Home Technology Intruder Test: Wireless Active IR Detectors

Intruder Test: Wireless Active IR Detectors

by Benchmark

The active infrared beam detector is one of the longest established security tools, and for very good reason. The sensors are efficient, stable, provide high catch performance with low false alarm rates, flexible with regards to system design and cost-effective. Over the years manufacturers have honed their designs to the point that modern devices allow for a very high price/performance ratio. Because the sensors are often used for perimeter protection, one significant element of the installation process is cabling for alarm signalling and power input. To tackle this, the leading providers offer battery-powered beams for wireless use. Benchmark took a closer look at some of the choices.

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Active infrared beam sensors, or photoelectric sensors, have been in use in electronic security solutions for decades. Rather than that fact making them old fashioned, it stands testament to their overall credibility. As a cost-effective and flexible solution, active infrared detectors take some beating.

Whilst the core principle of operation is a simple one – transmitted IR beams need to be received without interruption, or the unit generates an alarm signal – the developments over the years have ensured that the sensors offer credible and dependable performance, and cannot be bypassed during an alarm event.

With regard to installation, issues such as cross-talk from different units have been eliminated, and technology has been introduced to ensure that the introduction of an illicit infrared light source will not trick the unit into missing a genuine beam break.

More importantly, the installation process has been greatly simplified to ensure that the installation and configuration of beam-based solutions is a one man job! Alignment used to be a painstakingly slow process, but this has not been the case for many years, and today’s beams are truly installer friendly.

Cabling issues have also been addressed. All three beams in this test can be powered by batteries and can support a wireless transmitter for alarm signalling back to third party devices.

Active IR beams are more flexible than many give them credit for. The detectors can be used internally or externally, and offer the ability to follow perimeters with shape deviations and over undulating ground. The beams themselves are silent and invisible, and even if an intruder is aware of the presence of the sensors, it is not possible to know where the beams are actually transmitted.

With high levels of catch performance, stability and reliability, ease of installation and operational flexibility, plus the fact that the units are very cost-effective, the continued success of the technology is obvious. The biggest mystery is why the units aren’t used more in the field.

Luminite: SANDOR SMA WS 205

The SANDOR SMA WS 205 is a new product offering from Luminite which adds to its range of active infrared beam detectors. The units are wire-free in operation and incorporate Luminite transmitters which are compatible with the company’s Genesis range, which also includes wireless long range passive infrared detectors. Communication is via a Genesis LGMRU4x4 masthead receiver, which incorporates 4 outputs and 4 inputs.

The SANDOR beams are available in differing lengths and beam combinations. Our test units featured two dual beam detection heads, and had a quoted range of 50 metres. Each detection head has a discreet battery (supplied), and battery life is quoted as between two and three years. A low battery warning is included.

The WS designation signifies that the beams are wireless; the SMA designation stands for single man alignment. The process is simplified with audible and visual indicators to minimise set-up time.

Our sensors were supplied as a kit which included the beams (transmitter and receiver), mounting brackets (typically an optional extra) and a Genesis masthead receiver. The beam units themselves are manufactured by Politec, so you receive two installations manuals: one from Luminite which is focused on the Genesis transmitters, and one from Politec covering the beam connections.

Each beam has two removable end caps held in place with a single hex bolt. With these removed, the beam unit cover can be slid out of the housing to allow access to the electronics. It’s a fairly simple procedure. The only downside is that the end caps are flexible and so it’s easy to fit them in such a way that they don’t fully cover the housing, which could allow moisture ingress.

The transmitter unit features two dual beam optical heads, battery and a main PCB. Each optical head features two banks of DIP switches for addressing plus a test button. These are mounted under the optical head, facing downwards at a 90 degree angle. For ease it pays to ensure that these are correctly configured prior to mounting the unit. There is an amber test LED at the back of the PCB, which given the mounting and orientation isn’t the best place for it!

The batteries are pre-fitted, and so all that is required is the connection being made to the main board. This has two battery terminals and a four-way DIP switch. The settings are for Test mode, Beam On and Beam Off during alignment.

The receiver unit is fairly similar to the transmitter. It has two dual beam optical heads with a similar arrangement for addressing, plus a ready-fitted battery. The main PCB has a single battery connection, plus a 10-way DIP switch and a potentiometer for beam interruption time adjustments.

The PCB settings are for AND mode (two beams must be interrupted), AND 1-2 (AND function only covers beams 1 and 2 to allow for growing grass or bushes), active receivers on individual beams, fog disqualification, anti crawl and test.

Pre-wired from the main PCB is the Luminite Genesis transmitter. This includes a 16-way DIP switch arrangement for setting sub-net codes (where repeaters are used) , site codes and unit codes. This transmitter signals to the masthead receiver, which can be sited up to 1 kilometre from the receiver beam unit.

