Testing Avigilon ControlCenter VMS 2010

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Mar 08, 2010

[UPDATE: This report has been replaced with Testing Avigilon ACC 5 VMS. The report below is left simply for historical purposes.]

While Avigilon is best known for its high resolution cameras (up to 16 MP), Avigilon offers its own VMS, Control Center, a system that is required for using their cameras. With interest in megapixel high, many are curious to understand the capabilities and features of Avigilon's VMS - both for use with its own cameras and third party IP cameras.

In this test, we examine Aviglon's Control Center VMS version 4.2. The test was hosted on a Windows XP Pro server, using Avigilon's 5 MP HD-DN and the 2 MP HD-DN in addition to the Axis Q1755. Additionally, the remote client was hosted on a Windows 7 (64-bit) laptop, Intel Core 2 Duo and 4GB memory.

Our key findings include:

  • Workflow is simple and compact with a few potential areas for confusion
  • Provides key benefits for use with Avigilon cameras offset by bandwidth load of Avigilon's JPEG2000 codec
  • Moderate third party/enterprise support though with some notable gaps

One other element to call out is Avigilon's on-line technical training videos. They are the most helpful training resource we have yet to find from a VMS provider, reducing our learning time significantly and eliminating many questions / support calls we generally have. We highly recommend this to integrators and encourage more manufacturers to bolster such offerings.

Readers should review our test results on Avigilon's 5MP and 2MP cameras in conjunction with this report.

Product Overview

Avigilon offers partners with comprehensive online video tutorials which cover topics from the installation technician to the end-user. Partners of Avigilon will find these videos to be quite useful and can minimize the learning curve for new administrators, technicians and end-users. Additionally, the publicly available documentation for the administrator and end-user will provide additional details and instructions.

Key Notable Features

  • High Definition Stream Management (HDSM) proves to dynamically optimize the bandwidth for live monitoring (Avigilon cameras only)
  • Tabbed navigation allows multitasking and an integrated method to navigate various functionality
  • Flexible mapping options provide intuitive visual references for the operator and investigator
  • Thumbnail Search performs and provides an additional visual layer of searching
  • Integrated event management for alarms
  • Simple exporting eases the workflow for investigators
  • Data Aging provides flexible data pruning but scalability is limited (Avigilon cameras only)
  • Reference images provide visual references to verify camera uptime
  • Privacy zones disable encoding of regions within the camera - these zones cannot be accessed maximizing privacy
  • Avigilon reports redundancy and failover for both Avigilon and third party cameras [We did not test this]
  • Moderate support for third party integration provides some flexible options for customers

Key Limitations

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  • Lack of enterprise management can limit scalability
  • Limited support for IP cameras
  • Data Aging limited to Avigilon and third party cameras using MJPEG codec
  • Avigilon camera are limited to JPEG2000 (no H.264)

Computing Platform

Avigilon supports the following Windows based platforms:  XP, Vista, Server 2003, Server 2008, Windows 7 and actually recommend a 64-bit version.

Third Party Support

Avigilon has limited third party support for IP cameras with Axis, Arecont Vision, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung among the few manufacturers supported.

Avigilon has a moderate number of third party access control integrations include Lenel, Cardax, DSX, RS2 and GE FcWnx. Avigilon also is supported by PSIM provider Proximex.

We categorize Avigilon's third party IP camera support as limited because many VMS system support a dozen or more manufacturers. We categorize Avigilon's access control support as moderate as many VMS systems support only 1 or 2 third party systems. Even a broadly integrated VMS rarely supports more than a dozen access control systems.

Pricing

Avigilon prices its VMS software in base packs and additional licenses. Base packs generally come with a set number of video channels supported and concurrent client connections. Audio, LPR and access control licenses are purchased separately.

The per camera MSRP for ControlCenter is approximately $290 USD.

Avigilon supports a single version of software and there are no discounts for an SMB version or single server version as many VMS vendors provide.

Overview - Online Technical Training Video from Avigilon

The following screencast provides a brief overview of the broad set of technical training videos Avigilon provides. They are available with registration.

Usability of the VMS System

The following screencast provides usability highlights of Avigilon's VMS, in addition to items we found challenging.

