Choosing a VMS: Exacq Milestone Or Avigilon

OK guys, I have been a member of IPVM for months. I am an end user. I purchase and install everything I use in this particular situation. A rundown of our current situation: We have two hybrid DVR's from Avermedia, one primary one backup both getting the same analog feeds of 11 cameras one of them a Samsung PTZ. I also have four 4 channel units in the field not tied into these primary DVR's that I eventually want to get fiber optics to in order to view them on the primary units.

I am concerned about feature sets within the Exacq system verses all of your alternative suggestions. Our system looks at a 24/7 operation where movement is at an almost constant. We use the system for investigations into incidents. 90% of the time we know the time and date of an incident and search for it using a calendar view. Once found the clip has to be off loaded to disc or stick and either uploaded to company servers for review or sent directly to a non-technical user. I take most of my clips and convert them to .mpg files for view in windows media player. (Our default player of choice in our company) Many of these clips involve multiple cameras and a pain recently found was I can’t span into another day.

I was recently tasked with finding a camera that "will see a gnat at 1000 yards" I then started to look at the list of compatible units with our hybrid DVR's. Best I can find are 5MP solutions. The pricing is in the ballpark thousand dollar mark. Boss asks why we didn't have them sooner and I told him I will be hitting a ceiling soon with the current DVR setup and I was looking at a digital system to migrate to.

“If it’s not more than a couple thousand difference then go for it.”

Here is where I want to start looking at VMS's. I am tearing this site apart looking for all the reviews, posts to anything and so forth. Years ago when I started researching and learning about the industry I stumbled across Milestone. Now as a slightly informed IPVM user (Thanks John you made this personal 200 dollar investment worth it this last few days) I had narrowed the field to Avigilon and Milestone. I had a coworker who knows virtually nothing about the industry look at my screen of the VMS tests in 2010 combined chart showing all the VMS's and their rankings. He immediately picked Exacq and Digifort. His p rimary reason for doing so was cost. This was after I informed him of what I knew about pay per channel and base licenses. So I started really looking at Exacq and ran into the alternatives to Exacq discussion, and I agree with the possibility of Exacq having issues because of the TYCO buyout. I do have experience with TYCO brands and will agree being so large they have their support issues. Then I actually read all the comments all of you had to say and I have questions about those comments in order to find a VMS that will work for me. When I looked at equipment I was brand new. Looking back I was lucky I didn’t know anything about what I was buying. I learned from trial and error and the valuable feedback that had.

Now I am wandering into an area where I know something and I want this purchase to be better without the trial and error because costs are going to be higher transitioning to digital I think. So after all of that description I leave you with these comments and questions:

  • Aaron mentions “One sure thing that makes a good amount of my customers cringe is the annual fees associated with today’s VMS platforms.” Yup that’s me I wasn’t aware of them till just now. I thought once you bought the license per channel it was yours. Reoccurring fees are a turnoff for me. My people put things in place and expect them to run for years. We don’t maintain lifecycle ideas where after x years we replace or upgrade. It stays in till death do us part. Once it’s paid for it’s ours not yours.
  • To Seth I liked the Avigilon cameras but years ago learned that they were a one stop shop. Everything had to come from them for it to work simple for upgrad es and changes using one platform. They even touted that point some time ago. I went back and found a revamped site now touting that they play nice with others. I found that to be a little misleading because they have a select few cameras other than their own that work with their VMS but not the other way around. No VMS works with their cams. You want their cams you have to use their VMS. For me I like choice but I really like streamlined approaches. What will happen if they aren’t around anymore? Now I’m stuck buying an entire system not just a replacement VMS.
  • Aaron you make very solid points and well-crafted opinions. What this comes down to is I need a simple to use VMS for one site up to 11 analog cameras current expanded to 27 maybe 30 IP in the future that can create and export clips in .mpg format to someone else who just has to click on an icon to get it to play. Easy review capability is a must because live feeds are rarely used. I am using my own hardware. Finally I need to migrate the analog cameras over to this new digital system and found the article about encoder costs comparison as well as Genetec and Milestone vs Avigilon and Exacq. Just so much to decipher. I have been a firm believer you get what you pay for and Milestone was at the top of my list until yesterday. It appears as if Luxriot and Exacq are now in my competition and I have to have something next week or so. My big question to Andrew and Seth would be how much do I really have to worry about TYCO?

