DIY Home Security

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Home Security, Networking

Late last year, I decided that paying ADT $40 a month wasn’t worth it. I had 10 year old security equipment and they wanted a lot of money to upgrade to the latest and greatest systems.* I looked around and it became obvious that do it yourself home automation and home surveillance was something I would need to research. There weren’t any "kits" and local retail stores didn’t carry any electronics that I would want.

My first decision was on what kind of technology to use. My first step was video surveillance that included motion sensing and alerts. Looking around, there wasn’t much of a choice for configurable, functioning equipment. The only affordable player that qualified was d-Link. So, I picked up a few D-Link IP cameras. Two DCS-932L’s and two DCS-942L’s. In retrospect, I could have gone with all 932L’s. These are easy to setup if you just want to view them from within your own home and if you have no advanced needs. I will detail what I learned in another posting. Setting up to fulfill home surveillance needs was not trivial. That process alone will be a separate blog post. I can also tell you that while D-Link offers a free web based viewer for web browsers and a free app for the iPhone, you won’t want to use these. D-Link includes D-Cam Viewer software for Windows on their CD’s which is a real joke as it requires you to turn of UAC.

I settled on desktop controller from Blue Iris software that, while costing $50, does everything I could ask, including scheduling triggered alerts via email or SMS, etc., and it is viewable over the Internet with authentication protection. And there is a free iPad as well as an iPhone app that works beautifully with these cameras.

After setting up my cameras, etc., here is what I can see via a web browser accessing the Blue Iris controller remotely:

 

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Each camera can be put on a schedule for triggered alerts. If one of the motion sensors is triggered, an email and/or SMS can be sent. I am quite happy with the video surveillance system.

*Note: I left the local ADT alarms intact, and shut off the monitoring service that cost $40/month, so if someone tries to come in through doors and windows when I have armed the ADT system, an ear-splitting alarm is set off.

WX Channel iPad App Interacts with TV While You Watch

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Networking, Touchsmart

I’ve just had a game changing entertainment experience. I love watching shows in HD about nature, geography, especially those that feature striking photography that adds to my knowledge of the physical world around me. The Weather Channel has launched a show called From the Edge with Peter Lik and it is available both in HD and SD. And  WX has simultaneously launched a companion iPad app (FREE) that, like some of the music apps previously available that can listen to music that is playing and identify it, listens to each show as you watch it (Live/Recorded/On Demand) and then download and displays related content to augment the viewing experience.

 

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Tuned in and watching the first recorded episode of this show on my TV.

 

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Xfinity for iPad VOD Streaming Launches

Posted Posted in Apple, Connected Home, iPad, iPhone, Technology

Quality Video on Demand content (as opposed to live streaming of on air shows which may be coming down the road), including HBO, Cinemax, Stars, and a few other networks is now available for Comcast customers. It’s really a ton of content, and it looks incredible and works perfectly. To get the premium content, you need to subscribe to those channels, obviously.

Comcast promised this was coming, and they’ve done a great job. This really rounds out my options for viewing content wherever I am.  Does it replace Netflix on my iPad? Not yet. But the two complement each other nicely. Comcast promised more and better “TV Everywhere” and they are delivering on that promise.

I fired up the updated Xfinity app that showed as an update and here is a walk through:

First, iPad users will see a new Play Now button. This is the key to streaming to the iPad.

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Is that router you want for the holidays ready for IPv6?

Posted Posted in Connected Home, IPv6, Networking

Some of you might be saying, “huh?” and wondering what I’m talking about.  If you are a geek, you probably know that the IPv4 universe of addresses is shrinking and latest estimates are that the IPcalypse will occur in about 3 months. You can follow this on Facebook.

What does this mean? At some point in time, a new web site you want to visit or new web service you want to use may not have an assigned IPv4 address and be reachable over IPv6 only.

