Network Optix/Digital Watchdog VMS Tested

Published Jun 06, 2016 15:27 PM

Network Optix is one of the few VMS startups of the past few years (sold in North America exclusively as DW Spectrum), differentiating itself with a novel client packed with uncommon features, claiming "Advanced IP Video Management. Made Simple." 

But is this just hype or does Nx Witness really stand apart from the VMS pack?

Inside, we cover live viewing, search, export, configuration, and more, to find out.


Based on our tests, we see the fit for Nx Witness/DW Spectrum as follows:

  • Small systems: Fair. Though low cost recorders/kits have become commonplace in small camera count systems, Nx Witness offers some novel functionality at a reasonably low price which may compete in some low camera count systems (16 cameras and under).
  • Mid-size systems: Strong. Nx Witness/DW Spectrum is priced below most mid-tier VMS licenses from incumbent developers, but offers high end features which may be attractive in mid-size systems (25 cameras and up), such as failover, multi-server support, etc.
  • Enterprise: Weak: Nx Witness lacks the extensive third party integrations found in most enterprise level VMSes, such as analytics, access, LPR, etc., as well as true enterprise multi-server management. 

Key Findings

Overall, Network Optix Nx Witness worked well, with some useful and novel UI features not found in many other VMSes, especially in live viewing, including:

  • Flexible layouts: Users may resize cameras by dragging clicking and dragging, making layout creation simpler than other VMSes which require the layout be pre-configured.
  • Universal dewarping: Any fisheye camera may be dewarped in Nx Witness using their driver instead of proprietary SDKs, including those which typically dewarp camera-side only as well as ImmerVision lenses.
  • Software image rotation: Nx Witness allows any camera to be rotated 90/180/270 degrees simply by right clicking, instead of requiring specific corridor mode support.
  • Image enhancement: Users may adjust gamma and white/black levels manually or automatically, similar to Avigilon's Image Enhancement features, which may provide some image quality improvements in some scenes.
  • Zoom windows: Nx Witness allows quick creation of multiple repositionable digital zoom windows from a single high resolution camera, which may be useful in viewing 5MP, 4K, and higher resolutions covering wide areas.

Additionally, it includes key features users expect in commercial VMSes, such as synchronized playback and export, a tabbed UI, smart search, and solid camera support (direct and ONVIF Profile S).

However, on the negative side, there are some key drawbacks:

  • No single configuration interface: Configuration options are spread through different menus, with no central location to configure the system. This may be confusing for new or occasional users, or even those frequently using the system, as they must remember which options are in a given menu.
  • Limited enterprise viewing/management: Users may connect to only one system at a time (though each system may be multiple servers). Those wishing to keep systems logically separate across geographic locations may find this problematic.
  • Limited camera side VMD support: Camera side VMD is supported on a limited number of models, with most requiring server side VMD.
  • Few advanced integrations: Nx Witness has little direct support for third-party systems such as analytics, access control, LPR, etc. Events may be integrated through generic TCP strings, but this requires manual configuration.

Additionally, we found some UI elements odd or distracting, such as the scrolling timeline at the bottom of the client, and event and camera lists, which are transparent, "floating" in front of cameras to either side of the client, instead of docked in place in typical VMSes.


Nx Witness is available only outside of North America. In North America, Digital Watchdog has exclusive rights to the software, which they sell as DW Spectrum [link no longer available].

Both Network Optix and Digital Watchdog are typically both up to date, running the same version, though DW Spectrum may be slightly delayed in new releases. As of time of writing, both are running


Nx Witness and DW Spectrum both have only a single license tier (called Pro by Network Optix), with no low/medium/high versions found in most VMSes. No base license is required, only camera licenses for each device.

Neither charge ongoing fees for software maintenance or software upgrades. Users may upgrade to new versions at no cost.


