CCTV Tests: 360 Degree Cameras (Part 1)

Whilst many think that solid state 360 degree cameras are a new innovation, they’re not. The first video surveillance camera using a fish-eye lens and dewarping software covered by the Benchmark team was launched approximately 16 years ago. Admittedly it delivered monochrome images at 8fps, required a dedicated server and a single unit cost more than most mainstream systems. However, it signalled forthcoming change in the video sector. Today 360 degree cameras have become commodity items, but do they still deliver multiple benefits? 

Read Part 2 of this test

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hen Philips CSI first unveiled the E-Dome in 1999, it was a radical departure from traditional CCTV camera design. The Benchmark team was amongst the first people outside of the manufacturer to see a working demonstration, and it was clear from the start that the technology offered a high degree of benefits.

Back then, the real challenge was how to explain those benefits to installers and integrators, and indeed for engineers in turn to explain them to end users. This was because the camera changed the way that systems could be designed, installed and operated.

The simplest way to get across the potential offered by the camera was through a demonstration, but the E-Dome wasn’t the easiest camera to take to site for a proof-of-concept trial. It required a dedicated server for dewarping and image storage, and with a price that was often higher than an average mainstream system in its entirety, demo models weren’t too thick on the ground.

At exhibitions and events, the Philips CSI stand was easy to find; it generally had queues to see the E-Dome in action. Those in line included installers, integrators, end users, law enforcement agencies, consultants, specifiers and often a good number of competitors!

Whilst the E-Dome showed what was possible, it – along with the other 360 degree cameras that followed in its wake – failed to have a significant market impact. That had nothing to do with the cameras and their capabilities, but instead was due to the power (or lack of power) in computing at the time.

The cutting edge of PC technology in the late 1990s saw processing speeds of 500-600MHz, 128MB RAM, 12GB HDDs and 64MB video cards. If that sounds unimpressive, remember that to achieve such specifications required a significant investment. Average and more realistically priced machines featured 100-200MHz processing speeds, 32MB RAM and 1-4GB HDDs. Connectivity was also limited, and ISDN was the fastest (and fairly costly) widely available option.

Moore’s Law ensures that today we have more than enough processing and storage availability to run 360 degree cameras, and advanced chipsets allow the captured images to enjoy higher resolutions. The 360 degree camera has been pushed into the mainstream video surveillance market primarily because advances in computing capacity allow full use of the devices.

That said, it is important that installers and integrators consider how a 360 degree camera will be used, and what the customers’ expectations will be. There are two types of 360 degree camera: those which deploy a single image sensor – such as the models in this test – and those that use multiple image sensors. With single sensor models, typical use is to provide an overview image of a protected area.

Managing expectations for the cameras is important, because there are conflicting messages about the devices. All too often we see marketing materials making claims that a single-sensor 360 degree camera can replace numerous static or PTZ cameras in a protected space. The implication is that the 360 degree camera is a cost-saver, because it replaces numerous devices and their associated infrastructure.

Whilst such an approach might be possible in a few specific applications, in most it will result in the system not meeting an end user’s expectations. It might also mean the system cannot deliver the required and specified performance.

Experience has shown 360 degree cameras should be treated as an addition to a system, providing an overview of an area plus the ability to review footage with a variety of different and controllable views. The main objective is to ensure evidential continuity, and to allow an in-depth understanding of events.

This approach ensures that limitations with resolution and optical constraints do not restrict quality in the final image. It is worth noting that whilst many 360 degree cameras have megapixel resolutions, the total resolution encompasses the entire 360 degree field of view. When a usable region of interest is selected, the viewed resolution will only be a percentage of the total. Some cameras might further restrict resolution through the associated dewarping software.

Installers and integrators should also consider where the dewarping takes place. Some cameras will dewarp internally, which means you can only view and record selected parts of the image. Others will dewarp at the VMS or NVR, so ensure that compatibility is supported. Others transmit and record the full 360 degree image and use additional client software to dewarp.

The Benchmark test makes use of single-sensor 360 degree cameras, and considers their use as devices to supplement a larger video system with an overview of a protected area. The camera were tested in an internal area, with ambient illumination that did not fall below 20 lux.

