CES 2008, Day 2: Home and Business Surveillance

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect on what exactly "consumer electronics" are. Case in point: several booths dedicated to paper shredders and water-cooler jug lifters (so you don’t need to strain your back to lift the replacement water jug in place just to be able to have a conversation around the cooler).

In between these ersatz electronics, though, another set of products is emerging that have been attempted before but are now finally coming to fruition. Several companies on the show floor, coming from locations from New Mexico to Taipei, are showing off key elements of video monitoring services that allow video to be captured and streamed only when needed.

LaserShield, a Las Cruces, New Mexico company whose products have been featured on Good Morning America and are available in stores like Circuit City, CompUSA, and a few Costco and Home Depot locations, takes the holistic approach when it comes to home security. The company has motion detection systems that it makes itself and then sells cameras and broadband access points that are repackaged Linksys devices as part of a total solution that it claims can lower home insurance rates in most cases.

The business model is interesting, as LaserShield also has a central monitoring service that accompanies the "Security In a Box" products it sells. But the true power of the security system is the video surveillance portion that streams content out to the monitoring service and the homeowner.

"We think IP video streaming is the way that most home monitoring systems will evolve," says Robert Prince of NextAlarm, a booth partner with LaserShield. "With the other digital switch taking place—analog monitoring as we know it ends in February 2008—video streaming becomes a key element of the surveillance system."

When asked about other options that are being pitched as part of the transition to digital monitoring, such as GSM modules, Prince said the biggest factor was the bandwidth required for the video streams, which can be viewed in real-time when an alarm trigger is sent to the home owner or monitoring service.

"We use MPEG-4 streaming and don’t do any transcoding at the customer premise," says Prince. "The cameras are also capable of Motion JPEG streaming, but that would require bandwidths well beyond the typical home broadband connection, unless we limited the number of frames to 1 or 2 per second."

The LaserShield system also stores video from several seconds prior to the alarm trigger, making it easy to review the video leading up to a particular event. While none of the content is yet recorded on the system, several comments were made about the potential of a small DVR in the home to capture video from multiple cameras. This might naturally lead to transcoding at the customer premise, which would mean that higher quality video could be captured while lower-quality video was streamed to the remote user.

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