CCTV Test: VMS GUIs and user friendliness
VMS (video management system) software has become increasingly important for installers and integrators looking to deliver advanced and bespoke solutions. Whether looking at a standalone system with a few cameras or a multi-site campus-type application, a VMS-based system can inevitably deliver benefits. Here Benchmark looks at options from ACT, Avigilon, CCTV Direct and Milestone Systems, and considers how well the VMS GUIs fit with end user expectations.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he impact of VMS on the video surveillance market has been significant. Even for those who have never used a VMS, the software and its flexibility has shifted user expectations of what a surveillance system has been capable of.
For the end user, the attraction of a VMS-based system does not lie in the clever connectivity implemented by the code writers or in the tools that installers and integrators can use to build complex solutions with ease. It is much simpler than that. It lies in a solution which works for them.
A VMS-based system doesn’t only work for them when a crime occurs, or an incident needs to be handled. A VMS-based system can work for them every day, securing their site but also enhancing site management and business operations by delivering a number of value-added benefits.
If the system offers real benefits and makes those benefits accessible, they are happy. Accessibility is very important. Operators must be able to get the best out of a VMS solution. While in the past end users might have called an installer or integrator back to make system adjustments, today’s tech-savvy audience will expect to make changes themselves.
It’s important not to view such demands with negativity. Customers who want to take control are exactly the type of end users who will actively engage with a VMS, and who will seek to enhance and upgrade their solutions to add an increasing number of benefits.
This means that the GUI is a very important element, both in terms of allowing the user to access the security on offer, but also to drive the added value and benefits that the customer expects.
Meeting end user’s expectations is key to the prolonged success of a VMS-based solution.
ACT ACTViquest Pro
ACTViquest from ACT has been around for a few years now, and ACTViquest Pro is the standalone software version of the VMS. It offers unlimited support (restricted solely by licenses and the capabilities of the server it is installed on). The focus of the manufacturer has previously been on Viquest and Viquest+, both of which are supplied as embedded hardware solutions.
The ACTViquest Pro suite of software is supplied as a single executable installer file. This handles installation of ACTViquest Pro, Archive Player and Recorder. It also installs a number of other Viquest elements and tools. The process will detect whether or not appropriate versions of Microsoft .NET framework and Microsoft Visual Studio are running on the server, and will install these if necessary. It also installs the SQL database and makes some config changes. These include opening necessary firewall ports and registering extensions with the browser.
The process appears to be straightforward, but there is one slight issue which the manufacturer is now aware of and should therefore be taking remedial action. If the server being used does not include the Microsoft .NET framework, the installer will load this. Once all software elements are loaded, it prompts for a system restart to allow the initialisation of the .NET element.
This is typical, and you even receive a prompt from the ACTViquest installer to do this. However, the restart seems to kill the final part of the installation process which is where the Watchdog – a vital piece of the software – is loaded and the recording servers are set. More about this later.
Our test copy was supplied with a PDF outlining the licensing process, but there wasn’t a manual or any indication of how to locate one. A quick check of the ACT website did find reference to server-based editions of Viquest but not the Pro software-only variant. The software does have a Help section which includes a manual. However, this is for the Viquest and Viquest+ embedded server variants rather than the software-only version.
Whilst there are similarities in operation, the embedded versions are pre-installed so there’s no need for installation, troubleshooting or setting up recording servers. The other issue with the internal Help files are that if you want to know the default login information, you have to be logged in to see it, which will frustrate installers and integrators.
The licensing process varies across various manufacturers’ VMS offerings, and ranges from the simple (a licence file is provided at the time of purchase) through to the more time consuming (licences need to be created for each specific application). ACT uses a licence manager utility. This is separate from the actual program and is installed in a Tools folder in the main Viquest program folder. This is used to scan information about the server which will be used for the installation. The generated text information then needs to be emailed to ACT, who will then generate a licence and email it back.
The process isn’t an automated one via the web page, which would allow instant results. Instead there could be a delay awaiting a response, which is frustrating if you’re sitting in front of a blank screen with an end user breathing down your neck!
We used the licence request as an opportunity to chase for some type of documentation and were sent a Help file in a .chm format. This turned out to be a copy of the internal file, which doesn’t cover the Pro version. However, it did allow us to access the login details!
