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FARFISA OBSERVATION KIT

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

 

The older and more tuneful ones amongst you might remember the Farfisa name in another context, namely musical instruments. In fact Farfisa, which is responsible for the TVK12 Observation System we're about to look at, started out as a division of the Italian musical instrument company of the same name but became a separate entity following a management buy out in 1993. Since then has it become an established player in European video entry-phone, intercom, CCTV, telecoms and push-button panels markets. 

 

The TK12 is the first of its CCTV products to reach the UK and clearly it is hoping to strike a chord with UK installers, so on that somewhat strained note we'll compose our thoughts and begin with the key features…

 

Various configurations are available but the core component is a 12-inch black and white monitor with built in 4-channel camera switcher, a set of alarm and recording functions plus a two-way intercom facility with compatible cameras. Incidentally a system based around a 10-inch monitor/switcher (TK10) is also available. The basic package includes a single fixed lens camera but we've also been testing a second camera with an interchangeable lens. Also available are PIR sensor modules that fix to the top of the camera

 

Cameras connect to the monitor by a single pre-terminated 20-metre cable that carries power, audio, video and alarm connections. 80 metre extension cables are available (taking the maximum cable run to 100 metres) as optional extras along with a range of lenses and a weatherproof housing.

 

The compact off-white monitor looks pretty much like a small portable domestic TV with a set of seven push buttons (each with a green indicator LED) and an on/standby switch on the front panel. The buttons are for selecting auto/manual camera switching, camera selection, VCR playback and the intercom talk button. A set of adjustments for brightness, contrast, vertical hold, volume control and the camera interval timing adjustment (3 to 60 seconds) are located behind a hinged flap on the left side of the front panel. A small hole next to the flap is for the intercom microphone and a speaker is mounted on the right side of the cabinet. 

 

Around the back there's quite an array of socketry. Each of the 'plug-and-play' cameras has its own 6-pin mini DIN connector and six RCA/phono sockets handle AV input and output for a VCR and there's a separate set of AV outputs for a slave monitor. There's also a bank of spring terminals for a set of 4 external alarm/sensor inputs and one alarm output, which can be used to trigger the recording mode on a VCR. This latter facility is unusual on packaged observation systems and extends its usefulness considerably, especially in retail applications, for evidential purposes and where the premises may be unoccupied for extended periods.

 

If an alarm input is activated the monitor switches to the relevant camera input, sounds an alarm and switches the alarm output; this condition is held for a fixed period of 15 seconds after which -- if no subsequent triggers are received -- it reverts to its previous state.  Also on the back panel is the captive mains power supply cable and a master on/off switch. Inside the unit build quality is fine, on a par with budget to mid-range monitors and it feels reasonably sturdy.

 

The basic outfit is supplied with one TVKT1 camera. It’s small – almost cubical in shape – measuring just 52 x 61 x 45 and it comes with it's own adjustable wall/ceiling pedestal mount. It has a fixed 4.3mm lens, which is mounted behind a transparent window on the front, there's also a hole for the microphone and behind a tinted section of the window there are four infra-red LEDs, to improve close-up low light sensitivity. The polycarbonate case has standard mounting threads top and bottom and a tiny speaker built into the underside. On the back there's a single 6-pin mini DIN socket for the connecting cable and a set of four spring terminals for an alarm input or the optional PIR sensor module. It's based on a board camera module with a 1/3-inch CCD. No figure for resolution is given but the sensor has a 492 x 512 pixel array and a low-light sensitivity of 0.1 lux, viewing angled are 74 degrees horizontal and 55 degrees vertical.

 

The optional TVKT2 camera has almost identical characteristics to the TVKT1 except that it doesn't have the IR illuminators and it is fitted with a C/CS lens mount. Farfisa can supply four compatible fixed iris lenses with focal lengths of 4, 6, 8 and 12mm.

 

No claims are made for the camera's weatherproof properties and they are really only suitable for us indoors, nevertheless they are quite well protected against the ingress of dust and moisture. The cases afford a fair amount of protection and the board modules proved to be resilient and unaffected by moderate physical shock metered out by the Bench Test rubber mallet.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

Installation is completely painless and the system is essentially an adjustment-free zone. At the camera end the only preliminaries are to fix and attach the mounting hardware, plug in the cable, and point it in the right direction. (TVKT2 types need to have their focus set and any PIR module or alarm connections). It's similarly straightforward at the monitor. The camera inputs that will be switched need to be manually configured but this takes about ten seconds (hold down the Auto sequencer button until it flashes, select each camera input on the front panel and press Auto again). Adjusting the dwell time might also occupy another few seconds and tweaking the brightness and contrast levels to suit the viewing conditions might take the total timed needed to set the system up to a round minute. The instructions are adequate, there's the odd howler and the layout could have been tidier but all of the information an installer and end user is likely to need is included. In short it's a doddle to install and as near as dammit idiot-proof. 

 

PERFORMANCE

The rounded edges and curvy screen faceplate gives the monitor a slightly old-fashioned look to it but image brightness, contrast and resolution are satisfactory. The lack of any camera controls or adjustments rightly suggests that it is designed to operate in relatively undemanding conditions. The standard TVKT1 camera can handle a wide range of scene illumination and it copes quite well with sudden changes in brightness level but the simple exposure control systems can sometimes be caught out by bright lights in the scene area and strongly backlit objects. Image sharpness on our samples was generally good with a reasonably well-balanced contrast range that's able to resolve a fair amount of detail in shadows and dark corners. 

 

The cameras are not synchronised and the switcher appears to be a basic design as the picture looses lock for around one frame period at the switching point. This is a fairly common problem on budget systems and it can be quite irritating and tiresome to watch for long periods.

 

Two-way audio is a definite bonus; the microphones built into the cameras have good forward sensitivity and can easily pick up speech at a distance of two or three metres from the lens when there is a low level of ambient noise. The speaker built into the monitor is a bit tinny and there's not much volume on tap but it should be adequate for most applications. The speakers inside the cameras are minute (barely 2cm across) and not very loud, it is just about possible to make yourself understood, providing there's not too much background noise where the camera is located.

 

Incidentally, our sample had an odd little quirk. When using the intercom facility to talk back to an individual camera the other camera in the system emitted a slight buzzing sound and the built-in microphone and speaker both became active which could result in low level feedback producing the characteristic 'howl-round'. It's not a huge problem and likely to go unnoticed in most situations but in a worst case scenario the noise could draw unwanted attention to a discretely located camera, which at the time would not be active. At the time of writing the UK importers were investigating the effect to ascertain whether it was a one-off on our system or an inherent design fault.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

The lack of installer and user adjustments cuts both ways; it makes the system incredibly easy to install, set up and use but it may limit its usefulness in more challenging situations and the option to use the system with more advanced cameras would have been welcome. The range of facilities is generally good though we would have preferred to have some control over the alarm timing, 15 seconds is not really sufficient for triggering a recording event on some VCRs. Apart from that the system gets a reasonably clean bill of health. Picture quality is good enough for domestic and small-scale retail applications, build quality is satisfactory, the facilities compare well with rival systems – in fact some features, like the VCR and alarm options are rarely seen on this type of product  -- and it is keenly priced.

 

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 1009

 

 


 

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