Home Monitoring Sytems Let You Control Devices While You're Away

These systems allow you to see and hear what's happening in your house when you're not there, see who's at the front door before opening it and lock and unlock your doors remotely.
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Did you leave the lights on?

Has your dog dug up your favorite potted plant - - - again?

Home security/monitoring has become a big issue as we continue to hear about "the break-in down the street" or possibly next door.

With that in mind, we played with two home monitoring systems that operate in "the cloud" and a phone system that lets you see who's ringing the doorbell.

These systems allow you to see and hear what's happening in your house when you're not there, see who's at the front door before opening it and lock and unlock your doors remotely.

Keep in mind these aren't alarm systems and should be used in conjunction with fire/break-in alarms installed by a professional and monitored 24/7.

The Nexia Home Intelligence System is basically a collection of Z-Wave components that work through the Nexia Home Bridge ($79.99 for the starter kit which includes a lamp/appliance module). Using this system you can lock and unlock doors using a Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt Lock ($168.81), monitor indoor ($128.82) and outdoor ($189.84) cameras and turn lamps and appliances on and off while you're away from home using a smartphone or tablet. Other components we didn't test include thermostats that can be controlled remotely and plug receptacles that replace the standard wall plugs in your house.

This was the hardest of the three systems to set up until we discovered a preliminary step that wasn't included in the instructions.

We kept getting messages telling us the Home Bridge wasn't recognized or couldn't be seen by the cloud server. After endless failed attempts and sending a plea for help to Nexia, we discovered the system can't be installed when it is plugged into a wall socket. Instead, we installed a nine-volt battery into the bridge, hooked the bridge up to our router using an Ethernet cable and we were up and running.

Once that was accomplished, adding the components was easy. We simply plugged them in, followed the instructions for pairing them with the Home Bridge and everything was ready to use.

All of the devices connected to the Home Bridge are monitored in the cloud by using an app on a mobile device or going to the Nexia site on a PC. From there, we were able to lock and unlock doors, turn lights or appliances on or off and access the cameras.

Of course, as with anything else, there was one aspect of using the Home Intelligence System we had a problem with - - - Nexia charges users $9.99 per month for monitoring the system, while there are others, although not as sophisticated, that operate at no charge.

The folks at D-Link have developed a surveillance system the uses a cloud router, indoor and outdoor cameras and a video recorder, which can be accessed remotely using a mobile device or PC using mydlink.

We used a D-Link Wireless AC1750 Dual-Band Gigabit Router with AC Smartbeam ($149.95), a D-Link Pan And Tilt Day/Night Network Cloud Camera ($119.99), a D-Link Outdoor HD Wireless Network Cloud Camera ($179.99) and a mydlink Camera Video Recorder ($99.99).

The system was easy to set up, since it uses a router to connect to the cloud and to your home Wi-Fi network. Once the router was connected to our system and we gave it access to the network, it immediately recognized the cameras and recorder as they accessed the network. Also, we were able to use the indoor camera to extend the range of our network.

Everything is monitored using the mydlink cloud service, which is free. Just register, answer a few questions and you're ready to go.

Finally we have the VTech Two-Handset Answering System with Audio/Video Doorbell ($119.95). This system replaces the landline telephones in your house and allows you to see who's ringing the bell.

Basically it operates like any landline telephone and answering system, but there are a couple of differences:

  • It "announces" who is calling by either "telling" you who's calling or announcing the originating phone number using a synthetic voice (similar to Apple's Siri)
  • You get to see a picture of the person ringing the doorbell on the handset.
  • You can communicate with the person at the door using your handset as a microphone and the built-in microphone/speaker in the doorbell.

The doorbell communicates with the handset wirelessly, which means it's fairly easy to set up. Just insert the batteries, find a place to mount the bell/camera and you're all set.

The monitoring system can also be used for security purposes if you don't have a landline phone system and just want to monitor who is ringing the bell.

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