With the licence applied, Viquest Pro was started. With log-in completed, the first task is to configure the network settings, which is straightforward. Next comes the task of adding the cameras. Viquest has a camera discovery wizard, and as all the cameras used were supported we expected this to be straightforward. However, only two of our cameras were automatically detected.
There is an option to manually add devices, so we used this for the first of the undetected cameras. A specific search resulted in no detection. We noted that with full details added the ‘Add’ button became active, so with the device added we tried to connect, only to receive an error message. Viquest does include IP utilities from many of the major manufacturers. Accessing these found the missing cameras immediately, but Viquest still refused to detect them or to allow them to be added.
We did note that the cameras in question did not have default passwords. Even with their correct passwords entered, Viquest did not detect them. While the menu to manually add devices didn’t work, the same screen also has a custom parameter option which includes entries for username and password. Entering the settings as a parameter change in this menu finally enabled Viquest to find the missing cameras.
It is something of a nonsense that manually entering the correct information for any given device leads to an error, but changing a parameter string in a general search will allow it to be found. As an increasing number of camera manufacturers force the replacement of default passwords on first connection, this approach will frustrate installers and integrators who don’t use blanket passwords across all devices. Indeed, Viquest is almost pushing users towards the very thing the camera manufacturers are trying to prevent.
As an aside, when using the custom parameters, you need to find and finalise the connection to each individual device with a custom password, as any additional search will remove already found cameras unless the addition process has been completed. This does need to be sorted out.
Once the cameras are added the manual states all will automatically record continuously. Of course, the manual is for the server version which has on board storage. Our software version didn’t have any recording servers active so no streams were being recorded. A search of the menus commenced, but there was no sign of any option to add recording servers. There are status screens and the Recorder software didn’t give any option to add.
At this point we emailed ACT support to try and get hold of a manual for the Pro version of the software to try and solve the issue, but were informed that it wasn’t yet complete.
In the end we resorted to a call to the support team. This highlighted that there had been an error in the installation, which was identified as the previously mentioned issue with the .NET framework forcing a restart. ACT is addressing this issue.
The workaround was to allow the server to restart before manually running the Viquest Watchdog, which then allows the installation cycle to complete. It’s hard to say whether the problem could have been diagnosed by an installer or integrator who had a copy of the correct manual, but it certainly would have made the process of identifying there was a problem somewhat quicker.
It is fair to say that ACT’s support team did work efficiently and stated that the issues found by Benchmark would be addressed. We’d advise those interested in the software-only version of Viquest to wait for these changes and the release of the full manual.
Camera attributes, such as motion detection and any analytics that are licensed, are configured via a contextual menu on each individual device. For the standard motion events, this is quite straightforward. Testing it requires checking the Event Log. Typically you’d expect this to form a separate screen, but instead the Event icon needs to be dragged to a display pane. This is the same with Maps. It pays to know this when deciding on screen layouts.
It may be a different approach to many VMS GUIs, but in its defence it does allow for a more fluid operating environment, and while some installers and integrators may find it different, our tame users were at home with the interface.
It’s similar when reviewing footage via the Archive Player. This will search for streams on all recording servers and will then display a list of devices. These need to be dragged to a display pane for viewing and navigation.
Establishing Alarm Rules also takes a different approach. The process involves finding an event to use as a trigger in the Event Log and then transferring the information about it into an alarm event description. When compared to the Boolean-logic based events management engines of some other VMS solutions, it does lack a degree of flexibility. However, in simpler applications it offers additional options over and above those typically associated with an NVR.
Comparing Viquest with an NVR makes a lot of sense, because the focus with the software has generally been on embedded appliances rather than a standalone software product. With Viquest Pro the package moves into a different market which is not only more competitive, but also firmly focussed on the delivery of easy-to-access flexibility.
For many, the driver to selecting ACTViquest will be its compatibility with ACTenterprise, the company’s access control software. This allows functionality to be enhanced, but this aspect of its performance was beyond the scope of this test.
The GUI is not as intuitive as some others during set up, but for operational purposes it makes a lot more sense. The drag and drop element does allow screen real-estate to be maximised, and whilst functionality might be more akin to an embedded appliance, it does hang together well.
Performance is stable, and putting the installation niggles to one side, the operation of the VMS was as expected. There were no crashes, freezes or unexpected behaviour from the software.
