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APPRO MPX-9016

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

 

It is fair to say that standardisation has never been a particularly high priority for the video surveillance industry. Many manufacturers actively encourage -- some say coerce -- specifiers installers and end-users into using single brand compatible components. Of course this isn't necessarily a bad thing – in theory at least it ensures that all the bits in a system should work together -- but it can make it difficult to mix and match devices that may be better suited to a particular application.

 

The Appro MPX-9016 16-channel colour multiplexer certainly couldn't be accused of being antisocial, in fact the designers appear to have gone out of their way to make sure it will fit in with as many different camera and recording device permutations as possible. What's more several of the more tedious configuration routines have been automated, making it reasonably installer-friendly, though it's not without its foibles and funny little ways, as we shall see…

 

Nevertheless the feature list looks impressive. The 9016 is a full spec duplex design that allows simultaneous playback and recording (with two VCRs). Installation is greatly simplified with the use of auto VCR recording speed detection and synchronisation, which means it can work with the widest range of devices, moreover it is able to replay tapes recorded using many other manufacturer's multiplexers. Display options include user-set sequencing, single and multi-screen PIP, quad, 3 x 3 and 4 x 4. It has advanced individual motion sensing for each camera channel, video loss and 16 alarm sensor inputs, electronic 2x zoom with pan and tilt, camera titling and brightness control, alarm logging, covert camera operation, password protection and 3 relay outputs.

 

Appro has studiously avoided any attempt to make the MP-9016 (or any of its four and nine camera stablemates) stand out from the crowd. It is housed in a slim plain beige case that can be freestanding or rack-mounted. On the front panel there is a long unbroken row of 24 identical buttons, most of them with associated indicator lamps, 16 of which (left side) are the camera selectors. The others are for mode selection, menu navigation and display layout.

 

The backside is almost as uncontroversial, but not quite. The thin case means it is quite crowded, there are two tightly –packed rows of BNC connectors for the camera inputs and loop-throughs, VCR in/out, and two monitor (main and call) outputs. Four 4-way mini DIP switches, spaced at intervals between the camera sockets, switch the inputs terminations between 75ohm and high impedance. There are also two 4-pin mini DIN sockets for S-Video input and output for a S-VHS/high-band VCR. On the far left are two female 25-pin D-sub connectors into which a contraption called the Expansion Board plugs. This works as a cable 'break out' for the 16 associated alarm/sensor inputs, alarm output, external VCR triggering, RS232 remote control and an optional VGA video output. Whilst in principle this looks like a sensible idea the Expansion Board is quite bulky and increases the depth of the installation by at least 10cm (almost 4-inches), virtually negating any size advantage it might have over larger designs. It could also be a problem in some circumstances if the added depth isn't known about until the unit is unpacked. The board looks like a clumsy afterthought and we can see it causing difficulties. Fortunately it's a reasonably simple problem to resolve with a pair of 25-pin to 25pin cables, but a more elegant solution could have been devised in the first place.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

Installation is reasonably intuitive, but once again it could have been better. The on-screen menu display, which is called up by pressing and holding two front panel buttons, looks as though it is based on the graphics chip of an ancient Sinclair ZX81 computer. The main menu uses a painfully small character set, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to read. It's not as if there's a space problem and all of the options are cramped into the top third of the screen.  It’s not all bad news, though, on some setup menu screens there's an inset PIP screen, which can be very helpful, even so in most cases the text is still much smaller than it needs to be and it looks as though it has been designed in a hurry, by someone with very little experience in on-screen display design and layout.

 

The main menu has seven options (time/date/title, sequence, VCR operation, alarm operation, camera type/brightness/covert, password/comms and test pattern and motion detection setup), which each leads to a set of sub-menus. Incidentally, the test pattern – a set of colour bars – is a very handy utility for setting up monitors and cable testing. Most operations are straightforward, and the motion detection facility deserves special praise. It is very flexible with variable target size and 10 levels of sensitivity, however set up and configuration are a little unconventional and it does take a while to get to grips with it. The camera setup menu is also worth a mention and the variable brightness control is a definite bonus.

 

PERFORMANCE

Video processing is exceptionally clean with no visible artefacts and no apparent increase in noise levels. The live monitor image is sharp and crisply defined with no significant loss of colour fidelity. Manual and sequence camera switching is fast and there's no loss of stability. The electronic zoom feature is a notch up on the norm, the 'pan & tilt' effect displays an opaque preview screen appears momentarily clearly showing which part of the image is being enlarged.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

From a performance standpoint the MPX-9016 gets a very clean bill of health, what goes in comes out more or less unscathed, the image is crisp, steady and accurately rendered. However, we have two operational gripes. There was clearly not enough room on the back panel for any more connections and the idea of a breakout box for the external connections is a reasonable one, but the plug-in module supplied is a far from ideal solution. Secondly, the on-screen displays are too small and crudely implemented. In the scheme of things these criticisms are relatively minor in nature and should be easy for the manufacturer to address if they've a mind to and in the end they do not detract from what is basically a sound overall design. 

 

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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ã R. Maybury 2001 0802

 


 

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