Testing DVTel's Latitude 6.0 VMS SoftwareBy: John Honovich, Published on Feb 06, 2010
One of the key selling points for IP Video software is its greater scalability, flexibility and advanced functionality compared to traditional DVRs.
This test of DVTel's Latitude [link no longer available] VMS version 6.0 provides an interesting look at the tradeoffs of this approach. While DVTel clearly has many powerful functionalities (redundancy, failover, scene stitching [link no longer available], case management [link no longer available], etc.), it demands far greater expertise for both admins and users than traditional systems.
- DVTel's advanced functionality enabled actions not possible in most DVRs and many VMS software packages
- DVTel's extensive options and settings enabled customizations not possible in most DVRs and many VMS software packages
- The complexity of the system to be challenging and likely difficult for traditional security managers and low voltage security technicians
- Resource consumption to be high and potentially destabilizing to the operation and performance of the system [DVTel responds that by design, ancillary tasks can be negatively impacted but core recording and systems tasks are prioritized - this was disclosed after testing was complete - see response from DVTel in the comments]
We think users should carefully consider these trade-offs and the important advantages and disadvantages of this system. Particularly concerning will be the traditional security professional, the most common users and most likely to find this system difficult.
Finally, DVTel's website is poor at providing documentation (e.g., their documentation page [link no longer available] only provides an email address and no documentation at all). Inside, based on a series of discussions with DVTel, we have provided more explanation and analysis than usual (e.g., over 50 minutes of video screencasts and product category breakdowns) to help members who may not be able to get a good background from public documentation.
DVTel's Latitude [link no longer available] comprises a wide range of features (read their datasheet [link no longer available]). Below is a list of the ones we believe are most uncommon (for better or worse):
- The system is quite modular and segmented into many services. This is in contrast with traditional video surveillance recorders that usually have all-in-one recorders connected to a central management server. With DVTel, the two most important of these services are the (1) directory and (2) archiver. The archiver is similar to a traditional recorder, however, the archiver only records and does not manage users or access. The directory manages users and access to video from archivers. Numerous archivers on various physical servers are managed by the Directory.
- Failover Recording and System Management: DVTel supports failover for both their archivers and directories. An administrator creates multiple archivers or directories and then associates some or one of those as secondary/backup services.
- SceneTracker Camera Stitching: DVTel's SceneTracker [link no longer available] allows administrators to stitch or merge multiple adjacent cameras into a singular view, enhancing monitoring of large areas.
- Reporting Tools: The system can generate detailed reports for a variety of uses that provide detailed audit logs on an action by action basis.
- Event / Alarm Management: DVTel's client application (ControlCenter) offers integrated management and handling of a variety of user configurable alarms and events.
- Case Management: DVTel offers a Case Builder service enabling investigators to create case shares and share them.
- Modular Client Application: DVTels' ControlCenter application is completely modular. All of the panes can be removed or combined in unique combinations (e.g., investigations can be done while controlling a PTZ while accessing a case and reviewing alarms - from the same screen). Watch the screencasts as it is better shown than described.
- Extensive Options and Controls: DVTel offers numerous options and controls for both administration and operation. Almost every interface offers a dozen of more settings. Watch the screencasts for demonstrations of this.
IP Camera Support
DVTel provides its own IP cameras [link no longer available] as well as supports 3rd party IP cameras. 3rd party support is limited to 10 providers, most of whom are the largest manufacturers (i.e., Axis, Sony, Bosch, Panasonic, Pelco, IQ, Arecont, etc.). View the current 3rd party IP camera support documentation [link no longer available] for details.
DVTel requires at least one technical representative from an integrator complete a 4 day hands-on training course.