Avigilon ACC Enterprise
Avigilon’s ACC VMS has been around for a fair while, and is currently in its fifth generation release. ACC – Avigilon Control Center – is available in three versions. Enterprise is the fully functioned variant and can support unlimited cameras and servers (dependent upon hardware specifications and licensing).
ACC is supplied as a Server and Client set-up; each has a dedicated installer utility. These can be downloaded from Avigilon’s website, along with the relevant documentation. When installing the Server software, before the process begins the utility lists additional software that it will install. Given the number of installers and integrators who are finding end users asking exactly what software is being added to servers, this is a good thing.
The Server installation is swift and simple, and once complete you are prompted to activate the licence. Avigilon gives a 30 day trial licence with products, and this can either be activated on-line, or via an upload service if the system is not internet-connected. Because the system uses an on-line portal the license issue is immediate. With this applied, the VMS prompts to select the recording archive location, and the install is complete.
The system will automatically ensure that the server service is running, and will then prompt to install the Client. Again, this is straightforward, with a notification of additional required elements. With our installation using a clean machine, the Server required the addition of the Microsoft .NET framework, and the Client required Microsoft DirectX.
ACC uses the Client to set up and manage the Server. Indeed, the settings for the Server element are pretty much configured at first and then left alone. Some will prefer working from a single interface. The first task is to add cameras, and when we called up the relevant page it had already discovered all of our devices, albeit as ONVIF units. The next job was to connect them to the Server.
Selecting a device and clicking the Connect button resulted in a log-in box for the cameras which did not have default settings. With the relevant details entered, this was rejected with a message that the log-in credentials were incorrect. For the devices with default log-ins, a failure message simply stated that there had been a communications error.
A quick check of the on-line documentation did state that where cameras were not Avigilon models the best option was to connect to them as ONVIF devices, so we persisted with no joy. Switching to manual connection and using the manufacturer details also didn’t help. Rebooting the server, and switching the service off and restarting made no difference, and in the end we opted for a full reinstall of the software, which was thankfully quick.
Attempting to connect the cameras to the server resulted in the same issue. All were discovered by the software but communications were failing. Rejecting ONVIF connections and concentrating on the manufacturer details, we eventually saw one camera appear twice in the list, the second time with a different designation. This could then be added. We repeated the process with the others, and while we eventually got all added, the progress was slow. At times the error messages would appear, and simply retrying would see them added. On a few occasions the process would simply freeze, and we also saw some errors relating to no Server available.
We accept that ONVIF designations can be a touch flaky, predominantly because that’s the nature of ONVIF when all is said and done. However, the fact that we experienced some random errors and different behaviours on the same devices does indicate that there is some instability in the camera registration process. However, with a bit of patience we got there in the end.
It has already been noted that ACC uses the Client as both the installer/integrator interface as well as for operational purposes. Typically, VMS solutions use a Server management utility for main system configurations, and whilst these tools can look a bit basic and industrial, they do present all of the relevant settings in one place.
Whilst not pretty, they can be very functional. However, with ACC the set-up screens are a little more aesthetic, and some of the test team felt that the bias towards end user operation did make the system config feel a little disconnected at times. In truth, it’s very much a case of personal preference.
Setting up alarms is simple, and uses drop-down menus and check boxes to simplify the process. Trigger sources can be selected as motion, analytics, input trigger, ANPR or POS event, camera error, system error or an external software event. Once the source type and device are selected for available options, other cameras can be selected to be linked with the event. Users (either individuals or user groups) can then be selected as recipients of alarm information, and actions can be set for events, such as requiring an operator acknowledgement or switching an output on acknowledgement. Finally, the event is named and if required added to a schedule. External notifications are also simple to establish, using a very straightforward menu structure.
However, it is when the various elements of the VMS are pulled together via the Rules engine that the real flexibility of ACC becomes obvious. The creation of Rules allows flexible scenarios to be created, handling a wide range of security tasks along with system management and other site-based functions. Combinations of triggers and actions can be deployed to ensure a range of site requirements are catered for, and accessing these is simple due to the interface design.
The actual Rules menu is interactive. For example, when a rule is created, the first part requires selection of an event that triggers the Rule itself. There are a huge variety of options, grouped as server events, device events, user events, alarm events, POS events and ANPR events. If, for example, you wanted motion to trigger a Rule, you simply expand the Device Events list and select either Motion Started or Motion Stopped, depending upon what the Rule is intended to do. Multiple events can be selected to create a Boolean relationship.
