WiLife Evaluation and Review

3 WaterTowers

Quick Overview: WiLife is a home and business camera security system.

Before you read watch this wonderfully produced video using video clips from the WiLife security camera.

Interesting Experience

It all started shortly after installation. I went to the “online.wilife.com” link on the “Online” setup page to check my online status. I was sent to a web page that asked for my login and password. Since I was new to WiLife I did not know, at the time, that this was a bogus web site. I entered my email address and password for WiLife. Now I am receiving junk emails. I had been phished. Arrrgggh.

I then un-installed WiLife from my home computer, and re-installed it on my work computer to see if this phishing incident was a repeatable act. It was not. Whew.

However, even though this phishing experience was not related to the WiLife product, I proceeded with caution for this evaluation, being careful not to enter sensitive data.

OK…..putting that odd incident aside let’s proceed with the evaluation.

Version and Cost Information

I was sent the most basic form of WiLife 2.0 to evaluate. If I were to purchase this “Starter Kit” it would cost me $299.00. Adding additional cameras cost $229.99 each. Pretty steep.

The features can be upgraded by signing up with the “Pro” or “Platinum” services, which will cost you. Those upgrades, however, open up a number of features that I was not able to access during this evaluation. One of the most important, to me, is the ability to tell the camera what portion of the viewing area to trigger on. I had cars going by on the street triggering the camera; I would have focused on my Honda if I had the “Platinum” capability.

You can go here (Platinum) to find out more about the Platinum upgrade.

Here are the basic features I was expecting:

  1. Use of an outdoor camera
  2. Connection of that camera to the Command Center on my Windows XP machines
  3. The ability to view the camera via the Internet
  4. The ability to receive emails and cell phone messages when an “alert” happens.
  5. Easy installation in less than 10 minutes
  6. Networking connection via my home’s power outlets

What I got was this:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes, but you need to use Internet Exploder
  4. No, but I did not test email, only cell
  5. Yes
  6. Yes

YeOldeTechy liked….


Installation

The installation is a breeze. Mount your camera and plug it into the nearest wall socket. I used a 50 foot long extension cord for the evaluation, but, if I were to use WiLife permanently, I would have to hire and electrician to put power where I needed it.

WiLife uses your house power lines to make the network connection between the cameras and the computer super simple. The instructions warn you not to plug your devices into power strips. I tried it and low and behold….it did not work! So don’t do it….

YeOldeTechy says: I am amazed how well this works over the house power lines. Good job, WiLife!

The installation hardware for the camera is also pretty slick. A nicely thought out set of knobs and a rotating ball joint allows the camera to be pointed in virtually any direction.

The software installation on my PC went smoothly. The software takes you step-by-step with very nice pictures and helpful explanations. The software automatically checked what it needed to ensure operation. I could adjust the disk space for the WiLife video capture. Very cool. Before starting, the software alerted me that the camera software version needed to be upgraded. I decided to upgrade it and the process proceeded flawlessly.

Camera Quality in Daylight

The quality of the camera in daylight is terrific. Once the installation and upgrades were complete, I was rewarded with a very high quality, live, video image of my driveway.


User Interface (Command Center)

The Command Center on the PC is attractive and easy to use. A few minutes with it and you are an expert user.

Notice the red light on the bottom left of the picture and the words at the top (Live/Rec). This means that the WiLife is recording an event on my hard drive. When that recording stops, the red light goes out and the word Rec is taken off. I can view the recording by clicking on the big Green Button that says “Go to Playback”. The quality of playback is very good (in daylight) and can be seen in the video I produced at the beginning of this Blog entry.

I only have one camera so that is the only section that is lit. You can choose the view to be single or 4 or 6 windows. So if you had six cameras, you could see all of them at once. Sweeet.

I like the clock in the bottom right hand corner.

There are three main buttons you can click on “Setup”, “Go to Playback” (this changes to “Go to Live” when in playback mode), and “WiLife” which is an easy link to the WiLife web site.

Setup

In setup, you have several options. The first, and most important for this evaluation, is the camera set up. On this page (see picture below) you can change the name of the camera, change the color of the text overlay, mess with the brightness and contrast (I kept it on “Auto” and it worked great), and change the quality of the video, its frame rate, and, finally the bit rate.

I selected VGA (640 x 480) which is better than QVGA (320 x 240), 15 frames per second (Remember: I am a videoconferencing nerd, but, I could have selected 5 or 10 fps), and 400 kbps transfer rate (or 600 and 800 kbps).

The other pages control the other features.

  1. On the “Recording” page you can set the sensitivity of the motion trigger, schedule a recording time, and view disk usage.
  2. On the “Alert” page you can set up your email and cell phone account information (I did not do the email due to the phishing incident), schedule email alerts, and set manual alerts.
  3. On the “Online” page you can create an online account, connect or disconnect to the Internet (to stream your video).
  4. On the “Advanced” page you can find your cameras, rediscover them, manage security, check for updates, update a camera, rebuild video list, find orphan clips, get system info (your computer), and run a diagnostic.