Like most VMS providers, DVTel offers multiple categories of their VMS software. All of them use the same software design / applications. However, depending on the category certain functionalities are enabled or disabled. DVTel has 4 main product categories (the latter 3 are marketed as Latitude [link no longer available] but are not delineated on DVTel's website):
- Solus: Solus [link no longer available] is DVTel's SMB offering and is a stand-alone, single server offering (in contrast to the other 3 categories which can be upgraded to unlimited camera counts). Solus supports a maximum of 32 cameras and 4 simultaneous users connected. Solus is offered both as SW only and as a NVR appliance. Because it is a single server solution, no failover or redundant services are offered. Also, SceneTracker and Case Builder is not available. Solus cannot be upgraded to Latitude. However, an option is available for global viewing of multiple Solus systems.
- Classic Latitude: Classic has a limitation of 70 cameras as well as some restrictions on failure, redundancy, SDK, etc. The 70 cameras, however, may run on multiple servers. For more than 70 cameras, users must upgrade to Elite.
- Elite Latitude: Elite has a limitation of 250 cameras as well as broad but not unlimited use of advanced functions. Like Classic, the cameras can run on multiple servers.
- Enterprise Latitude: Enterprise offers a license for unlimited cameras and use of advanced functionality.
- NOTE: All systems use AdminCenter and ControlCenter. Versions that are not licensed for certain advanced functionalities have them disabled in the applications.
DVTel's Latitude pricing has 3 core elements:
- Per System: A license fee is charged per system. This is a one time charge and varies depending on the category.
- Per Camera: A license fee is charged per camera.
- Per Simultaneously Connected User: A license fee is charged for a maximum number of simultaneously connected users. An unlimited number of clients can be installed. However, the number of clients that can be used simultaneously is restricted. For instance, if a customer buys 2 user licenses, a 1000 clients could be installed but only 2 people could use either Admin or ControlCenter simultaneously.
DVTel's Solus pricing is a single price for either software or appliances (sold in 8, 16, 24, and 32 channel increments).
As a rule of thumb, DVTel's Solus pricing is approximately $150 - $200 per camera (for SW version). Note: this is the approximate street price, not MSRP.
As a rule of thumb, DVTel's Latitude pricing is approximately $250 - $300 per camera. While the component licensing varies by category (Classic, Elite, Enterprise), the total pricing is similar for all categories. Note: this is the approximate street price, not MSRP.
In the screencast below, we examine key usability concerns including:
- 32 Bit OS Support only: Latitude server and client software do not support 64 bit OS. Since almost all of the computers we use run 64 bit OS (our 8 GB RAM server, most of our 6-9 month old laptops with 4GB - 6GB of RAM, etc.), we did our testing primarily using Virtual Machines (for the server software, we used VMWare Server with 2 cores allocated at 2.5 GH each and 3GB of RAM).
- Resource Consumption / Stability: The system easily reached 100% CPU utilization in a variety of configurations and generally stayed at 100%. This occurred when we ran the server and client with 1-2 cameras on a VM. This also occurred when we ran only the server software on the VM and the client software on a native OS as well a VM on our laptops. Equally importantly, logins periodically failed as well as the exporting process. Many functions were sluggish with long delays. When we questioned the errors we saw, DVTel support immediately asked if our CPU was running at 100% indicating that our problem is not unique. We also have been independently contacted by 2 end users in the last 3 months complaining about stability problems. While we do not their hardware and software configuration, we find their issues to be believable based on our experience.
- Modularity of the ControlCenter client: Unlike most user clients that lock a specific layout, the ControlCenter client can be rearrange into various customized configurations. Our concern is that infrequent or untrained users will find this to be confusing and hard to use.
- Options available throughout: On both the Admin and User clients, numerous options are presented. Our concern is that infrequent or untrained user will not understand what these options are. They may either incorrectly select a setting or be overwhelmed about what to choose.
In the screencast below, we examine the steps to administer and configure DVTel. A key aspect examined is the incorporation of various wizards that are helpful in reducing the complexity of the system.
In the screencast below, we demonstrate the main functionalities of performing live and event monitoring.
