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CCTV Test: Mobotix S15D

by Benchmark

For many, when the move from composite technology to network-based solutions first started, it promised a great degree of flexibility to the video surveillance world. The promise that the transition would not only deliver greater resolutions, but also a freedom from the restrictions of an analogue topology, was exciting for those seeking to create innovative solutions. Does the Mobotix S15D actually deliver on some of that promise?

s15d_rating[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f we were to be totally honest, one of the biggest disappointments of the transition to network based video surveillance in recent years has been a lack of ‘different thinking’. Many manufacturers have generally opted to follow the ‘composite’ model. Despite the flexibility that networked systems can offer, the bulk of devices replicate the camera/DVR/display model, simply offering a camera/NVR/display alternative rather than exploring other approaches.

Admittedly, the move to network infrastructure has seen resolutions increase, and remote viewing and control has become more prevalent. To our way of thinking, not enough devices offer a rethink on how to best utilise systems. It’s almost as if the flexibility on offer hasn’t been fully explored.

This isn’t a case of change for change’s sake; it’s more a recognition that traditional system design wasn’t established because it was the best approach, but because it worked around the limitations of the available technologies. It therefore seems a shame to retain the typical design structure for all installations. Yes, use it when it is the best solution, but also consider other solutions.

Mobotix has never be afraid to think outside of the box, and in the early days probably lost out on the support of some installers and integrators because of taking a different approach. However, as the surveillance landscape changes – especially in the mainstream markets – more engineers are starting to recognise the potential flexibility in the products.

The FlexMount S15D offers a very different approach to the typical IP camera, and is even a departure from the traditional Mobotix approach.

To best understand the Mobotix S15D, it’s worth taking a few moments to understand the concept. The unit is a double hemispheric camera. It can support two image sensor modules, which are connected to – but discrete from – a central Core module, which represents the ‘camera’, albeit one with two views!

The central FlexMount Core contains the various connections and the business end of the device. The two hemispheric image sensor modules are then connected to this via 2-metre cables. In theory, this means that a single S15D could cover two adjacent rooms, or two areas within one space where a single camera might not be sufficient (such as an L-shaped area, or a room featuring a partition).

An alternative is to use a day camera module and a night camera module. This gives a enhanced day/night performance, and also means that a camera can have slightly differing views for day and night. This might be a benefit where certain areas are secured out of working hours, or where risks change dependent upon lighting or the time of day!

Obviously, the FlexMount range is designed to be modular; this allows a choice of single or dual Cores, and a variety of image sensor modules. Mobotix also offers complete S15D kits.

The Benchmark test equipment was the S15D-SET2: a complete kit comprising the S15D dual input Core, a D12-PW day sensor, an N12-PW night mode sensor, plus connectors and various fittings.

Both image sensor modules include a fixed 12mm lens and an integral microphone. The cameras capture a 3 megapixel hemispheric image, covering 180 degrees per module. The cameras are semi-covert, and are designed to be flush-mounted.

The Mobotix S15D Core supports two video inputs, which are connected via miniature USB flyleads. The cables are included.  Recording frame rate ranges from 25ips for lower resolutions, to 8ips for the highest resolution. Display frame rates are dealt with separately. There is an option to set the display rates, but these are often limited by other hardware settings. Sensitivity is quoted as 0.25 lux.

The S15D is equipped with standard VMD and MxActivitySensor; the latter is the Mobotix intelligent motion detection option.

The S15D environmentally protected to IP65, with an operational temperature range of -30 to +60°C. Power is via PoE, with low energy consumption.

If there is one quibble about the Mobotix S15D, it has to be the documentation and software; well, make that the lack of it! All we received was a single page flyer telling us to download the second part of the supplied manual. The first part, which covers installation, wasn’t actually included either. As a result we had to download both manuals, and if you want to use the Mobotix control software you’ll need to download that as well, along with its specific manual! Also, if you want to use the advanced MxActivitySensor  motion detection function, you’ll also need to download a manual for that, as it’s not covered in the camera manual.