Bosch Security: NUC-52051-FOE
The NUC-52051-FOE, or the FLEXIDOME IP panoramic 5000 MP to give it the non-coded designation, is a networked 360 degree camera. It utilises H.264 and M-JPEG compression, and delivers a 1792 x 1792 (3.2MP) pixel fish-eye stream at 15fps.

The camera makes use of client-side dewarping, and so streams the complete 360 degree view. Management of viewing is carried out via the company’s software, or third party dewarping applications may be supported.

The camera features a 1/3 inch 5 megapixel CMOS sensor and sensitivity is quoted as 0.36 lux (F2.0) for a 30IRE image. E-PTZ is supported, as are a range of viewing modes.

Other features include intelligent noise reduction, area encoding, motion detection, privacy masking, 81dB wide dynamic range and microSD-based edge recording. Power is PoE or 12V DC.

The FOE model in the test can be used in external applications. The housing is rated to IP66 and IK10. An internal model is available, which also includes an integral microphone.

The camera is physically smaller than the others in the test, and has the look of a miniaturised static dome unit. That plus the fact that it has no moving parts will certainly add to its discreet usage.

With regard to connections, the camera has a surface-mounted block on the rear of the device. This includes an RJ45 connection and a 12V DC power input. That’s it; there are no other connections which need to be made.

The camera is supplied with a back-box housing for surface mounting plus necessary fixings, a paper quick start guide, a drill template and a USB stick which includes the Bosch Video Security Client software. The USB key also includes a quick start guide for the Client, along with a spec sheet.

The quick start guide for the camera mainly covers the physical mounting of the unit. Connection to the camera is via a static address if DHCP isn’t used (typically it’s not used in security applications). There is an IP Helper utility, but it’s not included. Instead the quick start guide features a QR code and a general download link. The same approach is taken for other Bosch tools.

As stated, our camera was supplied with the Video Security Client. The quick start guide for this is very basic, and does little more than cover initial set-up and explain the various on-screen menus. In truth, the client is pretty intuitive, but a little basic in places.

For initial installation we opted to use the static address. Logging in to the camera via Internet Explorer allows the network setting to be changed, along with configuration of various camera parameters. The browser view does prompt to download a viewing codec. Whilst these are typically downloaded from the camera, which is ideal as many end users don’t like external internet connectivity on security networks, in this case the link is to an external Bosch download site. There is an alternative, which is to use a JPEG viewer, but this refreshes once every second, so it’s not great for fine tuning. Downloading the viewer also instigates the installation (or upgrade) of Microsoft Direct X.

Once logged in, the set-up menus allow camera configurations to be handled. The menus are sectionalised into General, Web Interface, Camera, Recording, Alarm, Network and Service. The General and Web Interface menus are self-explanatory, and affect basic camera and display options.

With regard to camera set-up, there are options to select frame rate (oddly, the drop-down menu has one choice: 15fps) and camera orientation. The camera can be set as ceiling or wall mounted. There is also a custom option which allows tilt, roll and elevation to be set if required.

A number of Scene Modes can be selected. These include Indoor, Outdoor, Traffic, Low Bitrate, Night Optimised, etc.. These can be further tweaked through additional menus if required. They do give a generally good starting point.

Noise reduction can be adjusted with regard to both Spatial and Temporal noise. Also, where two Scene Modes might be required, these can be selected and the camera can then be scheduled to automatically switch between them.

Encoding profiles and characteristics can also be defined, allowing diverse characteristics to be set, ranging from high quality down to mobile-friendly streams. Regions can be established, allowing different configurations to be applied to certain areas within the viewed scene. Whilst such functionality is not uncommon, it is more relevant in 360 degree scenes, as there will inevitably be areas of reduced interest.

Once configured, dewarping is carried out via the Bosch Video Security Client or the browser interface. We’d recommend using the client. Not only is it more stable, but it also provides an overview window when a combination view is used, and this enhances control. The client is a general purpose programme and works with other Bosch devices.