In the screencast below, we examine conducting queries and using the case management functionality. A key aspect of investigation is the 7 or 8 types of queries available which can be useful for power users but confusing for someone who just wants to retrieve video at a given time.
Basic Use (Live and Recorded Video)
How do I watch live video?
Video may be selected from a camera tree hierarchy. Video can be displayed in a variety of multiplex layouts selected to the immediate right of the video panes.
Live video is indicated by a small green circle in the upper right hand corner of the video pane. Recorded video can be displayed in adjacent panes so operators could mistake recorded for live (and vice versa).
What ways can I monitor many video feeds simultaneously?
DVTel lists that ControlCenter can display up to 25 live video feeds simultaneously on a single monitor. Using multiple connected monitors, the operator can monitor up to 100 feeds.
How can I be notified and review alarms?
ControlCenter integrates both an event and alarms pane that allows for customization and distribution of real time information. This can be customized to determine which alarms goes to what users.
These panes are built into the ControlCenter and can be dynamically displayed or removed as the operator desires.
How do I search for recorded video?
The search query allows multiple entities to be searched. A tree hierarchy will provide the user options to choose items from microphones, cameras, users, etc.Synchronized playback is available when conducting a search query. It is definitely not clear within the UI, but when conducting a query, the "Search for" field is used for entering part or all of the camera name according to the documentation. This becomes even more confusing with the given "Select Scenes" field which actually provides a drop-down menu to choose these different cameras, entities, etc.When the timeline is being displayed, the user can dynamically move across and choose archived video.
Additionally, users can search for video based on multiple types of motion queries.
What ways can I search multiple video feeds?
DVTel's ControlCenter offers 2 ways to search for multiple video feeds: (a) synchronously (using the Sync button) and (b) asynchronously (using the Go button and then clicking on results returned).
We think users can be confused about this especially if they have used traditional DVRs.How do you share images from video?In any video window, right-click and choose "take snapshot."
How do you share video clips from recorded video?
This varies depending on the method of search. In the search query results, the user can use the export button, indicated by the icon with the film strip. In the timeline, the user can use a click and drag method to highlight a desired time frame, then use the export icon to initiate. Additionally, the timeline view also has the marker tool to indicate beginning and end of the desired clip.
The export process can provide a player. However, that player is the full ControlCenter which is 90 MB and runs only on 32 bit OS. The sheer size of the player will make it infeasible to email clips. Secondly, the clip does not automatically run. The use needs to load the file, which can be a challenge for third parties with no knowledge of the system. How do I know if I am in live or recorded video mode?A small icon on the top-right of the each camera window shows a red circle for recording or blue playback button for recorded.
How do you switch between live video, investigations and configuration?ControlCenter offers a disappearing navigation tab on the left side of the screen. It is apparent when the user hovers the cursor over the transparent green arrow and the tabs come to the forefront. Additionally, each camera window offers an instant playback button and several pre-defined minute options (1, 5 min., etc.)
How do I add/setup a camera?AdminCenter offers a wizard where cameras from numerous manufacturers can be discovered and configured. During the wizard, the user can apply recording settings for both live and recorded streams (assuming support from the camera).
Additionally, there is a 'Physical' view where cameras can be discovered and configured manually. The physical view will be necessary when changing the IP address as the 'Logical' view does not appear to provide this specific setting, even with the similar layout and options.
How do you restrict access to the system?Within the privileges settings of Users and Groups, the access can be changed based on the entity (encoders, sites, user actions).Note - when in the permissions tab, be sure to choose 'functions' or 'entities' based on the type of permission being configured. For example, restricting access to a specific camera may not be under 'functions' but within the 'entities.'
