MOST of us are familiar with the concept of punching numbers into a keypad near the front door whenever we enter or leave the house, in order that the neighbours can be annoyed by a piercing noise should an intruder or gust of wind disturb the alarm sensor.
But in today’s wired world there is no need to leave the keypad behind when you go out - you can take it with you on your phone.
That’s the idea behind the new generation of home security devices. You control them remotely from an app, and you can see live pictures from your house whenever you want. With two-way sound, they also double as sophisticated baby monitors, and unlike conventional burglar alarms they can notify you the moment they sense something untoward.
This last feature is potentially the most valuable, which is why, perhaps, most of the firms making these devices make you pay a monthly fee, on top of the purchase price, to keep it active. The Piper NV (it stands for night vision) unit is an exception - a live video security camera which can also control electrical devices in different rooms of your house. You pay £230 for the unit (on Amazon) but nothing thereafter.
I’ve been trying one out, and despite the unfamiliarity of the concept and and the almost complete absence of printed instructions, it’s disarmingly simple to set up. You plug it in, install the Piper app on one or more phones and press a couple of buttons. You can then use the app to tell the unit whether you’re at home, out or on holiday and set rules on how it should behave if, for instance, it detects movement. Typically, this might involve recording what it sees and alerting you or someone you’ve nominated by phone, text or email. The recordings can be accessed later online.
The app’s chief purpose is to let you see a live video feed from your house, captured via an extreme wide-angle lens which you can pan and zoom from your phone. You can not only see but also hear what’s going on, and, if you wish, send your voice to the unit’s speaker, Big Brother-style. So long as you’re connected to the internet, you can do this from anywhere in the world.
In order to be of practical use, the Piper unit must be positioned somewhere it can see and record unwanted activity, and within reach of a mains socket, and I found these requirements surprisingly hard to reconcile. Pointing it out of a window on to the driveway wasn’t an option because the summer sun overwhelmed the camera sensor and blacked out most of the detail. The volume of the Piper’s inbuilt speaker also means you have to be careful with rule-setting, lest an unwanted alert wakes the whole family.
But the comfort blanket of being able to monitor your house remotely, even at night, and the ability to set off a panic alarm, from the other side of the world if need be, can’t be oversold, especially when it’s a fraction the cost of an old-fashioned burglar alarm.