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Digital video multiplexing has come a long way in the past few years, evolving rapidly from an expensive high-end technology -- suited only to the most demanding and cost no object installations -- into an affordable mainstream product. The pace at which multiplexers have developed is nothing short of breathtaking. However, whilst performance and functionality improve from one generation to the next, many of them rely on control and operating systems that look as though they belong in the Ark…


In short a lot of multiplexers have unfriendly or awkward interfaces with whiskery on-screen displays. Many systems have too many functions focused on too few controls or are dependent on the installer or operator memorising long-winded procedures. It could be argued that many multiplexers require little in the way of manual intervention once they've been set up but that's a poor excuse for sloppy or clumsy design. Badly designed controls are made more obvious by the rapid advances in on-screen menu-driven controls and the so-called 'graphical user interface' (GUI or 'gooey') on PC operating systems such as Windows and more recently on a wide range of consumer home entertainment products, from TVs to satellite receivers.


Ease of use is one of the key features in the Cameo Multiplexer from The Vision Factory. Cameo is the latest in a line of highly rated multiplexers that includes the Montage and Montage Plus ranges, but this one marks a significant departure from previous designs and sets a new benchmark for the quality of its user interface. Vision factory has taken its cue from the PC and developed a GUI based on the familiar concept of point and click mouse control. Cameo is currently available with 9 or 18 camera inputs but the main facilities are the same in both cases.


At first glance the specification appears fairly conventional, it's a duplex design with a flexible multi-screen display and various alarm functions that includes advanced video motion detection or Active Motion Sensing (AMS). However, closer examination reveals a number of additional features, several of which are carried over from the Montage ranges. At the top of the list is Logical Camera Groupings, a facility that allows views from selected cameras to be grouped together and displayed in multi-screen format at the touch of a button. Superspot is another rarely seen feature; this is an enhanced spot monitor output that can be programmed to operate as a multi-screen display. The multiplexer superimposes camera titles and alarm activation in the form of embedded data on the VCR output, this means less space is taken up on the image by intrusive captions. Cameo supports remote telemetry for controlling main camera functions (manual/patrolled pan/tilt/zoom, focus, iris, lights, wipe/wash etc.). A VCR interface cable is supplied for automatic recording speed synchronisation, with suitable models.


Two types of alarm activation are provided, it can be triggered by external sensors (using an optional connector), associated with each camera or group of cameras, or by the AMS video motion detector (256 targets with variable sensitivity threshold). Alarms can be set manually or enabled by independent timers (one for the external sensors, the other for the motion sensor). Alarm actions can be set to display the associated image on the main or spot screen, change the camera recording priority sequence and activate one of two relays.


Cameo is housed in an attractive two-tone steel case that's compatible with standard 19-inch rack mount installations. The gently curved ABS front panel has a row of 9 so-called 'soft keys' which basically means the buttons have multiple functions, according to the mode Cameo is in. Next to those is a group of four arrow/cursor keys that are used to navigate around the on-screen displays. On the far right there are two LEDs indicating Replay or Live mode. It's not a problem but for some reason these are shown back to front in the instruction manual.


On the back panel there are two rows of BNC connectors for the camera inputs and self-terminating loop-throughs. Again its no more than a minor irritant but the camera numbering is the wrong way around, with the camera inputs going from right to left, rather than the other way around. Next to the bank of camera sockets are pairs of BNC and S-Video connectors for the VCR input and output, spot (Superspot) and main monitor screens. On the far right there are two 9-pin D-Sub connectors. The upper one is shared by the mouse and the alarm port using a splitter cable; the lower one is an RS232 port for remote control and communications with a PC. Power is supplied by an external mains adaptor.


The manufacturers are not exaggerating when they say Cameo has 'plug and play' functionality, it is without doubt the simplest multiplexer we've tested, when it comes to installation, set-up and use. The reason for that is the clever use of the mouse in collaboration with on-screen displays. Once connected switched on Cameo goes into a self-diagnostic routine and briefly displays a set of colour bars before showing the main screen. This comprises a camera view or views and a row of ten blue buttons superimposed along the bottom edge of the screen. These correspond to the buttons on the front panel. The tenth button changes mode (main spot mode). Initially they are labelled F1 to F9, which switches the display to one of 9 pre-set multi-screen presentations.


The mouse controls an on-screen pointer, clicking on the mode button cycles the buttons through various control options, including individual camera selectors, freeze frame, zoom and sequence patterns for the main and spot monitors. Alternatively the front panel buttons can be used to control and set-up Cameo, though we have to say that the only reason for resorting to old-fashioned button prodding would be a lost or incapacitated mouse… In the Mode display the on-screen buttons select live, replay or monitor display outputs, the main set-up menu and call-up context-sensitive help pages, which relate to whatever mode the Camera happens to be in at the time.


In normal operation the monitor output shows a multiscreen view from several cameras. To switch to a full screen display from any camera all you have to do is move the pointer to the image and left click the mouse button once. Clicking on the image a second time engages the 2x digital zoom and by keeping the mouse button depressed it's possible to pan around the image. Right clicking the mouse returns the image to normal full screen, clicking a second time returns the picture to the previously selected multiscreen view. It is remarkably intuitive; simple to use and it quickly becomes second nature.



Selecting Set-up from the button bar makes the camera image to disappear and it replaced by three rows of menu boxes. Row one covers input configuration (camera title, movement detection, sequencing and telemetry). In the case of camera title movement detection and telemetry the associated camera display is shown in a sub-screen window with the relevant options shown alongside. The second row of boxes is labelled Multiplex Configuration. This includes the layout and numbering of multiscreen presentations, setting camera priority during recording, plus alarm set-up and actions. The third row is for system configuration, for setting security PIN codes to prevent unauthorised access, serial control operation, adjusting the time and date and caption or text display preferences.


It all sounds quite daunting, as indeed it would be on a conventional multiplexer, but on this one carrying out the initial set-up and making subsequent changes is a breeze. It's the first and only multiplexer we've tested where it wasn't necessary to have the instruction manual constantly to hand because at any time you can click on the Help button to find out more about the choices and options available.



Despite intensive digital processing the video images emerging from Cameo -- to be shown on the monitors or recorded on tape -- show no additional noise, reduction in colour fidelity or any significant artefacts, aside from the progressive reduction in refresh rate in a multi-camera set-up. One of the best demonstrations of the system's abilities is the digital zoom feature, the electronic pan and tilt is most impressive, allowing the operator to quickly move around the image area. Whilst there is a noticeable reduction in definition the image doesn't deteriorate by anything like as much as rival systems retaining plenty of detail – sufficient to read car number plates at a distance of 20 metres or more – with a very basic camera and lens.



Assessing multiplexers is usually quite hard work much of it spent trying to decipher badly written instructions, wading through jargon or gibberish and trying to learn complex control procedures. Cameo, as you will have gathered by now, is quite different and that's mainly down to the well thought out control system. It's not perfect by any means and by comparison with Windows/Mac PCs and a lot of current consumer products the graphics are quite crude, but it is several light years ahead of the competition! Of course mouse control and neatly presented on-screen menus makes the multiplexer so much easier to use and reduces operator fatigue but equally important, it simplifies and speeds up installation and the end user is more likely to end up with a properly configured system.



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                         *****                          



ã R. Maybury 1999 0211



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