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Black box technology is a very apt way to describe the Easi-Plex range of colour video multiplexers from Malvern-based ITL. They are indeed very black and the designers have tried hard to simplify installation, set-up and operation by reducing the number of front-panel controls. The subject of this particular Bench Test is the CPE-16, a 16-channel duplex model with a full set of multi-screen modes, two independent monitor outputs, alarm triggered VCR switching and freeze frame display during playback.


In the scheme of things the feature list is quite modest but it is worth looking behind the specs, and to other factors, such as design and build quality, which is where we'll begin. Inside the big box there is one huge printed circuit board in the bottom of the case and two smaller boards front and rear for the controls and sockets. It has to be the biggest PC we've seen for a long time, and for good reason. It is densely packed with surface mount components, far more than we're used to seeing on multiplexers these days, which indicates a lower level of micro-chip integration, not that it is any way 'old-tech', it is just that the current trend is to combine every more functions onto fewer chips. This has a number of implications; by avoiding so many common off-the-shelf components ITL have been able to go their own way, as far as features and functions are concerned, and it has given the designers a much greater influence over performance and operation.


The downside is that it obviously costs more not to stick with the crowd, and there's more to go wrong. However, as far as we are aware reliability is not an issue with this product and the internal inspections confirmed that general design and build quality are both very good indeed. One other unusual feature is the toroidial mains transformer bolted to the left side of the case, they're more often seen in high-end audio devices and it's another welcome sign that that the manufacturers have not compromised on critical components.  


Around the back there are no surprises. There are two rows of BNC connectors for the camera inputs and loop through outputs. A pair of 8-way mini DIP switches above the sockets is used to set 75 ohm or Hi-Z terminations for each channel. Also along the top edge of the case are two 12-way connectors with plug-in screw terminals. Between them they handle the 16 alarm inputs and single alarm output. Below the second alarm connector is a bank of sockets for the two monitor outputs (BNC) and VCR inputs and output sockets (BNC and mini DIN, for S-Video signals). On the far right of the rear panel there is a phono carrying a VCR switching/sync signal for time-lapse VCRs, and above that is a 9-pin D-sub socket for RS232 serial communications, used with optional VCR control software.


On the left side of the front panel there is a group of 16 camera selector buttons, each with an associated red LED indicator. Buttons 1 to 6 also have secondary functions when the device is in the set-up mode, more about that in a moment. To the right of the camera selectors there's a single row of buttons. From left to right they are: function and shift (coloured green), monitors 1 and 2 selectors, record and playback mode (the record button is coloured red), freeze frame (playback only) and set-up. Once again each button has it's own LED indicator. Finally, on the far right there is a key switch (also with its own LED) that allows changes to be made to the various programmable functions on the on screen display.



Pressing the Set-up button (with the key switch in the 'on' position), brings up he first of 15 menu screens. Selections are made using camera buttons 1 to 4 (cursor up, down, right & left) and changes made using buttons 5 and 6 (increase/decrease). Screen 1 covers resetting the factory defaults, display cameos (1 or 2), enable/disable playback (to prevent accidental operation), composite/S-Video VCR output, alarm duration (1 to 59 seconds), VCR switch cable and multiplexer alarm mode. Screen 2 is for time-lapse VCR set-up (cable connection and field record mode). Screens 3 and 4 are used to set up camera titles, idents and the screen position of the display. Menus 5 and 6 are concerned with camera alarm set-up, screen 7 deals with time and date set-up and screen 8 is used to set the operating times for switcher and recording modes. Screens 9 and 10 are switcher dwell times for each camera covering day and night, weekday and weekend operation (default 4 seconds at all times), screen 11 sets up the two cameo multi-screen display dwell times (setting the time to 0 seconds disables the cameo). Menus 12 and 13 are used to set camera priorities (to enable or disable cameras using the operation timer) and lastly, menu 15 which deals with RS232 serial communications with a range of nominated VCRs made by Sony, JVC, Panasonic and Mitsubishi. Pressing the set-up button one last time puts the multiplexer back into the normal record default mode.


Once the unit has been set up day to day operations are confined to camera selection, choosing a single or multi-screen display by pressing the monitor button (2 x 2 in four banks, 4 x 4 and two 3 x 3 displays). Pressing a camera selector twice starts automatic sequencing and record or playback modes are set manually using the appropriate buttons.  



The multiplexer can handle both colour and black and white cameras simultaneously, which is unusual on mid-range multiplexers, but the most obvious difference between this, and many of its rivals is the quality of the image and higher than normal frame rate on full screen and quad-screen displays. Resolution is very good indeed and our test sample was in excess of 400 lines. The image was also very clean with no additional noise or change in colour fidelity, in short on most systems it will have no effect on image quality as video signals pass cleanly through the unit.  Camera switching on our sample was a bit jumpy, no more than a frame or two in duration but it was unexpected in light of the otherwise flawless video performance.



ITL have succeeded in produce a simple, near idiot-proof 16-channel mixer without sacrificing performance or flexibility but one or two fairly important functions seem to have gone AWOL in the process. There is no option to display time or date, which seems like an oversight in view of the fact not all VCRs have a time/date facility. The alarm is quite crude, it doesn't have any audible indications and there's no log or record of alarm events, though sequencing stops and there is a flashing on-screen indication that remains on until it is cancelled by pressing the green Function button. There's no denying image quality and ease of use are both above average but points are lost for the abbreviated feature list compared with comparably priced units and the fairly basic alarm facilities.



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 1999 2104




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