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CCTV Test: VMS for free?

by Benchmark

They say that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and whilst some might disagree with such a sentiment, the truth is that few commercial organisations satisfy shareholders by giving something away! There is always a point at which a payback is expected. Free offerings of video management software have been available in the security sector for some time, but all inevitably are there to generate further sales. Benchmark looked at the leading options to see what you get for no money!

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he video surveillance industry is increasingly seeing the benefits of video management software. For the installer or integrator who is migrating from hardware to a software-based solution, there are a few challenges when it comes to the specification of a solution. Not all video management systems are the same, and often it can be a case of finding the option which best suits a user’s needs. This doesn’t just come down to the performance of the VMS. Other considerations include how the site’s system is to be managed, what the user’s expectations and requirements are, the budget available, and the implications of certain solutions on any potential return on investment.

There are a number of very good VMS product offerings out there, but there are equally a number of packages which simply cannot be considered as credible security options where video surveillance is being implemented. Once a credible supplier has been identified, the next task is to ascertain which solution they offer is the most appropriate.

When it comes to selecting a software-based management system, there are a lot of options, and that’s a good thing. Since video surveillance moved away from the restrictions of hardware-based systems, flexibility has become the sector’s watchword.

If you want high end video management, alarm and event handling, failover servers and multiple site solutions, there are VMS solutions for that. If you want single server small sites with streaming to remote locations, again there are available solutions. If you want centralised recording or recording at the edge, you’ll find an appropriate solution.

Equally, the choices ensure that any user can enjoy the flexibility of a VMS, regardless of their budget. There are no real constraints when it comes to pricing, with national and international systems available, right down to the ideal tool for a low risk system with a couple of cameras. It’s true that you get what you pay for, but in the world of VMS, some packages are free-of-charge!

The real question has to be how much does a free VMS cost? You don’t get something for nothing, so ultimately there will be a price, or at least a strategy to get you to the point where you need to spend.

The three packages we’re looking at here shouldn’t be considered on a like-for-like basis. Indeed, they operate in different ways. We’ll be considering what you get in terms of functionality, what the limitations are, and why the manufacturers are giving them away! We’ll also consider what happens when you decide to move on to a fully blown video management option.

All three of the suppliers in the test are credible and professional security companies. That cannot be said for all who offer free-of-charge video management software. There is no such thing as a free lunch, that much can be accepted, but when the time comes to make an investment, you want to be sure that the company you are working with will be fair, open and honest, and with a few of the other free options you might not find that to be the case.

Axis: AXIS Camera Companion
Axis Camera Companion is a free-of-charge download; there is only one ‘flavour’ available, and no licensing is required. It only works with Axis Communications devices. To download it you will need to register for a MyAxis account, which again is without charge.

The software supports up to 16 video inputs, and is compatible with cameras and encoders running firmware version 5.40 and higher. It supports all resolutions and frame rates using H.264 compression. Telemetry control can also be achieved.

A DVR, NVR, server or PC is not required to operate the system – a PC is required for initial set, and video is viewed via a PC or mobile device running an appropriate viewing App.

The software is capable of supporting the full range of resolutions and frame rates using H.264 compression. Telemetry control can also be achieved for any connected PTZ models.

The software does not require a DVR, NVR, server or PC to operate – a PC is required for initial set, and video is viewed via a PC or mobile device running an appropriate viewing App.

When the system is configured, video can be recorded on integral SD cards, or network attached storage (NAS) is also supported.

Recording can be scheduled or continuous, and motion detection can be used to initiate an event-based system. Footage can be replayed with a number of views, and searches are by time and date with an easy-to-use timeline. Filtering can be used to identify specific video streams.

Video can be exported as JPG snapshots or ASF format video.

The download and installation are simple. An automatic discovery routine will find the cameras. The software then updates the firmware and configures the system.

Once the automatic configuration is finished you can adjust camera properties, recording settings and motion detection.

The Camera Companion menus are clean and easy to use, and the overall feel is intuitive. The more you use the software, and get accustomed to how it works, the more you realise the potential on offer for smaller applications.
Once the configuration is complete and you move to the everyday operation of the system, you can log off so a PC isn’t tied up. The system can either be left unmonitored until an incident occurs, or monitoring and reviewing can be carried out via an App.