For alignment, the optical heads can be adjusted vertically through 20 degrees and horizontally through 180 degrees. The transmitter unit uses a supplied mask, and the alignment quality is confirmed via an LED and an audible signal. The process can be completed by a single person, but there’s a fair degree of toing and froing.

The SANDOR test units featured two dual beam detection heads, and had a quoted range of 50 metres. The range was easily achieved, and whilst we would not recommend it in a live system, exceeding the range slightly did not have any detrimental effect on performance.

While the set-up is generally straightforward, it was mentioned in the first part of the test that the DIP switches for addressing the unit are best set before mounting. The message obviously wasn’t clear as one tester was irritated by the awkward positioning.

The cabling is already terminated, and general set-up is pretty much par for the course when it comes to infrared beam sensors. There’s nothing that will faze most installers or integrators.

One option is for AND mode, which configures the unit so that two beams must be interrupted to generate an alarm. We’d advise that this is setting is used for any external application. This isn’t just the case with the Luminite unit; experience teaches us that nuisance alarms are an issue with any single beam.

The alignment process can be achieved by a single person. The SANDOR beam lacks a visual viewfinder which the other units do have, and this does make a difference with regards to set-up time.

Performance of the sensors was good and consistent. All legitimate breaches were detected. These included normal motion, fast interruptions and attempts to defeat the beam layout by an individual who was unaware of the beam layout.

Most climatic conditions did not cause problems for the SANDOR beams. Performance remained stable and reliable through typical winter conditions. Rain and a brief snow flurry didn’t impact on the detector’s accuracy.

The only issue we had was after a very heavy frost while we were testing the beams beyond their specified range, so it would be churlish to highlight that as a significant issue. When used within specification, performance was as expected.

Optex: AX100TFR-i

The AX100TFR-i is a battery powered active infrared beam detector from Optex. Based on the popular AX hard-wired detector series, the AX100TFR-i is supplied with Inovonics wireless transmitters fitted and pre-wired. The Inovonics wireless system is compatible with a wide range of third party systems. A receiver is also supplied.

The AX100TFR-i beams have a quoted range of 30 metres. The beam frequency can be selected between four channels to prevent crosstalk. Interruption period is adjustable. The devices also include aides for fast and simple optical alignment.

The beams feature a back-box which houses the batteries and transmitter. Battery life is quoted as up to five years. Two batteries are required per device, and these are not included.

The beams include a full installation manual, plus a supplementary sheet for the transmitter element. The units are supplied pre-wired. The back boxes are ideal for wall mounting, and a pole-mount kit is also included. The units feature a rigid beam cover which is held in place with a single screw, plus a fairly large back box with mounting plate, which again is secured with a single screw. Both are tamper protected. Removing the covers is simple and quick.

The transmitter features one dual beam optical head which includes an integral view finder. On the side of the unit is a four-way switch which is used to set the beam frequency. Above the optical head are two LEDs (low battery and power) plus a three-way DIP switch. This sets battery saving, intermittent alarm output and NC/NO selection.

The Inovonics unit is pre-fitted and connected in the backbox. This features a Normal/Test switch and a reset button.

The receiver unit is very similar to the transmitter device. Again it has a single dual beam optical head with integral viewfinder, frequency selector and two LEDs (low battery and alarm). The three-way DIP switch bank of the transmitter is replaced with a five-way bank. The additional two switches allow for beam interruption time adjustment (50, 100, 250 or 500 milliseconds. There are also two terminals for a voltmeter to check alignment.

The optical heads on the AX-100TFR can be adjusted vertically by 10 degrees and horizontally by 180 degrees. The first stage of alignment uses the viewfinder to set up an approximate calibration between the units. This can then be adjusted using the alarm LED on the receiver to increase accuracy. The final part of the task uses a voltmeter to check output via the terminals.

The detectors have a quoted range of 30 metres. As with the other detectors tested, the specified range was easily achieved, and could be exceeded in good conditions, although this is not advisable as adverse weather or a harsh environment might lead to performance-related problems.

The set-up and installation process is straightforward, and the manufacturer’s heritage in active infrared detectors is obvious as there is a degree of familiarity with the set-up procedure, even if you’ve never used Optex products before.

The adjustability is decent, allowing the unit to be tweaked to ensure it is stable but also accurate in detection for any given application.

The alignment process is well proven in the field, and whilst viewfinders are pretty basic, they do work and save time when carrying out an alignment. Both the Optex and Takex units feature these, and the calibration process was quicker with both than the Luminite unit.

With regard to alignment, the Optex beam unit is limited to 10 degrees in terms of tilt angle. In the majority of cases this will be fine, but the other units on test offer a more flexible 20 degrees. As all the beams are battery powered, this does give installers and integrators more flexibility to deploy them in difficult applications, and the additional 10 degrees on offer from the other units was a positive.