Pan and tilting is carried out via mouse movements, and a side bar delivers zoom adjustment. This operates in a manner akin to a joystick rather than being a slider, which makes it relatively simple to use. Pan and tilt motion is smooth, and the overview window which highlights the area being dewarped allows a simple understanding of the protected area being viewed.

With regard to image quality, although the device uses a 5 megapixel sensor, the stream is 3.2 megapixel. This delivers a decent image when using the E-PTZ function, but when using zoom it can create a fair degree of pixelation.

Dewarping is generally of a high standard. Processed scenes seem accurate, and only with close edges can you spot any signs of the background processing effort that the chipset is putting in.

The camera uses intelligent DNR to reduce bitrate requirements, and with a good level of bandwidth allocated, performance is where it needs to be for general surveillance.

The ambient lighting in the test environment was relatively consistent. At its lowest it fell to 20 lux, and whilst the image was still usable, noise was evident.

Dahua: DH-IPC-EBW81200P
The DH-IPC-EBW81200P is a networked 12 megapixel 360 degree camera. It utilises H.264 and M-JPEG compression and delivers a 4000 x 3000 pixel video stream at 15fps. It can also deliver a video stream of 2048 x 1536 pixels at 25fps.

The camera streams the complete 360 degree view and uses client-side dewarping. This can either be managed via a browser interface, via a compatible VMS or NVR, or the company’s PSS software can be used.

In terms of an image sensor, the camera uses a 1/2.3 inch 12MP chip and sensitivity is quoted as 0.01 lux (F2.2); there is no reference to the signal level. E-PTZ is supported, as are a range of viewing modes. These can include overview windows indicating where the RoIs are in terms of the full fish-eye image.

Other features include integral infrared illuminators with a stated range of 10 metres, privacy masking, 3D noise reduction, motion detection, smart events, two-way audio and microSD-based edge recording. Power is PoE or 12V DC.

The camera is supplied with an attached flylead. This includes connections for network/PoE via an RJ45 socket, audio in/out, alarm I/Os and 12V power. Access to the microSD slot is via a small cover on the base of the unit.

The camera has what is now a recognisable look for typical 360 degree cameras. There are three infrared illuminators on the face of the unit; these don’t take up a lot of space.

The camera is supplied with a bracket for surface mounting plus necessary fixings, a paper quick start guide, a water-resistant RJ45 gland and a mini-CD. The CD includes tools, an electronic copy of the quick start guide, a copy of the PSS software suite and a bug trouble-shooting guide. The latter is not specific to the 360 degree camera.

Interestingly, the PSS software folder is zipped, so can be opened easily on PCs. The other Dahua tool files use a proprietary compression tool, and a dedicated program needs to be downloaded from the internet to access them. Admittedly the tools are not necessary, but Dahua could make life easier for installers and integrators who do want to use them by utilising a common file compression method. For many it won’t be obtaining the tool to decompress the files that is an issue; it will be downloading open source files from the internet!

The quick start guide for the camera covers the physical mounting of the unit, along with details of its static address. We used this approach rather than the supplied IP tool, because we prefer to not download untrusted internet add-ons.

Logging in to the camera via Internet Explorer allows the network settings to be changed, along with configuration of various camera parameters. Initially, we were not prompted to load an ActiveX viewing element. Instead, the video simply appeared, but the menu to select dewarping options did not function. After testing the camera on a second server, we realised that the first machine must have retained a previous Dahua viewer element. Once this was removed the browser loaded the correct viewing codec, and the dewarping menus worked as expected.

It’s worth noting that if you’ve set up Dahua cameras in the recent past, it pays to remove the old ActiveX plug-ins before attempting to configure the 360 degree unit.

The set-up menus are split into Camera, Network, Event, Storage, System and Information pages. By and large, they are self-explanatory, and installers or integrators will have little problem with them. Camera options include image adjustments, (brightness, contrast, colour, etc.), as well as exposure settings. Many of the latter are best left on Auto. Streams are configured via the Video menus. We opted to use the camera at its 12MP setting, which limits the frame rate to 15fps. To be fair, this is enough when used for a general overview of a protected area. Real-time can be achieved with the resolution set to 3MP, but to be honest the image quality in viewed areas is fairly degraded, and 15fps is a fair price to pay for enhanced detail and image clarity.