To keep this Blog entry as short as possible: The page options all work nicely and intuitively.

Playback

Playback allows you to view the recording. You can go back as far as the recordings have been taking place and watch. I like the ability to adjust the timeline. You can compress it to cover many days, or stretch it out to view a particular hour.

YeOldeTechy did not like…

The video quality of the camera at night is, understandably, lacking. Unfortunately, WiLife sells a special spotlight for indoor use only. So if I were to use WiLife I’d have to purchase and install a spotlight to cover my driveway. Motion is detected at night, but the people who (or cars that) trigger it are unrecognizable.

WiLife is Windows centric. Not that this is a bad thing, but, you need to install it on a Windows machine (which not everyone has) and you must use Internet Explorer to view the video from your cameras on-line. I use Firefox, and by trying Firefox I messed up the on-line capability until I rebooted my computer and started from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I like Windows (sort of) since I have Windows machine it is just that I use Firefox for my browser (for security reasons mostly), and there are a lot of folks out there with other operating systems.

Also, Windows is not known for its security…how interesting that a security system relies totally on Windows.

What if the power goes off while you are on vacation? If you are like me, your home computer is not set-up to turn on automatically. Security is down for the remainder of the time.

I was not able to enter or use the cell phone alert capability. Due to the phishing incident, I did not enter my email information to try the email alert.

What about energy conservation? I turn as many electronic devices off as possible. My computer “on” all the time is not something I want to do.

Suggestions

I am a big fan of stand-alone appliances and if that stand-alone appliance happens to work well with your home computer, even better.

At the very least, I would like to see the WiLife cameras come with a memory card slot and battery backup. Example: I have several Sony memory sticks hanging around doing nothing, I can use them for storage of video. I’m sure there are a lot of folks with SD memory cards doing the same. No matter what, if the WiLife had this kind of stand-alone capability, I would be more than willing to purchase a memory card if I had to. With on board memory and battery backup the camera can continue to record events if power, or the computer, dies. When the computer comes back online, the recording is transferred. No information is lost.

Taking that one step further, connect the camera(s) directly to the Internet thus bypassing the computer for that purpose as well. Did I say I liked “stand-alone” devices?

Open up the viewing of the on-line capability to other browsers would be good.

How about using Flash for the video?

How about adding audio? That enhances the use as a security system, and may open up a ton of other uses like parties, weddings, home video for grandma and grandpa of the kids playing in the back yard, etc.

Summary

I installed and used a single outdoor WiLife camera connected to the Command Center on my computers for the past two weeks.

WiLife worked very reliably, but, I did not come to rely on it because I turn my computer off regularly, and I do not have a spotlight to illuminate the area at night.

It is a good product if you can live with the limitations.

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About Mike Pihlman

I am the Director of ForCarol.com a 501c3 non-profit that awards college scholarships to Tracy, CA scholars in honor of my daughter's best friend, and our part-time daughter, Carol Phan who we lost on Sept 18, 2010. I am a: Book Review (TracyReaderDad.com), Technology (TechyMike.com), and Movie Review (ForCarol.com) blogger.

Posted on March 10, 2008, in Streaming Video and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi Techy
    Any experience with connecting a Polycom HDX9100 to a remote computer for videoconfernecing? Any suggestions of what software and how to connect? I tried skype but could not find a way to call an IP address….

    Not techy enuf
    Archana

  2. archana:

    It sounds like you are asking more than one question.

    The PolyCom HDX series supports H.239, so a computer can be connected to it for data sharing during a videoconf. That connection should be straight forward but there may be some menu options you will need to change to suit your needs. It also supports H.323, so dialing another H.323 endpoint using an IP address (for example a videoconf application on your computer, like the Polycom PVX) should also work. You will not get HD on your computer however.

    Not sure what you want to do with Skype..I have not used Skype (but I see I need to evaluate it!) So I am not sure if it can call via an IP address. I have used ooVoo for videoconferencing and it uses it’s own built in IM capability to place calls.

    I have talked to a friend at Polycom and given him this URL, he may be able to shed more light.

  3. Archana
    Mike is right on the money with his response 🙂
    As for the question about Skype unfortunately like many IM clients Skype uses its own proprietary technology to connect between Skype clients. The HDX9001 is either H.323 or SIP compatible, so you need an H.323 compliant client on the PC side. In addition to traditional CIF/SIF resolution conferencing PVX also can support VGA (~4SIF) resolutions if the PC is fast enough and the USB camera also supports that resolution. So with PVX on a fast PC you should get a very good picture. As a reference 4SIF is basically the same resolution as traditional broadcast TV (nonHD) so it looks very good especially at the higher call speeds.
    Hope this helps
    Tom

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