The Omni central controller from HAI, New Orleans, can display video from anywhere in a smart home, including the front door, and provide access to the visitor when the user presses a button.

An inside master station from Aiphone Corp., Bellevue, Wash., can view video from the door station when a call button is depressed by the visitor and allows two-way, hands-free conversation with the visitor.

Squinting behind the front door at visitors through a fish-eye lens in a peephole is becoming a thing of the past. Smart homes are using newer technologies like audio or video intercoms that interface with A/V systems so the visitors’ voices and images can come to the resident wherever they are instead of the resident coming to the front door.

Such devices not only save homeowners from trudging hundreds of feet through their spacious smart homes during their favorite television programs but also improve their security. Additionally, such systems can be an important add-on to enhance profit margins for security and home control dealers and systems integrators.

Many systems allow single-family home residents to access images of visitors at the front door or gate through unused channels on satellite or cable TV.

With other systems, residents can view images of visitors at their doors through a networked computer hookup. In many, users can determine the identity of visitors to their homes from anywhere on the planet through Internet connections.

Additionally, electronic locks that function with remote key fobs or even biometric ones that use fingerprints for access are improving security where it counts, at the front and/or back doors.

A number of companies now market video security systems for doors and gates. Some offer camera-capable telephone entry systems for single-family homes in color or black-and-white.

“You can view them on any TV in the home,” says Chuck Stevens, vice president of marketing for Linear, Carlsbad, Cal. “We take the camera video and plug it into a modulator, assigning it to an unused channel on your cable or satellite TV system. You select that channel to view who is at the front door.”

Another system offered by Linear is part of a structured wiring system and includes a camera. “You ring the front door bell, the camera is activated, and you can view that individual on your TV screen using the same techniques,” Stevens explains.

The color video camera inside this E-50 from Viking Electronics Inc., Hudson, Wis., is aimable and can be viewed through a television connected to a cable company or a satellite dish.

Both applications are essentially the same, differing only in whether the camera is activated when the phone is answered or the doorbell rings within the home.

Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y., has a television solution for residential installation, says Gary Perlin, vice president of video products. The system involves a camera run into an unused channel on the home’s television system, Perlin relates.

It uses the existing doorbell, which when buzzed alerts the homeowner to tune to the proper channel to view the visitor. A limitless number of cameras can be used, each tied to a television channel.

Viking Electronics Inc., Hudson, Wis., offers an entry product that looks like a door plate with a button on it.

“When you press it, the homeowners can talk to the visitor through their phone, and can also go to their TV, select a station and through their cable or dish television set-up, view the person at the door,” explains Carol Lieb, Viking’s marketing manager. The same kind of system is available for gates, she adds.

Russound, Newmarket, N.H., has a door station video application for its ComPoint intercom system that features a concealed black-and-white video camera. It is fully adjustable to mounting heights of 48 inches or higher, and from either right- or left-hand mounting on the doorway.

“What that means is it’s extremely flexible in its mounting requirements,” says product manager Roger Soucy. “In retrofit applications, where you may have to work with predetermined component locations, this is more forgiving.”

The intercom offers audio communication to and from the door station, and the camera can be wired to displays anywhere in the home through a multi-room system or a standard closed-circuit television, such as a multiplexer. “That way, those in the home can visually confirm who is at the door,” Soucy explains.

ComPoint, the intercom system offered by Russound, Newmarket, N.H., allows a system-wide broadcast in point-to-point communication and can support door-station communication and door-strike release options.

Other Video-Entry Systems

Unobtrusiveness is important to homeowners for video intercoms so visitors do not feel they are being watched. Aiphone Corp., Bellevue, Wash., offers one such compact video intercom.

“Basically, it’s a video door station at a gate or outside door with a camera and call button,” explains John Mosebar, vice president of national accounts. “Once depressed by the visitor, an inside master station is activated, and the person inside the home can view who’s at the door or gate, and they can either pick up a handset to communicate, or can converse hands-free with that visitor.

“If there’s a control function, they can activate a gate mechanism or buzz them in through a door, activating the strike mechanism in the door,” Mosebar explains. “We do have the option to integrate with the home’s TV, but generally, it’s a separate, stand-alone monitor.”

HAI, New Orleans, also offers video surveillance products, touch-screen solutions and the ability to view video. “Our central controller, called the Omni, which manages security and lighting, can also manage cameras,” says Thomas Pickral Jr., business development manager. “Someone will come and ring the doorbell, that will activate a camera at the front door, and at that point, from the same touch screen, you could press the button and let someone in through a gate or door.”

Speco Technologies offers a video door phone system consisting of a camera, two-way intercom and inside monitoring station featuring a small video screen, two-way intercom and door-release button. The system can be expanded to two outdoor stations delivering images to four indoor stations.

When visitors press a doorbell-like outdoor intercom button, a voice channel is opened inside the house with the SmartCommand intercom, security, HVAC and lighting system from GE Security Inc., Bradenton, Fla.