Key points include:

  • Useful:  tabbed navigation allows multi-tasking for operators and investigators (1:00 min)
  • Useful:  the option for custom polygons and shapes within the mapping system provides intuitive visuals (3:51 min)
  • Useful:  Thumbnail Search performs well and proves as a useful visual investigation tool (4:30 min)
  • Useful:  bookmarking provides a real-time visual reference to ensure all desired video will be included (7:50 min)
  • Useful:  using the Native export option provides additional features such as watermarking
  • Useful:  High Definition Stream Management (HDSM) provides dynamic usage of bandwidth (9:35 min)
  • Useful:  Data Aging option extend video pruning process (Avigilon cameras only)
  • Challenge:  The administrator must be directly connected to the server for high level configurations (00:24 min)
  • Challenge:  very subtle visual differences with live and recorded modes can potentially be confusing (1:45 min)
  • Challenge:  viewing both live and recorded view within a single tab may disorient the untrained operator (5:35 min)
  • Challenge:  lack of fast forward and rewind buttons potentially causes frustration (6:11 min)
  • Challenge:  lack of enterprise server management limits scalability of the system (12:12 min)
  • Challenge:  lack of enterprise user management limits scalability of the system; however, integration with Windows Active Directory is available (13:20 min)

Administration of VMS System

The following screencast examines how to configure/setup Avigilon's VMS system. 

Key points include:

  • The administrator is required to directly connect for high level server settings (00:50 min)
  • Export Settings option includes users/groups, camera configurations, etc. to alleviate the lack of enterprise server management (2:40 min)
  • Connection Type options allow camera redundancy (4:00 min)
  • Camera configuration options do not allow resolution scaling (6:00 min)
  • Data Aging options are supported only on Avigilon camera but offer an extended method of archived video pruning (8:35 min)
  • Integration with Active Directory can alleviate the lack of enterprise user management (9:00 min)
  • Scheduling backup allows flexibility for the administrator (12:55 min)
  • Built-in help options and bug reporting tools provide administrators technical support (13:44 min)

Live Monitoring of the VMS system

The following screencast examines monitoring live video with Avigilon's VMS software. 

Key points include:

  • Tabbed navigation allows multi-tasking (00:50 min)
  • Subtle differences of live and recorded modes can potentially be confusing (2:28 min)
  • Avigilon's method for dynamic stream resizing optimizes bandwidth (HDSM) (4:30 min)
  • JPEG 2000 provides greater flexibility but operates at a higher bit rate (6:01 min)

Investigation of the VMS system

The following screencast examines how to conduct investigations with Avigilon's VMS software.

Key points include:

  • Subtle visual contrasts with live and recorded modes can potentially cause confusion (00:38 min)
  • Using the timeline provides optimal scanning capabilities (1:20 min)
  • No rewind or fast forward buttons can potentially disorient the untrained investigator (2:15 min)
  • The Native export option will provide additional features such as watermarking (7:42 min)
  • The standalone player must be installed to export and provide to third party investigators (8:16 min)

VMS Questions - Basic Use (Live and Recorded Video)

How do I watch live video?

The default view of the Control Center Client is the live view mode. Once logged in, the operator/administrator can load objects from the structure tree on the left into the live panes on the right by either double-clicking or via drag-n-drop.

Additionally, views can be saved and loaded from the structure tree on the left.

What ways can I monitor many video feeds simultaneously?

The structure tree on the left via drag-n-drop. Additionally, the views and map feature will allow the operator to load cameras into the live panes.

Within the map feature, the operator simply clicks on a camera to load it into the live pane. Double-clicking on the saved view will load all camera associated into the live pane area.

How can I be notified and review alarms?

The Alarms button in the toolbar will create a new tab within the interface. This Alarms tab will list the Active Alarms along with associated triggered alerts.

By default, rules are in place to notify the operator of issues ranging from database errors to camera connection status. Rules can be customized based and created based on items such as motion detection to input devices.

What ways can I search multiple video feeds?

Using the Recorded button at the top main toolbar will automatically switch the active cameras into archived mode for playback and navigation.

'Event Search' is the search option that provides multi-camera investigation for event based feedback; however, playback of these events only allows one camera to be viewed.

How do you share images from video?

The simplest way to share an image is to use the secondary mouse button (i.e. right-click) and use the 'Save Snapshot' option. This will create a new tab with an interface to specify export settings.

How do you share video clips from recorded video?

From the live monitoring mode, the 'Export' button on the toolbar will provide a new tab with the export options.  The investigator can then use the timeline with the flag indicators to dynamically shift the desired time frame.

Exporting is limited to one camera at a time and the investigator can continue to switch between the live and recorded mode via the tabs.

How do I know if I am in live or recorded video mode?

If the timeline pane at the bottom is in view, then a camera in view is in recorded mode. This behavior is possible as Avigilon provides the ability to view archived video within the live view. 

Additionally, there are subtle colored borders on each individual camera window to represent the state of the stream. A green border will represent recorded mode and blue represents live mode.

