To understand what the iControl system does, you have to hear a list of its many devices. There are wired and wireless cameras and battery-powered sensors that detect motion, the opening and closing of doors, even the presence of water or freezing temperatures. There are carbon-monoxide and smoke alarms, a wearable "panic pendant" as well as a panic wristwatch. You can get automated light dimmers that plug into power sockets, and even a thermostat.
Some of these products may sound familiar, and others may be new to you. What they all have in common is that they report in, wirelessly, to a gateway that tracks everything and posts it on a secure website for you. A glance at your iControl Summary page tells you that the sensors are normal and working. If you have a freeze or a burst pipe, the system immediately sends you an e-mail, and of course registers the problem on the Web page. A chart of "recent alarms" also keeps track of when the door and motion sensors were last triggered.
Gadget reviewers like me may love a challenge, but we like it even better when products work as billed. I tested an iControl system that included a wireless camera, which I easily positioned and programmed to snap pictures of anyone walking through my front door. I coupled a motion sensor with a lamp controller, so that the light went on whenever someone walked by. The coolest part was that I could also command the lights and camera directly from the Web page. I did not test the thermostat, but like the other devices, it can be controlled remotely or set on a schedule.
You might see how a system like this can bring peace of mind. It does, however, bring it at a cost. Before you sign on, you need to have a broadband connection to your home and a home-network router, preferably a wireless one. The lowest-priced starter kit is $400, and once you get it going, you will realize quickly that you will want to augment that with additional devices. Extra door/window sensors cost $35 a piece, and extra lamp controllers cost $50. There's also a monthly fee of $15. Although you can pay upfront for a whole year, it will still cost $180 iControl doesn't cut you a break on that.
If you have the money, and enjoy tinkering, iControl is a reasonable choice at the moment. But stay tuned, because high-tech home monitoring is the next big thing, and other contenders are gearing up.