How can you setup the VMS to handle failures to servers/appliances?The Servers tab in AdminCenter provides failover mechanisms for both Archivers and Directories. The redundant servers must be linked prior to this taking place so the initial server knows where to point to.How can you access reports or alerts on the health status of theservers/appliances applications?Within AdminCenter, the default view of the dashboard will visually notify the user in different window panes. For example, the cameras window shows how many cameras are recording and how many are inaccessible. Another pane displayed on the same page will notify any issues with the Archiver, etc.Within ControlCenter, there is an alerts pane on the bottom that the end-user can scroll through for all alerts triggered.
How can you upgrade the VMS software?Both client and server will need to be upgraded manually via the Windows installer. There is no integrated way to upgrade clients or servers across the network. No centralized feature is offered for the administrator.
DVTel reports in their 6.1 release, ControlCenter client applications can be automatically upgraded from the DVTel server.
What, if any, VMS functionalities regularly take more than 10 seconds to load?Dependent on installation of physical servers, performance may vary. In our testing, logging into the server generally took 20 seconds or more. Saving settings changes and discovering cameras also varied in load times.What happens when the VMS client cannot connect to a camera?In AdminCenter, the icon changes from a red dot on the camera to a red dash on the camera. This is displayed when in the dashboard, physical or logical view within AdminCenter.In ControlCenter, a camera enabled window pane will display an error message, "Failed to display scene: General error" in addition to a clear and large yellow warning icon witin the camera pane. An entry is created in the logs, viewable only after running the report.
What options does the VMS provide to reduce storage consumption?
Several options are provided for camera storage. The user is presented with options such as storage duration per camera, schedule profiles per camera, live vs. recorded settings, motion detection, etc. However, none are provided for different 'types' of video to take precedence. Video that needs to be kept beyond the first-in-first-out method should be "locked" for that desired time period.
What help functionality does the VMS provide while using the client?
In AdminCenter, the help button (indicated by a '?' is available in all but two tabs. Within ControlCenter, the help menu is available at the top with the main menus.
How similar is the use of the VMS client to a DVR?
Very different from a DVR. In both the AdminCenter and the ControlCenter, there are a number of power-user options that can be quite difficult to understand without training or extensive hours of hands-on.
When in AdminCenter, it can be confusing whether the user should conduct actions in Physical or Logical view. For example, when only the Physical View provides an option to change the IP address of a network camera.In ControlCenter, the disappearing controls can confuse the user and initially create a level of discomfort. Once training and extensive use of the system has taken place, this can be overcome.
How simple is it for an untrained operator?
Not simple for either setup or use. Training is definitely required to operate the client applications. There are no 'basic' packaged options for any given user to configure. The configuration wizards should be more helpful for less experienced IT users but expensive knowledge will be necessary for items such as multicast streaming.Scalability QuestionsWhat ways can I add/setup many cameras at the same time?
A camera wizard is provided but is questionable on the ease of use. Outside of the wizard, the Physical View will allow the user to manually add different types of entities such as cameras. Profiles can also be applied to camera settings but only to the same type (IP vs. analog).How do you restrict access when using multiple servers/appliances?
Each user will need to be configured for restricting access to that entity. The user has a number of checkboxes that can be changed.
How can I watch live video feeds from different appliances/servers?
The tree hierarchy will provide a drag-n-drop option for enterprise viewing.
How can I conduct searches from video feeds stored in differentappliances/servers?
When selecting 'scenes' from the Forensic page, a tree hierarchy will allow the user to choose what servers/entities to search.
At a high level, we think the best fit for DVTel's VMS is for IT integrators providing solutions for deployments where operators possess strong technical skill.
On the integrator side, we think traditional security integrators with mostly low voltage technicians will find DVTel to be time consuming to learn and difficult to administer (both for configuration and resource optimizations).
On the end user side, given the price, advanced features and complexity, we think users will need strong technical skills to get the most out of the system and not be confused. For enterprise systems, the price is likely competitive. But for basic to mid-level systems, VMS software at almost half the price are available. Furthermore, because of all the options and modularity even in the client interface, users with rotating security guards will likely find the system difficult.