Surveillance for Dummies

If there is a simpler way to monitor the goings-on in your home than with Avaak's Vue Personal Network, I have yet to discover it. The Vue is an Internet-connected video system that enables you to spy, er, watch feeds and remotely control up to 50 unobtrusive wireless cameras via the Web or a new, free iPhone application. (Versions for BlackBerry and Android smartphones are in the works.) It isn't a full-scale surveillance system, but it's perfect for checking up on just about anything.

The basic Vue system ($299, consists of two cameras—each about the size of the circle made by your thumb and index finger in the universal O.K. sign—and a compact antenna-like device called a gateway. The kit comes with swivel mounts; extra cameras are $99 each.

Unlike Wi-Fi systems, the Vue creates its own network between the gateway and cameras, like cordless telephones communicating with a base station. Setup is foolproof: Plug the gateway into an Ethernet port on your router, and pair it with the cameras by placing them nearby and pressing a button. Each camera weighs less than an ounce and runs on a standard lithium-ion photo battery, which lasts about a year under normal use. There's no software; everything is controlled via the Internet, whether you're next door or half a world away.

I aimed one camera at our poodle's cage in hopes of answering the age-old question: What does she do when she's alone? The answer: She spends a surprisingly long time sitting alertly in a show-dog pose before finally curling up for a nap.

While the Vue is terrific when the task at hand is a little casual snooping, it's less useful for mission-critical jobs. The picture quality is merely adequate, and motion tends to be herky-jerky. From a PC, the system occasionally gave me a message that a camera, probably because of Internet congestion, was offline. Even in a location with a strong Wi-Fi presence, the iPhone app would sometimes present me with a message that the signal was too weak to use. (Things were fine when I switched to the phone's 3G connection.)

From either the site or the iPhone app, you can view live feeds, take a photo, and adjust the brightness. Video recordings are saved on the VueZone site, where they can be played, uploaded, or e-mailed. Two gigabytes of storage are free the first year, $19.95 thereafter, and you can also authorize friends to tap into your live feed. It's up to you, however, to give them something worth watching.


Panasonic BL-C230A Network Camera

(Panasonic USA, $299.95) Wireless with remote panning

WiLife Digital Video Security Master Camera

(Logitech, $299.99) Alerts user with e-mail

HomeRemote Pro Gateway and Camera

(Hawking Technologies, $299.25) Can work with door sensors

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