Vue Home IP Video Cameras Examined (Avaak)

By: John Honovich, Published on Nov 09, 2009

Many new products are being introduced for the home IP video market. One that is drawing significant interest is Avaak's Vue.

Overview of Avaak's Vue

Avaak [link no longer available] pitches super simple setup as the Vue requires no cables for power nor communication (wireless and battery operated). The downside is that Vue records neither continuously nor based on motion. Plus the battery lasts a year only if the camera is viewed for 10 minutes per day.

Below is Avaak's pitch for the Vue:

Should You use the Vue?

While there's many reviews on-line, the key consideration is understanding your needs and the competitive options available. If you want more to simply check in on your home, this may be a strong option. More than that, many other options are likely more attractive. Even for simply checking in on your home, the technology for home IP video is rapidly improving.

Vue's main offering is a kit that includes (2) cameras and a base station. the basestation establishes a wireless connection to the cameras. Video is transferred from the cameras through the basestation to Vue's hosting service allowing users to log in to a website to view their video. The kit costs $299 and can be bought from on-line stores like Amazon. Additional cameras can be purchased for $99 each. The remote viewing and recording service (up to 2 GB of video stored) is free for the first year and $20 per year thereafter.

The Vue is a closed system that neither supports 3rd party cameras not requires the use of a local on-site PC.

Some key features of Vue include:

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  • The cameras are tiny (less than 1 ounce). 
  • They generate JPEG snapshots up to VGA resolution (though this depends on wireless signal strength. 
  • The cameras are not designed for outdoor use nor for low light/night time viewing (according to the manufacturer, the "cameras need the light of a 40 Watt bulb or higher".
  • No audio is supported
  • Wireless range is specified at 300 feet Line of Sight.
  • The cameras use commercial off the shelf CR123 batteries (available on-line for about $10).
  • There is no option to plug cameras into an electrical outlet.
  • No optical zoom is available.
  • The camera is only sold in the US.

For details on the cameras, see their technical specification sheet and the FAQ [link no longer available].

In their use case section, Avaak is clear about what they think Vue is good for: checking in on kids, grandparents, pets, your home and your vacation home.

Below are two sample videos from Vue cameras. The videos are fairly grainy and visually look like CIF or QCIF 'quality' videos.



This product is significantly different (for better and for worse) than any other home IP video market. This creates a number of specific strengths and weakness.

Vue Strengths

  • Freedom of camera placement: Tradition systems require extensive long, unsightly cables to provide power (and sometimes networking). This can be time consuming and create aesthetic problems for some customers.
  • No need for a dedicated PC. Some systems requires the use of an always on local PC for accessing and storing video.
  • The hosting service provides recording and searching of video at a low cost (free for the first year, $20 each year thereafter). Other systems charge $10 to $20 per month for recording and hosting.
  • No networking setup required. However, all the systems we contras the Vue to has similar abilities.

Vue Weaknesses

  • Does not record evidence of ongoing events: specifically Vue does not offer continuous or motion based recording. If a burglary or other incident occurs, it is very unlikely that it will be recorded (unless you happen to be viewing at that time).
  • Does not generate alerts/alarms on suspicious activity: If you want to know immediately and proactively about a break in or problem at your house, Vue cannot provide this.
  • The video quality is poorer that other systems - even inexpensive systems designed for home use.
  • Like any wireless system, walls or large houses may cause problems in video transmission. This is not unique to Vue and is a concern for any wireless camera system.

Contrast to Analog CCTV Systems

Analog CCTV systems tend to provide significant more functionalities but at higher cost and much more technical effort. For instance, contrast Vue to a kit including 2 analog camera and an encoder card for $348. This kit requires the use of one's own desktop PC and the installation of the encoder card into one's PC. Coaxial cable will have to be run from each camera to your desktop PC. It also requires the PC run anytime you want the video surveillance system to record or playback video. Also, if you want to view video remotely from your house, it requires technical and time consuming changes to one's home networking configuration.

