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VOLTEK SPECTRUM CCTV SYSTEM

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

Whilst developments at the top end of the video surveillance market continue to grab most of the headlines it’s important to remember that there is still a huge demand for simple down to earth CCTV solutions that do not necessarily require exotic or cutting-edge technologies.

 

Video surveillance systems designed for domestic and small business applications are a case in point and installers ignore this rapidly expanding market at their peril. There is now a huge choice of basic single camera systems, designed to be used with ordinary televisions and VCRs. Most of them work reasonably well, the standard of construction is generally quite good and they are generally suitable for DIY installation, however, they tend to be fairly limited in what they can achieve, and in most cases, provide little or no opportunity for the end user to expand their system.

 

Flexibility is one of the key features of the Spectrum CCTV system from Voltek Automation Ltd. It sits somewhere between the ‘one-box’ packages sold in DIY sheds and pukka multi-camera CCTV, providing the simplicity of installation, alignment and operation that is essential for the home user, with the facility to upgrade by adding extra cameras, sensors and automated recording devices.

 

The heart of the Spectrum system is the control unit, two types are available, the SP400, for up to 4 camera, and the SP800, 8 camera model. Apart from the number of cameras each unit controls they are otherwise identical. The SP400, which we’ve been looking at, has a number of functions, including camera switching, alarm activation and VCR control, all of which we’ll look at in more detail shortly.

 

Six camera types are available for use with the SP400 and 800 controllers. The SP10 and SP11 ‘Guardsman’ are compact indoor/outdoor types, (black and white and colour respectively) with integral weatherproof housing and mounting bracket, a built-in microphone and pre-terminated 20-metre cable. Both cameras can be used with an optional PIR detector (part no 1804).  The SP20 and SP21 cameras (B&W & colour), also suitable for indoor or outdoor installation, have built in PIR detectors. The black and white model additionally has IR illuminators and both have 20-metre terminated cables. Lastly the SP30 and SP31 (B&W & colour again) are covert models, built into conventional-looking wall-mounted PIR detectors.

 

Both the black and white and colour cameras are based on board camera modules with integral lenses. The basic black and white camera has a 1/3-inch CCD sensor with a minimum resolution of 0.1 lux and a claimed resolution of 420 lines. The supplied lens gives a 90-degree viewing. The colour camera uses a 1/4-inch CCD sensor with 4-lux minimum illumination, resolution is in the region of 320 lines and the viewing angle is 78 degrees.

 

Other optional extras for the Spectrum system include a wireless remote unit that allows it to control a VCR located some distance from the control unit. An alarm output module includes a timer controlled relay for operating external devices, and various types of video output adaptors are available, including an RF modulator and automatic SCART interface, which switches the monitor TV to a camera view when a PIR is activated.

 

The SP400 is housed in a small black box measuring 130 x 42 x 140mm. On the front panel, from left to right there’s a recessed button for setting the time and date on the internal clock (it has battery backup to keep it running in the event of a power failure). Next to that is a group of three buttons for VCR control (on/standby & channel up/down). In the middle there’s a red button for setting record mode and calling up the on-screen menus, next to that is a green LED status indicator and on its right is the manual camera selector button that steps through connected cameras in sequence. This button also doubles up as a ‘Panic Record’ switch and pressing the button will put a VCR controlled by the unit into record mode. On the far right is a rotary control for setting the volume of the internal alarm buzzer. Moving around to the back there’s a row of RJ45 sockets, one for each camera input, and two further RJ sockets on the far right for optional video adaptors and the wireless remote control module. Along the top edge of the back panel are three phono sockets for audio and video output and the VCR infrared control wand, in the top right hand corner is a DC input socket for the supplied 12V mains adaptor.

 

Inside the box there’s a single PCB containing a handful of chips, including one custom microprocessor. The standard of construction is high and it proved to be stable during our usual intermittency tests.   

