Testing Milestone GO VMS (Free 8 Ch)

By: Benros Emata, Published on Aug 28, 2010

Milestone's aggressive moves targeting the smaller video surveillance systems continue. This month's release of a free 8 channel VMS, called XProtect Go, adds to their June 2010 release that dropped its price by more than a half for their 25 camera version.

It is free but how good is it? And what 'catches' are there?

In this test, we examine Milestone XProtect Go and compare to other entry level / 'budget' VMS.' We analyze how the limitations of Go compare to existing budget entrants and to Milestone's other VMS offerings.

Most importantly, we  recommend readers carefully consider the numerous limitations placed in Go that will adversely impact the usability and value of this offering. We discuss these throughout the test results.

Compare this system to our test results of iCam, a $4.99 VMS system designed for the home/SMB market.

We find it difficult to recommend Go as more than a demo system, despite it being free. The two largest constraints - 5 day recording and only thick client remote access - cause considerable problems for most home or SMB users. The greatest strengths of the offering such as nearly unlimited camera/CODEC support are wasted on this market.

Home users want to see their surveillance video from their smartphones or easily from the web. This system provides neither. Logging in to installed thick clients make sense for larger corporate systems but less so in the home market (especially when pretty much every other budget/home VMS offers web and/or smart phone support).

SMB users with multiple cameras will want to record video for more than 5 days. Not only are problems not always discovered right away, managers at these businesses will be afraid that they lose the video before getting a chance to find and export it (not a simple taks in Milestone anyway). Equally important, literally no one in the home/SMB market cripples their VMS to reduced number of days recording.

Who wants a VMS that has some advanced functionality but lacks 2 of the most fundamental basics? We are not sure. Certainly, because it is free, many may use but we expect they will be disatisfied by these constraints. While Milestone technically allows upgrading to a version without these constraints, this is a difficult process. Home and SMB users expect to buy online (Amazon, iTunes, AppStore, Paypal, etc.). Unfortunately, do to Milestone's business model, these users will have to locate a 3rd party online and have the dealer mail/email them the activation code/license.

On the other hand, as a multi-channel demo system for professional video surveillance, this should be useful. The system does offer most of Milestone's fundamental functionality, and therefore will allow more advanced users to try out Milestone with a number of cameras over a longer time (Milestone's heretofore demo only supported 30 days access or a single channel long term use).

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Ultimately, we believe the strongest application for Milestone at the 'lower end' of the market will be their Essential VMS version. At $49 per channel, plus the elimination of Go's key constraints (storage duration, remote access), Essential compares favorably, both in price and performancce, to budget and professional VMS offerings for the under 25 camera market. Our recommendations on Essential remain.

Key Criteria / Decision Points

When evaluating Milestone Go, the following 11 key criteria / decision points should be considered. Additionally, readers should note we compare XProtect Go with other budget / VMS providers, not enterprise / high-end systems.

Criteria Strength Description
 Pricing  Strong  8 channels free 
 Simplicity  Moderately Weak   Camera setup wizard but steep learning curve for live monitoring / investigations
 3rd Party IP Camera Support  Strong  Broad IP camera support
 H.264 Support  Strong  H.264 recording 
 Analytics Support  None  Not supported
 Exporting  Moderate  Cumbersome & fragmented (AVI output only similar to other budget systems)
 Remote Monitoring  Moderately Weak  Only via thick client, only one simultaneous user
 Run as a Service  Strong  Enabled by default
 Multi-camera playback  Strong  Supports up to 10x10 views but license limitation of 8 channels
 Storage Retention  Weak  Maximum 5 days
 Support  Weak  Online forum inquiries only

Key Findings

Setup - SMB / Home users new to surveillance may find Milestone Go overwhelming. Go is clearly a port of their higher end software and more than enough settings are revealed to the admin. Various wizards will help alleviate the setup workflow not generally available in other budget systems. Those that have previous experience with surveillance systems will find the interface more typical of enterprise grade software.

With Go, two programs must be applied - the XProtect Go Management Application and the XProtect Smart Client. Contrast this to the entry-level systems we tested where administration is built-in a single interface.

Live Monitoring & Investigations - Noting a maximum retention period of five days, we recommend Go for those that only need a short period of investigation time. A homeowner, for example can react immediately after a robbery, export the video and be done. On the flip side, if the owner leaves for vacation (e.g. for a week), they won't have any access to the video and may lose the evidence before returning. We certainly have not seen such a limitation in other budget VMS offerings.