Is your ISP working towards insuring that  you can connect to these sites? Mine sure is. Comcast has been working on this for a long time. Of the available technologies, 6 to 4 and native dual stack seem to me to be the most robust. But the catch is that in your home, you need equipment that has implemented one of these technologies, starting with the router at the edge of your network.

I look around and I see a sorry state of affairs for the home user, where there are so few capable devices (let alone firmware upgrades for top of the line dual band wireless routers) that it would appear that the router vendors are planning on forcing consumers to buy entirely new products, most likely to be announced at CES2011.

  • Apple’s Dual Band N Airport Extreme seems the farthest along in out of the box features with firmware 7.5.1,and it is a great performer, provided you are willing to forego things like MAC address cloning, and can limit yourself to 50 clients and not being able to manage via a web browser.
  • D-Link’s flagship DIR-855 has no apparent support for configuring IPv6 features (although their DIR-825 B2 hardware is rumored to have some IPv6 support,but I’ve ordered and returned 4 of them,having received the initial hardware version each time). Of all the top of the line routers, IMO, the DIR-855 has the best and largest set of features and options, and I’m disappointed at the lack of IPv6 features, to say the least.
  • Netgear’s flagship WNDR3700 (I believe it has recently been rebadged with a new product number)  also shows no sign of IPv6 support.
  • Linksys’s  E3000 (rebadged WRT610N) also shows no signs of official IPv6 support (and it is the worst performer of the bunch).

So, yes, there is open source firmware for some router lines, but the typical home user shouldn’t have to deal with a geeky upgrade and the quirks.

My advice if you are in the market for a new router? Don’t be pulled in by those door buster holiday specials.. You are going to need to purchase a new router in the next 18 months or so unless the vendors ante up and do the right thing.

Xfinity iPad App is Amazing

Posted Posted in Connected Home, iPad, iPhone, Media Center

If you are a Comcast customer, have a compatible DVR and an iPad (or iPhone), you have access to a free app in the iTunes store that is definitely a game changer.

I’ve used myDVR on my iPxx devices to remote schedule recordings, and I watched the CES demo video that Brian Roberts did and drooled.

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After installing the app, at first run, a welcome screen appeared, which I dismissed (being a Type A) kind of geek. Actually, after logging in, I could tell that the application already knew about my two DVR boxes as they were already paired from my use of myDVR.

The Guide in this new app is FAR more usable than the one included with the original Comcast iPhone app. There are filters, as shown below (but I have not yet found a way to specify favorite channels.  Filters aren’t “sticky” so being a HD snob, I do have to turn the setting for HD only to ON each time I launch the app (and am hoping this will change to a sticky setting).

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Once a show is selected, two choices are available,record or watch on TV. Record works in the same way as the older myDVR app,but WATCH TV is awesome. As you can see below, when WATCH TV is selected, an animated icon pops up and the channel changes on the TV. (Full disclosure, when I installed this yesterday, channel changing didn’t work for me. I opened a ticket and it was fixed 24 hours later).

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Comcast has more features coming, including the ability to watch some shows directly on the iPad.

(Update 11/17) Engadget has posted a video showing off both current and future capabilities of this app. Currently (and I’ve reported this to Comcast), the On Demand listing in the app isn’t as up to date as the EPG on the STB itself. Also, with On Demand, you still have to pick up the Comcast (or Harmony-whatever) remote to confirm “purchase” of an On Demand asset. I’ve asked that they consider a settings option to override this annoying behavior. We’ll see.. (I’m thinking of getting a Red Eye mini which will at least let me confirm from the iPxx device).

What makes this app interesting to me is that, to change channels, NO IR device is needed. This is a good thing because the iPad/iPhone devices do not have onboard IR (although there are some third party add-on devices available). The iPxx device actually communicate with the DAC (Digital Addressable Controller) via some web service that sends commands to the local DAC when you make a channel selection over your WiFi or 3G Internet connection. To accomplish a real time channel change, a lot of moving parts need to communicate and work seamlessly. I’m impressed.

Thanks, Comcast, for a great contribution to my connected home lifestyle!