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There’s a widely held belief within the electronics industry that magnetic tape’s days are numbered, as the primary recording medium for video and audio information. In the short term -- possibly within the next ten years -- digital magnetic and optical disc systems will almost certainly replace tape in many applications -- including, we suspect video surveillance --  though the ultimate goal is a completely solid-state recording system, with nothing to wear out.


Microchips instead of video cassettes are still some way off, though maybe not as far as some people imagine. In fact they’re already with us in a limited form; several companies have developed solid-state digital cameras, that can record both still and moving images, though the cost and capacity of the current generation of memory chips remains prohibitive. Nevertheless, microchip memory prices continue to fall, driven on by the PC industry and this has clearly been a key factor in the development of the Cylops multi-image field store, from The Vision Research Company.


Cyclops is a digital solid-state video storage device with a capacity of 64 frames, divided between 8 switched and alarmed camera inputs. Each camera input channel has its own independent storage facility, that can hold 8 frames of colour video information. Image resolution is 512 x 256 roughly equivalent to the quality of a standard VHS recording. The digital picture information is compressed into a 12 megabyte RAM memory, this can be expanded to 24 megabytes -- doubling recording capacity to 16 frames per channel -- using an extra three standard 4 megabyte PC memory boards or SIMMs (serial in-line memory modules).


It’s housed inside a 19-inch 2U steel rack housing, with the main on/off switch and a set or simple push-button controls on the front. The eight camera inputs and monitor output (all composite video) use BNC sockets. Alarm inputs, external keyboard  and the communications port use a set of 9 and 15 pin D-Sub plugs and sockets. A standard IEC socket is used for the mains supply.


The controls are arranged in four groups. The first group (from left to right) is: memory clear and record; next come the four replay buttons (play, multi-display, forward and reverse frame stepper). Close to the centre of the panel are the 8 camera input selectors and sequence enable button. On the far right, is the ‘config’ button, which calls up the configuration menu, a power-on indicator and the main power switch.


When the Cyclops is active, images processed by each camera channel are stored and refreshed sequentially. Vision Research aptly compare this recording technique to a slowly spinning wheel, with 8 segments or memory slots. Images on each wheel or ‘loop’ are automatically updated or overwritten once every revolution. If an alarm event occurs, then a preset number of images preceding the activation are frozen, along with those that follow. Once full the store will not be updated, thus preserving both pre and post-alarm information. The refresh rate or ‘snatch’ time can be varied from 0.5 seconds to 4 seconds per frame. The number of frames captured before and after the event can be altered. Recordings can be downloaded onto tape, (good to see it still has some uses), for archiving or analysis, and to clear the unit’s memory. We understand that the latest version of Cyclops have new software, with a provision for automatic VCR recording of alarm events; this has to be done manually on our review sample.


Recorded frames can be played back in sequence and stepped forwards or backwards, they’re displayed along with time, date and camera information. A multi-frame display option shows all of the images stored in the loop in 3 x 3 format, in the case of an 8-image sequence, or 4 x 4, for machines set up to capture 16-image loops.


Cyclops is controlled by a password protected-configuration system, based around a menu-driven on-screen display. All important parameters can be altered, including a 32-character ident for each camera input, the sequence dwell time for the display, alarm configuration,  printer set-up (for producing hard-copy printouts of alarm activity), and the communications port, for interfacing external devices.


Operation is reasonably simple, though it helps to have the instruction manual to hand as some control operations are not particularly intuitive, moreover it’s relatively easy to loose or overrite data. It’s also worth pointing out that video information is stored on a volatile memory, and everything -- apart from the alarm log, which covers the previous 50 events, and configuration settings -- is lost if the power is switched off, or interrupted.



As the video information is stored digitally on microchips, access time is almost instantaneous, there’s no picture noise, and no degradation due to tape wear or noise.

Resolution at just under 240 lines comparable with standard VHS, though colour definition is quite coarse and it has a rather narrow grey scale. Of course much will depend on the camera input, and care taken during the initial set-up, but by the time loop recordings are downloaded onto VHS, images can begin to look a little whiskery.  



Cyclops is a clear illustration of what digital recording technology can do now, and provides a taste of what is to come, but it poses one important question: does it do anything more, or work any better than an existing technologies? The simple answer has to be no, though having the functions of a switcher and recording device in one box is very convenient and it may well be that Cyclops will turn out to be inherently more reliable than tape as there’s nothing to wear out, and it doesn’t require regular servicing. The bottom line is, Cyclops uses a lot of expensive and complicated technology to capture a small handful of still video images, with the same kind of picture quality as several hundred hours worth of material recorded on a relatively inexpensive VHS time-lapse VCR, with a switcher or multiplexer, that together cost around half as much.



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                         **                           



Ó R.Maybury 1996 3010









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