Home automation is something that is only really limited by your imagination, possibly what accessories you can buy and possibly also by how much money you have. You get the idea though….
One of the more intriguing things I saw at MWC was the Piper NV, it is a second generation home automation hub, the first generation was a crowdsourced thing on Kickstarter and now the second generation model with night vision is available. Piper NV has the potential to become a really versatile automation and security system. I’ve had one for the last few weeks to try out and here is my review of it.
As a side note, I had the Piper NV and two Z-Wave plug sockets so my usage of the whole system only really covered the basics. I will be buying one of these very soon myself and I’ll be adding extras and accessories along the way.
Good and Bad Points
Lets have a quick look at my good and bad points.
- Nice and easy to setup.
- Easy to manage over multiple Pipers and multiple users.
- Official Z-Wave accessories make the system flexible.
- Thousands of compatible additional Z-Wave accessories.
- Android or iOS app.
- 2 way communication through speaker/mic combination.
- Free account for life and free cloud storage with enough space for 1000 recordings.
- Limited number of officially compatible Z-Wave accessories.
- Additional accessories are hit and miss in functionality despite being compatible
- Initial cost is a little steep to get a reasonable setup.
- Lack of Ethernet connection creates bandwidth issues on slower networks.
- Lack of WiFi AC also can create bandwidth issues.
The Piper NV unit is the centre of the system, it can be mounted on the included stand or mounted on a wall using the included wall plate. The unit itself houses the camera, the night vision ring, the siren, a microphone, the Wi-Fi components and some AA batteries that act as a backup if the power goes out.
The camera on the front of the Piper NV is possibly the most important part of the base unit, it is amazingly wide angle covering about 180 degrees when you view the footage, video is at 1080p resolution. The camera is surrounded by a night vision ring that helps the camera in the dark and also makes people look like zombies in the daylight. The night vision ring does glow red when it is enabled so remember this if you are watching someone/something you shouldn’t be.
The siren is on the top and the bottom of the unit and it is really quite loud it is rated at 105 dB, if you’re near it you don’t want to be. If you were using this as a home security system you would probably want an external siren, as the noise doesn’t make it that far outside of the house. There are Z-Wave sirens that you can turn on in the event of a trigger, although these are third party ones and not officially supported.
The unit is powered by the mains and has a battery backup. The unit itself has a power button on the back that you press and hold and the unit shuts itself down.
Overall the design is quite nice, it’s more about what goes on inside the thing, that really matters. Personally I’d add an Ethernet port somewhere round the back, to aid network bandwidth, especially in lieu of 5 GHz WiFi AC.
- Camera: Night Vision, Enhanced HD Resolution, 3.4 Megapixels, 180 degree view, Pan, Tilt, Zoom & Quad-view, 1920 x 1080 Omnivision CMOS sensor.
- Passive infrared motion sensor (up to 30 feet)
- Sensors: Motion, Temperature, Humidity, Light & Sound.
- Audio: Microphone, Speaker, 1105 dB Siren.
- Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n, Series 500 Z-Wave Controller.
- 7.5W AC/DC Wall Adapter.
- 3 AA Battery Backup.
- Operating system — Linux (OpenEmbedded).
Setting up the Piper was the first thing that needed doing, it’s basically a case of installing the Piper app on your phone or tablet, registering for an account and then powering up the Piper. Once it is powered up the app will need to configure the Piper and it’s WiFi connection, which is as easy as picking the SSID for your WiFi and putting in the WiFi code. Once that is done you’re free to browse the app and what the camera can see.
The app itself is nicely marked out and you soon get to grips with the controls, the dashboard is the central hub and allows you to access the four modes of the system. Stay, Away, Vacation and the disarmed mode. The theory is that you manually set different modes for the system depending on whether you are at home, away at work or on holiday. A quick tap on one of the icons on the main circle shown above and you trigger that mode and you can set up some rules for it i.e any movement, doors opening or loud noise and the siren will go off.
As you can see you set the alert up however you want, if you had door and window sensors fitted as part of the system these are recognised and you can set them as triggers for alerts also, the same also counts for lights or switches in that you can set them to come on if a rule is triggered.
Alerts can be sent via Push Message through the installed app, via Phone Call, SMS or Email and also out to the Trusted Circle.
The system also has a Notify mode, which will just send you a message or push a notification through the app.
So if you basically want to to check up on your family and when they arrive home it will do that or if you want it to turn on the lights when you arrive home it will do that too. Again it is only really limited by your imagination.
The app has a range of settings, allowing you to adjust sensitivity for pets in the home, siren settings and notifications if the Piper is turned off.
The app also keeps track of alerts from the system and also allows you access to recordings. The recordings can then be played back from within the app. The video is constantly recording, on a two minute loop, so if a trigger is set off it will start to record footage including about 15 seconds before the trigger happened.
Video playback was quite good on recorded items, live streamed video wasn’t the best which was mainly down to my broadband speeds and black spots in my WiFi network. Video quality can be dropped to help latency/lag issues when streaming video.
At the moment the home automation side of things only really officially handles things that can plugged into a standard plug socket, so a lamp, uplighter, fan heater, radio, electric blanket, etc etc. Being able to control basic devices like these from within the Piper app is handy and being able to include these items in responses to security triggers is handy too. One of the official accessories is a light switch connector, which is wired into the back of the light switch and you can control the light via the Piper app.
Overall the Piper NV is a cracking piece of kit, a piece of kit that gives you the potential to create something unique, so custom designed by yourself, something special.
But to fully do this you need some expertise in Z-Wave, some networking expertise to extend your WiFi network around your property and a fair bit of cash to spend on Piper units and additional accessories. For me I would want half a dozen cameras covering the front and back of my house and some inside the house, two external sirens, all doors and windows equipped with sensors, light sensors, rain sensors, smoke detectors, thermostat controls, door locks, curtain controls and possibly home entertainment all bundled into one system. But this would cost me a few thousand pounds and in it’s current state the Piper NV just isn’t flexible enough.
The other issue I found with the Piper NV was the video quality, I have a reasonable WiFi network at home with a 5 GHz and a 2.4 GHz network running simultaneously, it can only connect to the slower one. I set the Piper up right next to the router pointing out of the window and I sat right beside it. I connected to the Piper and watched the live stream and it was quite laggy, especially when there was lots of things going on. The solution to this is to drop the video quality which ruined the experience somewhat. I guess my broadband speed just wasn’t up to scratch. Things like Ethernet and WiFi AC would help to alleviate such issues.
At about €299 the basic Piper NV and no accessories is basically a fancy WiFi camera with a few extra functions.
Piper need to open up functionality to further Z-Wave accessories to allow people to really have a play around with the potential. At the moment I have been seeing forums where people are just buying unofficial accessories to see if the Piper NV can recognise them and if/what it can do with them, all of which is beyond the official Piper Z-Wave compatibility. There are thousands of compatible accessories, it’s just what the Piper will be able to do with them is the grey area. It’s odds on that it’ll work perfectly, it’s just whether the app will release exactly how the smoke detector you’ve bought functions is another matter.
If you fancy getting a Piper NV head over to their website here and check out the different sets they have for sale.