Bit rate can be adjusted from 2-12Mbps. The higher figure isn’t exactly over the top, so we’d advise using it.

The menus also allow quality to be set for snapshots, and Regions of Interest can be created. The Camera menus are also used to set paths for recordings and to set up privacy masking.

Alarm events are configured via the Event menu pages. These include motion detection, camera tamper, intelligent video (virtual tripwire and intrusion areas), heat mapping and audio detection.

Allow yourself some time to work through the IVS functions. They do add benefits, but you’ll have to discover the process of making them work by trial and error as the camera does not have a full manual. There isn’t one on the CD and we couldn’t find one on the Dahua website either.

Once you’ve figured things out – it’s more an annoyance than a problem – the additional functionality will be welcomed for some applications.

Dewarping options offer a good degree of flexibility. There is an option to set whether the camera is ceiling, wall or floor mounted, and this affects the stream options. The fish-eye stream can be viewed, but it’s unlikely to be the choice of any end user. The more useful options include a single or double panoramic view, or multiple PTZ view layouts with an overview screen which identifies each viewed area in the overall 360 degree image. If the layout doesn’t have space for the overview element, it can be used as a contextual pop-up. This simplifies operation and will be considered a benefit by operators.

Pan and tilting is simple to use; motion is smooth and control of the various views never becomes a problem. Zoom is controlled via the mouse wheel, and that in itself means it tends to jump a little.

Image quality is good, and you’d expect that with an overall capture of 12 megapixels. Detail is high, even considering its an overview, and colour fidelity is good. It does decline a little with digital zoom employed, but that’s only to be expected.

Dewarping is accurate, and as with other cameras you’ll only spot the processing when looking at edges very close to the camera. There are no issues with perspective either.

The ambient lighting in the test environment was consistently above 20 lux, and there were signs of noise when it fell to the lowest levels. However, this was not so intrusive as to make the image unusable at any point.

Whilst beyond the scope of this test, the camera does have integral infrared illuminators. These work well and deliver consistent coverage up to the specified range of 10 metres.

Hikvision: DS-2CD63C2F-IS
The DS-2CD63C2F-IS is a networked 12 megapixel 360 degree camera. Using H.264 and M-JPEG compression, the camera delivers a 4000 x 3072 pixel video stream at 20fps. It can also deliver video streams of 3072 x 3072 pixels at 25fps, or four 1600 x 1200 pixel PTZ views at 12fps. There are a variety of configurations, and these are dependent upon the operational mode which is selected.

The camera streams the complete 360 degree view and uses client-side dewarping. This can either be managed via a browser interface or via a compatible VMS or NVR.

The camera features a 1/1.7 inch 12MP CMOS sensor and sensitivity is quoted as 0.04 lux (F2.4); there is no reference to the signal level. E-PTZ functionality is supported, and as already mentioned the camera boasts a range of viewing modes. More about these later.

Other features include integral infrared illuminators with a range of 15 metres, digital noise reduction, WDR, regions of interest, video analytics (line crossing, motion detection, intrusion, tamper protection, heat mapping), two-way audio, alarm I/Os and microSD-based edge recording. Power is PoE or 12V DC.

Connections are made via an attached flylead. This includes a network/PoE RJ45 socket, audio in/out, RS485, alarm I/Os and 12V power. Access to the microSD slot is underneath the camera cover.

The Hikvision unit is the only camera in the test that sidesteps the traditional round 360 degree camera shape, and it offers something different with regard to aesthetics. There are three IR illuminators with clear covers; these don’t look out of place.

The camera is supplied with mounting fixings, a drill template and a paper quick start guide. There is no CD or manual, so you’re on your own! There is a downloadable manual on the Hikvision website, but it turns out to be a generic one with no reference to the 360 degree functionality.

The quick start guide for the camera covers the physical mounting of the unit, along with details of its static address. However, ignore these because they’re wrong. Our unit had a paper label on the base with the static IP address and log-in details. As with the Dahua camera, you can’t help but feel that the manufacturer is only saving pennies by not including a manual, and given the cost of the devices it does feel cheap as it’s the installer or integrator who is inconvenienced.