VMS Questions - Administrative

How do I add/setup a camera?

Administration is conducted from the single client as live and recorded.

From the main context menus at the top of the client, go to Tools, then choose "Connect/Disconnect Cameras." This will launch a pop-up window where the administrator can discover Avigilon cameras and manually add third party IP cameras.

How do you restrict access to the system?

Permissions are broken down into four categories:  1) administrators, 2) power users, 3) standard users and 4) restricted users. Individual permissions of these categories cannot be configured unless creating a group.

How can you access reports or alerts on the health status of the servers/appliances applications?

The operator can access system logs via the server level setup page. Additionally, the administrator can access the "View Application Logs" from the Control Center Server window.

How can you upgrade the VMS software?

The upgrade is conducted via an executable out of the interface. 

VMS Questions - Usability

What, if any, VMS functionalities regularly take more than 10 seconds to load?

During testing we did experience events of slow loading during Thumbnail searching so your performance may vary.

What options does the VMS provide to reduce storage consumption?

Individual cameras can be configured to store a maximum number of days of video. Additionally, the Data Aging feature provides the administrator an extended method for video pruning. Its worth noting that this feature is supported only with Avigilon cameras.

What help functionality does the VMS provide while using the client?

A help menu is available in the main context menus. This will provide access to the help .chm file. Additionally, the operator can submit a bug report for more obscure issues with the system.

How similar is the use of the VMS client to a DVR?

There are several factors that disassociate Avigilon from a DVR. 

The tabbed browsing provides an less common method of navigation even in the industry as a whole. Those that are comfortable with Microsoft Office applications or any modern version of a web browser will find this option useful.

The lack of a rewind and fast forward button in addition to the Data Aging options further distance the Avigilon system from a DVR.

How simple is it for an untrained operator?

With the lack of hidden functionality and simple separation method of different modes via page tabs, workflow is fairly simple and should be easily adaptable for the untrained operator with very light training.

Terminology used by Avigilon is nothing out of the ordinary and icons are representative of their functions.

How powerful is it for the expert operator?

Technical operators will find the tabbed navigation to be intuitive, allowing them to multitask amongst many functionalities. Obscurities for Avigilon specific features will provide limited flexibility to optimize areas such as bandwidth and storage.

VMS Questions - Scalability

How do you restrict access when using multiple servers/appliances?

Without the integration enterprise functionality, IT/savvy users will find Avigilon to be lacking; however, the option to import Windows users can alleviate some of the user management.

How can I watch live video feeds from different appliances/servers?

Multiple servers will be listed via the structure tree in the left sidebar, where objects such as cameras and views can be loaded into the viewing area on the right.

 

How can I conduct searches from video feeds stored in different appliances/servers?

Users can select 'record' mode to playback multiple cameras from different servers or can select multiple cameras in the event search selection pane.

 

Recommendations

Evaluating Avigilon can be complex because it offers a number of different advantages and disadvantages compared to most VMS systems. Let's break it down by key categories:

  • Scale of Sites: For deployments with large number of sites (dozens or hundreds), Avigilon has limited tools to manage and monitor servers (no enterprise user management nor global configuration changes). This is an important limitation.
  • Security Needs: Avigilon supports a number of access control systems, has built in event management and tight integration of maps. This will support mid to high level security needs for immediate response and assessment of threats.
  • Third Party IP Camera Support: Avigilon has quite limited 3rd party camera support. If a customer wants to use or reserve the right to choose from a broad range of IP cameras, this will be an important limitation.
  • Price: The per channel software license is on the high end of the market, in line with the enterprise offerings of Milestone, Genetec, DVTel, etc. The pricing is particularly high for small camera count systems, which generally run $100 - $150 less per channel (or free for Mobotix - a rival megapixel solutions provider).
  • Advanced Configuration Options: While Avigilon offers a number of advanced options, some of the key ones (HDSM, data aging, redundancy) are limited to Avigilon's own cameras and offset by the need to use JPEG2000 - a CODEC that requires greater storage cost compared to H.264, now gaining broad acceptance for use even with megapixel cameras.
 
The two areas that are problematic for using Avigilon Control Center are:
  • Small camera deployments that use only a few Avigilon cameras. This will incur a high VMS cost but limited benefits from managing third party cameras.
  • Large multi-site deployments that require strong enterprise management capabilities and extensive 3rd party integration. Avigilon's support in these areas may be insufficient.
 
We think the strongest applications for using Avigilon is when large numbers of multi-megapixel cameras are desired and the deployment is looking for a VMS that enhances real time monitoring.

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