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VICON KOLLECTOR KOL-4000

 

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Any lingering doubts you may have over the crucial role the PC has to play in video surveillance, now and in the future, are dispelled when you come face to face with the Vicon Kollector KOL-4000. It’s a complete ‘one box’ solution fulfilling the main requirements of a medium-scale video surveillance system, namely live monitoring and control of up to 16 cameras, external and internal (motion detection) alarm facilities, high quality video recording, multiplexing and optional networking capabilities.

 

There’s nothing particularly new or novel in the concept of integrating the main components of a surveillance system into one convenient and easy to use box but the Vicon Kollector is different. It is PC-based, heavily reliant on a number of off-the-shelf components. Inside the box there is a more or less standard PC motherboard and hard disc drive, the operating system is Windows 98, and the main user interface is a PC screen and mouse, rather than a video monitor. However, the designers have been careful to keep the PC well hidden, there is no direct access to Windows and the Kollector boots up directly to the Vicon operating software.

 

Apart from the brief appearance of the familiar Windows ‘passing clouds’ opening and closing screens you wouldn’t even know it was there. This is a major benefit for operators and end-users. Unlike most other PC based applications and devices there is no need whatsoever for an operator to have any background or training in the use of a PC, other than how to use a mouse. The use of common components also has benefits for installers, particularly those with a grounding in the ways of the PC, moreover if – perish the thought – anything should go wrong, it should be reasonably simple to troubleshoot.

 

The Kollector range of products is available in a variety of configurations; our review sample was set up as a LAN Server capable of operating in standalone mode or as part of an Ethernet network system made up of multiple KOL-4000’s. The PC section is based around a 500MHz Celeron processor with 128Mb of RAM and a 25Gb hard drive (there is provision for up to 3 additional drives). The only operational requirement – apart from a mains supply and the camera inputs -- is a standard SVGA monitor capable of displaying an 800 x 600 16-bit True Colour image. Backup devices, such as DVD-RAM and CD-RW drives are available as factory-fitted options.

 

Kollector uses a highly efficient version of the MPEG 1 (Motion Picture Experts Group) video compression system, however this particular variant (Kollector DiSS) overcomes some of the fundamental problems of standard MPEG, including resolution, poor still frame stability, and file size. The average Kollector image file is in the region of 3Kb or between a quarter and a sixth the size of comparable M-JPEG and standard MPEG compression systems. The length of time the system can record, before data is overwritten, is dependent on a number of factors, including how many cameras are connected and compression levels. In a 16-camera setup using normal default settings (320 x 240 pixel image and a frame rate of 1.3fps) Vicon estimate that a standard 25Gb drive has the capacity to store between 20 and 25 days worth of recordings.

 

Before we look at what else it can do a quick look at the box. Kollector is housed in a large and heavy rack-mountable case. There’s not much to see on the front panel, apart from a hinged flap and a row of 16 LEDs, one for each camera channel. The flap is protected by a hefty key lock, it opens to reveal a standard floppy disc drive (for saving still images and loading software updates), a protected master on/off button, recessed reset button and what must be the most bizarre feature seen on any item of video surveillance equipment in a very long while! It’s a motorised sliding mouse pad, press the button marked Push and out it comes, complete with a Microsoft wheel mouse. It’s marvellous and great fun to play with but it also has a serious purpose and activating the mouse pad puts the PC screen into setup mode, but more about that in a moment. Kollector is configured to boot up and go straight into record mode as soon as it is connected to power and cameras, hence the locked door. In the normal course of events once it is configured and in the absence of any alarm events, there should rarely be any need to open the door.

 

The back panel looks like a cross between the backside of a PC and a video multiplexer, which is basically what it is. Along the top there’s a row of 16 camera inputs, but surprisingly no loop-throughs. Below that, in the centre of the case there are four banks of connectors for alarm inputs and outputs and there’s a pair of phono sockets for an external tape backup device and video spot monitor. The rest of the connections are all to do with the PC side of things and comprise standard D-Sub sockets for a VGA monitor, serial communications, printer port, LAN port, external keyboard and modem. The PSU module, on the left side has a built in UPS (uninterruptible power supply) facility, that will keep the unit powered for several minutes, if the mains supply fails, which should be long enough for the system to save data and safely power down.

