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SONY SSC-CX18VP

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

  

Surveillance cameras, like bribes and other items of a discreet or private nature tend to come in plain brown wrapping. There’s probably nothing sinister in this, CCTV camera packaging is brown coloured for reasons of simple utility and there’s no need for boxes to advertise their contents alongside products from rival manufacturers on dealers or retailers shelves. Nevertheless Sony appears to regards the SSC-CX18VP as worthy of a break from tradition and whilst the actual camera is still shipped inside a plain cardboard box the outer wrapping has been given the consumer product presentation treatment with colourful pictures of the unit and a bold feature list.

 

The SSC-CX18VP is markedly different to most of its boxy, cream-coloured cousins and this interesting new approach reflects the increasingly fine line now dividing commercial/industrial and domestic/consumer CCTV markets and applications. Sony has clearly identified a niche for a camera that blends in with modern interior design, that’s also easy to fit and setup, ‘…even by non-specialist installers...’ according to the camera’s publicity blurb.

 

Ease of installation hinges on the camera’s ‘Vari-Focal’ lens feature. It sounds quite exciting but basically it is a built-in 2.8 - 5.8mm lens, with manual focus and tele-wide adjustment, which means there’s no extra costs involved and no time needs to devoted to selecting and fitting a lens, adjusting back focus or aligning complex auto iris systems. With the CX18VP the best lens is already fitted and one size fits all and it can be up and running in minutes with a minimum of fuss. Incidentally, the SSC-CX18 is one of a family of four new compact cameras (58 (W) x 54 (H) x 133 (D) mm) sharing this new livery and fitted with Sony’s Vari-Focal lens. This one is a colour model with mains power supply, the CX13VP is the 24 VAC/12VDC variant whilst the SSC-MX13VCE and SSC-MX18VCE are black and white models with low voltage AC/DC and mains power supplies respectively.

 

Behind the lens there’s one of Sony’s finest 1/4-inch Interline Transfer Super HAD CCD image sensors (752 x 582 pixels) with a claimed resolution of 470-lines (570-lines for the B/W model). Low light sensitivity on the colour model is a fairly modest 1.8 lux (f1.4) and signal to noise ratio is quoted at more than 50dB. Exposure features include switchable backlight compensation, gain-up (‘Turbo’) and AGC, white balance is fully automatic. All AC powered models have the option of external line-lock synchronisation.

 

The eye-catching purple/silver-grey cosmetics suggest that Sony is not overly concerned about the camera being noticed, but the softer curvy lines and bold colour scheme make it look a lot less intrusive when set against contemporary decor. It’s a functional design too and the lens shroud provides the optics with a high degree of protection and has given the designers more freedom to play around with the shape. On the top of the purple plastic lens cover there is what can only be described as a ‘bonnet’, which flips opens to reveal two adjusting levers for zoom and focus. The silver-grey body section houses the electronics and is made from extruded alloy; mounting threads are fitted to the top and bottom of the casing.

 

On the back panel there’s a single BNC socket for composite video output, a two-pin Telefunken socket for the mains cable, a 4-way miniature DIP-switch (line lock, AGC on/off, gain up on/off, backlight compensation on/off) and two rotary adjustment for setting video level and line-lock phase.

 

Inside the case the camera’s electronics are divided between four tightly packed PCBs, held together by plastic sub frames that are part of the image sensor module and power supply assemblies. The main video processor board is smothered in surface mount components – this is definitely not another dressed up board camera – and the overall standard of construction is very high indeed. Interwiring between the boards is kept to a minimum, and very tidy it is too; the boards are held rigidly inside the case so it looks as though it should be able to stand up to a good deal of punishment. The case is not weatherproof however so the necessary measures need to be taken if it is to be installed in a hostile environment.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

Sony has certainly succeeded in one of its main objectives and the CX18 requires little or no special knowledge or skills to install. Once in position the zoom and focus can be set, the adjusting levers are threaded to lock them into position. The levers can be quite fiddly however, especially if the camera is mounted close to a ceiling, which can impede access.  It might have been better for the levers to be accessible from the underside, where they would have been a lot easier to get to. It doesn’t help that the adjustments are quite coarse and easily upset when locking the levers.  The only other preliminaries are for the exposure systems and depending on the lighting conditions it may be necessary to select the AGC, gain-up or backlight compensation modes; the video level setting is used to offset changes in iris level by making the picture lighter or darker.

 

PERFORMANCE

Video performance is very good indeed and the matching of the lens to the image sensor and integrating them into a single unit clearly has something to do with it. Resolution on our sample was very close to the stated 470 lines and in good light picture noise levels are well below average. The AGC is quite agile and responds quickly to changes in lighting levels; there’s sufficient leeway in the level control to get a balanced image picture in all but the most adverse conditions.

 

Stability is good and the image remained rock steady when the unit was subjected to a few taps with the Bench Test rubber mallet

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Cameras with integrated lenses are not a new idea nor does the SSC-CX18 do anything particularly interesting or unusual but video performance is very good indeed and the combination of flexible optics and a responsive exposure system means that it can provide a one-box solution for the vast majority of non-specialist surveillance jobs.

 

From an operational point of view there’s a couple of things we’d want to change, starting with the position of the focus and zoom adjusting levers, which would be a lot easier too get at if they were on the underside. The other one is the provision of a power-on indicator, preferably on the back panel, which can be an invaluable trouble-shooting aid. Otherwise it’s an impressive piece of kit, the Sony name and reputation inspires a lot of confidence and we suspect that the stylish, possibly even radical cosmetics will prove popular with design conscious customers.

 

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 2002

 

 


 

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