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PHILIPS – THE SOFT OPTION

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

At a time when it seems as though the world and his wife are churning out video surveillance cameras there’s something very reassuring about a familiar and respected name like Philips. The two models we’re looking at here certainly appear to be in the classic mould. The LTC 0500 and LTC 0600 monochrome and colour cameras look and feel solid and well-built and that’s backed up by impressive specifications that are well suited to demanding applications.

 

Mains powered and low voltage (11 – 36VDC/12-28VAC) versions of both cameras are available – the ones we’ve been testing are the mains models -- all variants are based around ½-inch CCD image sensors with impressive resolution and low light sensitivity figures. For the record the monochrome model (LTC 0500) can resolve up to 570 lines and operates down to 0.02 lux, whilst the colour camera (LTC 0600) has a 480-line resolution and 0.2 lux sensitivity. Both types of image sensor are interline transfer devices with a 752 x 582 pixel array. 

 

Ease of installation is a key feature across the range, though there’s plenty of scope to configure the camera’s exposure systems manually to cope with rapidly changing or difficult conditions. Basic operating parameters can be set from a set of buttons on the side of the cameras, alternatively more detailed adjustments can be accessed using an optional PC configuration tool (part no. LTC 0650/00), which links the camera to a Windows PC by RS-232 serial cable. We’ll look at both of these features in more detail in a moment. The cameras can be used with C or C/S types lenses and physically they are more or less identical. The cases are made of lightweight alloy throughout, and a rather unusual design to boot in that they are made in two parts. The front part, which houses the lens and image sensor, is a one piece casting with standard ¼-inch threaded mounting bosses top and bottom. This part also has the back-focus/lens type adjustment and a standard square 4-pin socket for an auto iris lens (both DC and Video types are supported).

 

The rear portion is a one-piece shroud, kept in place by a single chrome-plated nut at the rear. It makes disassembly easy, though once inside it’s apparent there’s little or nothing for the installer to fiddle around with. There are only two PCBs, mounted inside a sturdy steel chassis. The lower one is concerned with power supply and regulation functions, the upper one handles video processing and is smothered in surface mount components and LSI chips with not a single manual adjustment to be seen. In fact the only visible controls are a bank of buttons that accessed from a keypad built into the side of the case. The backside is equally businesslike and again identical for both colour and black and white models. There are two BNC sockets, the one on the right carries composite video output, the left one is for external synchronisation. Between them there’s a 4-pin mini DIN socket, which on the colour camera is for an S-Video (Y/C) output. Rather than blank off the hole on the mono camera the socket is put to good use for a balanced video output. On the lower half of the back panel there’s a 9-pin D-Sub socket for the RS-232 data communications with a PC and to the right of than is a captive mains lead.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

The manual on-camera controls comprise a set of 8 buttons. On the black and white camera the first pair set preset exposure mode and shutter speed. Once a function has been selected the value or level is changed using a pair of +/- buttons on the far right. There is one fixed default and three preset modes, mode 1 is configured for backlight compensation, mode 2 is called ‘traffic’ and mode 3 is for low-light situations. The shutter can be left in auto mode or set to one of 8 speeds (1/60th to 1/10000th sec). Perversely on the colour camera manual shutter speed can only be set manually using the PC control option. The shutter button is replaced by the white balance control; the options are auto and hold. The next two buttons (from left to right) are labelled ‘LVL’ and ‘LL’. LVL or lens level is basically the idiot button, just point the camera at the chosen scene, preferably well lit, press LVL and use the +/- buttons to get a reading of 0 on the on-screen display, and it’s done. The LL button is for enabling or disabling line lock. The third group of buttons are also the same on both cameras, the top one is for switching backlight compensation on or off, the lower one is for adjusting vertical and horizontal phase, when the camera is set up for external synchronisation.