Selecting ‘Motion Started’ then creates a dialogue reading, ‘When motion is detected on any camera’; the ‘any camera’ part is a clickable link which allows the statement to be customised for individual or multiple cameras, rather than all. This delivers a fast and effective way to create complex Rules without any need for coding, writing macros or creating specialised command strings. If you can click a menu and tick a few boxes, you can build layered scenarios with very little effort.
With a Rule trigger selected, the next screen allows actions to be created. Again, the actions are very diverse and include user notifications, monitoring actions, device actions, PTZ actions and alarm actions. Multiple actions can be selected, allowing a layered approach to be connected. As with the events, specific actions are simple to tailor via clickable links, thus enabling a bespoke response to be created for any alarm. A configuration can also allow the Rule to run only when a selected input is active or inactive, if required. In effect, this allows double knock scenarios to be created without any need for hardware-based configurations. Finally Rules are named and scheduled, and a simple tick-box will enable the Rule for operational use.
When configured, ACC is stable and consistent. It is a tad heavier on system resources compared to some other VMS solutions, but nothing to the point of impacting on performance and video delivery. The GUI is biased more towards the end user than the installer or integrator, but once you are familiar with the interface you’ll probably find that the various configurations are very easy to access.
The GUI was liked by our tame end users, who found it intuitive and easy to navigate. In an operational sense, all were able to perform day-to-day tasks without any issues, prior to being given an introduction to the system.
Interestingly, while a few of the test team did state a preference for system configurations via a server management tool, all liked the ease with which alarm events and Rules could be created.
CCTV Direct Macroscop Ultra
Macroscop Ultra is a software-based VMS available via CCTV Direct. The software is claimed to support up to 1,000 IP cameras, and systems can include up to 10 workstations and 5 servers. The VMS can be installed as either a Client and Server arrangement or as a standalone package. The options are available for both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems.
Macroscop is supplied as a .zip file containing a single installation executable file, as well as documentation. There is an Admin Guide, a Quick Start and a Manual; only the manual is available in English. The other documents are Russian language only. The manual is pretty comprehensive, so covers a number of points which installers and integrators might need clarification about. Unfortunately, it is for the standard version of Macroscop and not Macroscop Ultra, which does have a number of differences, including license validation.
With the installer running, its initial work is installing a number of required software elements. These include the Microsoft .NET framework, DirectX elements and the Firebird database. One issue with the process is that this throws up a Windows dialogue box in Russian. This raised a few concerns, with one tester pointing out that a current contract he is involved with requires him to create an audit trail of all software installed, along with details of installation routines. He also has to take responsibility for the compatibility of all software and utilities. He added that if the end user saw a Russian dialogue box and he couldn’t explain it, the contract could well be ceased.
After the initial elements have been installed, Macroscop is added. There are a number of choices: 32 bit server and client, 64 bit server and client or standalone installation (in 32 and 64 bit versions). Simply select the required version and the installation utility will take care of the rest.
The next step is licensing. While many installers and integrators have concerns over the complexity of VMS installations, over the years Benchmark has tested most options and it’s fair to say that the majority of issues – close to 80 per cent – come from licensing problems. This is how VMS companies earn their money, so you’d think they’d have it pretty much sown up.
The model for Macroscop licensing is as follows. The installer or integrator purchases a license from their supplier (in the UK that’s CCTV Direct) and is a sent a Key ID number. To add the license to the server they need to generate a Licence Request File. This is done by entering the supplied Key ID, and the software then generates a coded file. This effectively locks the license to the server hardware. The license request file is then emailed to Macroscop (rather than the supplier) who in turn issue a license file. This is then loaded to the server.
The manual does include clear instructions on how this is done, but in Macroscop Ultra this process falls down, because there is no option to insert the Key ID. Instead the Configuration utility, which handles licenses, generated seemingly random codes which, when sent to Macroscop, resulted in email returns stating the codes were invalid.
Unfortunately, circumnavigating the process is out of CCTV Direct’s hands, so the issue had to be referred back to Macroscop who sent a license file directly. No doubt this will be addressed, but it’s worth confirming the licensing situation if specifying the system in the immediate future.
With the licence added the server configuration starts. The process is made up of six stages: cameras, servers, users and groups, object plans, views and application of settings.