Guys I am reaching out to you as people who sell this stuff and have knowledge way beyond what I do. I signed up with this group knowing full well that at some point this situation would occur and here I am. I don’t really want manufacturer reps giving me sales pitches. I didn't like the idea of them even being allowed to register to this site even with the disclosure. It makes reading through comments even harder so give me some thoughts from your point of view. Who can make this happen for me and do it well enough to meet or maybe exceed the above requirements? If Exacq meets these for me I’m going to try and hope for the best.


Thanks for the detailed explanation, there is a lot to chew on there. Let me start by recapping what I believe are your key points / priorities are:

  • "See a gnat at 1000 yards"
  • "Reccurring fees are a turnoff for me."
  • "Easy review capability is a must because live feeds are rarely used."
  • "I am using my own hardware."
  • "I need to migrate the analog cameras over"
  • "How much do I really have to worry about TYCO?"

Given these, I think Avigilon is likely the best fit, Luxriot next, then Milestone and Exacq.

Avigilon: High resolution cameras, no recurring fee, strong search, can use your own hardware, cheap encoders/licensing, no Tyco worries. Your point about limited 3rd party camera support is not a big issue as they support ONVIF which works with lots of cameras today.

One thing right away about the high resolution camera, I am not sure what you really want but be careful. There are big tradeoffs, regardless of whether you use Avigilon or other 10MP+ cameras. In particular, with Avigilon, those cameras are much more expensive and require higher tier VMS licensing as well. You are better off with multiple 5MP ones to cover an area than a single 10MP or 10MP camera.

Luxriot is next because they have no recurring fees, you can user your own hardware, they support capture cards that can be popped in to them.

Milestone and Exacq are both popular choices but not particularly strong for your priorities (the fees in particular, though Exacq includes 3 years but only if you buy their hardware). Also, Exacq's search is slow / clunky.

Feel free to share more details or feedback on this.

I know this is a little off topic but I have to refute "Also, Exacq's search is slow / clunky." At my last job we sold a ton of exacq and I demo'd it all the time. One of features that sold it was its great search engine adn I never found it slow or clunky. Sorry I'm just really surprised to see you say that, Can you start another thread or PM me with what issues you had with their search engine, I'm curious now.

Hello,

I realize my comment is a little off-topic but I'll post it anyway.

The performance specification of "see a gnat at a 1000 yards" is something that would concern me. If there is any way you can go back to them and ask for a more realistic specification such as "recognize a face at 150 yds.", or "identify a person at x number of yards" etc. etc. that would be highly recommended. The more information you can get up front about the desired performance specs the better (as we learned in the IPVM surveillance class and on postings to discussions).

You may also want to advise on expectations for performance and to be realistic. I realize that the "see a gnat at 1000 yds" is probably just a figure of speech, but many folks are expecting to be able to zoom in on extremely minute details at long distances like they do in spy movies or on CSI etc. etc. While high definition cameras are a vast improvement over analog cameras, expectations need to be tempered with realistic knowledge of capabilities and costs. You need higher quality (and more costly) optical lenses for HD cameras to utilize the greater resolution of the image sensor, but they are not telescopic zoom lenses and they have their limitations.

The "I am using my own hardware" requirement is another area of concern and you may want to explore the capabilities of the hardware and storage and ensure they are capable of handling the additional resource strain that HD cameras will incur vs. analog. Compatibility of hardware with the cameras and VMS software is another area to gather more info on.

I'm sure you'll between John and his staff, and other folks on IPVM you'll be able to choose the right VMS for your situation and gather valuable insights on specing out a major upgrade to an HD/VMS system. I just would hope that the management realizes the costs and physical limitations of the capabilities of these systems and doesn't necessarily expect the "cool factor" that we see in spy movies and TV show depictions of video surveillance systems.

