PTZ Thermal - DRS Watchmaster IP Ultra

By Ethan Ace, Published Sep 19, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Despite marketing claims, thermal cameras remain too expensive for most of the commercial market. Only one company is really pushing hard to change that, DRS Technologies, a relatively unknown. They are aggressively pushing low prices with their WatchMaster IP Elite, an IP thermal camera priced below even many analog competitors. Now they are breaking price barriers for pan/tilt thermal cameras, as well, with the WatchMaster IP Ultra [link no longer available]. In this note, we look at the featureset of this new model and compare to pan/tilt models from incumbent vendors FLIR and Axis.


The WatchMaster IP Ultra [link no longer available] is a pan/tilt thermal camera in a compact speeddome form factor (7.3" diameter, 8.3" tall), with the following key features:

  • --320x240 image sensor, H.264/MJPEG streaming up to 30 FPS (9 FPS for export regulated areas).
  • 40º, 16º, and 9º lens options.
  • ONVIF 2.0 Profile S conformant.
  • Powered via 12/24V or 802.3af PoE.
  • 360º continuous panning, 120º tilt range, 32 presets, 16 tours, 4x digital zoom. Like most thermal cameras, no optical zoom is available.

The WatchMaster IP Ultra is planned to be available in Q4 2012, with an MSRP price below $5,000 USD.

Competitive Comparison

There are few compact thermal pan/tilt cameras available. Most available options use traditional pan/tilt motors and are equipped with visible cameras in addition to thermal. Available options compare as follows:

  • The FLIR D series are speed domes combining thermal and visible day/night cameras, perhaps most similar in form factor to the IP Ultra. 320x240 models start at about $22,000 MSRP, well beyond DRS' pricing. Even accounting for differing discount structures, the D series is priced well above the WatchMaster.
  • FLIR's other pan/tilt models, the PT series use thermal and visible cameras mounted on a pan/tilt motor. 320x240 PT models begin at nearly $18,000, again well above the WatchMaster IP Ultra.
  • While Axis does not offer speeddomes, their YP3040 pan/tilt motor can integrate with their thermal fixe cameras, such as the 384x288 Q1922-E and controlled over IP. A Q1922-E plus YP3040 sell for a total of ~$4,500 online, close to DRS's MSRP price. Axis has certain advantages, as well, such as more direct VMS integration and edge storage. However, the Q1922-E and pan/tilt motor must be integrated separately and require 24VAC power, instead of simply using PoE. Equally importantly, the Axis P/T unit is far slower both panning and tilting than DRS (with Axis at 6/7.5º per second vs. DRS at 30º ).

Potential Impact

Though DRS is a relative newcomer, their substantial price advantages over other vendors will likely attract many integrators. However, they also lack the direct integrations Axis, Pelco, Bosch, and other vendors have with third-party VMSs, as well as less common advanced features such as on-board storage and analytics. Users should also be cautious when specifying the Watchmaster IP Ultra, as the performance of this new line from DRS remains untested in comparison to other vendors.

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