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Author Topic: A ProtectorPlus Review: part one, in theory  (Read 20472 times)


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A ProtectorPlus Review: part one, in theory
« on: February 22, 2007, 08:09:44 PM »

I am not a professional security expert, but I have done my research, and I thought others might benefit from these thoughts and observations (which I do not guarantee). This review will be in two parts: part one (in this post) discussing ProtectorPlus security in theory for use in a modest-sized home, part two discussing my experience of it, which will begin in about a month.

Part one: Theory

A. General remarks about alarm system security:

Alarm systems, such as the ProtectorPlus, have a place in home security, but not first place. Strictly speaking, they do not protect a house or those in it. The first priority is to be ready with a plan of action should your home security be compromized. This involves an escape plan, a secured inner room to hide in, and a moderate defensive strategy. The second priority, I recommend, is to physically secure your home, so that it would take the efforts and technologies of a fire department to break quickly into your home. This means securing your doors with good deadbolts going through high security strike plates which in turn are solidly anchored in the stud behind the door frame with 3 inch screws the door (e.g., the StrikeMaster II), security window film (e.g., ScotchShield) or impact-resistant glass, strong window locks, etc. The third priority is to contact outside help and give it time to arrive, which is the job of a good alarm. A fourth priority is to be able to prosecute an intruder for damages done, which amounts to video monitoring in accordance with your country's or state's legal requirements for video evidence. For further reading, and thoughts on the first two priorities in particular, I recommend reading , , , and .

B. Advantages of X10 ProtectorPlus based alarm systems:

It appears that the typical base package of the X10 ProtectorPlus alarm system includes three or four wireless door/window sensors, a wireless motion detector or two, a lamp module or two, a controller with built-in voice dialer and microphone (for listening to your house after the security message is played) and siren, an external wireless siren, a remote control, a keychain remote or two, and a couple of window stickers. One can add more of these to an order, and also purchase X10 glass-break detectors, exterior motion detectors, devices to power other electical devices, light socket adaptors that work inside or outside, and a software suite that can integrate these parts (and X10 video monitoring, if you want to add that) in a more sophisticated way. The package and the parts are usually very inexpensive, costing much less than other home alarm systems and offering much more.

To illustrate, where I live, the cheapest basic wired home alarm system costs about $350 USD, installed, and it comes with two motion detectors and two door/window detectors. It can be professionally monitored for about $8 a month, but there is no commitment (so all things considered, it is the cheapest in my city). The basic X10 package normally costs about $100 USD, and you get a little more, and it's wireless. So not only is the X10 alarm automatically the better choice for those who can better afford $100 than $350, it is also much more enticing to those who would spend $350, who want more comprehensive protection. With the hardwired $350 base package, none of the windows have intrusion detection. A burgler could pry open a kitchen/bedroom/basement window when I'm home, and I would have no warning of his presence before he was in complete control of the house, and my family. In this scenario, that alarm would be absolutely valueless until he left by the front door, and probably not even then, because he could have someone in my family disarm the thing so that he could leave quietly. With a base X10 ProtectorPlus package in place, I would have known of the intrusion the instant the window opened, and gotten my family out of there.

The ProtectorPlus system can be armed for "at-home" or "away," and it alerts of intrusions by sirens, by turning lights on and off, and by making telephone calls to numbers that the user specifies. Presumably, the idea is that a neighbour, friend, or family member will then know *not* to go over to your house, but instead to drive down the street by your place and take a remote look for signs of trouble, to verify that it is not a false alarm, and to phone police if the alarm is genuine. The system is "supervised," which means that low batteries, malfunctions, etc. are reported to the user. Exterior motion detectors do not set off the alarm, but can turn on lights and set off an audible chime inside.

It seems to me that the system could also serve to drive an intruder out. How many sirens and flashing lights you want to go off are up to you. If you had the ActiveHome, OnAlert, iWatchOut, SmartMacro (etc.) software bundle and computer interface ($50), I suppose you could have your computer monitor the motion detectors around your house and turn on pairs of sirens and flash sets of lights in whatever room the intruder enters, and turn the rest off, so that the intruder is driven out without the neighbours suing you for disrupting the peace. If this sort of auto-response is implemented, then of course care must be taken not to subject yourself or your family, or even a petty smash-and-grab burgler, to sound levels that would cause permanent hearing loss.

