We’re used to them in office settings and even in some apartment complexes but video doorbells still aren’t very common in our homes.
At a time where break in numbers are through the roof and more and more delivery men are calling with packages purchased online, it would seem that there was never a better time to start thinking about installing a video doorbell in your own home.
Like many home automation devices, advances in technology and in the broadband connections we have in our homes now allow for a much higher quality experience when recording and streaming video. These advances now also allow for a far more reliable setup which is key when it comes to something that will be assisting in your homes security.
With the recent take off in home automation kit, there are now several companies offering some sort of video doorbell but the unit we are reviewing today is the “Ring Video Doorbell”.
What’s in the box
Alongside the actual doorbell, Ring includes a micro USB cable, a drill bit for use if you will be mounting the bell to a masonry surface, 4 screws and 4 masonry plugs, a level and a screwdriver which works with the mounting screws and the security screws which we’ll talk more about in the next part.
The kit also includes a quick install guide, a diode which you will need to add to the wiring if you have an existing doorbell that plays melodies rather than the traditional “ding-dong”, and the mounting plate which you will fix to whatever surface the doorbell will be mounted to as part of the installation.
Installation and Setup
The Ring Video Doorbell can be fitted as a direct replacement for an existing wired doorbell or it can be fitted as a stand alone unit powered by an internal battery which Ring claim will last up to a year on a single charge.
Whether wired or battery powered, installation is very straightforward and people with a basic DIY understanding should have no issue fitting it. On the other hand if any of the steps below don’t make sense to you, seek professional assistance to complete the installation.
Before any work is done outside, you need to download and install the Ring App for your smartphone. Once installed the app guides you through the process of adding a new device. Again this is very straightforward. You pick the doorbell you are adding from a list, tell the app where on your home you are fitting it (such as the front or back door) and identify your home location a map.
Once that is complete you press an orange button on the back of the unit which allows the doorbell to generate its own WiFi network which you need to connect to from your smartphone. When you connect to the doorbell’s network it asks you to select your home network from a list and enter the password and that’s pretty much it setup.
When you return to your home network on your smartphone the Ring Video Doorbell is ready to be used and all that is left is to fit it outside.
The unit itself is substantially bigger than the traditional black with white button type doorbell we regularly see on doors in Ireland. You need to keep this in mind when finding a suitable place to install it. The external measurements for the doorbell are 126.5 x 61.7 x 22.1 mm. The key figure here to take note of is the 61.7mm width. Most doorbells are fitted to the frame of the door so if you intend to do the same, the frame of your door will need to be at least that width.
If you are opting for a battery-powered installation, all that is really required is for you to mark out drill the four holes required for mounting the backplate. The included level clips onto the backplate so when you are marking out your holes you can keep everything nice and square. Once you have mounted the backplate the video doorbell clips onto the backplate and there are two security screws at the bottom which need to be tightened with the tool that was included in the box. This is to prevent the unit from being stolen from your home and should anyone succeed in doing so in the future, Ring will replace the unit free of charge!
If you are using the wired option, there are a couple of other steps involved. Firstly, you need to check the supply voltage to your existing doorbell. The easiest way to do this is to look for the transformer in your fuse board. On the front of the transformer it tell you what the output voltage is. To be compatible with the Ring Video Doorbell the voltage needs to be between 8 and 24 V AC. While I can’t say that all houses will meet this requirement, most houses with the traditional black with white button type doorbell should fall into this category and will be compatible.
The next step is to isolate the electrical supply to the existing doorbell. If the circuit breakers in your fuse board are not labelled, you can identify which one feeds the doorbell by isolating them one by one and trying to ring the doorbell each time. Once you’re confident that you’ve isolated the doorbell, you can now start removing it.
Once you have the old one removed you can follow the steps above for mounting the backplate. Feed the wires through the opening in the backplate and connect them to the two marked terminals. Attach the video doorbell following the steps above and then re-energise electrical supply to the doorbell. If everything is okay the ring around the push button will illuminate dimly in white. Battery-powered units will only illuminate once the push button is pressed.
That completes the physical installation. You can now return to the application on your smartphone to start fine tuning the motion detection and alerts.
In the motion settings of the application there is a tutorial video which explains how the motion detection works and how it can be adjusted to suit your needs.
You can adjust the range from 5 feet to 30 feet and as you can see in the image above you can activate deactivate zones to prevent nuisance activations by passers by or kids playing in your front garden for instance. There’s a certain amount of trial and error here but after a short period and some adjustments you should have it set up so it works perfectly.
From within the motion settings you can also choose how often you are notified if there is motion detected. The tree options are Light, Standard & Frequent. Again this will be trial and error here and it depends on what type of footfall there is outside your house. Choosing Light will only give you one notification when there are many activations close together whereas choosing frequent will issue notifications for every motion detection.