 

Setting up the cameras using a PC is only marginally more complicated than the button method, and it gives access to a much wider range of functions. The system requirements for the PC are quite modest and in fact just about any machine capable of running Windows 95 or 98, and with a free serial port will do. The Software utility comes on two 3.5-inch floppy discs, we tried it on a Windows 95 laptop and high spec Windows 98 desktop and in both cases it was installed without any fuss whatsoever. The program, called ‘CamCon’ opens to a blank desktop and the user can select a stored camera setting or identity or create a new set-up from the file menu. The File opens to show a series of tabbed displays, with the General tab shown by default. This covers basic communications and housekeeping functions (baud rate, camera address) plus a duplicate set of buttons for the manual camera adjustments. There’s also a small text window, for installers and engineers to add any comments or service information.

 

Tab number two is called In/Out and there are buttons for enabling line-lock, setting vertical and horizontal phase shift, video output termination (75 ohm/high impedance), video output (S-Video/balanced video) and automatic switching to low light (mode 3) operation. The third tab covers Mode set-up and is divided into three sections. The first has sliders for setting compression, gamma correction, black level, contour and ALC level, and switches for selecting ALC speed (fast, normal, slow) and shutter speed (off. Auto, 1/60th, 1/125, 1/250. 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000, 1/10000 and flickerless). Section 2 deals with backlight compensation and has sliders that control exposure response in the top, centre and edge portions of the image. There’s also a switch and slider for auto/manual gain control and AGC boost. The third section covers mode selection, copy mode – to transfer settings to another camera -- on-screen text, for composing and positioning a camera title or ident and sliders for manually adjusting white balance (blue red and green magenta). The fourth tab is for service use; it has provision for displaying preset parameters on screen, and buttons to clear or change settings and return to factory defaults.  

 

PERFORMANCE

Starting with the LTC 0500 monochrome camera, the on-screen results are genuinely impressive and the camera delivers a clean and very detailed image across a very wide range of conditions. Resolution is outstanding, sufficient for detailed analysis and identification of number plates and facial features, depending of course on the choice of lens and lighting conditions. General build and construction quality are both very good and several healthy whacks with the Bench Test rubber mallet failed to disrupt the image. Installation using the on-board adjustments is quick and easy and we found that the auto settings were able to cope with sudden changes in lighting level, backlight compensation was a bit heavy handed though and for really tricky conditions it may be necessary to use the software set-up to tweak the levels. Performance in very low light is outstanding with lower than average amounts of picture noise, compared with similarly specified models. It has no significant flaws and the only improvement we can suggest is the inclusion of some sort of power-on indicator (a LED on the back panel), which although not performance related can be helpful when tracing faults.

 

It’s a similar story with the LTC 0600 colour camera. Image quality is very good indeed, and like its stable mate, it is capable of providing a useful image in the kind of conditions when lesser cameras give up or produce nothing but an unwatchabe mush. Resolution on our sample is as close to the manufacturer’s claimed spec as makes no difference, though we did find that the last whisker of detail can only be satisfactorily extracted when using the S-Video (Y/C), fine detail on a composite feed, especially if the object in question is brightly coloured, can suffer from herringbone effect. Basic installation and set-up are handled from the built-in controls though the lack of a shutter adjustment, other than by connection to a PC seems like a retrograde step. Nevertheless all of the other exposure functions work well, including white balance, which coped admirably with mixed lighting conditions, however, if the scene lighting is predominantly from tube sources there is a good case for setting it manually, using the PC software option. Colours are generally accurate and natural-looking and noise levels are very low indeed in good scene lighting; at lower levels noise and grain are kept well in check.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

The monochrome camera lives up to all expectations and although there are plenty of cheaper models on the market, few if any can match the 0500 for performance, build quality, ruggedness plus of course the fine Philips pedigree and reputation for reliability. The 0600 does almost as well though it does depend on the optional PC software package to a slightly greater extent in order to exploit it’s flexibility to the full, which although convenient and easy to use does make it a little more expensive and less attractive for a one-off installation, though obviously on a multi-camera set-up the extra cost can be justified.

 

PRODUCT ASSESSMENT                      0500            0600

Design and design features                      ****            ****

Circuitry and components                *****            *****

Ease of installation and wiring            ****            ****

Range and variety of functions            ****            ***

Accompanying instructions              ****            ****              

Technical advice and backup            ****            ****

Value for money                         ****    ****                      

 

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ã R. Maybury 2000 0505

 


 

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