BriefCam's Surveillance Search Technology Examined

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jun 26, 2009

BriefCam aims to simplify video surveillance search. They generate intelligent video synopses that enables investigators to watch the key events of hours of video in a fraction of the time.

Below is a short introductory demo of BriefCam's technology provided by the manufacturer.

BriefCam partners with leading IP Video/DVR/NVR providers (Pelco, Milestone and OnSSI being 3 of the most well known). This provides users the freedom to pick their own best of breed VMS and to use BriefCam with existing deployments.

Most VMS systems have limitations on their built-in search capability (such as searching by time, motion detection or event type). BriefCam has the potential to improve search capabilty for video surveillance systems.

The interesting questions for specifiers and users are: (1) how much value does it provide relative to its cost? (2) how well does it integrate with existing systems? and (3) where does it provide the most value?

Product Options and Pricing

BriefCam offers 2 product options:

  • Real-time monitoring - the RTS800 is an appliance that processes up to 8 IP video feeds. This appliance analyzes the video streams in real time and continuously generates the synopses so that investigators can access it immediately. The MSRP is $3,200. The current form factor of the appliance is a tower (see data sheet for details).
  • Forensic monitoring - the FS100 is an appliances that allows exported video feeds from VMS systems to be processed on-demand. This requires first exporting the video and then allowing time for the FS100 to process and generate the synopsis. This product is planned for shipment next month. Public pricing has not been finalized.

3rd Party Integration 

Briefcam's real time monitoring, acting similarly to a VMS client, requests streams from the Video Management system. The synopses it generates are available via BriefCam's own thick Client. An investigator would launch the Briefcam client, select the time frame and video camera of interest and then review the synopsis (as demonstrated in the video at the beginning of this report).

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Current integrated VMS systems include Milestone, OnSSI, Pelco, Vicon and Magal. BriefCam aims to integrate with multiple new VMS systems each quarter.

All of the current integrations require the use of BreifCam's client UI. At lest 1 VMS provider is working on integrating Briefcam's client functionality within the VMS' own UI.

Compared to Existing Search

When searching through large time periods (more than a half hour), there are a couple ways to increase the efficiency/effectiveness of searching:

  • Play at higher speed (e.g., 2x, 4, 8x real-time). This is probably the most common but least sophisticated way of doing searches over longer time periods. The good aspect to this is that it's widely available and helps to find the right general time. The bad aspect is that it's easy to miss critical details and can still take a very long time if you are reviewing multiple hours.
  • Motion based search with text results. This is probably the second most common approach. The investigator searches a camera feed for times when there is motion in the scene. The VMS returns a table of rows for each time motion is detected. This is ok if there is very little motion. However, it's really difficult for busy areas or scenes with high environmental noise (as these trigger false motion alerts).
  • Thumbnail based search based on events. This may be the least common but the most sophisticated of the options widely available. The VMS uses analytics (some are sophisticated, some not) to identify potential events. Then the results are displayed in a matrix of thumbnails allowing the investigator to scan the thumbnails for a matching result. This is usually more effective than the text results. The main challenge can be reviewing the video itself as it still requires clicking on each thumbnail to play back the video.

Contrasting BriefCam to these 3 approaches, BriefCam's synopsis offer a number of potential benefits:
  • Because BriefCam creates a video clip for the time frame, it's easy for an investigator to see all the events in a single interface without having to click on various results and check them one by one.
  • Because events are summarized into a single synopsis, it may be easier for an investigator to understand the flow of events as they can quickly scan the synopsis video back and forth to see the pattern of events.

The main drawback of BriefCam is the cost and complexity of being an add-on feature. The other search tools are built in and provided at no additional costs. BriefCam needs to deliver demonstrably greater value to justify the premium.

Best Fits/Applications

The forensic product option is likely to only be used for really important investigations, simply because the time and effort it takes to export video from the VMS, transfer it to the FS100 and wait for it to process will be significant. For most normal investigations, it will be less time consuming to simply use traditional techniques (play at higher speed, motion based search, etc.). However, depending on its ultimate price point, larger uses may find it to be a useful tool to have for the occasional harder investigation.

The real time monitoring product is likely to offer the highest value for cameras with medium activity levels and high risk. My rationale for that is that cameras with low activity will be easy to search with traditional means and those with high activity (think train station with near constant motion) will not benefit much from any type of filtering. Since the products costs a few hundred dollars more per channel and requires a separate UI, most organizations are likely to justify using this for key high risk cameras.

Future Potential

BriefCam has potential as a feature for VMS systems. If BriefCam can may make simple, easy and cost-effective to integrate their technology into VMS systems, it could become a commonly used tool. For now though, the best fit for BriefCam is likely for high security environments where timely and accurate investigations are a priority.

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