On the plus side, the analog CCTV system can record evidence of ongoing events and can generate alerts/alarms on suspicious activities (though accuracy of the alerts will likely be very low).

Contrast to WiLife

WiLife is a frequently mentioned solution in the home IP video market. The starting price for a WiLife system is $229 [link no longer available] for a single indoor IP camera 'master system' as WiLife refers to it. Additional indoor cameras cost $199 each.

WiLife provides similar benefits to an analog CCTV system with 3 primary advantages:

  • WiLife does not require installing an encoder card inside of one's desktop PC.
  • WiLife can be remotely accessed with no changes to one's home networking configuration.
  • Instead of running coaxial cable throughout one's house, the cameras can be plugged into electrical outlets and the video transmission can run over the power lines.
However, WiLife requires the use and configuration of an on-site PC. If one is not available, this is an additional cost. Secondly, the PC needs to be on whenever you want the system to record. This would make it hard to use one's primary computer, especially if it was a laptop.

WiLife's hard cost will be at least $100 more for a similar setup (assuming an available PC) and time to configure the on-site system. However, for that extra investment, you can record higher quality video.

Contrast to D-Link

D-Link offers a broad IP camera line [link no longer available] with free video recording software. Camera pricing is similar to that of Wi-Life. Also, D-Links' recording software records a dedicated PC and configuration of the software on the PC. Unlike Wi-Life, D-Link's recording software also requires changes to one's home networking configuration for remote access.

Some of D-Link's key advantages including the breadth of their camera line-up and their support for third party systems is valuable for the professional market but unnecessary for most homeowners.

In Q3 2009, D-Link announced their MyDLink which will be a 'plug n play' IP camera. When this is available, it will provide a much simpler, lower cost offering for the home market.

Contrast to Yoics Webcam

Yoics is a service that makes it easy to remotely access computers or devices like webcams or IP cameras.

A webcam can be connected to a PC. The Yoics software can be loaded onto that PC and you can enable your webcam for remote viewing through Yoics service. Once enabled, you can logon from anywhere to watch your webcam through Yoics.

The total cost and complexity of this solution can be quite low. $30 for a webcam. 15 minutes to set up the Yoics service. No charge for accessing a single webcam through Yoics. 

Two significant downsides are that (1) no video recording and (2) limitations on where the cameras can be placed. Finally, of course, an on-site PC is needed.

Contrast to Plug n Play IP Cameras

A rapidly growing trend is IP cameras with built-in remote access software. As mentioned above, D-Link will soon be offering such a product. StarVedia OEMs these products to a number of large Western CCTV manufacturers. Yoics technology is embedded into Lorex's cameras. I have no doubt that the number of providers offering these services will expand significantly in the next year.

These cameras do not require the use of an on-site PC. Also, many of them can provide fairly high quality video even in low light (through the use of an IR illuminators). They can be remotely accessed for free through web based services with no networking configuration.

These cameras start as low as $150 each for similar to better video quality as Vue. Additionally, some of these cameras provide wireless options (standards based WiFi).

Relative to Vue, the main drawbacks will be the need for cabling for power and the lack of recording (unless a separate additional service is set up).

Recommendations

The most important initial criteria is the importance and value placed on recording and alerting. If ongoing recording or alerting is worth an extra $500 to $1500, than a professional video surveillance system should be used rather than Vue.

If periodic checking in one's home is sufficient for your needs, then the choice should be between Vue, Yoics enabled web cams and plug and play IP cameras.

  • If you want 'cheap' and are ok with a very basic solution, consider a Yoics enabled webcam. The cost will be a fraction of Vue and you may be able to set this up with equipment at your house already (a webcam and a PC). You may want to try this first to see if this is sufficient for your needs.
  • If you want higher image quality and better low light performance and are willing to sacrifice or setup recording separately, try plug and play IP cameras. The price will be roughly the same.

At the end of 2009, Vue may be a good choice for those who want the simplicity of a turn-key package. However, plug n play IP cameras are going to improve in simplicity, number of providers, etc. As they mature, plug n play IP cameras may overtake Vue and become the de facto standard for home video surveillance.

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