To clarify, there is no web client available, eliminating flexibility with remote access. This creates a concrete barrier for anybody away from the office - meanwhile, the industry trend moves to increased mobile liberation (e.g. VSaaS).

Product Overview

Key differences - Key factors which distinguish Go from Milestone XProtect Essential are:

  • Maximum 5 days storage retention (Essential max 960GB / day)
  • Maximum of 1 simultaneously user connections to the server (Essential is 5)
  • No remote access via web interface (Essential does provide)
  • No phone support (Essential does provide)
  • No e-mail support (Essential does provide)
  • Support via online forum only 
  • 8 channels free (Essential offers up to 26 paid channels)

Those that wish to further understand the distinctions when compared to other Milestone products will find their table helpful in addition to an extensive PDF format to download.

Computing Platform Support 

Go supports a suite of Microsoft platforms for both the server and client applications:  XP, Server '03 / '08, Vista, Vista Enterprise, Vista Ultimate, 7, 7 Enterprise, 7 Ultimate and both 32 & 64-bit versions.

Those updating drivers or applying patches can access the Support Updates page for a historical list of these downloads.

The Milestone XProtect Go manual is confusing as they recycled the Enterprise version and simply added a note that not all functionality is enabled with the Go version. The bigger problem remains that its not clear which of the features are disabled and must refer to the first few pages for a list of whats different in Go

Licenses - Device licenses are not required but a software license is and after the 30 day free trial, users will be required to register.

Support - As stated in the manual, Go users will only have support via online forum (no e-mail or phone communication provided).

A single video tutorial is available on the Smart Client but viewers should note that this is related to the full version.

Third Party Support

Milestone Go provides a broad range of IP camera and encoder support - those requiring specific compatibility information should check Milestone's online search tool for corresponding devices.

Pricing

Go provides 8 channels for free with a five day maximum retention period in addition to no remote viewing (via web interface), phone or e-mail support. Considering the complex interface when compared to other entry level / budget VMS,' those considering should note these hard limitations. Of course, Milestone does provide users an upgrade path to paid offerings (e.g. XProtect Essential). However, those versions must be bought through a Milestone re-seller as Milestone does not sell direct to end users (nor do they support buying online).

Administration

Comparing to entry-level systems, we segment setup to three main areas of observations:  camera, client-side and 'run as a service' setup features. Complex setup workflows prohibit a SMB owner from utilizing all features of a system.

Though a camera wizard is provided, users may have trouble auto-discovering cameras (we did with multiple manufacturer's cameras). Those not comfortable with assigning IP addresses will find this challenging as support is provided via online forum and no phone / e-mail contact.

Buget VMS's do not consistently offer running the recorder as a windows service; however, Milestone provides this with Go. We consider this an important benefit as it significantly decreases the chance of accidental shutdown, interrupting recording. 

We find the addition integrated support for USB cameras as a positive. What once required add-on software (DirectShow Filter) is simplified with Go requiring zero installation. Additionally, the camera finder should have no issues finding local associated USB cameras.

The provided download manager (less than 900 KB) better handles large file sizes (e.g. Go is about 110 MB), decreasing the likelihood of a connection failure.

The following screencast examines how to configure/setup Milestone XProtect Go:

Live Monitoring & Investigations

Essentially a ported / handicapped version of the XProtect Smart Client, Go also has a significant learning curve. Key concerns remain:

  • Individual cameras can only be selected by a cumbersome, hidden, multi-click process. This is unlike almost every other VMS system on the market. This makes it difficult for users to find a single camera that they are seeking. It also requires an administrator to carefully set up 'views.' A default view is now provided and Milestone informs us that the system automatically adjusts when the admin initially adds cameras. We verified and tested that the default view is provided, slightly easing operator workflow.
  • Numerous playback options can be overwhelming and can hide basic controls like playing or rewinding video.
  • Exporting is cumbersome as controls are distributed amongst various locations / panes. Using the "Set" buttons allows the operator to conduct their visual search first, then utilize this option, automatically inputing the start / stop times of the export (instead of manually entering the times). Without reading the manual or receiving some training, this would be confusing.

On the positive side, Compared to other entry level providers, Go provides key features that are uncommon:

  • Multi-camera live monitoring
  • Multi-camera playback for investigations
  • Thumbnail search (Sequence Explorer)
  • Visual timeline (sync with playback window)
  • Instant playback in Live mode
  • Broad IP camera support

The following screencast examines how to conduct investigations and live monitoring using Go:

 

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