C. Disadvantages or limitations to X10 ProtectorPlus based alarm systems (see D, below for workarounds):

(a) The DS7000 manual suggests via a diagram that the unit be placed near the center of the house, near the front door, so that it will easily be within communication range of the other wireless devices. It seems to me that if it is placed there, then when an intruder kicks the front door in, and sees the obvious security console sitting right there, probably the first thing he'll do is grab it and rip the phone wire out of it. Is it going to call those four numbers with my security message? It can't. One of the most necessary functions of the thing is gone. You could put the unit somewhere else in the house, where it won't be found until it's had time to call at least one or two numbers, but then is it still in range of all the wireless devices? For some houses, no. Then one has to think about wireless repeaters, which are available from X10, but which carry addional cost. And if the DS7000 is hidden in some closet or corner of the house, the only one to hear its siren may be the burglar, nor will its microphone allow the person on the other end of the phone to hear what's going on all around the house.

(b) The DS7000 (when plugged in) will call up to four user-specified numbers instead of a monitoring station. This can save a fortune in monitoring costs, but the drawback is that you and the other three on the calling list, may not be by the phone, or may be unable to drop everything you're doing in a second to go make a remote investigation into whether there's a false alarm or not.

(c) Some of the communication in an X10 ProtectorPlus system goes through the house's electrical wiring, and some is wireless. Communication through the electrical wiring can be impaired by electrical "noise," which might be caused by other electrical devices in the home, such as some flourescent lights, some TVs, some computers, etc.; or signals weakening, as famously occurs in some houses when travelling between uncoupled "phases" of the home wiring. This has made X10 devices seem unreliable, and it has become something of a reputation. Wireless communication requires that the devices in question be within a certain range of each other and not have to go through too many walls; further, wireless interference may sometimes reduce the effective range of communication.

(d) In addition, there is reportedly some difference in quality between parts made by the company X10, and other companies that make devices for the protocal X10, such as X10Pro, Insteon, Leviton, and I don't know who else. Reportedly those from X10 (the company) have a higher failure rate. As yet, I have no hands-on experience with any of them (once I have, I'll write part two to this review).

(e) While the ProtectorPlus system has unique features and other pluses, as mentioned above, there are features available to other companies' alarm systems that are not available here. To my knowledge, one cannot buy an X10 carbon monoxide detector, or gas leak detector, or water detector. To my knowledge, some other companies offer more complex detectors than X10 offers, for example, motion detectors that cannot be set off by large dogs, more complex glass break detectors, 360 degree motion detectors, etc.

(f) Reportedly, if a high-tech burglar knows that you use an X10 alarm, he will know a way to jam the system.

(g) With the software package that includes ActiveHomePro, iWatchOut, OnAlert, SmartMacros, etc., X10 video cameras can be integrated with a ProtectorPlus set into a total security system that includes video monitoring. To be able to add video monitoring to the security system is obviously helpful, but (it is my understanding that) then one is limited to the X10 line of cameras, and the range of features offered in iWatchOut. When I look at the advertised feature list, I do not see everything that I require (compare with BlueIris Pro, at ).

D. Final comments and some work-arounds:

After considering the various home intrusion scenarios that you must be on guard against, and after formulating plans of action with your family, it comes time to spend money. After spending the necessary money on physically securing your house to your satisfaction, you have a certain amount left for an alarm system and video monitoring. If you have $100 to spend, I guess you can only buy the basic ProtectorPlus package, and maybe expand on it at a later date. If you can afford significantly more, I would recommend a ProtectorPlus package with more modules, integrated with the ActiveHomePro suite (get the deal that comes with the wireless repeater, OnAlert, and the SmartMacros), in combination with a professionally installed, monitored alarm (like the $350 / $10/month package mentioned above), in combination with a webcam monitoring system (one that adds time/date stamps and "watermarks" to images and video clips, and auto-uploads these to your web-site and e-mail in-box -- ideally something like BlueIris).

About the disadvantages and limitations mentioned above in Part C:

(a) If an intruder took the time to break into my house when I was home with my family, I suppose I should still be grateful for the extra 2 seconds that it would take for a burglar to turn his attention to the DS7000 to rip out the phone cord. While he does that, I would continue to execute my preformulated plan of action and get my family out of there. Having a professionally monitored alarm in addition to the ProtectorPlus, the monitoring station would already have been contacted (the hardwired alarm would have seized the phone line away from the ProtectorPlus and everyone else and sent its computer code in a second).

(b) If no one's home when a burglar enters, then I will have a few $10 webcams are hooked up around the house and BlueIris uploading time/date stamped and watermarked image captures and videos to my e-mail and website. When ProtectorPlus calls around, the message I put into it says the website address, so the four people called don't have to drive over to my place, they just have to look at the website and see all the photos and video streams. Moreover, if I have a monitored alarm, they will phone and ask for a password; if no password, the police will be sent.

