NETGEAR has been selling a line of cute little Internet camera systems called VueZone for a couple of years now. Actually, NETGEAR is known for WiFi access points and small Ethernet switches and routers, and they acquired a San Diego firm Avaak to get the camera product line.
The way the setup works is that several tiny battery-operated cameras talk wirelessly to the central base station plugged into the home Internet gateway, like a cable modem. VueZone uses same 2.4GHz ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) band as does WiFi, Bluetooth, and some cordless phones. A proprietary signaling scheme is likely used, to optimize power consumption of sending video frames to the base station.
The electronics come in a tight package, with a camera assembly connected via a flex cable to the PCB, as does the small motion detection circuit. The central processor is Texas Instruments MSP430F5524, a low power 25MHz 16-bit processor with 64K Flash and 6K SRAM, $5.50.
Wireless connectivity is provided via Nordic Semiconductor nRF24L01, a low power 2.4GHz RF transceiver, $2.20. There is also Cypress CY62138CV30LL 2Mbit SRAM, $3, and Xilinx XC2C32A, $1.60. Component selection of the camera assembly and the motion detection circuit warrant a second look.
The mechanical design is neat, though it looks like a puzzle when one tries to put the thing back together. In the end, the pieces did fit, and were all accounted for. The sliding power switch and the battery door lock are somewhat of a kludge, though they do mostly work. The magnetic mounting semi-sphere is brilliant and gimmicky. Pretty cool, in the end.
One design choice was to use two 3V “Lithium” batteries, in parallel, whether because of discharge characteristics or physical dimensions, Shorter but fatter than AA, these batteries are known as 123 and built with the LiMnO2 chemistry. Rated at 1500mAh, they are used in cameras and medical equipment, but despite the word lithium in the title, they are not rechargeable. And 123 batteries are not cheap, with the Energizer EL123 at least $1.50 in bulk. A comparable quality alkaline AA Energizer E91 is $0.50 each in bulk.
The base station has several lights and a button used to put the unit in the state to ‘pair’ with the camera. Not surprisingly, the base station runs off a wallwart and connects to the main Internet router via Ethernet. I would like to see what processor was picked for the job of encapsulating the video stream, before sending it to the server. But, I could not pop the case open and punted in the end. If anyone cares, let me know and I’ll take a saw to it.
Netgear recently revamped their VueZone offering, eliminating the four camera setup and raising prices on other configurations. This is perhaps in preparation for switching over to a brand new and incompatible system, an HD camera set named Arlo and priced at $350 for a two camera configuration. Fortunately, there is a brisk trade in VueZone combos and individual pieces, used or nearly new, on eBay. I picked-up the two camera setup for $75, in brand new condition. A bargain one can enjoy with a cup of gourmet coffee.