One of the ‘negative’ aspects of network-based video has been the support of third party devices. Because of issues with drivers and viewers, plus the lack of a seamless solution from ONVIF, issues have existed with interoperability. Open platform VMS solutions provided one solution, but for those who preferred hardware-based devices, these lacked appeal. Now Milestone claims to have a solution in the form of the Husky appliance.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is fair to say that when IP-based video first emerged into the surveillance sector, it was always going to be compared with the composite solutions it was trying to replace. Initially it offered little to anyone aside from the early adopters who always want to be the first to embrace new technology. Devices offered poor performance, were expensive, and linking them with other CCTV equipment was difficult.
Of course, as with any emerging technology, the development phase saw many of these issues disappear. Quality improved, costs fell, and installation and operation became easier. Eventually, as always happens with a disruptive technology, performance exceeded that of existing options, prices stabilised at a realistic level, and delivering the performance on offer became much simpler. On top of this, the benefits which the technology introduced made ignoring it hard for all who wanted to develop and grow their businesses.
Despite all the benefits offered by IP technology, plus developments which are being realised on a daily basis to push forwards performance, there is still one small bugbear; interoperability!
With composite technology, you can take anyone’s camera and connect it to another manufacturer’s DVR, and it works. All manufacturers used the same interface and the same video protocol. However, with network video, this isn’t the case. Many NVRs support a limited range of devices, typically just from the manufacturer of the recorder, and on occasions a few ‘selected’ partners are added. This can limit the choices made by an installer or integrator as few hardware devices offer a true open platform approach.
One alternative is software-based systems. Typically, this has been achieved using VMS packages. Whilst these solutions are cost-effective, efficient, reliable, flexible and open platform, many shy away from them for a number of reasons. The surveillance sector has historically been hardware-based, and for the some the leap into a software world isn’t appealing.
Many VMS providers have launched open platform ‘appliances’ in the past, but these were predominantly PCs with pre-loaded software. Now Milestone has launched Husky, a range of embedded open-platform recorders, which are claimed to deliver flexibility in an easy-to-access format.
The Husky range currently includes three models. These are the M50, the M30 and the M10. They support 80 cameras with 24TB storage, 20 cameras with 4TB storage and 8 cameras with 1TB storage respectively. The M50 and M30 are pre-loaded with XProtect software, while the M10 uses the company’s Arcus software. This was originally developed to allow third party products to run a lighter embedded version of the Milestone software. Whilst it has many of the functions of XProtect, it doesn’t include the full functionality. Whilst it also doesn’t support the full range of third party products that XProtect does, it isn’t shoddy in this respect, with more than 1,200 cameras and over 60 codecs supported as standard.
Our test unit was the Milestone Husky M10. As mentioned, this supports up to eight cameras, and includes a wide range of standard definition, HD and megapixel cameras in its compatibility list, as well as thermal imagers and a variety of codecs.
Resolution and compression algorithm support is as per the capabilities of each device, so full functionality is available.
The Milestone Husky M10 makes use of an ATOM processor, and runs the embedded software on a Linux operating system for enhanced reliability. It features 4GB of on-board RAM and 1TB internal storage.
With regard to connectivity, the unit has a DVI output and an HDMI output. These can be used for local viewing, although the brief installation guide (it’s an A4 sheet) does caution that using local monitors as the main viewing option may affect overall performance. Viewing can be carried out at a workstation using web client software, or via a mobile viewing app.
There are two LAN ports. One is specified as for connection to a switch handling the camera inputs, and the second is for the management and viewing network. We’ll come back to that later! There are also four USB ports, plus a power input.
The unit is supplied with a PSU, a convertor should you wish to output to VGA via the DVI port, and the brief set-up guide. There is also a three-year software update which should be included as standard.
The Husky supports Milestone Interconnect. This allows the M10 (plus any other Husky appliances, third party Arcus-enabled devices or PCs running XProtect) to be centrally controlled by a server running XProtect Corporate. Whilst Milestone’s main push for the M10 is as an entry-level standalone recording appliance – a role it can fill – the inclusion of Interconnect would seemingly make the Milestone Husky M10 suitable for larger and more complex applications as a cost-effective edge-recording option with a small cluster of cameras. This could not only reduce the network load, but ensures that if a network failure occurs – whether due to a communications loss or a faulty device – video is still archived.
Milestone states that the Husky M10 can be up and running ‘within minutes’. It’s a claim that many make, so we thought we’d put it to the test. In the interests of fairness we ensured that the cameras were all powered up and connected to a central switch before starting!
For us, minutes turned into hours, and it wasn’t until the next day that we finally got the unit running. At one point we did think the unit was faulty, and so put in a call to Milestone’s support team. They weren’t too familiar with the Husky M10, but said they did have a unit they hadn’t looked at yet. They said they would fire it up and call us back.
They did call back, but to state that they couldn’t get their unit up and running because they didn’t have the PSU for the unit. As it was late Friday afternoon, we were told the Danish HQ was closed, which was where the people with the knowledge to help worked, so any further support would have to wait until Monday morning.