When a visitor buzzes the doorbell, the camera and monitor activate at the same time. Those inside can unlock the door if they recognize the visitor or initiate a two-way conversation if they don’t.

These systems are available in color and black-and-white. “It’s a basic system, but very popular,” Perlin asserts.

Speco Technologies also offers a system using IP cameras that transmit on the Internet. “This would be for a modern home already pre-wired for network accessibility,” Perlin points out. “Anywhere there would be a computer on that home’s network, you’d be able to view the camera’s image.

“If desired, you could be anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, and monitor that camera’s view,” he notes. “With optional accessories, you could outfit the camera to have a microphone and speaker, allowing anyone with a connected computer to carry on two-way conversations.”

The entry systems from Viscount Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, use computer telephones that provide video and intercom functions.

The systems essentially feature a computer at a building’s front door that is simultaneously an access control, intercom and video system, says Stephen Pineau, president and CEO. The video system allows residents to monitor the coming and going of visitors, track how many people are coming and capture images of those visitors.

“There are date-stamped images of every visitor,” Pineau stresses. One major trend is all architecture is going toward Web-based applications, he adds.

“In a Web-based environment, you don’t have to be home to see who is coming to the door,” he notes. “There are lots of benefits, including allowing parents to track who their children are admitting to the building, and what parts of the building children are going through.”

The VDP-5000 two-way video security intercom system from Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y., has a four-inch black-and-white screen, offers a two-way manual switcher and can be used with an optional door release.

Intercom Systems

ComPoint, the intercom system offered by Russound, offers a basic and advanced user interface for interior keypads. It was initially believed twice as many basic systems would be sold as the advanced ones, but in fact, it has turned out precisely the opposite. The features and benefits of the advanced outweigh the price difference, Soucy maintains.

“The intercom system, whether advanced or basic, allows you a system-wide broadcast in point-to-point communication,” he notes. “We have the ability to support door-station communication, and door-strike release options. The system also features do-not-disturb functions.

“Each room has the ability to enter into a do-not-disturb mode, preventing any incoming communication,” Soucy points out. “You can still provide outgoing communication if needed. There’s also a listen mode, which allows any zone or room in the home to listen to another room. That’s good for listening in on the kids.”

In addition to its security systems allowing homeowners to monitor visitors through their televisions, Linear also offers an entry-level intercom system, Stevens says. The system allows front-door answering capability, all-call intercom and limited background music capabilities.

A step-up system provides those functions plus vastly improved background music capabilities usable with in-ceiling speakers, Stevens relates.

GE Security Inc., Bradenton, Fla., provides an integrated four-in-one system called SmartCommand, which is an intercom, security, HVAC and lighting system, reports Jim Paulson, global marketing leader for GE’s intrusion group.

“SmartCommand’s primary market is new construction,” he says. “However, we do expect to get a lower percentage in retrofit. The reason is structured wiring typically is not something added in after the fact.”

When visitors press a doorbell-like outdoor intercom button, a voice channel is opened inside the house, allowing residents to communicate with the individual at the door.

“It has a door strike with it, and you can let someone in a door or gate, or say, ‘I’ll be right there,’ or, ‘Leave the package at the door,’” Paulson notes.

With all these options for entry, going to the door can be a thing of the past for customers. Encourage them to consider the benefit of the enhanced security they can obtain by letting audio or video systems answer their doors instead of them.

The electronic lock on this door handle cannot be picked and is simply reprogrammed if a key fob is lost.

Sidebar: Electronic Locks Coming to Residential?

SimonsVoss Technologies Inc. was launched in Germany in 1995, where its founders developed a lock with electronic access control entirely within the door handle. The company expanded into other markets, eventually entering the United States market early in 2007.

“We have a cylindrical lock solution, and you can take the mechanical lock off the door, and put our lock on,” says Warren Simonsen, SimonsVoss’ vice president of marketing and operations who is based in Franklin, Wis. “Taking this same solution, we can put our handles on and transform a typical mortise lock into our lock.

“This inside handle engages the latch at all times, and the outside handle has free movement but doesn’t open the door,” Simonsen explains. “But if you use our transponder -- like a car key fob -- you press this button, and there’s a radio signal that goes between the transponder and the handle. If this transponder is authorized, it engages the outside handle, and it will retract the latch and let you enter.”

Each handle can support 8,000 users. The system keeps track of who used the doors and when. Restrictions can be put on transponders so they only work at certain times, and the lock can operate on a timed basis, independent of the transponder.”

Software and a smart CD are required to program the door handle along with some programming tools. “We’ve had inquiries from very high-end residential -- mansions and high-end condos,” Simonsen reports. “But this isn’t something for Lowe’s or Home Depot.”

Nevertheless, other companies are considering the high-end residential market, even with biometric security devices on the doors. The advantages of a lock that cannot be picked and can be reprogrammed when a key fob is lost should not be underestimated.