FakeTV

Interesting burglar prevention device: it simulates a television. But why not just leave a real television on?

Posted on June 11, 2008 at 6:43 AM • 43 Comments

Comments

KeithJune 11, 2008 6:57 AM

It uses less power for one thing (3w against 120w for an average-ish TV). But to make it a worthwhile investment, you'd need the Fake TV on for about 4 months total time.
So, if you have it on for 12 hours a day while you're out of the house, it would take 8 months before it would start saving you money given the $31 retail price.

Assumptions:
10c per KWh electricity price
100-120w to run a TV
3w to run a Fake TV

SparkyJune 11, 2008 7:08 AM

TVs are known to be one of the primary causes of house fires. The fire department (at least in the Netherlands) recommends that TVs are not left on standby when you go out of the house. Leaving it on when you are away, drastically increases the risk.

Also, leaving your huge shiny new plasma TV on might tell the burglars that you have a huge shiny new plasma TV worth stealing.

MuffinJune 11, 2008 7:09 AM

Depending on where you live, it's also useful for people who don't own a real TV because it'll keep you from having to pony up the money for a TV licence - I think the UK's got these, and Germany does, too.

(You'll pay more than 200 EUR here just to be allowed to watch the crap that the state-funded channels crank out, no matter whether you want to or not or whether you actually do or not. Effin' ridiculous, but that's a rant for another day.)

Anyhow, with a fake TV, you'll be able to save that money if you don't already own a real one.

John RidleyJune 11, 2008 7:12 AM

And that would be 8 months of 12 hours per day when both you weren't home AND it was dark enough for this to work.

This time of year in Michigan, it's only dark about 7 hours a day. Of course come winter it's only LIGHT 7 hours a day.

On the other hand:
You could also take into account the wear and tear you're NOT putting on your TV; every hour it's on is another nail in its coffin, in the long run. If you're talking a decent sized HD TV, that's a $1000 set you'd be wearing out.

Also, as the ad says, you can't put a TV on a timer, it won't come on unless someone pushes the power button, so if you were going to be gone for a week, you'd have to leave the TV on that whole time, so you'd be burning that 120 watts 24/7 instead of this thing running only at night.

SparkyJune 11, 2008 7:23 AM

You can turn a TV on and off on a timer very easily, you just need a remote control to send the signals at the proper time.

These things have existed for a very long time, mostly with 2 analog dials to set the time, for people who are to stupid to figure out how to operate a VCR.

DavidJune 11, 2008 7:37 AM

If leaving your HD plasma set on invites the burglar in, that burglar -- who is not deterred by the fact that someone is home watching TV -- is coming in with the fake running, too.

Anyway the power savings benefit more than the payer of the electric bills. Excess power consumption creates externalities analogous to those created by data breaches.

I classify this device as harmless -- to me its pros and cons almost exactly balance.

ShackaJune 11, 2008 7:52 AM

Seems like a useful device to me. In fact I've actually wanted something like that for a while... I wish I'd invented it.

In the UK, it is easy as you walk down the street at night to tell who is watching TV, and I can imagine burglars would avoid those houses.

I do think it's about time that the image of a burglar as a beefy looking chap wearing black polo neck and beany was updated to the real image of a burglar though - over here they are usually a heroin-addled rat-faced 20-something, wearing a Adidas/Reebok/Kappa combo. Not that I'm bitter about having been burgled, oh no.

raminJune 11, 2008 7:57 AM

As posted above, TVs area a large reason for house fires. In Finland most home insurances have specific clauses on fires started by TVs that were on standby (and not completely off).

So there really are reasons why a TV should not be left on unattended.

Alan PorterJune 11, 2008 8:10 AM

> So there really are reasons why a TV should not be left on unattended.

Then who watches my children?

EclipseJune 11, 2008 8:18 AM

Could be nice if there was a site which did that: some kind of a streaming voice like TV.
The computer is on anyway...

Dimitris AndrakakisJune 11, 2008 8:32 AM

@Bruce (off-topic):

I've come across this:

Fraudsters pool data to beat plastic fraud checks
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/11/plastic_fraud

and I couldn't help thinking (having read "Beyond fear" recently :-) how brittle such a measure is.

"[...] The address verification system takes the numeric parts of a cardholder's billing address and checks this against that submitted during a transaction. For example if Joe Bloggs lives at 12 High Street, Walthamstow E17 7HQ, AVS will check 12 and 177.

[...] "Fraudsters have developed a massive cross reference database. It may be the information was drawn from fraudsters sharing data among themselves to the use of social engineering tricks to intimidate call centre staff into handing over details," Goodwill told El Reg. He added that defending against the approach may be very difficult."

Clive RobinsonJune 11, 2008 8:46 AM

@ Muffin,

"just to be allowed to watch the crap that the state-funded channels crank out"

Not sure where in the EU you are but in the UK the BBC is "technicaly" not funded by the state...

@ ALL,

Two things of interst that has been found to be effective in SW London UK.

1, put on a radio very loudly near the entrance hall tuned to some station that plays the sort of music popular with teens and pre-teens. This works for a couple of reasons the first is your knowledgable burglar knocks on your door to "sell you something" and no response tells them you the adult are not in. Teens "bunking off" school however don't answer doors.

