The Shoe Finally Drops? Cisco Unveils a PTZ Camera

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.

(See the full Linksys WVC200 press release on