The rise of the video doorbell: Old age technology becomes new age crime deterrent

Ring 2017 March Shoot

As technology blends with do-it-yourself projects, more and more Santa Clarita Valley residents are taking a new approach in terms of keeping an eye on their homes. And for a growing number of homes, people are taking matters into their own hands.

Small startup companies have turned the tables on traditional professionally installed security systems by innovating smaller and less cumbersome devices.

For most consumers, it began with a device mostly unchanged since it’s invention by American scientist Joseph Henry in 1831 –– the electric doorbell.

Fast-forward 188 years, and now startup companies are locking horns in a heated battle to replace push-button chimes with gadgets one would expect in a “Jetsons” cartoon. Now, a multi-billion industry has shifted the task of securing houses from traditional brick-and-mortar companies and giving the option to homeowners of taking matters into their own hands.

From remotely accessible features like streaming high-definition video, motion detection, cloud recording and an intercom, each product has its strengths and drawbacks.

Curb appeal

The three most popular products to consider are built and designed by companies Ring, Nest Labs and August Home.

Video doorbells are more commonplace and serve as an entry point to the do-it-yourself home security game, and have grown to become one of law enforcement’s most useful investigative tools.

“It’s definitely a good tool to install these systems whether its a surveillance camera or motion detection,” said Lt. Ignacio Somoano of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. “They do help in the long run.”

Somoano, the supervisor of the SCV station’s Detectives Bureau, confirmed sheriff’s deputies commonly use home surveillance video to identify suspects committing crimes in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“We’ve had several successes,” the lieutenant said. “Patrol deputies will recognize people that have been arrested before just by looking at the video.”

Recognizing a rise in accessible surveillance footage, the station setup the email address [email protected] for people to send video of crimes, Somoano noted.

Ultimately, each device serves as a crime deterrent by contributing toward the facade of residents being home when they’re not.

“People are more attentive and more likely to report a crime when it is taking place,” Somoano said.

Aided by the ability to remotely see and speak to someone who approaches a front door using a combination high definition camera and two-way intercom, homeowners can stay guard while away from their house.

But, the question remains –– which product best serves households in Santa Clarita? The answer mostly depends on a balance between the ecosystem you’re already invested in — i.e. your supporting gadgets, according to your comfort level with such items — and the one you’re destined to have.

We’ve broken down the top-three companies by popularity. Keep in mind, all three companies’ products share the same basic functionality like streaming video, duplex communication, motion detection and cloud-based recording; but they differ in the types of devices they offer.


Ring 2017 March Shoot

Video Doorbell 2 –– $199

Initially named Doorbot, Ring was founded in 2012 by businessman Jamie Siminoff and crowdfunded to the tune of $364,000. After declining a cash investment during an appearance on the television show “Shark Tank,” Siminoff rebranded the company as Ring and raised $5 million in sales.

Online shopping giant Amazon acquired the company for more than $1 billion in February 2018 to “accelerate Ring’s mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods,” according to a company press release.

Over the course of six years, the company’s products have expanded past the video doorbell to include a full spectrum home security system, outdoor spotlight cameras, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

“The Ring product line, along with the Neighbors app, enable Ring to offer affordable, complete, proactive home and neighborhood security in a way no other company has before,” a Ring spokesperson said via email.

As part of a burglary-prevention program, the Los Angeles Police Department partnered with Ring in 2015 to install video doorbells on 10 percent of homes in the Wilshire Park neighborhood. The area saw a 55 percent drop in home burglaries as a result of the project.

The city of Santa Clarita took note of that partnership and worked to forge its own cooperation by providing $100 subsidies to 500 residents toward discounting Ring doorbells as part of a plan to drive crime down.

Large home security systems can cost thousands of dollars, said Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager.

“To give them that basic foundation so that they can feel secure feels very rewarding,” he said.

The demand was enormous, McKenna noted, adding the city and Ring plan to partner again in the future to offer additional subsidies.

Part of the equation is Ring relies on is the online networking and sharing of information between residents and law enforcement regardless of whether they own the device.

“In May of 2018, Ring launched the free Neighbors app as a way to expand our mission to reduce crime by creating a digital neighborhood watch that all local residents can participate in from their smartphone,” a Ring spokesperson said.

Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 can be installed using existing powered-doorbell wiring. Homeowners can also opt to mount the device anywhere in range of their wifi network utilizing power from the device’s battery, which is designed to last an average 12 months.

The device can be paired with a separately purchased wireless chime. The accessory allows you place the chime anywhere in your home within range of the doorbell which means you’re not limited to located it in traditionally muffled or muted places like closets.

Ecosystem: The company offers a wide variety of safety-oriented accessories with a plan to integrate them deeper into the Alexa and Amazon playing fields. From solar spotlight cameras and flood detectors to window contact sensors and smoke/carbon monoxide listeners, Ring’s system all ties together through their smartphone app. If you’re looking to modernize your security system, this is the closest digital solution to a traditional setup.

Nest Labs

Nest Hello –– $229

Nest Labs was founded in 2010 by former Apple engineers, and initially focused on smart thermostats. The company expanded to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in 2013, and was acquired by Google in early 2014.

After a few tumultuous years of mergers and executive departures, Nest found its footing in the smart security game with the launch of Nest Hello video doorbell in 2018, quickly becoming the newest contender leaning on an established user base in the thermostat arena.

What sets their flagship doorbell apart from others is the ability to record continuously. Other doorbells record clips of moments and are only triggered by motion and sound sensors.

The trained eye can see the difference in the Nest Hello’s video quality, as it utilizes high dynamic range (HDR) imaging principles. In layman’s terms, it’s able to even lighting tones “so details don’t get lost in dark shadows or bright light,” according to Nest Lab’s feature list.

With a personal touch, the Hello can recognize family members and friends on your doorstep and sends a special alert or prerecorded response, a feature others cannot.

But one drawback may zap it’s chances of landing at your home –– it has to be wired into an existing doorbell connection. Others allow battery powered installation and wireless doorbell chimes. If you have a traditional wired push-button doorbell, you’re in luck.

Ecosystem: The Nest Hello is deeply integrated with the company’s existing products including Nest x Yale door locks, Nest Secure, indoor cameras and smart lights.

August Home

August View Doorbell Camera –– $229, available March 28

August Home was founded in 2012 with a center of attention on automated door locks, and expanded to include smart doorbells three years later. The company was acquired in 2017 by Swedish lock manufacturer Assa Abloy.

It’s Doorbell Cam Pro, like other comparable devices, installation is a breeze with a mounting bracket, anchors and a standard Phillips screwdriver.

A commonly reported drawback is its video quality. With a lack of HDR, images can come out silhouetted and shadows process to be fuzzy.

There’s good news for diehard August smartlock fans. The company plans to debut a new wirefree video doorbell this month with promised improvements.

The August View will feature a variety of interchangeable faceplates, a new high-performance imaging sensor to clear up fuzzy images. Powered by a rechargeable battery, the device gets a leg up on the competition because it comes paired with a wireless chime.

Ecosystem: The August View can be paired with any of the company’s smart locks to remotely allow guests into your home or ensure the house is secured. August Home plans to deeply integrate the device with Amazon’s Alexa products and Google Home services.

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