2, Don't do the front of your property up. The burglars assume that if you can do up the front of your property then you will have first done the inside of your house up first...

Another tip but I don't have figures for how effective it is. When you answer the door to somebody unknown make sure the visable parts of the inside look a little taty and tell any sales enquirers you will "take a card for the landlord".

And in the UK never put up brass numbers on your front door or put out the boxes you bought your techno gadgets in in the rubbish outside your property. In both cases. Results have shown that doing either gives you a risk of being burgled of around 30% within 6 weeks of doing it...

Oh and if you do get burgled don't rush out to replace what you have lost the chances are even that the burglar will be back within six weeks.

Lastly make sure that all windows that can be looked through have decent nets etc to stop window surffers seeing your stuff. And for those of you with through lounges remeber that at some point of the day net curtains will become effectivly transparent and therfore usless. Light weight calaco or cotton is much better and also helps to control heat as well.

Samuel LeumasJune 11, 2008 9:12 AM

@Clive Robinson

I think the radio idea makes a lot of sense. It doesn't have to be extremely loud. Just enough to be heard within a few feet of the dwelling. I've heard some suggest two radios: Music like you described; and a "talk" station more interior.

You know whoJune 11, 2008 9:23 AM

Surely, you didn't ask this question because you didn't know, did you, Bruce?

Josh StoneJune 11, 2008 9:24 AM

I don't actually have TV channels (I have the CRT). I suppose I could leave a DVD running, but that's mechanical wear on a wedding gift ;-).

I could also leave my computer up playing a Bruce Schneier interview MP3. That might scare them away too.

TJCJune 11, 2008 9:41 AM

I was just a little surprised to see the comments stating that TV's were a high fire risk... this was something I have never heard of.
A little research brought me this:

• Overall UK fire statistics show an average of 55,000 fire incidents in homes over the five years 1994 – 1998. Electrical sources accounted for 58% of those incidents. Incidents involving electrical sources were dominated by 'Electric Cooking' (66%). 'Washing/Drying'
(10%), 'Electrical Distribution' (7%) and 'Electric Heating' (5%) were also key.

• Despite the high numbers of television sets in the UK (over 38 million), they accounted for only 2% of overall fire incidents in homes from electrical sources and were the lowest key
electrical sources analysed.

from here:
http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file21805.pdf

I wonder if the Scandinavians are simply reacting to old information, or if the TV sets are built to an inferior standard, or some other factor.
I realize that keeping your TV on standby is a serious power drain, but a fire risk? Need more data on that one, I think...

FDHYJune 11, 2008 9:44 AM

If it simulates the light from an HDTV wouldn't they want to steal it? :)

D0RJune 11, 2008 10:11 AM

Not to mention the fact that, given the crap aired on TV, watching a Fake TV sometimes could be a way smarter thing to do. ;-)

Paul C. BryanJune 11, 2008 10:27 AM

I can think of a few reasons why this might be better than using a real TV...

1. Televisions are more expensive than FakeTVs. You want a vacant home to look occupied without risking a real television.

2. You're an envriofreak. Televisions use far more energy than FakeTVs. You want to lower your carbon fingerprint or don't want to spend an extra pesky $20/month in electricity to run a RealTV.

3. Many televisions won't work with a timer; if you try to put a timer on a RealTV, once power is cut, power restoration won't result in the TV coming back on.

Paul C. BryanJune 11, 2008 10:28 AM

I can think of a few reasons why this might be better than using a real TV...

1. Televisions are more expensive than FakeTVs. You want a vacant home to look occupied without risking a real television.

2. You're a envriofreak. Televisions use far more energy than FakeTVs. You want to lower your carbon fingerprint or don't want to spend an extra pesky $20/month in electricity to run a RealTV.

3. Many televisions won't work with a timer; if you try to put a timer on a RealTV, once power is cut, power restoration won't result in the TV coming back on.

FakeTV MfrJune 11, 2008 10:34 AM

Televisions also become dimmer with time-- why use up the life of a TV when nobody is watching it?

A radio on remains a great idea, because it works during the DAY. I use one, too! (in addition to a FakeTV, which was in testing for 2 years prior to its release)

just popping byJune 11, 2008 10:41 AM

@TJC

I would argue that it is another factor actually. In Scandinavia (at lest Sweden and Denmark for sure) it used to be quite common to decorate the top of your tv with some cloth thus blocking the ventilation. Small potted plants also common. And come christmas time lit candles (with moss that needs watering as a bonus). The swedish mini-FEMA has more and graphic pictures http://tinyurl.com/5ykwwq (total time passed in the pictures is three minutes)

As you can imagine this has made TV-fires a bit more common here. And possibly a bit of a media scare since the story is usually about some poor family or two burning up every christmas, tends to leave an impression.

But with government information campaigns, darwinian selection and more importantly flat screens this is now less of a problem.

Although of course in the holiday scenario only the cloth covered tv left on standby would be a fire hazard.

