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From Bank Guard To Baby Sitter

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CLOSED-CIRCUIT TELEVISION, THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND all those steely-eyed security systems at banks and in elevators, is about to get downright cutesy. Repackaged into a consumer-friendly camera and TV-style monitor, Ultrak Inc.'s wireless Baby Cam will let doting parents keep an eye on their little ones from anywhere in the house.

Sounds simple enough, but the Dallas company had to pull off a technical first: stuffing video into a narrow band of high-frequency spectrum that's set aside by the Federal Communications Commission for audio gadgets such as cordless phones. At over 900 megahertz--that's more than 900 million cycles a second--data-crammed video signals have trouble passing through walls intact. That can make for fuzzy images. Ultrak's answer: a sophisticated three-chip camera that, through compression, reduces the amount of video signals that need to be sent and an omnidirectional antenna that can reconstruct the signal even if it is bounced around en route.

Thanks to falling prices for high-performance analog chips, the Baby Cam will sell for around $300. It's now available only in black-and-white, but Ultrak plans to bring out color models by yearend, as well as systems that can toggle among four cameras around the house rather than being limited to one camera. Caveat for mansion-dwellers: Baby Cam can reach a maximum of 100 feet.EDITED BY AMY CORTESE

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