 

SETUP AND OPERATION 

Since the cameras are supplied with cables and connectors installation is greatly simplified and the instructions contain sufficient information for a knowledgeable DIYer. The control unit has two menu screens, which appear when the red button is held down for more than five seconds. The first to appear is the User menu, which contains four items. ‘Reminder’ is a simple alarm function that gives an audible and on-screen warning at a preset time. ‘Mode’ has three options: Cycle + Trig sequences connected cameras until an alarm is activated, at which point it switches to the relevant camera. Mode 2 is Trig, which switches to an alarm connected camera, and ‘Cycle’ switches between the cameras, irrespective of any alarm triggers. Item three on menu 1 is the cycle time for the switcher (2 to 14 seconds) and ‘Clock Set’ is for setting the time and date.

 

The second menu covers installation with seven choices. ‘VCR Set’ is used to configure the infrared remote control system that operates the video recorder. A stored library of commands – transmitted from the plug-in wand that’s placed close to the VCR’s IR receiver – controls over 60 different brands of domestic VCR, which we suspect covers over 95% of the models available in the UK; the instructions warn that some TV/VCR ‘combis’ may not be included.  Item 2 is for VCRs that require the Play and Record buttons to be pressed to put it into the record mode. Item 3 is used to include or exclude the alarm functions on connected cameras. The ‘Rec Track’ function allows disabled cameras to automatically be re-enabled if they are triggered and ‘Rec Time’ sets the duration of the recording (30 or 60 seconds). Menu item 6 is ‘Pref Cam’ to specify a preferred camera when Spectrum is in Trigger mode and the last item, ‘Text’, is used to compose a 5-character ident for each camera input. 

 

During normal operation the screen displays the camera ident, time and date and operating mode in each of the four corners. A simple counter in the top right hand corner logs the number of alarm triggers. It would have been useful to switch any or all of them off or change the position or size of the text.

 

PERFORMANCE

The black and white camera supplied with our test unit had two prominent dud pixels close to the centre line of the screen. One or two faulty pixels around the edges of the image can sometimes be tolerated but in this instance they are a constant and highly visible annoyance. It should not have slipped through any reasonably stringent quality assurance checks. However, we’ll be charitable and count it as an unfortunate one-off, otherwise the camera produced a satisfactory image in a wide range of lighting conditions. Noise levels are low and the picture is very stable. The claimed resolution is not too far off at the centre of the screen but the supplied lens tends to soften the image towards the edges of the image.

 

The colour camera performed quite well; the auto exposure systems work well in a wide range of lighting conditions but it does need a fair amount of light – preferably natural daylight – to give its best. Centre-screen resolution on our sample was a shade below the manufacturer’s spec but the image still manages to look crisp and detailed. Colour accuracy is okay but there is a slight yellowish caste under fluorescent light. In the absence of any manual exposure or white balance controls there’s not a lot you can do about it, but the deviation is relatively minor and under most conditions it shouldn’t pose too many problems.

 

Camera switching is quite abrupt, the cameras are unsynchronised and, depending on the TV or display, there is a usually a momentary jump in the picture at the switching point. 

 

All cameras have built in microphones; these proved to be quite sensitive and were able to pick up normal conversations at a distance of several metres against a low level of ambient background noise.

 

The PIR sensors cover approximately the same area as the camera view and have a range of up to 10 metres, our test unit proved to be reasonably responsive though some form or manual sensitivity control would have been useful. We would also have liked to see a second video output for a monitor, as it stands it has to be routed through a VCR and onto a TV, which may not always be convenient. Lastly on the gripe list, the option of longer recording times would have been appreciated; 60 seconds may not be enough to capture an event or activities taking place outside of the range of the PIR.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Performance is satisfactory (but watch out for duff pixels…) however assuming that QC is on the ball it would be more than adequate for routine domestic and small-scale commercial installations. The controller and cameras are sensibly priced and it’s suitable for professional or DIY installation. A competent and simple to use system with a good range of upgrade options.

 

PRODUCT ASSESSMENT

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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ă R. Maybury 2000 3011

 


 

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