Logging in to the camera via Internet Explorer allows the network settings to be changed, along with configuration of various camera parameters once an ActiveX viewing element has been loaded; this is automatic.

Observations over many years of testing security devices show that many installers and integrators start with video settings, and if you follow that pattern you might be in for a shock. The highest resolution we could access was 2560 x 2560 at 10fps. As we were expecting 4000 x 3072 pixels, we felt a little short-changed. If this happens, don’t panic!

The camera has three operational modes, and you need to select which one to use. The choice impacts on performance, and changing modes requires a camera reboot.

Hikvision are not alone in taking such an approach, but manufacturers typically highlight the choice of modes as an initial standalone menu, which makes sure it is not missed. Hikvision have put it as the last option in the System menu, and it’s only in the Advanced menu and not the Basic one.

The first mode allows a fish-eye stream (4000 × 3072 at 20fps, 3072 × 3072 at 25fps, 2560 × 2560 at 25fps) or 4 different PTZ views at 1600 x 1200 at 12fps. The second mode delivers 2 fisheye streams (2048 × 2048 at 12fps or 1280 × 1280 at 12fps, plus 720 × 720 at 12fps) plus three PTZ views of 1600 × 1200 at 12fps. The third mode delivers two panoramic streams (3072 × 2304 or 3072 × 1152 at 12fps, plus 704 × 576 at 12fps). There is arguably something there to suit most needs, but the inability to change modes on the fly is a limitation.

The set-up menus for video performance are split between Video/Audio, which handles the stream configurations, and Image, which handles exposure, day/night, backlight, white balance, image enhancement and video adjustment. The menus are self-explanatory.

Bit rate can be adjusted up to 16Mbps. We’d advise using maximum bandwidth; it will ensure the best quality performance but shouldn’t affect network performance.

Alarm events are split between Basic Alarm and Smart Alarm menus. The former configures motion detection and camera tamper, while the latter handles the other options. Heat mapping has its own menu.

As with Dahua, you’ll need to work out the operation of the IVA functions by trial and error due to the lack of a manual.

Dewarping options are limited by the selected mode, which also allows a choice of camera mounting: ceiling, wall or table.

Pan and tilt was not as smooth as with the other cameras, and at extremes of the image we did see issues with accurate dewarping, although this was eliminated by carrying out a camera reboot. Zoom is controlled via the mouse wheel and is a touch jerky. In panoramic views there is no PTZ functionality.

Image quality is generally good, as you’d expect from a 12 megapixel stream, but the video has a fair degree of latency, above that experienced from the other devices on test.

Dewarping was – occasional errors aside – decent, and perspective was generally well maintained.

Ambient lighting in the test environment was consistently above 20 lux, and at the lowest levels the image was relatively clean, although we did see the first signs of motion blur.

The IR illuminators are beyond the scope of this test, but coverage was acceptable across the specified range.

Panasonic: WV-SFN480
The WV-SFN480 is a networked 9 megapixel 360 degree camera. It utilises H.264 and M-JPEG compression, and delivers a 2992 x 2992 pixel video stream at 15fps. It can also deliver video streams of 2048 x 2048 pixels at 25fps. There are a variety of other viewing configurations. The camera streams the 360 degree view and uses client-side dewarping.

Using a 1/2 inch MOS sensor, sensitivity is quoted as 0.3 lux (F1.9).

Panasonic cameras always carry a high degree of functionality, and the 360 degree unit is no exception. Bandwidth management is aided by the VIQS functionality. This allows image quality to be varied between regions of interest and other areas in the protected space. This is especially relevant when dealing with 360 degree streams.

Other features include digital noise reduction, WDR, adaptive black stretch, intelligent motion detection, privacy masking, two-way audio, alarm I/Os and SD-based edge recording. There are intelligent video analytics (intruder detection, object detection, line cross, loitering and scene change) plus heat mapping and people counting features, but these require the use of extension software. Power is PoE or 12V DC.

