one you see won’t become your all time favourite. The best way to choose a camera is to understand what you need it to do and know your environment so you pick something that fits.
What We Love:
The Piper nv (i.e. Piper new version or is it the Piper night vision?)
Why We Love it:
The Piper nv definitely fits into the full featured category. As a matter of fact, it is one of a new small group of cameras that may create a new category all on their own they have so many features. If we could only have one camera in our house the Piper nv is the one we would pick.
The camera includes a 3.4 Megapixel sensor and a 180 degree fish eye lens. The sensors produces a nice crisp picture with clear low light and infrared images. The video footage is captured at 1080p. The 180 degree coverage will allow you to see an entire large room or up close in a smaller space. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all wide angle lenses are created equal. Wide angle is loosely defined as anything wider than ‘normal’. If the area covered is important for your environment check to see what the field of view is. You can pan, tilt and zoom around the fisheye image. The virtual movement is quick, silent and it allows the entire scene to be monitored and recorded simultaneously (unlike traditional mechanized panning systems that move the camera around to point at different areas on demand or following a schedule). Quatro view allows you to split the fisheye image into four sections that you can move around and zoom independently. Piper provides free online storage for 100 videos and uses SSL video encryption to ensure the video is transmitted and stored securely. You can also capture and download video to your device on demand.
Beyond the camera functionality the Piper nv includes a range of additional security and environmental sensors including: an infrared motion sensor for night vision and a loud noise sensor to alert about activity outside the camera’s field of view. Environmental sensors include temperature, humidity and light.
The Piper nv includes an integrated Z-Wave 500 series controller which allows it to connect with and control a wide range of lights, sensors and other devices. It can also send real time text or email alerts. It has a built in microphone, speaker and ridiculously loud 105dB siren. Three AA batteries provide backup power. The app allows you to easily set three different modes with different parameters for each. With these additional features the Piper nv can act as a robust home security system and as a solid home automation hub. All of this works without an ongoing service contract eliminating costly ongoing fees.
Like any full featured camera the Piper nv will cost more than a basic camera. The Piper nv doesn’t cost much more than other full featured cameras and when you include all the additional features it is good value for the money. You should question whether you need all of the features though… who are we kidding of course you do <grin>.
The camera is not meant to be a spy camera and will stand out. It is available in black or white but overall it is larger and clunkier than competitors and overall the looks, while sleek, modern and not offensive they can leave something to be desired.
The app encompasses all of the functionality available which means it covers a lot of ground and can be a bit confusing or at least difficult to find or get to certain settings and information.
The PTZ functionality is virtual. A mechanical system with a higher quality and more focused camera could provide better images with less distortion and a wider range of motion/view. The fisheye lens causes the image to be badly distorted. The camera is not built to work outdoors and trying to view outdoor areas at night through a window is out of the question because of the glare from the IR lights on the glass.
Another issue often found in night vision cameras and sadly very present in the Piper nv is a clicking noise as it switches between day and night mode which it can do frequently in marginal light conditions. The clicking is not something you would notice in an average busy room but it can be annoying in a quiet environment.
You can add five Piper cameras for each wireless network. Some installations will find five cameras to be a significant restriction.
The Z-Wave controller built in is a good one but if you already have a hub with a Z-Wave controller built in having another one may just add confusion to your setup. Another issue that plagues many Z-Wave hubs including the Piper nz is alerts not being sent either because of incorrect configuration or glitches in the system. Sometime alerts are triggered and you wish they hadn’t been. The siren is one example; it is ear bleedingly loud (which is great if you have a burglar in your home) and you can be sure that it will be triggered unintentionally at about 2 a.m. on the morning your spouse is sick or has an important meeting the next day or better yet both. On top of all that unplugging the Piper nv will not even slow it down thanks to the nicely screwed in backup batteries…
On that note, one of the nicest features of the Piper nv is the battery backup. It provides between four and six hours of backup. However, if the power is off longer than the batteries last the camera will shut down and not start up again until you manually intervene. Not the greatest design, especially if the camera is setup in a remote location. Also, if the power is out you will need to be sure that your modem and wireless router have a UPS to keep them running for the same amount of time or none of the cloud recording or alerting functionality will work.