After several attempts at finding a workaround, we followed our instincts, threw the brief guide away, and set it up how we thought any logical engineer would do things. We only used one network port, gave it a fixed IP address, and connected to the unit via a browser. These are all things that Milestone tell you not to do. However, it worked, and was the only way we could get the unit to function. If we used both ports (as per the instructions) the unit lost connectivity!
The problem could be due to one of two things. Either the guide is incorrect or lacks appropriate information necessary for correct operation, or the unit had a malfunction and we just happened to find a workaround that circumvented the failure!
Milestone support did say they had more instructions, including a factory reset, but didn’t want to circulate these until they had a better understanding of the product and its potential issues.
We understand that new products always have something of a learning curve, especially when they are a first generation device, but we did feel that if this was a generic problem it should have been picked up a long time prior to launch. If it’s a one-off issue, then the technical support people should have been able to diagnose it. Being unprepared isn’t really fair on installers and integrators who buy the units!
Needless to say, Milestone have been made aware of the issue, and we’ll report on how they react!
One final point is that you need to register the unit within 30 days, or recording will automatically cease.
When adding cameras, our unit didn’t recognise any of the attached devices. However, this may well be a result of how our unit was set-up. We added them individually by IP address, and that worked fine. Supported devices can have their configurations changed via the Husky interface, which was good. The unit even displayed several non-supported cameras.
Once up and running, the interface is intuitive, which is good as you get zero documentation regarding operation. There are some video Tutorials, but the link to these in the Husky GUI just goes to YouTube, so you need an internet connection. Some customers might not take kindly to their security network being used to link to these!
We did have a brief look directly at YouTube, but all we could find was a commercial for the Husky range along with two brief tutorials in Italian!
In truth, you shouldn’t need any help as the menus are very simple, and therein lies another issue. The Benchmark test team all have experience with Milestone’s XProtect products, and after those Arcus does seem to be a little too basic.
For example, you can set the compression, frame rate and resolution for each camera, but when it comes to record settings you can only select whether recording is constant or motion-triggered, and how many days it needs to be retained for. The system itself seems to calculate how much disk space is allocated to any given camera stream. We tried running the unit with only one camera, and it still restricted the storage to around one eighth of the total capacity.
Effectively, this is reminiscent of low cost NVRs a few years back, which fell from grace purely because they didn’t offer the degree of control which was required. For example, it would be hard to contemplate using the M10 for a HD-based system, because the installer or integrator would lack the ability to absolutely control the required settings.
There is an option to record on motion only, but again you have very little control over recording configurations.
On paper, the Husky appears to be a good idea, and one which could be a first step for many who are hardware fans but want the versatility of a VMS. Unfortunately, in our experience, the M10 doesn’t achieve this! We still await exact confirmation of what the issues with our unit were, but until then we can only put forward our findings.
Whilst we can’t report on either the M30 or the M50, having handled neither, both do run versions of XProtect rather than Arcus, so we would expect them to be significantly more flexible.
In truth, the M10 felt like a low-end product for applications with a few cameras and very low risk needs. It lacks the flexibility required for a professional installation.
As it stands, it can’t be recommended; we’ll let you know further information when we hear back from Milestone.
UPDATE: Benchmark has been in touch with Milestone to discuss the problems, and we now have further information regarding these.
With regard to initial configuration, it must be said that the quick start guide is wholly inadequate and will lead to a frustrating installation experience. The unit has a link to ‘help’ videos, but these aren’t available, and Milestone did tell us that the link needs to be removed. Milestone did confirm that a full manual will be available, but that it may not be ready for publication yet!
During configuration, when setting up the two ports (one for camera connections and the other for PC management), we lost connectivity when trying to use both simultaneously, which resulted in having to run the system off one port. The reason for the lack of connectivity is that both ports must be on different subnets. This isn’t mentioned in the guide. There is also a small bug in the auto-discovery mechanism. Milestone has reported that this will be fixed in the next firmware upgrade which should be available at the time of publication of this update. The new firmware will also include ‘many improvements’.
Milestone has also confirmed that whilst the technical support team wasn’t fully trained on supporting Husky appliances when we contacted them, the programme of awareness for the product has now been completed.
With regard to performance, one thing which we noted was there didn’t seem to be an option to set the unit to record in real-time, even if the video streams was set to 25fps at the Husky M10 and the camera. We looked at Milestones own demo unit during a recent exhibition, and it showed the same issue. Milestone have confirmed that the M10 should record real-time footage when configured as ours was. We can therefore only assume that the dropped frames are due to the processing power being pushed to its capacity.
In reality, the M10 was probably pushed out a month or two too early, and illustrates that producing software is a very different beast to producing hardware. Also, we do feel that the M10 has been ‘dumbed down’ too much for professional applications, and given the inherent flexibility in the XProtect platform (which is used for the software VMS and in the M30 and M50 Husky appliances) we’d opt for that over the Arcus-based M10.
As such, the ratings do remain as initially published, and anyone desperate for an M10 would be advised to wait a few more weeks.