The first task is to add cameras, for which there are a number of options. The first is an auto-search for attached devices. Alternatively a camera channel can be established manually, or a security object can be defined. Camera configurations can also be saved as a config file.
The automated camera discovery tool was fast and accurate. It detected all cameras connected to the system, including those which did not have default log-ins. The system correctly identified the brands and most of the models (a few were wrong, but this had no impact on the video stream). Where default log-ins were used, the system showed two streams from the device; one was high resolution and the second was lower resolution.
Streams can be adjusted with regard to format, resolution, frame rate, etc., and there’s an option to allow the VMS to use the actual camera settings. Changes can then be tested via the VMS GUI.
The cameras without default log-ins were still registered by the system, and the passwords could be changed. After this and any other tweaks, the Test button changed the configuration and the camera streams could be viewed.
Cameras can have individually defined archiving settings, video motion and analytics, scheduled tasks and scenarios. There is also an option to set Cloud broadcast if required.
With the cameras configured, Objects can then be created. Security ‘objects’ are effectively sub-systems. For example, a site might have an object for its approach road, another for a car park, and another for its buildings.
Objects can contain other objects, such as a building object could have external and internal objects. Objects are more than simple classifications for cameras. Each object can have configurations applied, such as stream formats, archiving settings, motion detection and analytics, scheduled tasks and scenarios.
Both cameras and security objects can employ scenarios. These are essentially responses to trigger events. There are a number of options which include – but are not limited to – motion, audio detection, face detection, input from a camera, user-specified alarm, external event, call from an entry phone, tampering, moving objects and even crowds in a viewed scene, plus a whole host of others. Actions (including multiple actions) can be applied to these. These might affect recording, push notifications, alarm generation or notification via email and/or SMS.
Scenarios offer a good degree of simple event management. They stop short of the flexibility offered by Boolean Logic-based rules engines, but for the vast majority of applications they deliver enough flexibility.
The next stage is server configuration. This allows servers to be added in multi-site configurations. It also identifies the licenses running on any given server. Multicasting configurations can be established and archiving locations set for each unit. This is also where mobile connectivity is set, along with push settings for Cloud connectivity.
Setting users and groups allows permissions to be set. This is simple as it uses check boxes for each defined right. Access to video channels by user group can also be controlled via this screen. There is provision to add a password for the Admin group as this is blank by default.
Object plans is the menu in which site maps are created. As with the other Macroscop menus, this is simple to configure and won’t be an issue for most installers and integrators. The other GUI element to be set is views. This offers a high level of customisation, with a wide variety of options ranging from a single screen right up to 262 displayed channels!
The server Configurator tool has some nice touches. For example, task automation is made simple, and this allows additional benefits to be realised from the VMS, such as business intelligence or site management tasks. Analytics set-up is simplified, and while the visuals lack some of the ‘polish’ that the higher end systems provide, everything works well and it is simple to achieve what you’re after.
Operational flexibility is often sacrificed with some of the lesser known brands in the VMS market, but that certainly isn’t the case with Macroscop. It’s true that there are some functions that the very high end packages boast which are missing, but in truth apart from a few specialised applications, they won’t be missed.
The final step is to apply the settings. This automatically reboots the Macroscop service and the server restarts within ten seconds in an operational mode. What Macroscop manages to do is allow a good level of customisation and flexibility in a simple-to-use package. Whilst the Configurator GUI isn’t the prettiest or most modern you’ll ever see, it is certainly functional and intuitive, and as the installer or integrator will be interacting with this element, that’s a good thing.
Of course, the GUI is also important for the end user, but they will be accessing the system through the Client. This presents a very clean and minimalistic interface and has a modern look that is both familiar (even if you’re seeing it for the first time) and intuitive. It has a clean look and was generally liked by our tame end users.
As each pane is selected, so the control tools for that channel become live. There is a fly-out side menu, but this does obscure parts of the viewing panes on the left hand side of the display, so won’t be used as a permanent fixture. Each screen can also deliver a contextual menu which delivers typical user functions such as bookmarking, channel changes, archive selection, etc.. While the menus themselves are minimal, there is an option to re-run the Configurator from the Client.
During the test, performance was stable and consistent. There didn’t seem to be any issues or anomalies, and the software impressed both our installer and integrator testers and the tame end users.
Milestone XProtect Corporate 2016
XProtect Corporate 2016 is the latest version of Milestone Systems’ flagship VMS product. Designed for unlimited device support in multi-server and multi-site applications, the VMS is fully functioned and supports interconnectivity will all other Milestone products.