Performance of the Optex beams was good, without any significant issues or missed activity. High speed breaches were detected, as were attempts at subterfuge. Catch performance was consistent in a wide range of climatic conditions.

In terms of stability, the Optex detectors weren’t fazed by extremes of weather, and typical innocuous sources of motion did not generate nuisance activations. Performance remained stable despite relatively harsh British winter conditions.

Takex: TXF-125E

The TXF-125E is a battery powered active infrared beam detector from Takex. The batteries can be used to power a wireless transmitter through a battery sharing function. The detectors feature an increased beam pitch, in common with the hard-wired versions of the sensor. Takex claims that this reduces occurrences of nuisance activations.

The TXF-125E has a quoted range of 100 metres. Range is selectable, and other option are 75, 50 and 25 metres. The manufacturer also states that unit power is 100 times greater than required to deliver consistent performance in harsh environmental conditions. The modulated pulsed beam can be set at one of four frequencies to prevent cross-talk when devices are stacked.

The detectors are designed for fast and simple optical alignment; an optional wireless alignment checker is also available.

Battery life is quoted as five years for both the transmitter and receiver units. Each can support four batteries (two are required for use but the full complement extends life in the field), which are not included as standard.

The detectors are supplied with pole mounting brackets, anti-bird spikes, mounting screws and an instruction manual.

The beam covers are rigid and retained in place with a single screw. The covers are tamper protected. Removal is simple, and the internal elements can also be removed; they are held in place by two screws. It is necessary to remove it to fit batteries and to access connections, low battery test and power adjustment potentiometer.

The transmitter device holds two dual beam optical heads with integral viewfinders, a four-way DIP switch which controls beam frequency (four options) and range (25, 50, 75 or 100 metres). There is also a function to allow only the upper or lower beams to be operable in order to aid the alignment procedure.

The receiver detector has a noticeable difference as soon as you open it. The main chassis is bright orange, differentiating it from the transmitter’s yellow chassis.

The optical heads with integral viewfinders are similar in as much as they use the same adjustments, and the facility to enable either the upper or lower sensors only is present. However, in the receiver it has some additional LEDs for alarm and sensitivity, along with output terminals for a voltmeter, again as an aide to alignment.

The four-way DIP switch is replaced with an eight-way bank. The settings are for beam frequency, beam interruption time (50, 100, 250 or 500 milliseconds), battery saving, repeat output and an audio signal (used during alignment).

The optical heads on the TXF-125E can be adjusted vertically through 20 degrees and horizontally through 180 degrees.

The alignment process is started with an approximate positioning of the optical heads using the viewfinder. Both the vertical and horizontal adjustments are made roughly by hand, with adjusters for fine tweaking.

The alignment can then be checked for each optical head using the enable/disable function. Both the alarm and sensitivity LEDs give an indication of the condition of calibration. The audio facility can also be used. This gives a tone which rises as alignment becomes more precise.

The final part of the alignment process uses a standard voltmeter via the terminals in the receiver. Even if the LEDs and tone indicate a good level of alignment, this features allows the installer to verify the signal strength with ease.

While the TXF-125E has a maximum quoted range of 100 metres, it is selectable, and the detectors can be configured for 75, 50 or 25 metres. The ranges are achieved with ease, and whilst we wouldn’t suggest exceeding them in a live application, we did do so by up to 20 per cent and saw no issues with performance.

One thing we did notice was that both the transmitter and receiver units have space for four batteries, but the beams can run on two. Using four increases the expected life, and a straw poll saw all involved in the test agreeing they’d fit the maximum number.

The detectors feature a new design, but they still have a certain degree of familiarity, in as much as everything is more or less where you’d expect it to be, which makes installation and set-up intuitive.

As is the case with the Optex unit, the TXF-125E retains the popular and easy-to-use viewfinder, and additional alignment aides made the set up the quickest in the test. Additionally, as the heads have a wide range of motion (20 degrees tilt and 180 degrees rotation) the sensors are ideal for more challenging topologies.

Performance was very good, and all breaches were correctly detected and signalled. These included rapid motion and attempts at evading detection. Even in poor climatic conditions the detectors were both reliable in terms of catch performance and stable in equal measure.

The Takex detectors didn’t show any performance deterioration during any part of the test, even with very heavy frosts, snow flurries and heavy rain.

Verdict

The SANDOR SMA WS 205 from Luminite delivers a good level of performance and stability. For many the integral Genesis communication will be why it is selected if they already have a compatible solution.

In the AX100TFR-i, Optex offers a wireless solution based upon proven detectors. The Inovonics comms will link with most third party solutions.

The TXF-125E represents a step forwards for Takex. The improvements over previous offerings are not huge, but add enough to a proven product to offer a very credible and secure option.

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