CCTV Test: Networked PTZ Cameras (Part 1)
The growth in networked video solutions has seen the PTZ dome camera slip from its position of being a ‘must have’ item in many applications. Some installers and integrators still think that latency makes it difficult to track targets with the devices. Others have succumbed to the marketing message that higher resolution and 360 degree cameras have made the devices obsolete. Benchmark looks at some of the leading options to assess mechanical and optical performance. The first part of the test includes cameras from Axis Communications, Panasonic and Tyco Security Products.
PTZ cameras have, for many years, delivered a valuable and credible tool for those seeking to deliver the protection of people and property. The cameras offer a wide range of benefits, and over the years performance has continued to increase as research and development pushes the boundaries. Today’s PTZ cameras offer high performance and are often supplemented by smart technologies.
Despite this, the PTZ has received some negative press in recent years. When IP cameras first arrived in their numbers, PTZ devices were obvious by their absence. Issues with smooth control were hampered by latency, and despite many manufacturers having networked PTZ cameras, few wanted to push them. In the early days Benchmark tested a fair few, and all were haphazard when it came to control over IP.
As manufacturers started to get things right, the surveillance sector also saw higher resolution models with digital PTZ and 360 degree cameras emerging as viable options when designing a system. While traditional PTZ domes were still widely used, they weren’t considered ‘exciting’ by those who wanted to drive development.
The reality is that PTZ enabled dome cameras still make a lot of sense. There are certain things they won’t do; if na camera is pointing in the wrong direction, an incident could certainly be missed. However, that’s a given due to the nature of the device, and to worry about that is to miss out on the manifold benefits that these cameras offer.
Axis: AXIS Q6155-E
The AXIS Q6155-E is an HD1080p fully functioned dome camera from Axis Communications. It features a 30x optical zoom, 360 degree endless pan and a tilt range of 110 degrees. This latter figure includes the ability to view up to 20 degrees above the camera horizon.
The camera includes Axis’ Lightfinder technology which delivers colour images in low-light conditions. It also includes Axis’ Zipstream dynamic encoding technology to reduce bandwidth and storage needs.
The day/night enabled dome features a 1/2.8 inch sensor and delivers a quoted sensitivity of 0.2 lux for a 50IRE image.
Other features include laser focus technology that measures the distance between the camera and an object of interest. This allows the camera to focus with greater accuracy.
The dome also includes the Axis Quick Dry technology, whereby the camera vibrates to shake off any moisture, leading to faster drying times when used in poor weather conditions.
The camera supports use with PoE+, and the camera is supplied with an Axis single channel PoE+ midspan. The camera can also be used with other standards-compliant midspans.
Axis has always had a straightforward and reliable installation utility which makes configuration a straightforward and intuitive process. You no longer get this on a CD; instead it must de downloaded. Ours found the unit immediately.
The initial log-in requires the setting of a password, and once logged in you are prompted to load Axis Media Control for set-up purposes. You will also need to load a decoder if you want to preview a H.264 stream. The process is straightforward but there were a few times when you patience is tested as nothing seems to happen. As you get the temptation to try hurrying it along it seems to finally come to life!
First, let’s consider mechanical performance. Unless you are using a controller or a dedicated security keyboard, the dome can be manually controlled via a set of slider-based tools under the video image or via the image using a mouse. Control is smooth and intuitive, and you’ll be used to the speed and required dexterity in next to no time.
The other option is to opt for presets. These are quick and simple to establish, and where bandwidth is a concern a freezeframe function can be used to minimise impact during positioning. Obviously, this is unlikely to be used if manual control is the objective.
The various configurations relating to mechanical control are all as expected and Axis has done a very good job of making the process simple. While the installer and integrator will inevitably set up the initial presets, it’s also important that the user can add or change these as required, and the interface makes certain this can be achieved with little fuss.
One mechanical feature worth mentioning is the quick-dry function. A single click sees the camera vibrate vigorously for around 10 seconds, shaking off any water as it does so. It is a touch gimmicky, but it works. Given that the dome cover is spherical you’re never going to have an effective wiper.
On a less gimmicky note, the camera uses a laser-based function to enhance the auto-focus. In our test the image was pin-sharp, and achieved this very quickly.
Image quality is very good. Detail is high, colour fidelity is very accurate and motion is smooth. We didn’t detect any dropped frames or streaming issues, and variable conditions didn’t impact on the overall quality.