XProtect Corporate works as a server and client model, but there is a single installer required. This includes the server software, recording server, SQL database, the client and other required elements. Just to clarify things, there are effectively two clients. The Management Client is effectively the server management utility. This is very much the preserve of the installer or integrator, and is where the system configurations are carried out. The Smart Client is the user interface, used for day-to-day operations.
When the installation utility is run, it checks the system and identifies any missing elements. In our test environment it identified the need for Microsoft .NET framework 4.5.1. Whilst the other VMS packages on the test include any essential software elements, XProtect does not. Instead it leaves you to download the files and install this yourself.
It could be argued that system software is not an issue for a VMS supplier, but Milestone is alone in taking such an attitude on this test. While finding and installing the software isn’t an issue, it is an extra drain on time, especially if the end user doesn’t allow external connectivity on the network running the security system, which can be the case. Installers and integrators in such a situation should ensure they download the offline installer rather than the utility which requires internet connectivity.
With .NET installed, the XProtect installation can commence. Milestone uses a licence file which is supplied direct, and this is loaded before installation commences. There are single server, multi-server and custom options. This relates to where the database and recording server software are installed.
The installation process is automatic, but is lengthier than the other programs in the test. During the process you are treated to a series of splash-screens with promotional messages. Given that’s there no need for installer or integrator intervention, it’s a good opportunity to put the kettle on.
Initial server configurations are carried out via the Management Client. While Milestone has upgraded the functionality and performance of XProtect Corporate in this latest guise, the interface is immediately familiar if you’ve worked with an XProtect product before.
Adding hardware is carried out via an integral wizard. This is accessed via the recording server, which will need to be authorised first. This is a one-click process and allows the wizard to run. There is an option to allow for custom log-in credentials to be added; multiple entries can be made. Our initial search found all connected cameras bar one. This was found, but showed as an incorrect log-in or password.
The password was changed as it incorporated symbols, but this didn’t have any effect. Reboots and changes didn’t persuade XProtect Corporate that the log-in was correct and in the end we put it down to one of those unexplained things. The camera was consistently detected, but the accurate log-in was continually rejected. The camera was identical to another unit in the test set-up, bar the password, and had been displayed correctly by all other VMS packages in the test!
A new addition to device management is the option to move devices. If you’ve ever had to add recording servers to a system or rearrange devices, you’ll know the slow and painful process that adjusting SQL databases can be. Now XProtect Corporate features a tool that simply and quickly moves devices between recording servers. It effectively flags the database to relocate recorded footage, but does so invisibly to the user.
Once devices are added, the VMS interface gives an option to enable or disable camera features such as microphone, speaker, inputs and outputs, etc.. Features which are enabled can be used as a part of alarms and events, and can be incorporated into Rules to implement bespoke security and site management scenarios.
XProtect Corporate’s Management Client is where the core system is configured. It’s not as ‘approachable’ as many other VMS solutions, but there is a reason for this. There is a depth of flexibility that pretty much allows systems to be created to suit exact needs, rather than a user having to adapt to the way the VMS works. Menus are more IT-centric, and whilst the GUI of the Smart Client, which is the end user interface, has a slick and polished feel, the server-based configs remind you that you’re working with a serious piece of machinery!
However, if you have used an XProtect program before, or if you spend a few hours familiarising yourself with the way it works, the reality is that the interface is very installer or integrator friendly. Where some VMS packages try to emulate the feel of security products, XProtect Corporate remains very similar to how it has always been.
Device management is simple but delivers all the elements required to create a flexible and credible system. Because of Milestone’s in-depth work on integrations, many features and functions which must be configured at the camera or device in other VMS solutions can be tweaked directly from the Management Client.
Where Corporate comes into its own in comparison to the other XProtect packages is in regards to event management and Rules. The process is simple, using radio buttons, menus and links to relevant options to allow the creation of multi-layered scenarios. These can encompass security events and actions, business intelligence, site management, transactional triggers and actions or even system events such as hardware failures, maintenance needs, etc..
Actions can be triggered by time and date or by an event. The latter can be based upon hardware, devices, external events, recording server events, the system monitor or a host of other sources. The most common type will be device events, picking up triggers from video motion, analytics, detection devices or interactions with products such as call points or door entry systems.
