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Oplink Security TripleShield review: Fees make this solid security system a tough sell

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As DIY security becomes more and more popular, we're seeing more and more options arrive on the market. The latest offerings come from Oplink Security: the $199.99 sensor-driven AlarmShield package, and the $349.99 TripleShield package, which adds a pair of wireless cameras for the surveillance-minded homeowner. With similar motion detectors, panic sirens, and contact sensors for doors and windows -- not to mention equivalent price levels for both the basic package and the camera-ready package -- Oplink seems ready to compete directly with iSmartAlarm.

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7.7

Oplink Security TripleShield

The Good

Oplink's security system installs in minutes, and thanks to a well-designed app, is easy to control. The night-vision cameras that come with the <b>Oplink Security TripleShield</b> package are especially impressive, and will send video to your smartphone automatically if the alarm is triggered.

The Bad

Oplink charges a monthly fee to use its system, making it difficult to recommend over the fee-free competition.

The Bottom Line

If you want a system with excellent cameras, Oplink Security's TripleShield package definitely merits consideration -- but we're not convinced it's worth $19.99 per month.

The big difference between the two systems is that, unlike iSmartAlarm, Oplink charges monthly fees to use its products. The TripleShield package starts at $19.99 per month. This is still a lot less than what you'll likely spend on an established home security brand requiring professional installation, and you won't need to commit to any long-term contracts, but it's still a bit tough to justify given how similar Oplink's packages are to what iSmartAlarm is offering.

Keep tabs on Oplink Security's TripleShield package (pictures)

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That said, Oplink offers a few distinct advantages over iSmartAlarm that might help certain consumers stomach those monthly fees. First, we like Oplink's cameras a lot better, and Oplink's package gives you two of them as opposed to the single camera you'll get from iSmartAlarm. If you're a surveillance-minded homeowner who wants to keep an eye on things around the house, Oplink's fees might be worth it. Second, Oplink offers the option of backing your system up with a cellular connection that'll keep you online if your wireless network goes out. You'll need to purchase an $80 USB modem, then pay an additional $9.99 per month on top of what you're already paying, but all the same, I think that some consumers will be happy to have the extra peace of mind.

Additionally, it's worth noting that the TripleShield package retails for $349 online, the same price as iSmartAlarm's camera-ready Premium Package -- but it'll sell for $299 at major retail outlets.

Those advantages aside, I'm not convinced that Oplink has enough of an edge over iSmartAlarm for most users to consider it the superior value. I was pleased with how well the system performed, and I'd feel secure having it protecting my home, but I'd hate paying those fees every month, especially knowing that I'd be getting comparable results from iSmartAlarm. Unless you have a specific interest in the admittedly nifty Oplink cameras, I think iSmartAlarm is the smarter choice. If a cellular backup is what's truly important to you, you might also want to check out SimpliSafe -- its base packages are slightly more expensive and it doesn't offer cameras, but its $14.99 monthly fee is lower than Oplink's, with a cellular backup included.

Your smartphone will alert you immediately if the alarm is triggered, even if the app isn't running. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Smart, usable features
The TripleShield package comes packed in a neat little kit, and literally can be installed within minutes. Just plug the Optical Processing Unit (OPU) into your home's router, download the free Oplink app (available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices), and start placing your sensors wherever you want. With sticky pads for the contact sensors and simple mounting kits for the panic siren, motion detector, and cameras, this won't take very long at all. Once you've got your system set up, you'll be able to rename each sensor -- an important step toward making alerts more helpful and meaningful.

After plugging in the two cameras and connecting them with your network, you'll need to wait a few minutes before they begin broadcasting live video to your phone. Once they do, playback within the app is smooth and simple to work with. You'll be able to watch multiple feeds at once in a split screen, or focus on one camera. Oplink's cameras record audio as well as video, so you'll be able to listen in if you like -- don't expect high-fidelity sound, though.

When the lights go out, Oplink's cameras automatically go into night-vision mode (and automatically make you look like a creep). Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

One of the Oplink system's coolest features is that the cameras will automatically switch into night vision when the light gets low enough. Even if it's the middle of the night and your living room is pitch black, Oplink's cameras can still see what's going on -- and so can you. Another key camera feature: if the alarm is ever triggered, the cameras on your network will automatically record 30 seconds of video, starting 5 seconds before the alarm (it keeps a small portion of footage in memory), then save it to the system's hard drive. From within the Oplink app, you'll be able to view a timeline of alerts with corresponding videos showing you what happened. You'll even be able to e-mail these videos out at the touch of a button -- handy information for the police, or your insurance provider.