If your investigations rely on motion/smart search and motion based recording. you need to be careful when pairing cameras to VMS. Milestone has a very efficient software motion detector which can support 16 x 5mp cameras on a i7-4770. However, it does not support camera side MD at all so more cameras then this will require a much more costly dual CPU setup. Milestone also does not do smart search without record time motion metadata available (however motion search is instant because of metadata use). Exacq does not have a software motion detector at all. You must use cameras and encoders that have motion detection integrated properly with Exacq. However Exacq does post processing smart search, which while slower does not require the metadata to have been recorded. Luxriot is a mix of both. It has a software motion detector which is less efficient then Milestone by a factor of ~2 (I.e can only run ~8 x 5mp cameras on i7-4770) but if you use a camera that is fully support for camera MD then this processing is all offloaded. The granularity of the motion smart search here depends on the metadata provided by the camera. You really should look at HD Witness. It uses sub stream motion detection which is the most efficient way even more so then Milestone. The learning curve is also so close to zero its amazing. You can easily master the entire system in 1 hour. Picture quality in zoom is industry leading and from your description zoom is going to be used a lot.

> > Milestone has a very efficient software motion detector which can support 16 x 5mp cameras on a i7-4770. However, it does not support camera side MD at all so more cameras then this will require a much more costly dual CPU setup. Milestone also does not do smart search without record time motion metadata available (however motion search is instant because of metadata use). > >

very interesting post.

I believe 2 important factors when considering a VMS and Cameras, especially on large sites is going to be the efficiency of the VMS on the servers and the bandwidth efficiency of the cameras which will relate into the size of the storage needed.

Servers and storage costs are becoming major considerations when designing systems. We have seen it on two sites with same cameras and different vms vendors with much larger camera per server ratio. I particularly dont like using huge resolution cameras on large sites because of the impact on storage and most of the time 2 megapixel cameras are sufficient but occasionally 5 megapixels do add some value. Bandwidth efficiency at lowlight is also key when choosing high resolution cameras.

I personally dont like recurring costs of VMS, so we try include 1-3 years upfront in the initial purchase. I dont see this as a necessary expense on small sites. I don't think the guy who is going to purchase a $50 per camera licence VMS is going to be considering what features he may get in 2 years time.

So basically what I am saying is there are other costs when considering a VMS and Cameras, top of my list is servers and storage costs, but also think of the guys who have to work on the system.

When it comes to cost I think you will find that apart from annual fees there will be almost zero difference between them. The annual fees are optional and there is no need to upgrade just for the sake of it. If you must have no annual fees by principle look to HD Witness, Luxriot and Avigilon. However as Avigilon has proven free upgrades may not last forever.

Our primary area that we look at is 1600 feet focal length by 1000 feet wide. We look at this area from a vantage point on the side of a building about five stories up. The primary focus of the area ironically is a section that is farthest away from our camera. We use this one as a general overview. We also mounted a PTZ right next to it. This was so we could zoom into detail during live events that we happened to be monitoring. That fixed camera that looks at the entire area is the first one we are looking to upgrade because as of now we don’t have anything there. It had to be swapped into another ones place of great importance being that we had two in the primary area. The one PTZ is pulling double duty. I have 16 fixed analog cameras in that zone of primary interest. I guess I could say that at that 1600 feet of distance the people who asked me to come up with this would say that they would like as much detail as possible. We look at price later. I however, posing this situation to all of you, will say I need to make out an individual not by facial recognition but by something I see on them. Enough to make a call between two individuals. It would be nice to be able to tell the difference between to almost identical vehicles. If that give you any specification to look at. I want to determine that there is a human wearing xyz and maybe carrying something in his hand.

I am not involved in the negotiations of contracts and billing of services vendors provide. I know that we have maintenance contracts with many who support our primary functions. This system that I am looking to upgrade started out as a R&D project literally created just to see what we could do with camera technology in our department. We found it gave us an incredible advantage in proving to other departments what happens in a situation. I have always had the facts using data that is created from this process that is being watched by many people. The advantage is that now they don’t want the numbers they just want the video because it offers so much more and it is easier to understand than all my charts graphs and numbers could ever provide. Tell them a number and they are like deer in headlights show them that we had this situation occur and it was or was not a close hit or miss by watching video and it is an open and shut case. I might go to them with this idea and I’ll learn how much they want to spend toward ongoing costs.

Bohan, let me clear up the motion issue. Our cameras record 24/7 there is only one camera that I setup to record motion only events. I record everything 24/7 because of the issues of motion based recording and the possibility of a miss is not acceptable. Case in point I had one DVR lock up on me once so they told me to get another and record the incoming stream to both units. I have to keep them somewhat close in time date etc. All the rest of those details you tossed out to me is a bit over my head I am sorry. Yes, I need to take classes and learn more. Your assumption of zooming in capability is correct. Well used might be over stated. Some of us like it others don’t bother because the 720x480 size I use just doesn’t cut it when I zoom in. We currently run at 30 fps and I am well aware of that spec going down the tubes when digital comes in. I am looking at hi speed backbones for our dedicated network for the camera system.