The type of event and its source are configured using clickable links. This enables selection of specific devices on the system. The next stage is to add conditions to the Rule. These can define a time window or period during which an event is either invalid or valid, a day of the week or a specific motion window if multiple detections are likely. Again, selection is via clickable links which ensure that details are not missed out.
With the event triggering the rule configured, the actions to be performed can be defined. These are diverse and cover any relevant options based upon the set-up of the system. The final step is to establish Stop criteria, if required. Not only is the process simple and intuitive, but it is not possible to progress if criteria are not set or are set incorrectly.
The Management Client GUI is certainly a case of being functional rather than attractive. That isn’t to say that it’s unappealing, but the difference between it and the Smart Client is night and day. There was a clear divide in opinions.
Installers and integrators like the Management Client because it put functionality and ease of configuration first. The Smart Client, on the other hand, seems to lack the ability to really take control of the system. However, the end users saw the Smart Client as a simple and unobtrusive tool that delivered the degree of interaction which they felt operators required.
In the Smart Client there are options to configure the available functionality, and the modern look gives it a fresh and clean feel. Many of the design notes have clearly come from consumer market interfaces, and those have been heavily researched to ensure that users have a degree of familiarity with the features and functions.
The performance of XProtect Corporate 2016 was solid, consistent and stable. It offers all the functionality that a solution will require, whether use in a mainstream application or a large multi-site organisation with complex needs.
ACT: ACTViquest Pro
ACTViquest Pro feels like it is at an embryonic stage in its lifecycle, as it migrates from being a tool predominantly USED for embedded appliances to a fully-fledged software-based VMS. It’s hard to judge at this moment in time, because it’s in transition. Whilst it is stable and efficient when up and running, the number of issues that we experienced during installation and set-up points to the software not being fully ready yet. That, plus the lack of a complete manual, makes it hard to recommend at this point in time.
The Viquest and Viquest+ products have become more established, and Viquest Pro adds in terms of performance and functionality. In truth the changes needed to the software aren’t major or anything that will challenging for the company; it’s not far off, and the team at ACT have a positive attitude towards delivering a stable and functional package. We’ll report back as and when the software changes are made.
Avigilon’s ACC is a well-developed VMS with a clean GUI and a depth of flexibility. The installation process is simple and fast, and the only issue we had was with regard to the VMS identifying supported devices as ONVIF units and then not recognising their log-ins. What makes this more frustrating is that when we last tested ACC over two years ago (obviously as an earlier and different version), we reported exactly the same issue. It could be argued that Avigilon will point at ONVIF and ONVIF will point elsewhere, but why should ACC users be inconvenienced?
This aside, ACC works very well, offers a high degree of simple-to-access customisation and has a GUI that was popular with our tame end users. That the VMS configurations are handled via the Client does raise some debate (see our thoughts on this), but ultimately there aren’t issues with connectivity or performance. As a result, ACC is recommended, especially in applications where bespoke functionality is required.
CCTV Direct: Macroscop Ultra
Macroscop Ultra, available from CCTV Direct in the UK, is still in its infancy, as made obvious by the software’s 1.0.15 designation. The licensing issue is bound to be fixed quickly, as it’s how the manufacturer makes their money! Again, an appropriate manual would be beneficial.
The VMS manages something that a lot strive for but often miss: it offers a high degree of flexibility and advanced operations in a simple-to-use package. The GUI for the installer is functional and well laid out, while the end user gets a clean and sleek display which offers intuitive operation.
It doesn’t have the depth of flexibility that some of the other packages offer with regard to creation of truly bespoke solutions. However, in the majority of applications it delivers more than enough in terms of customisation. For mainstream surveillance and management needs, it has to be recommended and is worth a closer look.
Milestone Systems: XProtect Corporate 2016
XProtect Corporate 2016 is the latest incarnation of Milestone’s flagship VMS, and it adds some interesting new elements such as the ability to move devices within the system, a system monitor that allows performance issues to trigger alarms, hardware-based encoding to deliver fluid 4K streaming and push notifications.
However, the depth of functionality which the VMS is based on remains accessible, and flexible edge recording support enables more design freedom to address specific needs. The GUIs were liked by end users and installers alike, and ease of configuration and operation remains key. Because of this, XProtect Corporate 2016 is recommended for sites needing an advanced level of protection, or for applications where a bespoke solution is required.