ERNITECH INTEGRATED CAMERA UNIT
WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...
Pan-tilt camera systems tend to come in one of two flavours:
naked or fully clothed… The former type has a clear utilitarian function and is
designed to see and be seen. The latter -- usually shrouded by a smoked-black
plastic dome -- is meant to be less obvious, both in what it is looking at and
in outward appearance. Now there's a move towards a third variety of motorised
surveillance camera, typified by designs like the Ernitech Integrated Camera Unit
or ICU, which is an elegant halfway-house solution intended to blend in with
contemporary interiors and architecture.
Close-up it is visually striking but the two-tone grey and
cream livery are relatively neutral and shouldn't attract too much attention. Indeed
it could go almost unnoticed amongst the kind of wall and ceiling fittings now
common in shopping malls, retail outlets and modern office buildings.
The unit is fairly compact, measuring just 240mm from top to
toe and the circular ceiling mounted drive/support unit has a diameter of
180mm. The camera unit can rotate through a full 360 degrees at a rate of 120
degrees per second (variable 0 to 24 deg/sec under manual control). The tilt
range is 180 degrees at 60 degrees per second (automatic) or variable 0 to 12
degrees/sec in the manual mode. The ICU has full auto-reverse capabilities for
both pan and tilt actions, rapidly re-positioning the camera if the subject or
object being followed requires the mount to pass beyond the end-stop.
There are two basic control options, the ICU can be
connected to a dedicated keyboard or matrix control system via an RS 485 link,
or it can be linked to a PC, using an RS232 serial connection. The RS 485
connection allows up to 32 ICUs to be networked and individually addressed; PC
control, via an RS 232 cable enables variable-speed pan/tilt control, up to 30
positions can be programmed and it can be integrated with local alarm systems
for automatic response. Additionally PC control allows the operator to set and
adjust key camera parameters and switch an internal relay, to remotely operate
a light or some other device.
The camera is a high performance colour model with a
motorised 10x optical zoom built in, having a fixed speed of 2.5 seconds from
end to end. The 0.3-inch interline CCD image sensor has a stated low light sensitivity
of 3 lux and a horizontal resolution of 430 lines. Additional facilities
include presettable backlight compensation mode, variable electronic shutter
(1/125th to 1/10,000th second in 9 steps), automatic or manual white balance,
manual or automatic AGC and a switchable sharpness option. These functions can
be set on the camera head, though the last two (AGC and sharpness) can also be
controlled from the PC control program, of which more in a moment.
From the outside there's not a lot to see, the outer panels
are very well protected, almost impossible to remove and provide a very high
level of protection. The unit is primarily designed for interior use though it
can be used outdoors when mounted inside a suitable housing.
All connections are routed through the mounting plate. This
is a bayonet type fixing with a simple hidden locking mechanism, to prevent it
being removed. A security wire is supplied, to prevent damage should the camera
fall during removal or fitting. The composite video output cable is pre-fitted
and terminated in a BNC connector, all other connections -- including power,
telemetry, control and alarm -- are routed to a small 21-way spring terminal
block. It's not an ideal solution; we much prefer some kind of single quick-release
plug as it means all connections will have to made in-situ.
The unit is also provided with balanced video and S-Video
(Y/C) video outputs on the terminal block. A miniature 8-way DIP switch is
situated next to the spring terminal, this is used to set a unique camera
address -- when it is used in a network configuration -- as well as enabling internal
or external camera controls and setting the auto-reverse function. The
connections bay is protected by a removable metal plate held in place by four
The only other installer/user controls are on the side of
the camera module, behind a removable cover. There's an 8-way miniature DIP
switch for setting flickerless/tube lighting mode, internal or line-lock synchronisation,
sharpness on/off, backlight control on/off, AGC on/off and white balance
function (auto tracing, manual, fixed 3200K for tungsten and fixed 5600k for
natural light). There are two recessed variable presets for adjusting manual
white balance and line-lock phase, plus a rotary switch for selecting shutter speed.
A small thermostatically controlled fan is built into the
rear end of the camera module. The one on our sample kicked in every ten
minutes or so. That was in spite of the environmental air temperature not rising
above 22 degrees C, moreover the casing never felt more than slightly warm to
Although the external casing is quite difficult to remove we
managed to get a peek at the innards and what we saw was most encouraging. The
mechanics are designed and built to a very high standard indeed and look as
though they should give long and trouble-free service. The same goes for the
key electronic modules, all of which are built using glass fibre PCBs and
mostly populated with surface mount components.
The ICU control software is supplied on a single 3.5-inch
diskette and it will run on any IBM PC or compatible using Windows 3.1, Windows
9x or OS/2 operating systems. The installation takes just a few minutes and
follows normal Windows routines. When the ICU program is run for the first time
it is necessary to configure the communication port and confirm (and where
necessary change) the communication protocols. All of the necessary information
is contained in a text file that installs with the control software.