Connections are made directly to the camera. These are for network/PoE via an RJ45 socket, audio in/out and alarm I/Os via terminal blocks and 12V power. Access to the SD slot is via a small cover on the side of the unit which is secured with a screw.

The camera has the typical look for a 360 degree camera. It is supplied with a bracket for surface mounting, a hex key, a paper information guide and a CD. The CD includes tools and manuals. There is an installation guide and an operator manual.

There was a time when set-up on Panasonic cameras was more complicated than it needed to be, but in recent times they’ve adopted a simpler approach, and one that works well. The IP configuration tool will find connected cameras, even if they’re on another network segment, and allows easy set-up.

Logging in to the camera allows the network settings to be changed, along with configuration of various camera parameters. There is a need to load a viewing element, and we had a bit of a delay before this started. If you end up looking at a blank screen with no sign of life, don’t assume it has frozen. Go and put the kettle on, and it will hopefully have done its work by the time you return!

The set-up menus will be familiar to anyone who has used Panasonic cameras before. The menus are split into sections for Basic, Image/Audio, Multi-Screen, Alarm, User Management, Network, Schedule and Maintenance.

They are self-explanatory, and whilst the device does have a wide range of settings, it’s worth spending some time working through them as the video quality will benefit from a well-implemented configuration. Some settings will affect other features, but you’ll get a warning if anything is about to be disabled!

Camera options include stream configurations, image capture details, camera functions, regions of interest and area encoding (VIQS in Panasonic terms). Bit rate can be adjusted up to 30Mbps. The higher figure will depend on the selected views. If you have sufficient bandwidth, it’s worth aiming high because of the enhanced image quality.

With regard to streamed video, the camera can be set to deliver a 9MP or 4MP fisheye view. Other options include panorama (single and double), single PTZ view, quad PTZ view, fisheye plus double panorama and fisheye plus quad PTZ. The options do change slightly dependent upon whether the camera is ceiling or wall mounted.

Alarm events are simple to configure, and again the manufacturer has aimed for – and delivered – a good degree of flexibility.

The dewarping options all deliver clean and controllable streams. The fish-eye view is ideal for VMS- or NVR-based applications, and use of VIQS can ensure that latency is kept to a minimum level.

Pan and tilting is simple; motion is smooth and predictable, to the point that control of the various views never becomes a problem. Zoom is controlled via the mouse wheel, and that in itself means it tends to jump a little. However, there is an option to use a controller in the OSD as well.

Image quality is very good, and it actually belies the fact that resolution is lower than some of the other cameras on test. Part of this will inevitably be down to the fact that the WV-SFN480 allows the installer or integrator to allocate enough bandwidth to handle a full 360 degree image. The processing elements also work well to enhance video performance.

Detail is high and colour fidelity is good. Dewarping is accurate and consistent, and we had no concerns over image stability. There are no issues with perspective either. The streams lack an overview indicating where the PTZ selections are made.

Ambient lighting in the test environment was consistently above 20 lux, and the image remained noise-free, even at the lowest levels.

Verdict
The benefits of 360 degree cameras are obvious, and the units undoubtedly can enhance the overall security of many applications. There are differences between the models tested, but in terms of performance all have pros and cons.

The NUC-52051-FOE from Bosch is well designed and has a good level of flexibility. For many applications it will be more than enough, and whilst some other cameras have more functionality, it’s not always as easy to access as Bosch have made it. The downside is that the camera could do with a touch more on the resolution front.

The DH-IPC-EBW81200P from Dahua does offer more in terms of image quality, and it delivers a good degree of control with regards to image manipulation. However, because the manufacturer has opted to not supply a manual, set-up can be frustrating.

Like the Dahua camera, Hikvision has opted to not supply a relevant manual with the DS-2CD63C2F-IS, which also cost it in the ratings. There are some minor limitations with regard to image modes, and the software did suffer a few moments of frailty during testing. Image quality was good.

Panasonic’s WV-SFN480 delivered in terms of functionality and stability. It didn’t have the highest resolution, but image quality was very good, the features allowed a good degree of flexibility, and performance was stable regardless of conditions.

Read Part 2 of this test

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