The AXIS Q6155-E includes a number of the proprietary Axis technologies such as Lightfinder and Zipstream. These work well and add benefits for the installer and integrator, as well as the end user.
The WV-SC588E from Panasonic is an HD1080p fully functioned dome camera. The camera features a 30x optical zoom, although this can be extended to 90x if the camera is used at VGA resolution. It also delivers 360 degree endless pan and a tilt range of 115 degrees.
The camera utilises a 1/3 inch MOS sensor, and has a quoted sensitivity figure of 0.15 lux; no video signal level is given for the figure.
Features include Super Dynamic and Adaptive Black Stretch to deal with challenging environments. The Panasonic VIQS (variable image quality on specified sector) function is also supported, allowing installers and integrators to adjust bitrate for various regions in the image.
Other features include advanced auto-tracking, motion detection and fog compensation.
Our test camera had been lifted from a demo suite, and as such was supplied without any documentation or utilities. These can be downloaded easily from the Panasonic website. Initial configuration makes use of an EasyIP utility. This discovers the device on the network and allows the IP address to be set. The utility works well and found our unit immediately.
On power up the device prompts to download a viewer, which we set in motion. There was then a prolonged delay while nothing happened. This had us checking the manual to see if the viewer needed to be loaded from a CD, but eventually the process commenced. There were no issues loading the various elements aside from the fact that it was slow with no indication that anything was happening to the point where we were about to reboot everything! Be patient, and it will get there in the end.
The Panasonic menu system is best described as old school. There’s not a lot wrong with it, but it lacks the more sleek look and feel of some newer options. That said, everything is where you’d expect it to be and set-up is straightforward. In some menus there is a lot of scrolling, however.
If a controller or dedicated surveillance keyboard are not being used, mechanical control can be taken via a small scrollpad beneath the image. This is either activated by mouse movements or a set of buttons can be used.
The alternative is to click within the image. Whilst many cameras are controlled by a mouse movement in the direction you wish the camera to move, with the length of the stroke dictating the speed and distance, on the Panasonic camera this draws a zoom box.
The trackpad works well and would be a preferred choice for most installers and integrators. However, the buttons move the camera in increments and this is a bit clunky. Holding down the button does not create continual motion, so these are best used for finer adjustments.
Creating presets is a simple task and building these into useful patterns is also straightforward. The only anomaly is that the ‘Set’ button appears after a preset has been named, but before other configurations have been applied, such as video controls and the actual camera position. That said, once you find a few that haven’t been applied you won’t make the same mistake twice.
Auto-tracking is a function that is generally a bit hit-and-miss on many PTZ cameras, but the Panasonic implementation of the technology works well. Even if you are aware of its operation and try to take evasive action, the camera does a good job of tracking targets if the scene is not busy.
If there was a slight quibble it would be that the autofocus function is a tad slow, but that might actually be because the Axis camera’s laser-based focus moved the bar.
With regard to optical quality, Panasonic offers a wide range of proprietary technologies which enhance performance in a very wide range of conditions. It is worth remembering that at times, less is more. It’s difficult to find a situation that the camera can’t cope with.
Detail was high, colour fidelity was spot-on and low light performance was very good indeed.
The IPP02P6ANBTT from Tyco Security Products is an HD1080p fully functioned dome camera. It is part of the company’s Illustra brand of devices. The camera features a 30x optical zoom, 360 degree endless pan and a tilt range of 105 degrees.
The camera uses a 1/2.8 inch CMOS sensor and delivers a quoted sensitivity of 0.2 lux with AGC on and a shutter speed of 1/8 second.
Features include an intelligent guard tour function, integral motion tracking and enhanced low light performance.
Other features include an edge-based version of Tyco’s exacqVision VMS, true WDR, auto defogging and frame-based noise reduction.
Supporting H.264 and M-JPEG, Tyco claims that the camera delivers efficient bandwidth use, thus reducing requirements for transmission and storage.
Initial network configuration of the camera is achieved using the Illustra Connect utility, which is supplied on a CD. This utility is a bit like typical IP configuration utilities, but on steroids. Some might view it as taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but a more forward-thinking view is that it enables far more flexibility with regard to initial camera set-up.
The only installation issue was that on first login we were prompted to change password, which we did. However, subsequent logins showed that this had failed and the unit had reverted to the default authentication details.
