Easy to setup video system has limitations (March 13th, 2010)
If you’re looking for a quick and easy wireless camera system for checking who’s at your front door, monitoring your pets while you’re at work or checking up on your napping baby, Avaak believes it has an inexpensive option. The company's Vue Personal Video Network system, made up of a couple of small wireless cameras and a wireless base station, promises to simplify the experience of keeping track of others. But while it's easy to set up, is it a pleasure to use?
Product Manufacturer: Avaak
- Inexpensive among wireless camera systems.
- Extremely easy setup process.
- iPhone app and universal web access.
- 2GB of online storage.
- Very low resolution video; no stills.
- A solution in search of a problem.
- Extra cameras are expensive.
- Not ruggedized; mount easily toppled.
unboxing and setup
Avaak includes all needed hardware to get users going, including four of the unusual CR123 batteries, one of which is necessary to power each of the two included cameras. There are four mounts included as well, which are basically half a sphere. The 2-megapixel cameras attach to the mounts via a magnetic strip, and can be easily turned. The design lends itself fairly wall to wall applications, but wouldn't work well if one needs to place a camera on a ceiling in the middle of a large room or hall.
All that's required to get up and running is plugging the gateway into an existing router or modem, plugging it into a socket, inserting the included batteries into each camera and syncing them with the gateway. The sync process simply involves bringing each camera within 12 inches of the gateway and pressing the sync button. There is no need to go into network settings and fiddle with them, which is what most computer users aren't comfortable with. Those having trouble with the easy process can e-mail a request for support; unfortunately, no phone number is provided. With such simple setup, however, Avaak gets at least a partial pass. There is no software included, because none is needed.
Once synchronized and powered up, we checked the operation of the cameras online at myvuezone.com by creating an account. Once created, we could call up the camera's view anytime, from any browser and on any computer. What's more, Vue offers a free iPhone app called VueZone that lets users see what the cameras see simply by logging in from virtually anywhere they are. Again, the user interface online and on the iPhone is simple to navigate. Each camera that's synced can be renamed, but gets a numerical name based on the order it's been synced. In a browser, users then need to drag the thumbnail into a larger viewing window in order to see what the camera sees.
Watching more than one live feed is not possible, whether via the iPhone app or a PC. This is hardly needed with just two cameras, but the Vue video network can support up to 50 cameras, hence the need for such an interface, as loading the streaming video of all 50 cameras would be time and data-consuming, especially when on a mobile network of the iPhone. The cameras also default into a sleep mode when their feeds aren't being viewed to save battery life. A simple battery life indicator in either interface lets users know how much approximate life is left, though in our experience and usage patterns, it will be a long time before the CR123s need to be swapped for fresh batteries, which are waiting in the box. The cameras communicate with the gateway using 2.4GHz standard called FrameMesh. Vue advertises a range of 300 feet, though this is only when a clear, unobstructed line-of-sight is available. In general, don't expect the system to send video from any farther than your average 2.4GHz wireless home phone or Wi-Fi router.
The mounts can be screwed into a wall or other surface or glued to them. Either way, screws or stickers for either application are included. All four mounts can be installed, and the cameras simply stuck to them whenever needed thanks to the ingenious magnetic tape on each camera. Both cameras can also be stuck onto the same mount.
Sharing can be done by sending others an invitation to view the clips or photos, though they are embedded on Vue's website. Either can also be uploaded to an existing Flickr or YouTube account.
Desktop web browser interface
As mentioned above, the Vue Personal Video Network is as simple in its performance as it is to set up. There are no microphones in the cameras, so no sound is sent over, perhaps limiting their use as a video baby monitor, though they can be used in conjunction with an audio baby monitor. That said, while there is a low-light mode, it's not particularly useful in dark environments such as a baby's room at night. That said, it is useful in dim environments. There is also a bright light mode and a normal light setting for when an image is blown out or otherwise hard to discern because of unfavorable lighting conditions.
The delay between moving the camera or seeing a person or object move, and seeing it on the iPhone's or computer's screen when using a Wi-Fi connection, is about two to three seconds. Moving to a computer connected to the Internet using an Ethernet cable drops it to just under two seconds. Not surprisingly, distance doesn't affect the lag. The Vue cameras don't have a motion sensor, so using them for security monitoring purposes is out of the question -- an unfortunate limitation but also a virtue of the price.
Recordings can be scheduled manually, however, and users get 2GB of cloud storage with their MyVueZone accounts that allows them to store videos and still images. More space can be purchased. Recording or snapshots can also be instantly captured thanks to dedicated buttons on either the iPhone or browser interface. Live feeds or recorded videos or still images can be shared with friends by adding their e-mail address and full name to the list of friends. There's also a certain degree of security against hacks: users can't log into MyVueZone at two places at the same time.
Quality is another issue or a boon depending on your application, as it does mean the allowed 2GB of storage space lets users save lots of videos. A one-minute clip we recorded with some movement in it only takes up about 1.7MB, while each snapshot is a piddling 8KB. Either has a resolution of 160x120, though, so those hoping to clearly identify faces and objects might be disappointed.
a note on compatibility
The company offers fairly broad format support; while those who want to watch their Vue cameras using their iPhones and iPods need at least OS 3.0 pre-installed, desktop browsers can include nearly any modern browser, such as Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3 and Safari 3. Mobile access can work over 3G and not just Wi-Fi.
The Vue Personal Video Network system we received for testing purposes is priced at $300. Each additional camera costs a rather steep $100. As far as we can tell, there is no direct competition for this product, and recreating the system by piecing it together from any other pieces would prove much more expensive. At the same time, it would take longer to set up, as it would likely require some extensive knowledge of wireless home networks, and of course there wouldn't be an iPhone app ready to download.
There's a distinct challenge in finding a specific reason to buy the Vue system, but if you have a use in mind for the Vue Personal Video Network that doesn't require high-res photos or videos, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the value and all-around cohesiveness of what's on offer.