Selecting The Best Video Intercoms
There are so many video intercoms now available – some dedicated, others part of smart home solutions, some hardwired and some wireless – that it’s difficult to get a clear sense of what features installers and end users should be looking for when wanting entrance control of homes and apartments.
ACCORDING to Daniel Khoury, assistant product manager – security at Hills, the key features of a quality video intercom include clear video quality, clear audio output, easy user interface/button layout and a minimalistic design to match most homes/office designs.
When it comes to the hot new features of 2020 – things like mobile app connectivity, multiple video inputs, multiple monitors, light controls, etc, Khoury says they include connectivity with a smart phone, so users can view footage or answer doors from anywhere at any time, as well as an all-in-one system with the ability to control multiple intercoms or other security products, such as door locks.
According to Khoury, 2-wire systems seem to be the most convenient to install and replace and he says the installation process is relatively straightforward.
“You need to choose a good position to install the external panel that allows you to clearly see anyone who approaches your home or apartment,” Khoury says. “You will need to then confirm where you are going to place the indoor handset and work out the wiring using a diagram that maps out how you plan to link up the systems. This process is different depending on the system type: 2 wire, IP or a wireless unit. After that you connect the units, though this differs depending on the installation – a home or an apartment.
“Things installers need to take into account include where components are being installed, how many units need to be installed in the one location, wiring of all those units, possible objects or frequencies that might interfere with the system’s operation and construction of the building – for instance, using a Wi-Fi solution on a double brick house is not recommended due to the poor connection quality.”
Khoury argues that video performance should be 720p at a minimum, with better systems offering 1080p and he says that infrared lighting is important to allow home or apartment owners to see clearly at night.
“There are standards that apply to quality video intercoms– they have to meet certain weather and water-resistant ratings, depending on where they will be located,” Khoury says. “Most intercoms, if they are residential, have components installed outside and inside, and the external components need to be able to withstand the elements and continue to function as normal – IP66 ratings allow operation in full external locations, while IP44 is ideal for call panels installed under rooflines.”
Khoury points out that cyber security standards may apply to some video intercom solutions depending on their installation.
“Intercoms connected via the internet can have potential issues,” he explains. “A lot of different issues may occur, such as someone being able to access your intercom feed. Wi-Fi always allows the unit to operate as long as it is connected to the internet but issues may arise if there is an internet outage in your area as the system will then fail to operate properly due to it losing connection.”
Do wireless video intercoms cut it, or for professional installation, are wired systems the choice, according to Khoury?
“Any installation may be optimal,” he says. “Which system you choose to use is up to you and your application. In a domestic application, for instance, wireless or hardwired would be fine but if you had a hotel and needed 80 units installed, then maybe you are better off using a wireless option.”
How has the video intercom market handled the COVID pandemic – is there growth in the market?
“Growth has slowed down but it has continued throughout the pandemic,” Khoury says. “In some areas, there have been increased theft and robbery due to loss of jobs and no income from the pandemic. In these cases, the increase for intercom systems and other security products has risen.”
According to Simon Jabour of Micron Alarms, the key features of a quality video intercom are the fundamentals.“This may sound simple, but IP66 rating for weather resistance and an angled door bevel for the door station for residential intercoms so the person at the door is seen,” Jabour says. “People never stand right in front of the door station – always to the side.
“When it comes to hot new features, I think of things like recording at the door station, either activated by the doorbell or by the end user is gaining popularity. Motion detection recording is also an option. Larger premises tend to install multiple monitors, and most end users appreciate a mobile app. When it comes to video, end users expect 1080p these days.
“The ability to play pre-recorded messages is another thing that tends to get used when people or businesses go on holidays. And when it comes to best communications path for video intercom our intercoms use all 3 major options – IP and Wi-Fi for app control, and wire for monitors/door stations, and electric strikes and gate control,” Jabour says. “We do not supply wireless intercoms. Wired systems have served us and our customers well.”
What about Wi-Fi – does the use of Wi-Fi open up risks at the same time as increasing convenience?
“Everything is moving to Wi-Fi,” Jabour says. “There is no difference to using your phone at home. Good encryption and passwords are key. Apart from a modem what do homes run on ethernet these days? High-security government installation may be right to stay away from it, but for the rest of us, Wi-Fi is in. As with most things in security and anything on IP, using encrypted communications and setting up a decent length/good security password with password management procedures is key.”
According to Jabour, the challenges of video intercom installation include things like concrete, long distances to gates, as well as apartment blocks that are not ideally pre-wired.
“We have seen a growth in intercoms through the pandemic,” he says. “We have a feeling that people are getting security conscious. Also, the huge growth of online shopping and deliveries by couriers is making intercoms even more popular. For the housing market almost everyone expects an app for the phone. For apartments, incorporated prox readers are key.”
There are 2 key physical elements of the intercom – the call panel at the front door or in the foyer of the building, and the handset within the residence or apartment. Of these 2 components, the call panel in the foyer is the most important operationally and you should devote a significant amount of time establishing its credentials before you make a choice. This call panel will be used and abused.
In extreme environments there’s going to be rain, dust, electrical disturbance, vandalism and wear to contend with. Depending on the application, abuse won’t just come from users. Choose a device of high impact polycarbonate or of stainless steel. If possible, go for something that flush mounts. You want no screw heads in sight and all fixings coming in from the rear (this will come with its own set of challenges), and be sure all the metals involved in construction are matched in nobility on the periodic table. Pay attention to microphone and speaker apertures. Favour potted electronics and coated boards – these qualities will save you money in the long term.
If there’s a camera present, you want the lens or the glass over the lens to be scratch resistant. In terms of camera performance, seek the functionality to allow identification without going over the top. Call stations generally have the optimum angle and depth of field for facial ID at close range in good light using a fixed lens. Lighting might be an issue, so prefer something with low light capability or IR support.
Other operational features to look for include a door-propped open alarm and a tamper alarm – neither of which will be of any use unless they are monitored. Have a look at all the buttons on the panel. Underneath these buttons you want a fluid and dust resistance membrane. That membrane should also isolate the buttons from the call panel’s electrical circuit. The last thing you want is someone shorting the system through the metal buttons on the call panel.
Your task will be made easier if the manufacturer has gone to the trouble of getting a NEMA 4X or IP54 or IP66 rating. There might be a lower IP rating – IP44 for instance – don’t use this sort of panel in a totally exposed external location. Under a roofline, however, IP-44 should be fine. Something else to think about with the latest video intercoms is integrated face recognition. This can work very well indeed and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic it can offer no touch or low touch access control that will increase the safety of residents, as well as offering a worthy sales hook, depending on your point of view.
Handsets or panels installed inside resident apartments don’t have the same need for bulletproof operation, but they should still be of robust construction and designed to handle the rigours of regular use. They’ll need to be of tough polycarbonate to handle bumps. Features that are more important than oversize screens include easy operation and a connection than allows easy re-positioning should this be required. Another good feature is an off-switch that allows residents to sleep in or ignore visitors if they want to.
You also want 2-way communication initiated by the resident, not the other way around. You need 2-way so the resident can question the visitor should this be necessary. In addition, you want the front door release button to de-energize the strike on the front door for a limited time.