The way we have our test unit setup, we receive a notification if there is motion detected and if somebody rings the doorbell a video call is initiated on your smartphone. You choose to “Accept” or “Deny” the call. If you choose to accept, you can then speak via your smartphone to the person outside.
Sound and Video Quality
Sound quality in both directions is excellent. It was surprisingly loud and clear when standing in front of the doorbell listening to somebody speak to me via the app. When listening to audio on your smartphone, some road and wind noise can come through but overall is does a great job of keeping the spoken frequencies clear.
Ring Video Doorbell is capable of recording and streaming 30fps video at 720P resolution. Once motion is detected the video starts streaming at a low quality and then quickly ramps up in stages over about a 4 second time frame to full quality.
Daytime footage when it’s at full resolution is great and streams at a consistent quality. Night time images take a little longer to be fully clear as the camera also adjusts the brightness of the image. As it takes another second or two it is important that you have your motion detection range set up correctly so the camera fires up at the earliest possibility and the footage is clear by the time the person reaches the doorbell.
It is worth noting that we have a 240Mb internet connection in the test environment and dedicated hardware just for the WiFi network. As with many products like this, I have read comments online from people complaining about both picture and sound quality. From our experience of testing video streaming equipment in general, you need a really stable high speed connection for them to operate without loss of quality. Often the wireless router that broadband companies supply are basically junk. They can’t handle multiple connections and by default they are set to operate on the same channels as every other router in your neighbourhood. Increasingly there are other wireless devices in homes interfering with the WiFi network. Then there is contention and congestion to deal with from some providers.
As a general rule, if you are experiencing issues with your home network or internet connection already, adding something that streams 720p video to that network is only going to make it worse. Sort out the issues before investing in more equipment. At least then you’ll know if purchase something like this you stand the best chance of it working as expected.
Ring offer a cloud recording service for the clips that the Video Doorbell captures. The service comes free for the first month but is either $3 per month or $30 per annum thereafter. This is one of the cheapest prices we’ve seen with equipment like this. Both Belkin and Nest charge $10 per month for their respective cloud video capturing services.
With the cloud recording enabled, every time the Ring Video Doorbell detects motion or someone rings the doorbell, it captures 30 to 40 seconds of video. In the “Recent Activity” section of the app you can view, download and share the recordings the device has captured.
It’s hard not to recommend this service. $30 isn’t a whole lot of money and it’s really great to be able to look back through clips and see what triggered the motion detection, especially if you missed it when it happened. There are an incredible amount of videos posted online from Ring Video Doorbell owners showing people stealing items from outside their homes or looking around the place with bad intentions.
The Chime is an add on device, purchased separately, which as its name might suggest fills the role of the bell if the location you are installing it doesn’t already have one. It plugs into any socket in your home and once you’ve added it through the app it will chime when there is motion detected or if someone rings the doorbell.
If there will be people in your home who don’t have access to the app or your home doesn’t already have a bell the Chime could be worth taking a look at.
IFTTT & Ring+
Towards the end of last year ring announced it now supported If This Then That (IFTTT.com) and it also announced the launch of its Ring+ programme. The Ring+ programme is aimed at working with other hardware manufacturers to allow their respective products communicate and work with each other. At present the other hardware is mainly aimed at the American market but this will no doubt expand in the future.
We have covered “If This Then That” many times on the site before and it’s a welcome addition to the Ring Video Doorbell. It allows you to communicate with other devices you may have that also support IFTTT. So for example if you have some Belkin Wemo or Philips Hue bulbs in your home, you could use the detection of motion by your Ring Video Doorbell to turn on those lights via IFTTT.
After using the Ring Video Doorbell for a little while now, something that has been surprising to me is just how often someone comes near our door. Between postmen, delivery men, children, neighbours and junk leaflets there are numerous notifications each day. While thankfully the doorbell hasn’t captured anyone suspicious looking to date, there’s a peace of mind knowing that it if that day should come I will be alerted and the video will be captured.
So should you buy one? There’s a couple of questions you need to answer first.
– Is knowing what’s happening outside your front door important to you?
– Have you a good broadband connection and WiFi network in your home?
– When you’re out and about do you generally have good mobile signal? (good enough to sustain a video call)
If you can answer yes to the above questions then we would happily recommend purchasing the Ring Video Doorbell. It’s easy to install, set up and use even for non techies and that’s really important for something that the whole house will be using.
So far during our testing, reliability has been bulletproof. There have been no crashes or hang ups and I haven’t had to reboot hardware or software since it went in. For video streaming equipment that’s pretty impressive. Many home automation products try to replace common items with added smart features but often perform worse than the original and introduce technical issues that weren’t present before. With the Ring Video Doorbell you still have your traditional doorbell functionality but it also adds smart functions, motion detection and video capturing which all improve the user experience and security of your home rather than detract from it.
The Ring Video Doorbell retails for $199 and is available direct from Ring.com