Ok, 1000' wide by 1600' long is big. You say that, "I want to determine that there is a human wearing xyz and maybe carrying something in his hand." Presumably this is from a fixed camera, not the PTZ you already have, correct? If so, you need ~20ppf (presuming good lighting). How's your lighting at night?

You also mention, "I have 16 fixed analog cameras in that zone of primary interest." Does that mean they currently cover the 1000' x 1600' area?

Let's say you try for a 29MP camera - that's 6576 pixels. At 20ppf, that would be ~330 feet. This means 3 of them to cover 1000' wide. Of course, it's not that simple, because you need 1000' wide, 1600' away. If each camera is covering 330 feet, 1600 away, that means a very telephoto lens, leaving big gaps of coverage in the front and middle.

The other issue is frame rate. At 29MP, you are at 2ips theoretical max. Are you willing to drop that far down?

Lastly, do you have operators? If you do, the ideal combination is a few fixed multi-megapixel cameras for an overview with an HD PTZ for tracking specific individuals (cars or people).

"I know this is a little off topic but I have to refute "Also, Exacq's search is slow / clunky."

Exacq's search has always been tricky to me, but I was spoiled initially when I came into this industry by first working with an interface (Dedicated Micros) that did not make you have to go to another window to do searches, so I judge all other interfaces based on that criteria. And it's making you put in a "Searh Range" instead of just a single date and time is another annoyance. Exacq is a good system but that's always been my pet peeves about it.

“Presumably this is from a fixed camera, not the PTZ you already have, correct? If so, you need ~20ppf (presuming good lighting). How's your lighting at night?”

Yes this would be coming from the fixed camera. Lighting at night comes from 110 foot tall light towers with mercury vapor orange color light. So not great lighting but ok

You also mention, "I have 16 fixed analog cameras in that zone of primary interest." Does that mean they currently cover the 1000' x 1600' area?

Yes I do cover the area. Many of these areas are actually covered from different angles. They have to be. As with any situation we always need to look into this after it happens so we can go back and get whatever we were lucky enough to capture. Those cameras are analog but not tied into our main server. I have to go out and retrieve the DVR bring it back and pull the data from it. Those help a lot and I have plans to upgrade this area in the future by tying them into the primary system.

“The other issue is frame rate. At 29MP, you are at 2ips theoretical max. Are you willing to drop that far down?”

No I don’t think this would be acceptable. We look at things that happen in seconds and 2 ips have a high probability of missing that crucial point.

“Lastly, do you have operators? If you do, the ideal combination is a few fixed multi-megapixel cameras for an overview with an HD PTZ for tracking specific individuals (cars or people).”

No operators are not dedicated to watching the cameras. The one PTZ idea however is used for that purpose but again I am the operator. We look at everything after the fact more often than not.

Jason, In reply to “Do you have an Integrator or someone that you worked with on the Avermedia install?” No, I was the integrator, the buyer, the end user, and the operator.

“Servers and storage costs are becoming major considerations when designing systems. We have seen it on two sites with same cameras and different VMS vendors with much larger camera per server ratio. I particularly don’t like using huge resolution cameras on large sites because of the impact on storage and most of the time 2 megapixel cameras are sufficient but occasionally 5 megapixels do add some value. Bandwidth efficiency at lowlight is also key when choosing high resolution cameras.”

Storage might be an issue when I have to integrate a dedicated storage server for later. Right now we plan on increasing our hard drive counts internally and see what we get. We know more hard drives are required. We once did some approximations with a provider who estimated us to be around 40TB when we were all said and done. Again those concerns are in the future upgrades plan.

"If each camera is covering 330 feet, 1600 away, that means a very telephoto lens, leaving big gaps of coverage in the front and middle."

