Security Installer

HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff




Within a decade we predict that digital video technology will replace current analogue systems, in which case Primary Image are well ahead of the game with 2nd Eyes, a new box of tricks that records moving video on a high capacity hard disc drive, and much more besides…



There is little doubt that the future of video surveillance lies with digital technology. It has already had a huge impact on the way video images are generated, processed and analysed but for the most part we still rely on analogue tape systems to store video information. That will change in the very near future, as this remarkable device, called 2nd Eyes, from Primary Image very clearly demonstrates.


The concept behind 2nd Eyes is relatively straightforward. It's a digital video recording system that stores images as data on one or more hard disc drives, similar to those used in PCs. The most basic model has a fast 2-gigabyte SCSI drive, this can be easily expanded using additional or higher capacity drives. The theoretical maximum capacity is a mind boggling 1 terabyte (1,000,000 megabytes) per drive, and there's room inside the case for six of them! To put those figures into some sort of perspective, a 9-gigabyte drive has roughly the same video recording capacity as a 3-hour tape and is capable of storing between 300,000 and 450,000 images as JPEG compressed data.


The main benefit of this kind of 'non-linear' digital video recording system is the facility to simultaneously record and replay. In other words it is possible to review a recording whilst the unit continues to provide surveillance cover. Since the information is recorded on a disc access time to a section of a recording, or even a specific frame is virtually instantaneous. Recording quality is excellent, stated resolution is 768 x 576, which is significantly better than most analogue tape recording systems. There is no loss of stability or noise interference when reviewing recordings in still frame, slow-motion, reverse play or fast picture search modes. Digital data doesn't wear out either and there's no loss of quality irrespective of how many times a recording is played back or when copying to other digital or analogue recording systems.


There's more. Video data is initially loaded into a solid-state memory buffer, enabling a feature called pre-event recording. This means the unit can be set to record when an alarm input is triggered, but in addition to everything that occurs after the alarm, the information that was in the buffer -- i.e. what was happening immediately prior to the alarm activation -- is recorded as well. Digital data is nigh-on tamperproof. In addition to burnt-in time/date and camera information, the digital data can be invisibly 'watermarked', making it admissible as evidence -- in the US at least -- where recordings have been used in court proceedings prosecutions.  


As well as its video recording capabilities, 2nd Eyes has an impressive range of image processing functions, starting with a camera multiplexer. Primary Image has developed a number of different configurations with models that have 8, 16, 32 and 64 camera/video inputs. (The unit we've been looking at is the 16-camera version but core facilities and operating systems are common to all models).


Each input can be individually configured according to the site and end-users requirements; the basic options include continuous or time-lapse recording, alarm trigger recording, and manual recording or playback. Alarm triggers can be an external contact, or generated internally.  


Recordings may be automatically archived using external tape storage systems, 2nd Eyes supports a variety of devices, including tape autochangers and jukeboxes.


Physically there's not much to see. The hard disc drive(s), power supply and all control and processing electronics are contained within a standard 19-inch rack case, the only external display is a single red LED power on indicator. Inside the box there are four PCB and a large frame for holding disc drives. The standard of construction is very good indeed; it looks and feels solid.


On the back panel there are banks of BNC sockets, for the camera inputs, and a set of three BNCs for the video output. One is for continuous live video, number two shows a sequenced output from each camera and the third is for the picture replay and on-screen displays. There is also a set of multi-pin connectors, 25-pin D-Sub sockets for the external alarm inputs, a 9-pin D-Sub for an external serial connection for remote control and unspecified peripherals, plus a second 9-pin male connector for a dedicated control keyboard. Lastly there's a 50-pin Centronics connector for an external disc or tape recording device.


The keyboard controls all of 2nd Eyes main functions and set-up routines. It is divided into three areas, at the top there are rows of buttons to set operating mode, camera selection and replay switching. Below that are the video playback buttons and controls for the on-screen menus, and in the bottom right hand corner a button for manually responding or clearing an alarm activation. It all looks fairly straightforward but we have to say that the main operating controls, menu functions and the instruction manual are amongst the worst we've seen on any security device!


The operating system and user manual are almost impenetrable. We found the easiest way to get to know 2nd Eyes was to bypass the manual and experiment with the controls, then refer back to the manual, to attempt to relate what happens in practice, to the printed instructions. Here's a fairly typical example of the text. Figure this one out: 'Trigger profiles are provided to allow triggers to share the same parameters. This is especially useful when several types of trigger are used in the system (e.g. VMD and contact), where a profile can be used to define the characteristics of the trigger'…


To say it's a nightmare would be an understatement, at the very least Primary Image needs to go back and rethink the manual from the installer and end-user's point of view. Elements of the on-screen display are not mentioned at all and vital functions, such as creating camera idents are left entirely to the user to work out for themselves. The manufacturers could also do a lot to improve the control system, which at times seems quite illogical and over-complicated. It is quite possible to blank out the screen altogether by the simplest of actions, and there's no obvious way of restoring the picture, other than by randomly prodding buttons, and hoping.



Despite the unit's long list of idiosyncrasies, from a performance standpoint it actually works very well indeed. Some features deserve a special mention, like timeline display during replay, which shows you exactly where you are on a recording, and timeline triggers that clear show the point at which an alarm event has occurred. Other parts of the Replay output display are not so welcome and the mass of information on the screen can obscure detail, fortunately there are other display options and it is possible to move or eliminate some of it, but the picture still manages to look cluttered.   


The video recording and replay element works very well. Images are crisp and clean, colour accuracy is spot-on and the replay functions put all but the most sophisticated analogue recording systems to shame. The image is jitter-free at all replay modes and it's possible to step through a recording, a frame at a time if necessary, without the slightest stutter and there's not a noise bar in sight. In common with other types of vision multiplexing hardware the record rate is dependent on the number of cameras connected, but this has no impact on the amount of detail in the image, and resolution is in excess of 430 lines is possible in all recording and replay modes.



Digital recording technology is the way ahead, it has much to offer the surveillance industry and 2nd Eyes is just a taste of what is to come. As a video recording device it is almost without equal when it comes to the flexibility and performance, the video multiplexer works very well indeed and if you can fathom out the alarm facilities, they're comprehensive and effective. However, it all starts to go belly up when you come to the operating system and those awful instructions. Unfortunately just re-writing the manual won't be enough, we feel that many installers and end users will find it difficult and awkward to set up and use. That's a pity because it has the potential to be a benchmark, setting the standard for a generation of video security systems still to come.  




Power supply              110/240 VAC

Weight                        9.0kg

Dimensions                 132 x 480 x 450mm





Product design 7

Build quality               9

Ruggedness                9



General functions            6

CCTV functions            9         

Ease of use                 3

Instructions                3

Manuf. support            ?                     



Video quality              9



Ó R. Maybury 1998 2808



[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]

Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.