If you re coming to a Mobotix product for the first time (or returning to one after an absence, as many of our team were) you will need the documentation. Mobotix do things differently, which is only to be expected given the capabilities of this product, so a good knowledge of other devices won’t always be a help.

This does mean that you’ll need a spare laptop to read the documentation; trying to flick between screens will drive you mad. The manuals are arguably over-written; they’re almost bloated. At a total of 453 pages, it’s a lot to print out.

We’ve heard all the arguments for not putting manuals in with products. However, manufacturers have to realise that if the lack of documentation frustrates the installer or integrator, then it will be their future sales that suffer!

Installation is remarkably straightforward. The various elements simply plug together, and audio connections are made via screw-type terminals. Then the core can be connected to a PoE switch or midspan and you’re ready to go.

Mobotix offers a wide range of network configuration options, but the simplest is to use the Core’s static IP address. This is printed on a label on the cover of the unit! Once logged in, an auto install procedure guides you through the basic set-up, including making any final network configurations.

After this, it’s best to use the documentation, because the interface isn’t immediately as intuitive as many other similar devices.

Spending time familiarising yourself with the various options (there are quite a few) is recommended. Images from the two sensors can be switched by various means, including by day/night mode or via a schedule. Alternatively thay can be displayed side by side. The latter makes more sense if you are using two cameras of the same type – the configuration where, for us, the S15D comes into its own.

Also, you can choose whether to record the displayed images only, or the full hemispheric image. The latter does allow a better degree of forensic analysis on replay, but is obviously more storage-hungry. Recordings are archived on an internal MicroSD card, or an external device can be used.

There needs to be something of a balance between the amount of data recorded and the overall level of processing. If everything is set to maximum there can be issues with regard to latency, frame rate and image rebuild. If you are sensible you can view and record good quality video and utilise the advanced functionality without overloading the processors!

The hemispheric functionality allows the live display to show a pre-defined image; options include the full hemispheric image, a normal 4:3 or 16:9 view, or a panoramic display; a double panoramic option delivers two ‘slices’ of the full image. Multi-screen views can also be captured from each image sensor, for which options are individually configurable.

The display views can be adjusted using a USB keyboard or the camera’s virtual PTZ functionality. This can be achieved with both live and recorded views. Recordings can be event-based or continual, and there are a wide range of options including format, resolution, frame rate, quality, etc..

The soft buttons can be set to allow simple ‘one click’ setting of recording settings, event replay, etc.. The camera uses a multiview player for image review, with live event notifications.

Video motion detection, and especially the MxActivitySensor function, work well. Whilst the camera doesn’t offer full blown video analytics (in the true sense of the term), what it does deliver can rightly be called intelligent VMD. The set-up process is relatively straightforward, and whilst the need for configurations is minimal, the outcome is reliable and credible.

The function analyses motion within the viewed scene, and can track it against directional discriminations before deciding whether or not it’s a genuine event.

At times it can be hard to trust systems that effectively operate from a minimal degree of installer or integrator definitions, but the Mobotix S15D not only pulls it off, but does it with consistent and accurate performance.
As expected, there are a few provisos to ensure reliability, but in reality most will be the case for many VMD and IVA applications. If you expect the camera to ‘second guess’ what’s going on, then you’re never going to achieve good results.

The Mobotix S15D is both flexible and powerful, and does deliver an advanced surveillance solution. Image quality is very good, the options available can deliver a raft of differing configurations to suit most needs, and the unit represents a cost-effective choice.

The interface and operational processes do take getting used to, but once you’ve spent a short amount of time using the camera it does fall into place relatively quickly.

If it has one weakness, it’s the documentation. Having to use three different PDF manuals (four if you also opt for Mobotix client software) isn’t good. If paper manuals were included, the S15D would have rated higher, and if those paper manuals were streamlined for easier use, that would have added a few more points.

However, this one small issue is not enough to detract from the overall appeal of the Mobotix S15D, which is why it is Recommended!

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