The great part about this point is I think I can get away without it. We don't care about that missing area. In all of my camera experiences so far these points that all of you have brought up are the hardest parts to work around. Zoomed in cameras, loss of area up front, higher frame rates required for large areas

I have a challenge no doubt about it. I feel I do well in applying what I know and have learned over time. After all of this discussion I know I have a lot more to learn and at the same time I am not as lost as I thought I was. Guys before I forget thanks to all of you for helping me out here. I am at the point where I am going to really look hard at pricing and a couple VMS's that were given to me here. I think I might try and work with a slightly bigger MP camera but one that can offer it to me at 4 ips or better I think. Then over time add a couple others to the bracket and cover the rest of the area.

Ok here's my two cents. It's hard to know all the details of your environment, but the idea that a 20 MP camera will solve all your problems is not realistic. Others have already noted the challenges of the field-of-view, viewing angle, limitations of optics. There is also the issue of depth-of-field. There is no way a single lense is going to be in optimal focus over such a great length with out a very small apteture (iris). This inherently, limits your moderate to low light perofrmance. It's a trade-off. I would deploy multiple 5 MP cameras over various sectors of your target area from either the same or different vantage points. (multiple camera mounting locations may not be feasible). Beyond 5PM, I don't think network cameras are good all around perofrmers today, except in vary narrow applications.

Regarding VMS - I would rank Exacq first. Yes, I'm biased. I have deployed more than 1,000 cameas on Exacq and probably that many on OnSSI (similar to Milestone). The modest recurring is well worth their frequent updates. The fact that they run on windows and linux with clients for OSX, Windows and Linux make then the most flexible. I pray Tyco doesn't ruin them, but I think institutional momentum should give us at atleast 2 or 3 years.

I'm bias also toward exacq. Just go on there website, download the live demo client software on the front page. They build there own hardware, not a dell for Avigilon, or a whatever for Milestone. The machines are flawless and bug free. The Enterprise version with harware failure monitoring is what you want. You can easily build a system depending of what you what camera/encoder model you want to connect , it will come with licenses pre-install. All you need is the hardware and camera licenses. You can connect a client to as many machines you want and a machine to as many clients as you want without any additional fee. Tyco International purchase them. Tyco Integrated Security will sell and service the units. I think any integrator will be able to sell it to. Like DSC and American Dynamics. Correct me anyone if i am wrong.

Undisclosed, yes, both Tyco and Exacq have said that current / existing sales channels will remain. As Brad alludes, the real question is for how long.

IMO there's nothing special about the exacq hardware. I was able to buy Dell servers cheaper than the exacq hardware (even considering the three years of SSA with exacq hardware) and monitor them for free no matter what version of software was on the server. Not only for free but far superior monitoring through Dell Essentials/Open Manager. Their EL series hybrid recorders are great though we sold a lot of those.

Love exacq, just didn't see much value in their hardware except at the low end.

Jason, note, on the low end, Exacq just released the LC line, which is less expensive than the EL.

Cool, thanks! The Distributor I work for now does not sell it so I'm out of the loop a bit :)

We build our own servers for the VMS and I've done a lot of recent testing on our hardware of Milestone, Exacq, and Avigilon. In summary (at risk of being redundant) here's what I've found.

Milestone-Very server heavy-requires powerful and expensive hardware. Good for large scale installations but I didn't find it very user friendly or intuative

Exacq/Tyco:( - Depends on cameras for processing but also seems to be affected more when camera firmware isn't fully vetted. It works well on low power servers and seems to have a smaller learning curve for the end user. I don't like the licensing system however as it has to be relicensed every few years and is not inexpensive.

Avigilon- Seems to occupy a middle ground between the two others. I like the enhancement the VMS provides but it doesn't really seem to bog down a lower power system. You only have to pay a per channel fee up front and it's tiered based on level of software. As of now they do not make you pay to relicense the cameras, only when/if you decide to update the software you will pay a fee. It also seems very user friendly. They also have some very nice cameras. The 29MP sounds like it may be unrealistic on your budget though. A faster framerate on a 5MP camera would probably be better for investigations anyways to get a more clear picture of any incidents.

Hope this helps ;)

Tom, Thanks for the information. I started this post not knowing if it would generate anything. I can say that with comments like yours and all the others here I think it has been a great success. I am thrilled that everyone has stepped up and tossed in a few words of thought. I can't tell you how fun it has been too, trying to learn all the details. Some of these posts are very detail oriented towards pixel count and so forth. I was even pointto the educational side of this question and learned even more. I really am happy I joined this group.

You're very welcome! Let us know how things go.