(c) On the one hand, technicians in the X10 community have described detailed work-arounds to the problems of electrical noise, uncoupled phases of home wiring, and the like. Some of these work-arounds are sometimes admitted to be dangerous to carry out and some require a great deal of electronics know-how to complete. So in my opinion, there is a chance that an electrician will have to be called. It is sometimes too much for a do-it-yourselfer, and the phase coupling problem is said to be very common. On the other hand, X10 markets the products as being easily installed in 20 or 30 minutes. Between these extremes (that it is normally quite complicated, and that it is absolutely simple), it seems to me that there is a practical middle ground. Two things: (i) if you buy the ProtectorPlus package and try it, and it doesn't work after following safe and simple directions from X10 technical support or other experts in the community, X10 promises to buy it back within 30 days. For some, time may be wasted, but the odds of having it all work for so little money make it well worth the try. (ii) As for some of the more dangerous solutions to phase coupling (I've read of people playing with live circuit boxes), I don't know why the safer and simpler method of getting the $5 drying plug-in is not emphasized more? If phase coupling is so often an issue, and that little thing usually fixes it, why doesn't the X10 website show a +$5 option for that plug-in when customers place orders. Those who need it will have it, those who don't will mostly not mind the extra $5, and it seems to me that X10 technology would have a better reputation for reliability.

(d) I do not know what the statistics are for the various companies' parts' failure rates, but I do know that the parts I buy from X10 are under warrantee. If it doesn't work, they promise to replace it. I also had to consider in my own situation that I could spend $50 on an extra motion detector for the professionally installed burglar alarm, or I could spend the same $50 and get 5 motion detectors from X10. If one of the 5 didn't work in two years, I personally could live with that and not regret my decision.

(e) It seems to me that one can get more than one alarm system to get the best of both worlds.

(f) Even a low-tech burglar knows that most alarm systems work via a phone-line, and he can probably cut it if he wants. This is probably simpler than carrying X10 jamming equipment around to his jobs. Every system seems to have some vulnerabilities, which is just one more reason to have more than one kind of security in place. Moreover, in November a freeware program called X10Dispatch is said to be able to detect the jamming signal and send out an alert via computer. Perhaps further progress has been made on this problem since November (?).

(g) There are many webcam security programs out there, with lots of varying features. One can use the X10 ProtectorPlus, etc., without being tied to iWatchOut and X10 cams for video surveillance.

I earnestly invite corrections and further comments on this first part of my ProtectorPlus review. I hope I have not misrepresented anyone or gotten the facts wrong. I hope all this proves helpful to some people. These thoughts were what helped me make my decision. Take care.


tom j

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Re: A ProtectorPlus Review: part one, in theory
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2007, 03:32:26 AM »

Hi really nice review I know it took a lot of thought and time on your part, after living with Protector Plus for many years, I just recently retired it after installing a really sophisticated DSC hybrid system the only error I can see in your report is that the Protector Plus does not report low battery it only reports if one of the sensors fails to report in. For example if a motion detector repeatedly fails to report in it's usually indicates the batteries are dead, that's why if you read the instructions x10 recommends that you change the batters yearly. I've found on the windows I had covered the batteries could last as long as 5 years or so cuz I wasen't opening and closing them like a door and the batteries were only used to basically report in. Also x10 also makes a monitored version of the Protector Plus called the Monitor Plus, I have one but have had to send it back numerous times, I currently have a RMA for the last one I received because it now won't reliably set off the alarm I've been testing it for a property I plan on purchasing but I've noticed on more then one occasion with the unit armed that it requires multiple signals from a motion detector/door window contact before it will trip and now it won't reliably dim my lights this is the third one each one has had issues only had problems with one Protector Plus it just died while I was testing it as a backup but in general I would say the Protector Plus console is reliable, and mine foiled several breakin's before it was retired. There's one thing about a x10 system that I wouldn't ever what to trade and that's the ability to flash your lighting, all my major lighting is x10 controlled and everyone on the block knew when my house was broken into some said my house looked like it was alive! needless to say they got nothing and ever since I've been really impressed. So when I installed my DSC system I was able to install a x10 Burglar Alarm interface that will still flash my lights, nothing no mater how much you spend on a system can beat this feature it is truly impressive!! because there no way for the intruder to take control the lights and all that flashing has to be very disorientating, that plus those large Powerhorns must of did the trick because it's been going on three years and they haven't been back! Looking forward to part 2 of your review.

Tom j
PowerFlash Burglar Alarm Interface
« Last Edit: July 29, 2007, 03:45:15 AM by tom j »
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