DW Spectrum sells for ~$70 USD per camera channel online, significantly less than most mid-tier VMS licences (typically $100-150 and up), such as ExacqVision Pro, ACC Standard, XProtect Express, etc. Additionally, this pricing is only slightly higher than most low-tier VMS licenses, generally ~$50 USD/channel.

In addition to software only, Network Optix offers multiple pre-loaded NVRs [link no longer available] (again, outside NA only) and Digital Watchdog offers it in their Blackjack series NVRs.

Configuration Spread Through Client

There is no central configuration menu for an entire system in Nx Witness. Instead, users right click a camera for its settings or event rules, right click a server for its settings or adding devices, right click a system to enter administration, etc. 

This may be confusing for new or occasional users, as it is not always immediately obvious where specific items may be located, unlike many/most other VMSes, which combine configuration tasks into a single screen.

Search and Playback

Nx Witness' search is relatively limited compared to many VMSes in that it lacks event search (unless events are bookmarked) and thumbnails operate differently (simply showing a preview of the timeline, but not dynamically changing in scale). 

However, their smart pixel search works well, with events highlighted in red on the timeline without substantial search time common in other VMS pixel searches. 

We look at search methods in the video below.

Nx Witness allows synchronized multi-camera export with a standalone executable player, common in integrator favorite VMSes, though not found in some others. The export player is essentially a local only version of the Nx Witness client, with all the same playback features.

Multi-Server/Enterprise Support

Network Optix supports multiple server through what they call their "hive" concept, which merges servers into a single system, with no overall master server. Users are shared across servers, and cameras may be moved from one server to another via drag and drop. All servers in the system are viewable simultaneously.

Nx Witness does not include a simple way to grant/restrict access to specific cameras or servers via configuration. Instead, users are restricted in what cameras they may view by layouts. Those without administrative rights may only see those cameras which are assigned to them in a layout. They cannot see other servers or cameras.

This may be tedious to manage for multi-site customers, as layouts must be continuously updated for different sites/user rights as cameras are added or changed, instead of simply being able to grant/deny access to cameras.


Live View Features

In this section we review several useful live viewing features Nx Witness offers which many VMSes do not.

Flexible Layouts

Nx Witness allows users to resize and reposition cameras simply by clicking and dragging, unlike most VMSes which require layouts to be pre-configured. For example, in the demo below, we enlarge two outdoor cameras for viewing and extend a dewarped fisheye panorama across multiple panes to better fit.


Image Enhancement

Similar to Avigilon Control Center, Nx Witness includes image enhancement options which allow users to adjust gamma as well as white and black levels. These adjustments may slightly improve images in some scenes, especially low light and WDR. Note that these adjustments are performed only on viewing (live and playback) and are do not impact recorded video.


Fisheye Camera Handling

Nx Witness includes universal support for fisheye panoramic cameras using their own dewarping configuration instead of proprietary SDKs. This allows users to dewarp any fisheye camera, including those which normally using camera side dewarping only (such as Axis and Panasonic).

After selecting a camera as fisheye, users configure the mounting orientation (ceiling/wall/floor) and may adjust the dewarping geometry, seen here:

Once set up as fisheye, images are automatically dewarped when digitally zooming or using zoom windows. For example, simply drawing two zoom windows on the fisheye image creates two new windows in this example:


Software Image Rotation

Users may rotate cameras 90, 180, or 270 degrees via software in Nx Witness. No specific camera support of corridor view is required.

View Windows

Nx Witness allows users to select multiple regions of single camera for viewing, automatically opening the region in its own pane in the layout. This may be especially useful with 5MP, 4K, and higher resolution cameras covering a wide area, as users may focus on areas of interest more easily while keeping the full resolution stream in a smaller pane.

Timeline Scrolling Distraction

The timeline of Nx Witness distractingly scrolls left at the bottom of the client, displayed by default. With thumbnails displayed (during playback), the timeline is even larger and more distracting, making it more difficult to focus on video. Other VMSes display this timeline in some views, but typically smaller/less obtrusive.


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