Top 4 End User Surveillance Complaints

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Mar 04, 2012

In our latest integrator survey, we asked "What are end users most common complaints about their surveillance systems?" as integrators often hear unfiltered feedback from them. Since it is difficult to describe specific performance and experience of a system before it is installed, many end users do not express this feedback until all work has been completed.

Several strong themes emerged from the responses.  Of the 100 survey responses, every integrator touched on or directly addressed, at least one of these themes:

  1. Unrealistic expectations: 'It's not like CSI'
  2. Low light performance
  3. Too expensive
  4. Too complex to use

The 'CSI' reference denotes a popular US crime drama television series that frequently makes use of fictionalized and hyper-functional video surveillance tools to forensically solve crimes.  Public perception of video surveillance capabilities are commonly influenced by the 'CSI Effect'.

Here is a famous video that demonstrates / parodizes this:

By contrast, we did a test of video enhancement software that showed much more modest results.

Unrealistic expectations

Numerous integrators mentioned unealistic end user expectations and especially the CSI effect. Here's a few to start:

  • "Due to American crime shows most people have unrealistic expectaions of image quality and playback options. CSI I hate you!!"
  • End users tells us: "It is possible, I saw it on CSI..."
  • "They aren't getting the CSI images they see on TV."
    • "Not being able to blow a picture up and see facial details or read a license plate 200 feet away, like they do on TV."
    • "That infrequency with which evidence lands perpetrators in jail. CSI has skewed expectations."
    • "It is not clear enough. We installed a 3 MP Sony camera; it had a very clear picture. One of the end users tried to "digitally enhance" the picture on a door and it pixelated."
    • "We do our best to set good expectations sometimes people still have the CSI effect where they think they can see the face of a guy 200 feet away in a parking lot"
    • "Customer wants to count the Zits on someone face 500ft away. Too much CSI."
    • "The CSI effect and their expectations of forensic video. We set customer expectations up front but it is difficult to overcome media hype"
    • "I thought this was a megapixel camera how come i cant see that license plate from 1000ft away. (this is not CSI)"
    • "Picture quality is never good enough. I think most have unrealistic ideas from TV."

    The CSI effect is a difficult problem for integrators to address if they do not openly discuss realistic performance during pre-sales meetings.  End users who are not familiar with the true capabilities of surveillance equipment are unfairly impressed by popular television.

    A common refrain heard from manufactures at trade shows is "Do not expect million dollar performance from a $300 camera!" The integrator bears a burden to not overstate the ability of the equipment when trying to earn a sale. Instead, limitations should be expressed very clearly such that no aspect of performance is left to be assumed.

    One method of addressing this gap is leveraging 'proof of concept' demonstrations during the sales effort.  This might be a simple as sharing video clips of the platform and equipment being proposed, up to a full-blown mockup live demo. Be careful when using manufacturer prepared 'post-produced' marketing materials demonstrating performance. Show material as raw and close to the real product as possible. Permitting the end user to 'see' the capabilities of the proposed system can correct many misconceptions rather easily.

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    Unless the integrator directly addresses (and is able to effectively communicate) accurate performance detail, this will continue to be an awkward issue for integrators to deal with.

    Low Light Performance

    • "Night time performance, the market we sell to is truly 24 hour..."
    • "Night time performance (especially in larger outdoor areas)"
    • "Image clarity in low light condition"
    • "Nightime video quality."
    • "poor pictures quality in poor light conditions"
    • "In the megapixel work they don't complain about much except possibly the price or low light performance."
    • "Bad low light or bad sunlight viewing"

    This performance aspect has been a traditional knock against IP surveillance cameras (especially MP) compared to analog counterparts, and broad criticism of video surveillance in general. Site light surveys provide vital detail when specifying equipment. Unless the ambient lighting conditions are understood, the integrator will always bear some culpability in contributing to this complaint by not addressing it as a trouble spot. Popular methods of improving low light utility center on increasing the light available to a certain cameras.

    An understanding of available light coupled with accurate assessment of equipment capability result in a manageable situation. 

    High Price

    • "Generally- system cost..."
    • "The price of IP and megapixels systems can drive customers back to analog systems where they complain about not being able to see any detail."
    • "Too expensive, too many options so they don't know which one to take, which usually ends up with them picking the cheapest one."
    • "Price, recurring fees on some systems, unrealistic expectations"
    • "I'd have to say... cost of maintenance. Like when a camera fails or a hard drive dies... the cost to replace it, cost of the service calls. It's all about the Benjamins!"
    • "Cost of replacement to fix problems"
    • "They are to expensive."
    • "mainly it's cost"

    While some of the complaints are directed at IP, many of them are generic to all of surveillance. This is not surprising, given the cost conscious, 'cost center' aspect of most surveillance users.

    Complexity

    • "Too complicated to use. This can be mitigated by more tme focused on user training."
    • "Our primary concern with customers is that there are too many features that they get confused as to how to use the system."
    • "The GUI. the system never works from the get go and the ease of use because if they cant easily use it they won't."
    • "GUI and it's simlicity"
    • "Most users find the software to see video uneasy to deal with."
    • "Can't get it working"
    • "Intuitive process and options for saving video"

    This answered seemed to center on two contributing sources. One set of answers related the actual composition of the system being technical and not "plug 'n play" in nature, and this limits clear casual understanding of how the systems operate.

    The second set of answers seem to center on the complexity of user interfaces. For many end users, the video management system interface is only occasionally used. Typically, these systems may go unattended for days or weeks until a specific event precipitates a review of recorded video. The end user is then forced to remember specific operating instructions to retrieve, playback, and export video. The most proactive step to take is to include product training (perhaps intervals of training) as part of the sales proposal. Instead of rushing through a brief introduction of the system at the end of an install, consider devoting time especially to instruct users after they have had the opportunity to be exposed to the system. This might only be a day or two after installation, and giving the enduser time to assess what they know or don't know about the system can make the training much more productive for everyone.

    For more on ease of use, see:

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