If mechanical operation is not managed via a system controller or dedicated CCTV keyboard, it can be controlled either via a virtual keypad on-screen or through mouse interaction with the image. The latter is both smooth and consistent, and it doesn’t take long to get a feel for the interface. Motion is smooth and controllable, and latency is not an issue at all.
Configuring presets is also straightforward, and the process is relatively simple, as is the creation of patterns. If using presets there is an option for freeze frame to stop bandwidth spikes when the camera is active.
The camera also includes ‘Apple Peel’ patterns as default. These pan the camera a full 360 degrees, then tilt and repan and continue to do so until the entire field of view is covered. There are two such patterns; one can be edited and the other is locked and cannot be edited or deleted. While uses for the locked one will be limited, the editable version can save some time if you want an initial pattern with wide area coverage.
The camera also features Motion Tracking. This works well enough in scenes without a high level of activity. It’s there is you want it, but as with many of the cameras on test it’s not a must-have function in the majority of applications.
With regard to optical quality, the Tyco camera delivers a good quality image with high levels of detail, good colour fidelity and greyscale replication and motion is smooth and clean. Unlike a growing number of cameras, it doesn’t boast a raft of proprietary features for image enhancement. However, image quality is good, showing that the depth of flexibility on offer has been well implemented.
The camera does have one feature which Tyco Security Products is working towards, and that’s the inclusion of exacqVision Edge. This is essentially an embedded version of the exacqVision VMS on the camera. This allows connectivity and control of devices without a server running the full VMS. Instead the software resides on the camera and archiving to carried out via an integral SD card.
This solution is ideal for smaller applications and is claimed to deliver the same functionality as a full VMS solution; we cannot comment on this as the edge version of the VMS was beyond the scope of this Benchmark test.
Axis Communications: AXIS Q6155-E
The AXIS Q6155-E is a good performer with much to please installers and integrators. It’s performance is very good, the unit is aesthetically pleasing and the on-board features and functions add to the potential on offer.
Installation is simple and straightforward, the menus are intuitive and easy to configure and the functionality is simple to access. Setting up presets is both quick and easy, and tweaking the PTZ settings will be well within the skill-set of most operators.
Image quality is high and the various processing functions are well implemented. It is possible to mess up the image quality but you have to take a very ham-fisted approach to do so. The proprietary features also work well and add benefits.
The two new functions on the camera also work well. The laser-enabled auto-focus is quick and accurate and adds to the impression of very high image quality, and the speed dry function, whilst a little gimmicky, does a job that others have struggled to resolve. As such, the camera is highly recommended.
The WV-SC588E from Panasonic is a decent PTZ-enabled network camera. Like the majority of Panasonic devices, it features a wide range of proprietary technologies that deliver performance enhancements which are beneficial for installers and integrators. With regard to use in difficult and challenging lighting conditions, it works very well.
With regards to mechanical operation, control is simple and smooth, and response times are very good. The virtual trackpad works well and while the buttons are a little ‘clunky’, they’re okay for final adjustments.
If there was a downside to the Panasonic camera, it’s simply that other competitive cameras have upped their game, and when considered side by side it does make the WV-SC588E seem a little long in the tooth. This doesn’t mean that the camera lags significantly behind some of the models on test. It’s a more a case of the others starting to edge ahead in terms of features and functions.
That said, the camera has to be recommended, because it is still a very useful device and provides all that most applications will require.
The IPP02P6ANBTT from Tyco Security Products is a good performer, and its features and functions provide everything required for the vast majority of mainstream surveillance applications. There is not a lot wrong with the camera – the only issue we spotted was the slight anomaly with the password, although this could be corrected manually once the camera was up and running.
Mechanical operation is good, and there were no issues related to latency. Camera control was smooth at all times, and it doesn’t take long at all to become accustomed to the interface. Creating presets and patterns is also quick and easy, allowing installers and integrators to have the unit up and running in a very short time.
Video performance is good and the various settings are well implemented and allow the video stream to be optimised for a wide range of conditions.
As we’ve said, the camera is a good performer, but for many the differentiator will be the inclusion of the exacqVision Edge VMS feature. If you’re looking for a camera which can be used as a part of an edge-based solution with distributed archiving, then the IPP02P6ANBTT will fit the bill, and for this reason it has to be recommended.