 

With cameras and monitor connected and the system up and running in default record mode the PC screen displays a single or multi-screen image  (quad, 6+1, 3 x 3, 12+1 or 4 x 4), opening the mouse draw changes the display to the main desktop with the image surrounded by control panels. These include the screen selector icons and a set of camera selector buttons, or you can simply click on an image to call up a full screen display. Down the right side are time and date display and icons to call up the camera control and system setup menus.

 

Setup can be password protected to prevent unauthorised or accidental tinkering. It opens with a tabbed set of windows and dialogue boxes. The ‘Camera’ tab covers settings for image quality, creating an ident and motion detector setup (15 x 20 target grid, variable sensitivity setting).  Tab 2 covers network settings, tab 3 deals with sensor and alarm setup. Tab 4 is called Camera Control; this includes setup dialogues for specifying a PTZ controller (18 drivers available) and for setting camera positions. The Camera Colour tab contains a set of sliders for adjusting a range of picture parameters for each camera (brightness, contrast, chroma & hue), tab 6 ‘Quad’ is concerned with the setup for an analogue video monitor and tab 7, Setup is concerned with a number of housekeeping functions, including camera sequencing and scheduling, recording data rate/speed, image size (320 x 240 or 640 x 240 pixels). Tab 8, ‘Update’ is used to download software upgrades from floppy disc.

 

Reviewing recordings is reasonably straightforward. After exiting record mode the display changes to the Search screen, showing a set of ‘transport’ keys, ‘timeline’ bar representing the previous hour of recording, time and date display, camera selector and display mode buttons. This screen also includes the option to print or save a selected image to floppy disc and save recordings to backup devices. Recordings can be located in a number of ways, including a simple sequential search, hour by hour, or directly, by using the time and date displays.

 

Images can be viewed as full frame or multi-screen. There is a full set of replay controls, including variable speed, high-speed search, still and slomo and since the video data is recorded on a disc, it’s possible to instantly access any part of a recording.  One other very useful feature is a powerful electronic zoom, controlled by the right and left zoom buttons. 

 

Picture quality is generally very good, it compared favourably with analogue VHS in terms of resolution, images are noticeably cleaner with little or no noise though colour fidelity and depth is not as good as the better analogue systems. Processing artefacts are occasionally evident in areas of rapid movement and background, especially ones containing little or no detail can appear quite heavily textured.

 

Technically Kollector performs well but it is let down by a number of operational quirks, stating with the instruction manual. It is unusually difficult to follow and poorly laid out. It looks and feels as though it was written by someone who knows the product inside out, but very little idea of how to convey that knowledge to those unfamiliar with the concept; even a simple index or glossary would help.

 

Second, it lacks a clear easy to follow disc usage displays; it would be helpful to have a concise record of non-alarm recording, making it easier to dip back into a recording to analyse an event with a simple time and date display; it’s the kind of thing consumer hard disc recording systems do very well. Kollector has the makings of a milestone products but it has a few rough edges. Many of them could be smoothed over by rewriting the operating manual for the benefit of installers and end users, the rest are mostly related to on-screen presentation and once again can be quickly resolved. Nevertheless it remains a powerful illustration of how many video surveillance functions can be seamlessly integrated into one box what the PC in general and digital video recording in particular has to offer.

 

PRODUCT SPECIFICATION

 

Power supply              230 VAC 50Hz

Weight                        18kg

Dimensions                 483 x 178 x 450mm

 

PSI RATINGS

 

Product                      

Product design             8

Build quality                           9

Ruggedness                            9

 

Operation                  

General functions                     9

CCTV functions                     8         

Ease of use                             7

Instructions                            6

Manuf. support                        ?         

Performance                           8

Video quality                          8

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000 2711

 

 


 

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