Reolink Video Doorbell And Chime – Part I

Reolink PoE doorbell camera with chime unit

This series of articles comprises a review of the Reolink Smart 2K+ Wired PoE Video Doorbell with Chime.

Back in 2020, I bought a Ring video doorbell and chime. The Ring is a wi-fi system, and it relies totally on Ring’s own cloud network. You cannot connect to it directly.

That wasn’t too much of a problem. It was necessary to buy range extenders for my home network to get a reliable connection (my router is upstairs at the back of the house, and the front door is downstairs at the front, so the signal was cripplingly weak), but I ended up with a ‘working’ system.

I used inverted commas there, because although it works, it does have a habit of dropping off the network, and needing a reboot of either it, or the range extender, or both (or maybe the entire network) – it’s done it as I write this – or of simply recording blank video when it detects a visitor, meaning you couldn’t see who came. The video can also be choppy and laggy – and if the internet goes down (well, your internet connection), it simply doesn’t work at all, because it has to be able to connect with the cloud to do so.

The problems are largely because it is wi-fi. I absolutely hate wi-fi at the best of times, and all my home networked stuff is hardwired wherever possible. I had tried wi-fi CCTV cameras, but they suffer the same problems – you need a strong network signal close to them. I also had similar issues with the Virgin Tivo box, because even sitting right next to the extender (the one I’d installed to fix the doorbell problems), the wi-fi network connection frequently decided it couldn’t connect properly. And Sky was the same. I fixed those by hardwiring them.

Now, one of the main selling points of the Ring system for me (offsetting the wi-fi downside) was the desktop app. It was a standalone app provided by Ring that allowed you to monitor the doorbell, and the advantage was that proximity and button press alerts came through almost immediately about 80-90% of the time. I spend most of my online time at my PC, and not hunched over my smartphone sending inane strings of emojis to hundreds of people I don’t know, so if someone comes to the door, I prefer my PC to tell me rather than my phone.

You see, the Ring doorbell system also has Chime units. You connect these to your network as well, and when someone comes to the door, the doorbell picks it up and tells the Chime units let you know wherever you have placed them. With the desktop app, the PC was another Chime system, which was useful when the two Chimes I had were installed in other rooms for the benefit of others in my family.

But a year or so ago, Ring announced it was going to discontinue the app and migrate everything to the cloud and a browser-based dashboard. I immediately knew this would cause problems, because it would cause further delays in the arrival of notifications – with the app, the doorbell spoke to the cloud, and the cloud spoke back and everything was triggered. There was a small delay (sometimes a long one), but not one that caused too many problems (though sometimes it did). By having a browser based system, absolutely everything was happening somewhere out there, and having to access it on the web meant going back out there to find it, then having ‘out there’ send it back to me. It’s not a real time system unless everything is perfect. As I said, if your internet connection goes down, you have no doorbell, because there’s no way to send anything out or get anything back. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the occasional problems at Ring’s end, with the cloud inaccessible – and Ring are just as bad as anyone else when it comes to announcing these episodes, or admitting to them).

The browser dashboard system was appallingly bad at the time, and Ring faced a huge backlash from owners. They delayed the switch-off of the app as a result, but it was still coming. As a result of all this, I started looking for alternatives. The panacea was an ONVIF camera which connected via PoE. ONVIF is a standard by which you can tap directly into the camera stream, and PoE means ‘power over Ethernet’ (you just plug the camera into your network using a cable, and it is supplied with both power and two-way data transfer. Note: you need a PoE switch or injector to provide the power. A standard ethernet port won’t work). The Ring system is entirely proprietary, and you can only access the camera stream and recorded footage through Ring’s own cloud system (and if you want recordings to be saved, you also have to pay an annual subscription – which galls when all it has done is record 20 seconds of black screen).

At that time, ONVIF/PoE doorbell cameras were almost non-existent, so I wrote about my intentions to build my own video doorbell camera. That idea got derailed when it occurred to me that a normal CCTV camera could do the job involving a lot less hassle, and although I have trialled that, the bloody problem is being able to get a suitable CCTV camera with a lens that works for close ups – there’s no real need for them, so they don’t exist. Oh, the cameras I’ve trialled do work, but the field of vision is just not right – if you want to see someone standing at the door, you need a very wide angle and not a zoom of any sort.

However, last week the Ring app began showing pop-ups declaring that it would cease to function in early June. Today, mine stopped working – and as I mentioned earlier, the f***ing thing has gone offline again. The final straw had arrived.

Last night, I was still prepared to go with the CCTV idea. After all, it worked, and if I moved the camera away from the front door to a place more to the right it would at least show me more detail. It wasn’t the best option, because you really need the camera near where the bell-push button is. But I decided to do another Google, and I was surprised to find that – now – ONVIF/PoE doorbells actually exist. They’re new, and it means being an early adopter, but they exist.

The one I latched on to after some research was the Reolink Smart 2K+ Wired PoE Video Doorbell with Chime. This is the Version 1 – it was only released late last year and only started shipping this year (there were lots of people complaining about awaiting shipment). So, remember what I said about being an early adopter.

Mine is on order (as of 4 June 2023), so watch this space for more detailed information. The Ring will be in the dustbin over the summer.

Part II of this series can be found here.

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