UPDATE (2012-05-10): I’ve been less-than-thrilled with the business practices of LifeShield lately. I still am a big fan of their products and services, so these reviews stand true, but if you’d like to know what they are up to, read this blog post.
Full disclosure: LifeShield sent me this camera for review, I did not purchase it.
As you all know from my InGrid/LifeShield security system review, I’m a big fan. I’ve been using the system for a few months now and I’m still very happy with my purchase. I’ve added on a few peripherals of sorts, such as a water detector, which will let me know if my second-floor laundry room is flooding. I had considered buying a network camera to attach to the system, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Lucky for me, the folks from LifeShield contacted me and said that they liked my review. “Would you like to do a review of one of our new wireless cameras?” they asked. Not a difficult question to answer, so the camera showed up a few days later.
The camera sells for $129.99 on LifeShield.com
Package includes the camera, the base/mount, AC power adapter and an ethernet cable.
The camera itself has 640×480 resolution.
This appears to be some sort of stock hardware made by a 3rd party as it looks exactly like the wireless camera you can get with the Schlage LiNK system.
Adding the camera to the security system is very simple. Before you can use it wirelessly, you need to power on the camera and plug it into your wired network. The two lights on the front indicate power and network activity, so you can tell pretty quick if it is up and running. Once it is booted up, you simply navigate to Cameras >> Add Camera on the LifeShield handset or base unit. It will scan for a few seconds, find the camera, then allow you to “name” it.
Now that the camera is attached, you need to log on to My LifeShield and you’ll notice that now there is 1 camera listed under the Cameras tab. Click on Camera Settings and you’ll see the options that are available to you. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is adjust the wireless settings so that the camera can connect to your wireless network. It had no problem connecting to my home WPA2-encrypted wireless network.
On the settings page, you can also tell it to flip the image horizontally, vertically, or both, which will open up your camera mounting options. You can also tell it to turn the front LEDs off if you want a stealthier mount. Image quality settings are also available, such as brightness and contrast.
Now that you have the wireless settings nailed down, you can move the camera away from the wired connection and test it out. Make sure that the camera successfully connects to your wireless network by going back to the web UI and telling it to take a test shot. If it all works out honky-dory, feel free to move the camera to where you intend to permanently mount it. Once you plug it in, it should connect to your wifi and you can take another test shot to confirm that it is working.
Now that the camera is set up to view your front door or your kid’s room or the garage, what can you do with it?
There are 2 levels of service for the camera with LifeShield. The basic service is free with the monitoring package you are already paying for, and this is the service I have. I’ll explain what you can do with this service in a moment. The 2nd level of service is $6/month, and it allows you to add special triggers and to view live video and images from the camera remotely. I have not tested this service, but I’ll report here if I decide to activate it.
I have reviewed the basic service, however, and here’s what it can do for you:
- When your alarm is triggered, have the camera take a pic or record video
- Using the new mobile app or the mobile My LifeShield page, you can tell it to take a pic at any time and then view it.
This obviously makes the camera a lot less useful, but if this is all you really want it to do, it is great that it won’t cost you any extra money per month.
I kind of glossed over it quickly, but you may have noticed my mention of the new mobile app from LifeShield. This was just released recently and if you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a fairly new BlackBerry, you’ll want to install this app. It is a MUCH better experience than the mobile My LifeShield web page. I’ll be writing a review of the app as soon as I can.
As I mentioned before, the camera only produces a 640×480 image, so you won’t be getting a lot of detail here. It is enough to get some idea of what is going on, though. I’d rate the quality as similar to a low-end USB webcam (like an old Logitech QuickCam). Actually, I’m sure the sensor in the camera is the same as is used in webcams. As is the case with webcams, performance is good as long as there is decent light. If you don’t have the camera pointing towards a well-lit area, the image quality will degrade and get extremely noisy very quickly.
…which brings me to my problem with the unit: it doesn’t have IR illuminating LEDs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this TRENDnet IP Camera. It has a bunch of IR LEDs around the lens that will (invisibly to the naked eye) light up the area in front of the camera. “Night vision,” for lack of a better phrase. Our eyes can’t see IR light but digital camera sensors pick it up just fine. A camera that turns on these LEDs once the lights go out allow you to see what is going on in a pitch-black room. It would look something like this (sample shot from a camera that does have IR illum):
So I ask: what is the point of the camera taking a picture at the time an alarm goes off if there is no IR illumination? Do you expect your thieves to come in during the day, or to turn on all the lights? Chances are good that you’d get a picture of blackness.
That’s a bit disappointing, but probably not a deal breaker. Chances are good that you’re more interested in using this camera for much more casual photos than for catching a crook. If you had this camera mounted in your front hall so you could see people coming in the front door (probably not in pitch-black), you’ll be just fine.
If you are looking for an easy-to-implement home surveillance camera and you don’t want to spend a ton of money, this camera will work just fine. Some people would say “why not just buy an IP camera that is higher resolution and has more options?” Well, if you are asking that question, this camera might not be for you. IP cameras are fine for those of us who know how to set them up and allow access to them from outside our router/firewall, etc, but I don’t think that’s the target audience for this camera. This camera’s biggest selling point, I think, is the ease of setup and use. Unlike a lot of IP cams I’ve used in the past, I haven’t yet had to reboot this camera. It just works, and that’s the most important part.
UPDATE 12-08-2011: I’ve been using this camera a lot more since I realized that it has a web UI. What does this mean? It means I can view live video from the camera from my phone or tablet via a VPN connection and this app IP Cam Viewer. This requires some networking know-how on your part, but it sure beats paying an extra monthly fee to be able to view live video from the camera.
Do you own this camera, and has your experience been different from mine? Please let me know in the comments.