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VIDETE IT DTS 800 TRIPLEX HARD DISC VIDEO RECORDER

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

The old saying about if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck can be readily transposed to the Videte IT DTS 800. It looks like a PC, it works like a PC and indeed it is a PC. However, don't expect to be able to play Solitaire or surf the web on this machine, it is dedicated to one specific task, or rather three, namely video multiplexing, activity detection and time lapse recording.

 

The fact that it is based on a PC with a 633MHz Celeron processor, 64MB of RAM and a 40GB hard disc running Windows NT is largely irrelevant to the end user or operator because apart from a few brief flashes of the Windows boot up sequence at switch on, it quickly settles down into its designated role and all traces of the operating system are kept firmly behind the scenes and out of sight. The only visible sign that it's not a bog-standard desktop PC can be found on the back panel where, instead of the usual blanked off expansion slots, there are two banks of BNC sockets for camera inputs, another set of BNCs for external video monitors and a 25-pin D-Sub connector for up to 16 external alarm inputs.

 

Our test sample has provision for up to 8 camera inputs, 4 and 16 camera versions are also available with proportionately smaller or larger hard disc drives (20Gb or 72Gb). Images are stored on the hard disc and will be eventually overwritten – more about that in a moment – but there is the option to send still images to a floppy disc or printer, or archive video footage on an optional built-in CD-R (recorder), which can be replayed on any multimedia PC.

 

The software designers have gone to extraordinary lengths to make the system easy to use, and virtually foolproof. To begin with it is 'plug and play', which basically means there's virtually no configuration to worry about and cameras can be 'hot-plugged' whilst the system is running, so there's no need to reboot. There's no keyboard either, everything is controlled from a standard 2-button mouse and displayed on a PC monitor, with all of the operator and administrator functions condensed into a small on-screen control panel.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

When the system has booted up the first step is to enter the four-digit PIN code into the on-screen control panel after which the camera images appear. At that point a range of display options are available including full-screen single, quad and 1 + 5; these are switchable by right-clicking the mouse when the pointer is over an image, or a camera can be manually selected from the control panel. When the mouse pointer is moved over an image it changes to a magnifying glass and clicking the left mouse button electronically enlarges the image in three stages, clicking and holding shifts the area of the magnified image and right clicking restores it back to normal size. It is very intuitive and only takes a few minutes to master.

 

In order to maximise the image area and reduce clutter the control panel automatically shrinks into a corner when it has been idle for more than a few seconds. One click with the mouse on the icon restores it to normal size and it can be moved to any part of the screen.

 

The panel contains a set of numeric buttons for camera selection and setup (time, date etc.). Menus are accessed from four arrow shaped buttons; along the bottom edge there's a row of VCR type transport buttons (forward/reverse play, picture search, frame step etc.), in the middle there's a set of arrow buttons for accessing menus, and icons for downloading still images to a floppy disc or printer. The operator menu has only a couple of options (full screen and display lock). A second PIN is required to access the setup menu. The options include picture settings for each camera (brightness, contrast and saturation), composing camera titles (1 line x 16 characters) using a 'virtual' on-screen keyboard, setting camera timers, activity detection, system time/date, printer, language, PIN change and a set of system options. The latter includes an event log, system shutdown, software update, system statistics and Target Display on/off.  This particular feature is set to on by default and comprises a pair of moving cross-hairs, centred on any movement in any of the displayed images. It certainly looks very impressive and on a clear, contrasty and well-lit image it is very effective, and fascinating to watch…

 

So far the system hasn't strayed too far from the kind of features you might expect to find on any reasonably recent, mid-range multiplexer/VCR setup, but the hard disc recording system used by the DTS 800 has several major advantages over tape. The most important one is Contact Controlled Recording and this how the system makes best use of the space available on the hard disc drive. Tape based systems either record continuously, and therefore waste time and tape on vast amounts of irrelevant data, or record only when an alarm is triggered and thereby miss the events leading up to the activation. Contact Controlled Recording provides the best of both worlds. In the Alarm/Pre Alarm recording mode and the system is at rest i.e. no activity, each camera channel is recorded – with a superimposed time and date stamp -- at the rate of one frame per second and this is buffered for 15 minutes. If activity is detected the recording rate increases to two frames per second for 15 minutes and it stores 10 stills, shot at the moment of activation, the alarm and pre-alarm recordings are then moved to a protected archive. A second alarm mode is also available; Activity Detection records at 1/2 fps all of the time and records a still image once every hour.