System configurations can be saved as a file, allowing a swift and simple return to the configured settings should any issues arise. This can also be useful for environments where multiple sites might follow a similar layout.

Video quality is very good, and today’s SD-XC cards mean you can record a good level of video. Indeed, if you consider the capacity of a standard NVR, a system using SD-XC cards for each camera will offer a similar capacity! The solution is easy to install and use, offers enough functionality for most applications, and delivers true flexibility for those looking for a system without an NVR or server.

A high level of functionality already exists within the cameras, so the software simply offers a utility which makes the live views, alarms and recorded footage easy to access and use.

[box style=”2″]Moving On
AXIS Camera Companion is very much aimed at a specific market sector, and as such it’s edge-based operation falls outside of what most VMS packages offer. Axis does have other VMS options, but they don’t really increase what Camera Companion offers. In truth, when you outgrow Camera Companion, you’ll end up looking for something different.

Camera Companion works with the standard range of Axis cameras, so you’ll still have a portfolio of devices which – according to the many tests in Benchmark in the past – are amongst the leading cameras in the industry with regard to performance and functionality. The software, which is the free part, is all you’ll end up discarding.

Do you need to ask why AXIS Camera Companion is free? In truth, it’s a tool which delivers more functionality to those who have invested in Axis hardware. As a hardware company, Axis wants to sell cameras, and a utility that adds functionality can’t hurt![/box]

Meyertech: Nano 4
Nano 4 is a four channel VMS with support for one physical video output. The software allows viewing of live images from ONVIF Profile S cameras. Whilst it is billed as a free-of-charge VMS, it does not offer video recording or the control of telemetry-enabled devices without the addition of a licence.

The software is claimed to compatible with all ONVIF Profile S conformant devices, and attached devices are automatically discovered.

Meyertech states that system requires no set-up, and subsequently there is no need for user training. Recording can be a variety of media including HDDs, NAS, SAN, SD cards, USB devices, cloud, etc.. Obviously a licence will need to be purchased to achieve this.

Additional upgrades include Nano 9 and Nano 20, supporting 9 or 20 channels respectively.

The thinking behind Nano is to deliver a simple, intuitive VMS package that allows installers to simply connect the cameras and start using the package. Cameras are auto-detected and added to the interface. In fact configurations are minimal.

The free version is a cut-down copy of the company’s Nano 4 offering. It supports four ONVIF Profile S devices and a single video display. Recording and telemetry functions are not active unless you purchase a license.

Obviously, what you’re getting is not really a free VMS; you’re getting a camera viewer which is designed to show you the simplicity of the Nano platform before you pay for the required licence to make the software useful.

Installing Nano is very straightforward, and rapid too. It will also add any peripheral Microsoft elements it needs to run. On the initial start-up it detected and displayed two out of the four attached cameras. Interestingly, it did find and display a non-Profile S camera. It did detect the other two cameras, but could not authenticate them despite them using the default log-ins. There is an option to authenticate manually, and this worked for one device, but no the other, despite the authentication being valid.

After a few camera changes we did spot a trend. The software simply would not validate any Axis camera, even those which are definitely Profile S. The cameras would be detected, but could not be validated. Also, on occasions, running the device search after changes did not work, and the only workaround was to restart the VMS.

During the test period we did experience occasional failures where the Nano software would stop running. This was sporadic, and there seemed to be no real reason for it.

Video quality was decent, but we spotted that the software tended to default to M-JPEG with a VGA resolution or similar. It’s an easy task to change this, but with four streams of HD video using H.264, latency became quite pronounced and the software was struggling for resources, despite being run on a server that typically handles much higher loads.

Given that the free version of Nano 4 offers very little functionality, it would have to be pretty close to flawless in order to tempt installers to upgrade to a licenced copy.

The issues with camera authentication, problems with handling what was a relatively small video load and intermittent crashes resulted in a general agreement amongst the test team that the Nano product wasn’t where it should be, and the lack of functionality ruled out any perseverance with it. We would expect an updated version which will address most issues.

