Access Test: Paxton Net2 Entry

Whilst access control systems can increasingly add a wide range of benefits above and beyond controlling the flow of traffic through a portal, random callers and visitors still need to accommodated. One of the most cost-effective ways of doing this is via a door entry system. Today the convenience and added security of a video door entry system makes it the usual choice. Paxton has recognised this with Net2 Entry, a video door entry solution using the company’s Net2 platform. Benchmark took a closer look to see if it offers the simplicity that Paxton promises. 

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ong before the video surveillance market embraced networking and PC-based management, the access control sector had realised the opportunities that such an approach delivered. For many it wasn’t a choice so much as a requirement. Driven by the need to maintain user databases and to integrate with other systems such as HR and Time and Attendance, the access market was almost split into two camps.

The high end of the market used various networking technologies, and based its systems upon SQL databases. The lower end used other less efficient methods, thus allowing installers with little IT know-how to offer a basic form of door control.

Today the security sector is very different. Installers and integrators who understand the direction the professional industry is heading in have increased their IT skills. Equally, manufacturers have ensured that interoperability and connectivity are simpler. A nod should also go to Microsoft who have made SQL a more manageable beast!

The changes have seen the rise of modular access control systems, which are scalable and offer options to cope with a wide variety of applications and differing end user needs.  One of these is the Net2 platform from Paxton. This offers modular access control, wireless locking and video door entry. The latter comes in the form of the Net2 Entry system.

Specification
The Net2 Entry system is made up of three elements. At the heart of the system is a Net2 Plus control unit. This is complemented by a Net2 monitor for the user interface, and a Net2 external panel. The latter is available in two variants. There is a standard model and a vandal-resistant version manufactured from 316 marine grade stainless steel.

The Net2 Plus control unit can be used for a number of access control configurations. However, when used with the Net2 Entry basic set-up it allows simple RJ45 connections to be made to the peripheral units. The unit includes an integral four-port PoE switch used for connections to the other devices. It can also allow network connection where Net2 Entry is being integrated into a full Net2 system. The control unit is tamper protected, and supports a back-up battery.

The Net2 monitor is an internal unit which has a basic but aesthetically pleasing appearance. The monitor uses touch-screen control, which ticks boxes for many customers in this smartphone/tablet focused world! The monitor can be used in hands-free mode, or a handset can be utilised for privacy. Connectivity is via a direct IP link with the control unit, and the unit is powered via PoE. Video voicemail is also included. An on-board Help function aids users.

The standard Net2 Panel includes the video and audio elements, plus a keypad and RFID reader which can be deployed if the system is integrated with a Net2 access solution. The unit is SIP compatible to allow integration with appropriate telephony systems.

The camera element is billed as a ‘low light’ camera. There are no specifications. The camera uses what are claimed to be white light LEDs for additional illumination – more about those later. The standard panel is rated to IP55, and connection is via IP with power via PoE.

As mentioned, the vandal resistant panel is constructed from stainless steel and boasts an IK09 rating for impact resistance.

Configuration
One of the listed features for the Net2 Entry system is no need for complicated wiring diagrams. Whilst the elements of Net2 Entry are available individually to allow for integrations, it is also supplied as a kit; this was the format we received it in! Each element has separate documentation, but the only system diagram is a large basic drawing on the inside of the lid of the box.

This shows an RJ45 connection from the control unit to the monitor, and another to the panel. Add power to the control unit, and that’s it.

Wiring the units is simple. There is a choice of using RJ45 terminations, or Cat 5/6 can be used with standard push-down connections. The wiring colours are identified. If you opt for the latter a short RJ45 flylead is required; these are included.

Aside from mounting the units, the only other installation task (when using the Net2 Entry as a standalone door entry system) is to connect the lock relay and any other door devices. These connections are made via the Net2 Plus module in the control unit. The connections are clearly marked and are easy to access.

Once installed and powered up, the system searches for the attached elements and initialises itself. The monitor requests that a language is selected. The panel should also request a language and an engineer code, but our went straight into operational mode. When we tried to access the Engineer menu, which includes a sequence that starts with pressing the star key, followed by the code, and then ends with pressing the bell button, the unit simply contacted the monitor. There was no information other than the button sequence in the guide, nor could we find anything on-line. A call to Paxton resulted in an instruction that we should use the Engineer Code reset inside the panel.

We did this, entered a new code and went straight into the Engineer Menu. However, it was a one-time thing, and the same issue occurred when we tried to log in again. As we needed to adjust certain settings as we went along, this meant that every time we wanted to access the Menu, we were forced to remove the panel from its mounting to access the reset button.

This was frustrating because many of the settings need to be adjusted to suit the environment and the user’s needs. The Engineer Menu sets voice and ring volumes, call timeout, operation and viewing modes, video quality, backlighting and language settings.

The monitor is controlled via the touchscreen, and is simpler to use. The only installer setting is to configure an ID for the monitor where multiple units are used. Other settings are predominantly user-controlled.
With regards to configuration, the cabling and initialisation is simple. The programming, however, erased any feeling of ease we had as we removed the panel to reset the Code for the umpteenth time! As an aside, there’s more to come regarding this later.

Performance
Before looking at the performance of the unit, we spotted something when genuine visitors used the system. The external panel has what appears to be a remnant from an alternate life! In the centre of the fascia is what looks like a call button. It now carries a metal blank with a Paxton logo on it. When approaching the unit for the first time and reading the LCD display stating ‘Press bell button to call’, the vast majority pressed the blank.

It’s fair to say that the instruction is clear, obviously added because of this issue, but it does highlight a small design issue. It’s less of an issue at night!

Sound quality is good. There is a degree of latency, but it isn’t too obvious once you’re used to the slight delay during conversations. Volumes are easily adjusted, and have enough scope to work well in environments with a fair degree of ambient noise.

The video quality is certainly good enough for identification in decent conditions. The unit is flagged as having white light illuminators, but the ones on the test unit remained off, even in conditions where it was so dark that it became impossible to identify a visitor. The Engineer Menu doesn’t have an option for controlling these. The light sensor was functional, however, as the backlighting switched on and off dependent upon the ambient light level.

Another call to Paxton created a bit of confusion. At first we were told there were no LEDs, then we were told there were. The operator asked if we were using the Configuration Utility – not mentioned in the documentation – so we downloaded that from the Paxton site. It is required to turn on the LEDs (it states white light) as they off by default.

Whilst we were on again, we asked about the Engineer Code issue. After the operator consulted with a few people he told us we needed to press the Star key twice to initiate the sequence. As this isn’t a brand new product we can’t be the first people to spot the error in the manual and on-line documentation.

We thought that we’d reached the end of the issues, but then discovered that the unit is actually fitted with infrared LEDs and a colour camera. The result is that the image quality is so poor you cannot identify visitors during hours of darkness.

Overall, the performance isn’t great, and the poor quality of the low light video was enough to make many feel the unit was unsuitable.

Verdict
It could be argued that Net2 Entry makes more sense when it’s integrated into a Net2 solution. As a standalone unit it probably wouldn’t stand up against some of the dedicated alternatives out there.

When a manufacturer decides a product is so intuitive that they only offer minimal instructions, there is always a risk that if they have got it wrong it’s the installer or integrator who is left high and dry!

The manual needs to have the errors removed, and as the Configuration Utility is essential it should be included, along with documentation.

For us, the biggest issue is the quality of the video during low light. A few end users told us they wouldn’t accept it, and for that reason it cannot be Recommended.

BENCHMARK
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