Works Best With:
Despite all the nitpicky things that could go wrong or might not work the way we like the Piper nv is an amazing and innovative piece of hardware. It is perfect for homes where there are a few isolated smart devices already installed. In particular if you are looking for a camera and a security system that will work seamlessly together. The Piper nv is easy to setup and is a great introduction to the next level of automation with Z-Wave multi-device integration.
A DIY environment looking to add security system features. The camera functionality alone is enough to keep it on your list of potential IP cameras. The Z-Wave hub integration adding home security and a home automation system takes the camera to a whole other level.
You Might Also Love:
There are so many alternatives!! It wasn’t long ago that we typically found ourselves suggesting solutions from the basic end of the spectrum. We would recommend cameras like a D-Link DCS-934L as a basic, cheap and easy to find option. If we were pushed for something more we would recommend splurging a bit for a Foscam PTZ camera with more features for a good price but also not the best quality; particularly on the software side. Our recommendations for higher end or business solutions were either something from Axis or occasionally Cisco but you always knew you would be paying a premium. While all of these solutions are still okay they really require a lot more infrastructure in the background to achieve the same functionality. There are so many great standalone options available now that building a system from the ground up with best of breed cameras for each situation is only a good idea for larger and more complex environments.
Almost every camera now fits a niche and does something uniquely cool. Here are a few we think you might love:
Netgear Arlo – The Arlo lineup of cameras from Netgear are pretty much all solid solutions. We like the Arlo Q as a solid basic camera with a good range of features like 130 degree field of view, night vision, smart alerts that incorporate noise alerts, free cloud storage, available continuous recording, two way audio and 1080p recording quality. If you are willing to step up and pay more the Arlo Pro is a camera that ranks very highly on our list. With a completely cordless solution including rechargeable batteries that last 4-6 months it is super easy to install and reconfigure as needed. Good picture quality, indoor/outdoor construction and lots of other great features make it a solid choice. You do need to put these cameras out of easy reach or secure them well. Their cordless setup makes them easy to pull down! You also need to remember and take the time to keep them charged although you can purchase extra batteries that can be charged separately to reduce the downtime for charging. Cost is definitely a significant factor, these little cameras are not cheap!
Blink – these little cameras are cheap! The Blink cameras also run on batteries. In this case they will run up to two years on two regular rechargeable AA batteries. Kits are available with multiple cameras and get cheaper the more you buy. Blink has recently announced an outdoor camera but at this point only indoor cameras are available. No night vision but they include a LED flash/spot light that comes on when it detects motion. This means they can be used as a nightlight or a security deterrent but it is not going to catch someone unaware. Good quality video although only 720p. They even include free cloud storage. The cameras have a microphone so you can hear what is happening with video but they lack a speaker so no two way audio. Aesthetics are subjective but not many will think the Blink camera is beautiful or mistake it for a high end luxury item.
Logi Circle – this is another camera that will run on an internal rechargeable battery temporarily so you can move the camera for spot coverage. The battery only lasts a few hours though so it doesn’t really compete with the Arlo or Blink as a wireless option. It has a nice intuitive interface, is easy to setup, has great image quality in most light conditions, includes geofencing alerts and customizable activity zones to choose what part of the image to watch limiting false alarms. Logitech includes secure private cloud recording with 24 hours of free storage. They are adding features to the camera all the time and it now recognizes people (sometimes). You can see a ‘day in review’ by watching the whole day in in a thirty second timelapse video. On the down side, the rechargeable battery takes a relatively long time to fully recharge and the Logi Circle doesn’t currently work with other logitech products. It doesn’t integrate with other home automation solutions. However, if you want a camera you can plug in and know it will work this is probably the one we would recommend right now for most situations.
Pet Cube – purrrfect for cat lovers. The unique selling point for this camera is a remote controlled laser pointer that you can control by touching spots on the video image of your room. The camera has good video and sound quality for two way communication with pets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support multiple cameras and the cloud service is kinda expensive. We would recommend get this camera only if playing with your cat is the main driver for getting a camera at home.