[box style=”2″]Moving On
The first step up from the free version of Nano 4 is to add a licence which will enable video recording and PTZ control. Recordings can be to a NAS or SAN, hard drives, SD cards or USB attached devices, even to cloud storage.

The limitation of four cameras and one physical display will still exist, although other versions of the Nano product exist, in the form of the Nano 9 and the Nano 20. If you want more, then Meyertech offers a modular advanced VMS with enough functionality for the highest end applications.

So, why is the non-recording version of Nano 4 free? The advanced Meyertech solutions are not the type of system that someone undergoing their first NVR to VMS migration might consider, unless they have a significant project. A free version allows new customers to experience the simplicity of the Nano products, but with a significant limitation in no recording. Call it a taster. If the installer or integrator likes what they see, an upgrade is sure to follow.[/box]

Milestone: XProtect Go
Milestone Systems offers XProtect Go video surveillance software. With a wide set of features for one user, it is claimed to be easy to learn and use. XProtect Go is available as a free-of-charge download for 64-bit PCs. It has some limitations: it is a single server solution and supports up to eight devices. Video can be recorded, but video retention is limited to five days only.

Designed for residential applications and small low-risk businesses, XProtect Go includes many of the features of the mainstream software platform at no cost, with upgrade possibilities to Milestone’s other VMS products.
The software supports more than 3,000 third party cameras, including many of the leading devices.

XProtect Go is supplied with the standard Milestone Smart Client which incorporates Smart Search and Sequence Explorer.

The software does offer the high level of support offered by Milestone products; over 3,000 current video cameras and encoders from the majority of credible surveillance manufacturers are listed as compatible!

Dual streaming can be configured, and the software supports a range of compression algorithms including H.264, MPEG4 and MJPEG, amongst others. The software also offers video motion detection on all inputs, regardless of camera capabilities, and privacy masking is supported.

The download includes the XProtect Management Application and Smart Client. The latter is used to access and use the system, and is licence-free, so can be loaded onto any number of workstations.

The major restriction of the package – and you expect there to be one with any free offering – is that recordings can only be retained for five days!

There will be some applications that can work within that restriction. However, it must be remembered that the purpose of XProtect Go is give potential users a chance to explore the simplicity and flexibility of the system, before purchasing one of the many unrestricted versions.

Download and installation of XProtect Go is straightforward, and only takes a few minutes. Once installed, the Management package uses a set-up wizard to add hardware and configure the recording server.

There are four stages to the wizard. These are: add hardware devices, configure recording, adjust motion detection and configure user access.

The process is simple. If you want to manually configure the system you can do via the advanced menu.
Day-to-day operations are carried out via the Smart Client application. This means operators don’t interact with the management element of the package. Smart Client is easy to use, and is intuitive.

The headline features include Smart Search, allowing footage to be located by motion, and the association of events and actions. The opportunity is there to create a bespoke and functional solution.

XProtect Go is flexible and functional, easy to use, and offers a taste of the XProtect range of VMS solutions. The Go version is limited, but aside from the archive retention time limitation, it still offers more than many mainstream NVRs out there!

Compare XProtect Go to the higher end solutions from Milestone, and it does feel pedestrian. However, it is still head and shoulders above many other alternatives.

XProtect Go works well, is easy to install and use, and therefore has to be recommended. If it pushes you towards the full versions of XProtect, then that can be no bad thing.

[box style=”2″]Moving On
XProtect GO does deliver a very good degree of functionality, and for many the initial limitation will be the recording retention time. The day will come when most installers and integrators will require more than 8 channels, or will want to retain video, or will be curious to explore the additional benefits of the licensed systems.

When that time comes, the good news is that you don’t have to start again from scratch. XProtect Go can be upgraded, thus retaining any settings that have been made. Also, because the software uses the Milestone Smart Client, there’s no need for the user to go through the pain of relearning the system. Smart Client is used across the board from everything from XProtect Go right up to XProtect Corporate!

So, why is XProtect Go free? Quite simply, it’s there to lure you in to the world of XProtect, and to highlight that this isn’t an IT software package, but a powerful video surveillance tool.[/box]




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