The Shoe Finally Drops? Cisco Unveils a PTZ Camera

Offering from Linksys division reflects IT giant's major step into physical security

If you've been waiting for the shoe to drop to see how the IT world would get involved in security products, then you heard it here first.

Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems, announced this week that it is now offering a full PTZ wireless video camera with audio capabilities as well. Now, before you write this one off as a "web cam" trying to establish itself in security, keep in mind that this camera is largely the same as we're seeing with the "professional grade" cameras.

First, the pan/tilt/zoom functionality means that Linksys is not aiming at the video chat market where the user sits in front of the computer to talk with a friend two states away. Secondly, the camera uses its own IP address, which is the essential difference between a web cam and a network surveillance camera. (Web cams typically have to be connected directly to the PC, usually via a USB connection). Finally, Linksys is marketing the camera for small businesses, often the same market many of the entry-level network cameras are aimed at.

The camera is set up so that up to 10 users can access the camera at a time and view the video over a standard web browser, and the video feed can be password protected (or left open).

Want more proof that this is a serious competitor?

The Linksys WVC200 camera has an IR cut filter (IR lighting is not included in the camera but can be added) for low-light viewing, and the system is designed to send email alerts with video segments upon motion detection.

But can it record? After all, it's not really a security camera unless you can store the video, right? Indeed, Linksys seems to understand professional security needs there, too. Included software allows a user to monitor multiple cameras and save video to a hard drive/server, and to even search video using time and date stamps. The system records in what have become fairly standard compression formats of MPEG-4 and MJPEG to allow for different bandwidth requirements.

So, should traditional manufacturers be shaking? The answer would have to be yes and no. With a price of only $299, it's certainly well positioned to tap a market where a business owner could self install a four-camera system for just over a grand. Additionally, a number of business owners have become so comfortable setting up Linksys routers in their homes and businesses themselves that the market might not be averse to a self-installed security camera.

But it's not clear that the video is recorded in such a way that it becomes encrypted. While being able to play back video on standard player like Windows Media Player is certainly a plus, that unencrypted format makes the video a bit harder to manage and certainly a defense lawyer could question how secure the video data itself is if it's not in a proprietary, encrypted format.

The camera also features an LCD screen on the front of the camera which tells the IP address. And while that may be a great idea for a forgetful business owner or for a company with a dynamic IP network, it's perhaps not such a good idea if you don't want the bad guys knowing how to access the video on the web (even if it is behind a password -- we all know passwords can be hacked...).

Additionally, the camera uses a lightweight mount that seems to be best design for sitting on top of a book shelf, not for mounting from the ceiling in an otherwise empty entrance hall, and it's not designed in such a way that it could be made vandal- or accident-proof.

So, where do we stand? It's a first offering, and while it may not be perfect for "professional" security, it comes fairly close and may entice away customers to whom dealers could otherwise sell a professional quality system. And for a first offering into a field of business largely outside its normal scope, Linksys seems to have done a number of things right with the camera -- which isn't too surprising for a division of Cisco that's earned its accolades producing network hardware that businesses rely upon for consistent up-time and easy installation.

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