Netatmo – The Welcome includes solid facial recognition as its differentiating feature. This is a great solution for anyone who wants to keep track of people (kids, cleaners, service workers etc.) coming and going from you home. The Netatmo Welcome looks good and has lots of great features including 130 degree viewing and IR night vision. It offers a range of video recording options including: local storage, connectivity with Dropbox and FTP to a personal server. It uses its microphone to recognize alarms and record video and send alerts when any alarm goes off. Netatmo also offers an outdoor camera – the “Presence” which includes a flood lamp and installs easily by replacing an outdoor light fixture. The Presence works over long distances (up to 20 meters or 65 feet) and will identify people, cars and animals making it easier for you to determine whether you should review activities that have been captured or not. These are nicely designed devices that will fit easily into any home.
YI Home Cameras – although these cameras come with lots of great options they fit better in the traditional or basic IP camera range. The Dome Cam 1080p is a particularly good, full featured PTZ camera if you are looking for something cheap that stands on its own.
Nest Cam – Drop Cam which was purchased by Nest was a trailblazer. The Nest Cam maintains some of that heritage with some of the best video and audio quality available in this category. The cameras look good and work well if you purchase the monthly subscription services. Buying and keeping a fleet of Nest cameras running can be very expensive. We only recommend the Nest Cams if you feel the need to run a full Nest environment. There is nothing wrong with any of the Nest cameras as long as you have the dosh to keep them running. The indoor and outdoor cameras look good, work great, integrate with tons of other great products and have loads of nifty features.
Foscam & Dlink – honourable mentions go to some long time favourites we referenced above. Both Foscam and D-Link offer a wide range of cameras. Between the two you can find one that fits pretty much any scenario or requirement. If you are technically savvy and plan to build the ultimate home surveillance system we recommend you check them out. The lineup is frequently updated with crazy new features and you can find a camera that will fit with pretty much every scenario you can dream up.
Specialty cameras – There are more special purpose cameras than you can shake a stick at. Everything from the mundane baby monitor, pet monitor and garage garage monitor to fun stuff like drones and thermal imaging. We may do a separate Stuff We Love just for these at some point!
Stuff We Really Like:
Sometimes you only need a camera for a little while and don’t want to buy it or you may want to setup a ‘pop-up security system’ to monitor your hotel or Airbnb to be sure your stuff is safe. The perfect solution for you might be using an iOS or Android phone or tablet ans software like Manything, AtHome Camera or Presence to convert it into a webcam. There is also software that will do the same for your laptop or PC like Yawcam.
If you are looking for a cheap but more permanent and feature rich solution try converting a USB camera to an IP camera with Raspberry Pi.
If you are looking to take your video monitoring to the next level and integrate multiple cameras and systems you need a consolidated central storage system i.e. a Network Video Recorder or NVR. You can make this yourself by purchasing software such as Blue Iris which you can install on a PC and have a full video management suite and this also allows you to convert computer cameras to full IP Security cameras. Another solution would be to purchase a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution like a QNAP or Synology system running their Surveillance Station software to capture, view and manage video feeds. An advantage of these solutions is you can control how much storage you provide locally and that can allow you to record higher quality or keep more historical video.
What’s Not To Love:
The Piper nv needs an iOS (9+) or Android (4.1+) device for setup and doesn’t allow granular level of access for setup/control through an onboard web interface or other method.
Another big disappointment is the lack of local storage or the ability to redirect the video feed to be stored via FTP or other means.
When the Alternative Might Be Better:
If you already have a Z-Wave home automation system in place the Piper nv might be overkill for your setup.
If you are a technical user who wants a cheap solution with the features and functionality to simply keep an eye on your space. We recommend basic cameras that are designed to be a good match for each space you want to monitor. Look at Foscam, D-Link or YI cameras for a good blend of features and reasonable costs. We have use Foscam and D-Link for many years and although they can sometimes be hair pullingly frustrating to get going and sometimes seem to have a zillion broken or useless options they are a solid choice for anyone with the patients and technical know how to get them going. We are not as familiar with the YI cameras but they definitely have the price and features to put them on our radar. If you are comfortable setting up your own home Wi-Fi router or following the steps to format a hard drive you are probably capable of figuring out the set up for one of these cameras. You will probably want a central control system if you grow beyond more than one or two cameras and we recommend that you figure out what you plan to use before you buy cameras so you can be sure that they will work together.
If idea of doing anything “under the hood” makes your skin crawl and all you want is a simple camera to watch your space we recommend the Logi Circle. If you are looking for something even simpler and don’t mind paying for the subscription service the Nest cameras deliver a great range of functionality and features and are amongst the easiest to setup.