When set-up is complete the ICU control program can be started
from the program group; it opens with a graphic of the unit, overlaid by a 'virtual'
on-screen keypad. The PC mouse using normal point and click actions selects all
remote functions. The buttons on the keypad are divided into three groups. On
the far left there's a numerical keypad, this is used to set camera IDs and
addresses and change various parameters. Next to that there's a cluster of
eight buttons for camera selection, setting and storing sequences, programming
the dwell time and a handy facility called Reverse Image. This inverts the
picture, enabling the ICU to be mounted upside down, as it were, on a tabletop
The next group of 12 buttons is mostly for camera functions
and switching the internal auxiliary control relay. The camera options include
iris (open-close), focus (far-near), zoom (tele-wide), backlight compensation
(on/off), auxiliary relay (on/off) and 'goto' pre-position. Finally, on the far
right there are the pan/tilt direction and speed controls. The set-up sub-menu --
accessible from a button below the pan-tilt buttons includes a joystick
simulation option, where pan-tilt speed returns to minimum when the mouse key
is released. The speed remains constant when set to the default, non-joystick mode.
The same dialogue box also contains a slider to vary speed increments. Along
the top of the keypad there is a display panel, this shows camera ident and
Camera movements are programmed from a separate sub menu
that can be called up from the main opening page. This also has an auto panning
facility, with a slider control, to vary the speed. Additional dialogue boxes
for the alarm and camera settings are included on the set-up menu. Once the
configuration settings and sequences has been programmed they can be stored as
a named file on the PC.
INSTALLATION AND OPERATION
The instructions, although on the brief side (and somewhat
haphazardly presented) contain all of the information necessary for a
relatively smooth installation. The circular ceiling mount plate is held in
place by just three screws, which is straightforward enough but a few more
details about its orientation -- to avoid problems with the fixed end-stops --
might come in useful useful, as would some more in-depth advice about setting
the camera controls. In contrast the instructions for the PC control software
covers a lot of ground and is well illustrated with screen shots. However, the
usual on-line help facility -- an important and more or less standard feature
of all Windows software -- was either missing or hadn't been written. Clicking
on Help on the menu bar simply bought up a notice detailing the software
Power for our test sample was provided by an external mains
adaptor; for the record the ICU requires a 9 to 12 volt AC supply, with a
maximum current rating of up to 4 amps. Whenever the ICU is powered up it goes
through a mandatory self-test routine lasting for 35 seconds, during which time
the camera carries out a sequence of pan, tilt and zoom actions, before coming
to a stop on the default home position. The motors and gear trains are
surprisingly noisy, emitting a high pitched whine, when moving at high speed.
Noise levels drop significantly when under manual control, which is a good deal
Our review ICU was tested using PC control; we tried it with
an ageing 486 laptop and a 233 PII system with no noticeable difference in
response or performance of the unit, or the PC controls. Pan-tilt action is very
smooth indeed with well co-ordinated and precise control at all speeds. Manual iris, focus and zoom adjustments are
reasonably swift as well and although some under and overshoot is inevitable at
first, operators will quickly get used to it.
The video image from the camera is most impressive.
Autofocus is fairly lively and there's a slight tendency to hunt when contrast
levels are low but in favourable conditions it locks on quickly and can easily
keep pace with PTZ actions. Resolution on our sample, using a normal composite
video feed, was very close to the manufacturer's spec. In good natural light
the picture is remarkably clean with very low levels of noise. Colour fidelity
is also very good and registration -- even on highly saturated areas -- is
spot-on. Colour accuracy is maintained in tungsten light though it tends to
wander slightly under tube and mixed lighting with a very slight green-yellow
caste, that no amount of fiddling with the fixed and manual systems seems able
to completely eradicate.
As lighting levels start to fall there is a small but noticeable
increase in grain and reduction in colour levels, though it is certainly no
worse than comparable colour cameras and it will still produce a useable image
under quite dire conditions.
As far as mechanical and video performance is concerned the Ernitech
ICU is in the first division. It's fast and accurate and the PC control system
has been mostly well thought out with regard to ease of installation and
operator convenience, though we feel a plug and socket arrangement for the connections
that would make the installers life a lot easier. The camera gives a very good
account of itself under normal operating conditions and it copes well in poor
light, even though it is not specifically billed as low-light capable. It
behaved impeccably throughout our tests; the only slight aberration was the fan
which, we think must have an over-eager thermostat as no part of the unit ever
rose above slightly warm.
In the end however, one of the key selling points of this
unit has to be the very distinctive shape. This marks a real break with tradition
and a genuine attempt to move PTZ camera design forward. Most current models
make few concessions to their surroundings -- invariably form follows function --
but as Ernitech have convincingly shown, it doesn't have to be that way and this
type of architect-friendly approach is going to make it a lot of friends.
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 ??
R. Maybury 1998 1112