Who is at the door?

I have owned a video doorbell for years. It’s not that I need it, after all I live in a peaceful part of Australia and we don’t have to worry about people with evil intent knocking on our door very often. But I have always had an interest in electronics and it seemed to me that knowing who was at the door before I opened it gave me an advantage.

So I purchased a cheap video door bell a few year ago from eBay. I think it cost around $60 and came with an eight inch screen which I mounted on the wall in the kitchen, and a door unit which I mounted near the door. There were issues with wiring – I had to get 4 wires from the kitchen to the door post. That was made easier by finding the telephone cable which had an extension in the office near the front door and had a few spare wires in it.

There were also issues with the camera angle – so I could see who was there. Unfortunately, I never got that right and often after people pressed the button, they stepped back, just out of camera view or if they stayed there, and were taller than normal, I got a good picture of their stomach! I never managed to get the camera at the right angle even though it was adjustable both up and down and sideways to a limited extent. So if you are buying a cheap one make sure it is adjustable or better yet, make sure you mount it on an adjustable bracket so you can make it work properly. Many are made without an adjustable camera so they are even more difficult to set up properly.

The old one was easy to use and, I could press a button on the indoor unit if I heard a noise at the front of the house and turn on the camera. It also had the ability for me to speak to the person from the kitchen before I opened the door and told them I didn’t want to change electricity providers or buy something they were selling.

Now over the years, it worked reasonably well (as a door bell at least). But as time went by, the speaker in the outside unit stopped working. Then the indoor unit was a bit flaky and sometimes refused to show any video at all. So I decided to replace it with a wifi unit because it would require fewer wires and offer the opportunity to see who was at the door via my phone, when I wasn’t home. I decided on a Ring doorbell – I think I purchased a version 1 model if it matters.

The first thing I noticed was, that I also had an issue with getting the camera position right. But this time I was a bit smarter and purchased a couple of plastic door chocks that looked like they were at the right angle for me to mount behind the outdoor unit. The lens on the Ring unit was also a wider angle lens than the old one so that should give me fewer problems with tall people.

Setting it up and connecting to the wifi network was easy enough, but even though it is less than 10 metres from the wifi modem, there are still some issues occasionally with signal strength at the front door. That may be related to what is in the way between the modem and door bell unit, so it should be easily fixed by moving the modem away from metal objects – like the computer.

The next problem was there was no “ding” indoors when someone pressed the front door button. The reason was I had the notifications switched off on my phone and so I didn’t get any message or sound at all. So if you can’t hear the outside unit from inside the house there can be a problem. I spent a couple of weeks trying to connect the new doorbell to the old indoor display unit. Unfortunately, the old one works on DC and the new one on AC and although I did try to build a simple converter from DC to AC, getting enough power to drive the outdoor unit made it almost impossible. In addition, In the process I broke my soldering iron and since components have shrunk a lot these days I found it difficult to see well enough to make the project work properly.  So I gave up.

Ring sells an indoor unit that makes a noise when the doorbell is pressed but at $70 it seems a bit expensive to me. So I added the Ring app and connected to the doorbell, to an iPad or two as well as two phones and made sure the notifications were on. So now something should ring at least.

I recently had issues with my internet connection. During that time I discovered that if the modem is not connected to the internet for whatever reason, then there is still no notification on any iPad or phone despite them being connected to the same wifi network. I suspect the same will apply to the indoor unit but since I haven’t purchased it I really don’t know.

Ring also have a video streaming ability so I can see what the camera sees at any time if I press a button on my phone. However, the ability to stream only works if the internet upload speed exceeds 2M bit per second. My standard ADSL line only runs at 1M bit per second, so I can’t test that function until I get a higher speed connection – bring on the NBN. (Australia is currently converting most ADSL lines to the NBN – a higher speed digital services)

The doorbell also has an inbuilt infra red sensor to activate the camera when someone is within a predetermined range of the door. When I get the high speed line I’ll be ale to test this function too but there are a lot of complaints about it’s range and speed on the discussion boards around the place. If they are correct, the connection speed is so slow that unless I want to see someone’s back as they leave the camera field, it’s unlikely to be of benefit to me.

The doorbell works off internal batteries so I have to remove the doorbell and charge it occasionally. I can connect it to a power block via a resistor but haven’t got around to that yet. The wiring is in place thanks to the last doorbell, so I may have to fiddle around in the kitchen to connect it up there.

So the situation now is that I have a video doorbell that works better than the last one – when the internet is connected. I haven’t had too many people come and ring my doorbell yet, and my wife gets annoyed when I keep pressing the button. So if you are particularly tall and would like to come to my place and ring the front doorbell, I will be able to test it and hopefully see more than your lower abdomen.

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