 

Stored and archive recordings can be viewed at any time, either all at once or defined by time and/or date and the system continues to record as normal during replay. According to the display mode selected the recorded image is replayed as a single, main (1 + 5) or quad screen whilst live images from the cameras remain on the screen. The replay image is treated in exactly the same way as a live image and can be shown in any of the normal display formats and zoomed using the magnifying glass utility.

 

The system keeps two logs; the first, called Statistics lists all of the recordings stored on the hard disc under the headings of camera name, start time, days and images. 'Days' shows how long the system will keep the images, before they are overwritten, and the actual number of images stored. The second log records error events, such as interruption to the video inputs or insufficient disc space for archiving alarm events.

 

PERFORMANCE

Images are recorded as compressed JPEG files with a resolution of 720 x 288 pixels which in terms of picture quality comes somewhere between standard and Super VHS. In practice images look noticeably cleaner than tape based recordings with significantly lower levels of noise and the picture is rock solid with no trace of jitter in still mode. Moreover, replaying images from disc means it's possible to get to any part of a recording in a fraction of the time it takes to wind through a tape, and there's no delay or picture instability when changing replay speed or direction.  Moreover, since the image is recorded as digital data there is no reduction in picture quality over time or how ever many times it is played back.

 

Images archived onto floppy disc also look very good and one very useful little touch is that a viewer utility is automatically recorded on the disc, in case the PC it is shown on doesn't have its own image viewer.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

So far it has all been positive and indeed the system is exceptionally easy to use, picture performance is very good and installation and setup is a doddle, however, it behoves us to make a few operational notes that could affect some users. Whilst we appreciate the high degree of automation the system really could do with a few more manual controls, on a separate menu if necessary, or in the form of pop-up dialogue boxes. The main problem concerns the way the system appears to arbitrarily delete or overwrite recordings. As it stands the user/operator seems to have little or no control over what is stored and what is discarded. It really needs some sort of recording management system that shows in more detail when recordings have been made, disc space used/remaining and the facility to flag or protect recordings.

 

Second, more recording options would be welcome; the 1 or 2 fps is just about adequate for capturing slow movement – a person walking across the scene for example – but faster moving objects, such as motor vehicles are in and out of the picture too quickly. Higher speeds during an alarm event, even at the expense of gobbling up hard disc space could prove very useful in some situations. 

 

Third, the activity detection system has only three sensitivity settings (low, mid and high) and whilst it has an automatic 'mask' that is quite effective at ignoring spurious or random activity, there's no provision for manually masking busy areas. Fourth, it would be useful to have some way of deciding the position of the sub screens in a 1 + 5 display and last but not least, the system shutdown control is buried deep in the setup menu, requiring a second password to safely switch the machine off. That's all well and good but there is nothing to stop anyone just pressing the power button on the front, risking a crash that could cause data to be lost. At the very least the front panel power switch should be disabled – accidents will happen – it should be moved around to the back and the safe shutdown command made more accessible on the operator menu.

 

Finally, just in case anyone is listening, a plea for the system to be able to record audio. Even lo-fi/highly compressed sound is better than nothing and it needn't have a big impact on the systems recording times.

 

To sum up, the DTS 800 is another sure sign – if one were needed -- that tape is on the way out and the PCs are taking over. Generally it has been very well thought out and performance is at least as good as, and in most cases, better than tape. It has a few shortcomings but they are relatively minor in nature and – apart from the location of the power switch -- should relatively easy to address in software, if the manufacturer has a mind to.  It's cost-effective alternative to conventional video multiplexers and analogue time-lapse VCRs and surely a sign of even more impressive things to come with the promise of faster processors, cheaper memory and hard disc storage space. Watch this space!

 

 

 

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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γ R. Maybury 2001

 

 


 

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