Also due to differences in wiring/standards the introduction of flat screen TVs did cause some fires in Norway according to the Swedish govermnments department of electrical safety, that might also be a factor: http://tinyurl.com/528yw4

LesJune 11, 2008 11:06 AM

A Polish friend told me once that Eastern-block televisions used to occasionally blow-up. Perhaps these got sold in Scandinavia as well.

dragonfrogJune 11, 2008 11:46 AM

There are plenty of reasons not to own a TV. The following apply to me

- There's nothing on TV I want to watch

- I don't like how everyone's living room is arranged around watching TV. I want my home to encourage sitting in a circle as friends, not in rows like at a cinema.

- Aside from the arrangement issue, I don't even want to sacrifice the square footage, horizontal or vertical, of my living room.

Not sure I'd buy a fakeTV either, but there at least are some reasons not to use a real one, in addition to the ones noted above but based on the assumption that you already to have one.

Davi OttenheimerJune 11, 2008 12:44 PM

Heh, I agree with dragonfrog. If it were not for the wii, I would have no need for a real TV.

Maybe surveillance should be tied into the neighborhood electrical system. Then as burglars approach, the televisions and/or radios and lights would not only be on, but could change channels too. It's like the opposite use of motion sensors -- turn things on when there is unauthorized activity, rather than (in addition to?) authorized.

MattJune 11, 2008 12:57 PM

Is there any research that shows that burglars are less likely to infiltrate homes that seem to have a TV on in them?

TSJune 11, 2008 1:49 PM

Go to a church sale, flea market, or Goodwill store and you'll find old school mechanical switch TVs that they usually can't give away. You'll also need an RF/cable adapter (which you probably have stuffed in the back of a drawer somewhere) and you're all set.

MikeAJune 11, 2008 2:37 PM

"Not sure where in the EU you are but in the UK the BBC is "technicaly" not funded by the state..."

I had assumed, from the numerous bogus "science reports" that they were funded by the state, the state of Texas. :-)

"A Polish friend told me once that Eastern-block televisions used to occasionally blow-up. Perhaps these got sold in Scandinavia as well."

Perhaps they only blow up when tuned to non-state-approved stations...

AnonymousJune 11, 2008 3:57 PM

Other than the power saving, keep in mind that the screen on real TVs has a limited lifetime.

FOKJune 12, 2008 4:17 AM

Few years ago we had a TV set on fire. First there was an explosion and then was smoke coming out of it. Power supply just blew up. Luckily my wife was at home and pulled power cord. And of course, it was on standby at the time of accident.
This device is only variant of old idea. To imitate some activity like running radio or switching lights on and off in random.
Does anyone know what movie it is trying to imitate? :-)

FakeTV MfrJune 12, 2008 8:16 AM

(This is from the lead engineer on the project)
We have no research to show a statistical drop in burglaries when a TV is on-- but subjectively, the effect of a TV on really triggers your subconscious cues that "somebody is home." Try this with your own TV!

LOL-- What movie we used? More than any other: "The Incredibles." We gathered data from a wide variety of TV sources, including movies, news, sports, game-shows, etc. Each had its own statistical characteristics. We made sure the FakeTV would in turn emulate each of these for periods of time. This includes relatitively static periods, and relatively dark periods, even though these make the effect less noticable. We did not want any possible cues for a burglar to look for. In the end, we set it for "on the bright, dynamic, and colorful end of what is realistic." And that, by the way, is about like the movie "The Incredibles"

We are new to the security market and we did a lot of reading in this site to get some idea of what really works.

PeterJune 12, 2008 10:51 AM

I don't own a TV. Nor am I interested in purchasing another. For one thing, I find that it consumes far too much of my time that I'd rather spend reading and writing software for sale.

dpawtowsJune 12, 2008 4:03 PM

With a real TV, I suppose one does run the risk of the signal failing, which will cause the TV to display static. If a thief sees the B&W flicker of static running thru a window, that's a fairly good indication that there *isn't* anybody home, as a real person would have turned it off.
The level of risk would depend on the reliability of your TV signal.

partdavidJune 12, 2008 4:53 PM

You can't lose a grand down the back of the telly while you're off pulling wif your mates.

BillJune 13, 2008 7:05 AM

Throw stones at the window.

If nobody responds, break in (possibly via the same window you just shattered by accident) and steal the portable and pretty glowing orb.

NTJune 16, 2008 2:08 PM

Additional reason: my TV is basically in a windowless bunker. If I leave it on, nobody will see it flickering. I'd put the fake TV in a room with windows, where I don't *want* a real TV.

scottJuly 4, 2008 10:05 AM

faketv is a cracking little device. easy to set up and no expense at all to run. People are overlooking the fact that it's an inexpensive and a timer run way of making it look like someone is up and watching tv. So it's added protection against the chance of being burgled. you can now buy it in the Uk i think, from www.faketv.co.uk

jamesJuly 25, 2008 11:53 AM

thanks for the advice scott. just ordered from www.faketv.co.uk.

i will get it in august. cheers :)

FakeTV MfrOctober 3, 2008 9:50 AM

Just in case anyone is interested, QVC.com has these for $29.42, until they run out of stock. (They are taking a really skinny markup on this.)

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