Piper nv: An ambitious home monitoring and automation system

Wi-Fi and Z-Wave enabled, 180 degree zoomable video, with audio, night vision and environmental sensing

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Home automation has become a Big Thing and with it the surveillance and monitoring systems market has exploded. My focus today, the Icontrol Networks Piper nv, is ostensibly in the monitoring market but it’s an ambitious product that attempts to do a lot more.

The Piper nv is a wireless (802.11 b/g/n), ultra-wide angle (180 degrees!) 3.4 megapixel video camera that can deliver 1080p (1,920-by-1,080 pixel) streaming video in h.264 format. It has “night” vision (at much reduced video quality) with built-in infrared illumination. The device has passive infrared motion detection, a microphone, a speaker, temperature and humidity sensors, a 105 dB siren, and a built-in Series 500 Z-Wave Controller. 

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The Piper nv measures 5.5” by 3.5” by 2” and is powered by 7.5W AC/DC adapter or a 3 AA backup battery.

The video is described as having pan, tilt, and zoom but it does this without any moving parts by showing the zoomed-in video then allowing you to digitally pan and tilt the field of view (when you zoom out completely you get a fish-eye view). You can also have the video shown as four separate panels with each panel showing a different section of the overall field of view. 

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Live video view at full zoom out.

When you set the video quality controls to maximum the image is good but not really what I’d call HD and by around 25 feet from the camera facial features aren’t too clear in normal indoor lighting conditions. Users have reported that viewing video at the highest quality when bandwidth is limited results in choppy video which may be why the “When on Wi-Fi networks” default setting is set to around 75% (the default for “When using mobile data” defaults to roughly 30%).

 

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Piper iOS app on an iPad

Piper’s setup procedure is straightforward using the free Android or iOS apps. The same apps are used in normal operation (sadly, there isn’t a browser interface). You can configure your system to be in one of four modes: Off (disarmed), Stay, Away, or Vacation, and you can set up how Piper acts in each mode on the Rules configuration page. Overall, the apps are good though the UIs are not the most polished I’ve come across.

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The Piper nv also logs environmental data including indoor and outdoor temperature (the latter from public weather data and knowing your location; it also alerts you to weather advisories), humidity, light and sound level, and movement. This data can be used to trigger rules but that’s it, there’s no way to do anything at present with Piper's data in third party products.

 

It’s in its Z-Wave support that Piper becomes really ambitious because this makes the device into a simple home automation system. You can link to Z-Wave door and window sensors to trigger event detection and Z-Wave Smart Switches to turn on and off lights and appliances remotely, on a schedule, or using environmental data. For people who want a really easy way to set up a beginner’s home automation system this a good choice.

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Video playback of events

My big complaint is that the Piper nv captures roughly 30 seconds of video when it detects an event (either movement or a sensor trigger) and then goes into what I assume is a rearming mode (presumably while uploading the captured video). In this period, which lasts a few minutes, it doesn't respond to new events thus, if I go out to collect the mail, there will be a video of me leaving but not of returning a minute or two later. Given that a movement even can be triggered by a light being switched on within the field of view, it's quite possible for recording to start and stop before anyone comes into view.

Piper just announced at CES 2016 that they will have an IFTTT channel by the end of March which will support triggers such as:

  • Alarm activated by either the internal Piper sensors or the external Z-Wave accessories
  • System was armed
  • Live streaming started

The IFTTT-connected channels will allow the Piper nv to:

  • Turn on or off an external accessory
  • Arm and disarm the system
  • Record a video event

The company has also announced  support for new products, including motion and smoke detectors and door locks. 

So, the bottom line: The Piper nv is a solid product with good but not great video quality, some useful features particularly for users new to the home automation as well as more sophisticated features via IFTTT when it's enabled, and a few issues that will hopefully be addressed in future firmware upgrades.

At $279 the Piper nv is pricey but if you’re going to use the automation features, not horrendously so . A bonus is that there’s no monthly fee for the video storage and retrieval. The Piper nv gets a Gearhead rating of 4 out of 5. 

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