The TripleShield package comes with a 16GB USB flash drive that connects to the OPU, serving as the storage space for your video. Along with a la carte sensors, you can purchase additional sensors, too. If you decide to purchase extra cameras, keep in mind that each one will add $5 to your monthly Oplink fees.

The OPU that controls Oplink's system is a bit of an eyesore. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conspicuous design
When it comes to DIY security kits that involve multiple, networked sensors, it's hard to find much differentiation from brand to brand. The motion detectors and contact sensors all look more or less the same -- semiugly white plastic that will definitely stick out amid your decor. If you're more interested in a security option that's designed to blend into your surroundings, you'll probably want to go with an all-in-one unit like Canary or Piper.

Still, if you compare Oplink with a brand like iSmartAlarm, you'll find a couple of key design differences. For one, the mothership of Oplink's setup, the OPU router, is decidedly less attractive than the iSmartAlarm's slick-looking CubeOne. Granted, iSmartAlarm clearly poached much of its design from the Apple playbook, but still, I'd much rather have the CubeOne sitting on my shelf than the ugly, modem-esque OPU. Also, the Oplink contact sensors are bigger and bulkier than the iSmartAlarm sensors. This might seem like a trivial nitpick when it comes to security, but if you want the system that'll leave the smallest footprint in your home's design aesthetic, I think you'll find better options than Oplink.

Oplink's cameras are compact and easy to work with. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Oplink's cameras also take a different design approach than iSmartAlarm's iCamera. With Oplink, you get a pair of compact cameras that mount easily on bases if needed, making it easy to stash them away on a bookshelf or a windowsill. I like this approach better than the iCamera, which looks great, but also takes up too much space.

Another small differentiation point between the two systems: Oplink offers a dedicated panic siren that you can place wherever you like. iSmartAlarm, on the other hand, integrates its system's siren into the CubeOne. This means that you have one fewer gizmo to configure, but it also means that you don't get as much flexibility about where to place your siren, since the CubeOne needs to remained hooked up to your home's router.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Reliable performance
If you're spending money on home security, you're going to want a system that you can depend on. In my home testing, I found that Oplink meets the mark. My system performed exactly how I wanted it to, always alerting me when I (intentionally) tripped the alarm, and never once sending me a false alert. The sensors all seemed perfectly sensitive, too. I tried slowly sneaking past the motion detector, for instance, but I wasn't able to fool it.

Still, a Wi-Fi-based security system is only as secure as your network coverage. If the Wi-Fi in your home drops out, so will your system. This is where the argument for a cellular backup comes into play, and Oplink deserves credit for offering one when iSmartAlarm does not. But the fact that you'll need to spend an extra $80 on a Oplink-approved 3G modem, along with an extra $9.99 each month, is a little hard to swallow.

In the event that something does trigger your alarm, you'll receive an alert on your smartphone, as well as an e-mail notification detailing which specific sensor was tripped and when. You can also program your system to alert additional emergency contacts. Like iSmartAlarm, Oplink doesn't currently offer live monitoring, and leaves it up to you whether or not an alert merits calling the police. This can help you avoid wasting police resources with false alerts, but some users will understandably prefer a system with live operators capable of contacting the authorities on their behalf.

There's not a lot of difference between Oplink and iSmartAlarm -- except for the fees. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Conclusion
Oplink has designed a easy-to-operate DIY security system that performs well. Its cameras are particularly impressive, standing as an appealing alternative to iSmartAlarm's frustratingly glitchy iCamera. Still, when you put the two systems side by side, it's hard to see much value with Oplink. A $199 iSmartAlarm system (sans iCamera) will work just fine for small home or apartment security, and you won't be paying monthly fees in the process.

Oplink is smart to take advantage of the growing trend of DIY home security. However, I just wish that the company had brought a little more to the table in order to justify its pricing strategy and compete with the fee-free iSmartAlarm. As it stands, I can only recommend the TripleShield package for consumers with a strong enough interest in home surveillance that they're willing to spend at least $19.99 per month for those cameras. For everyone else interested in DIY home security, I still think iSmartAlarm is the better way to go.

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7.7

Oplink Security TripleShield

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 8Design 8Performance 8