Testing OnSSI's NetDVMS and Ocularis Client Lite

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jan 17, 2010

OnSSI, one of the most well known VMS providers, gained significant attention with their 2009 announcement of the Ocularis 'platform'. The most regularly mentioned item was the Ocularis's client with its 'slick' user interface.

In this test, we examine OnSSI's NetDVMS system with their Ocularis Client Lite application (specifically NetDVMS 6.5f and Ocularis Client Lite 1.62). [Note: you can download and try it out yourself with a free 30 day trial of NetDVMS.]

Our key findings include:

  • NetDVMS offers the same features as Milestone Enterprise with the same applications and layout. As such, the core strengths and weakness of the two systems are the same.
  • Ocularis Client Lite is unique to OnSSI (not available from Milestone)
  • Operators are unlikely to be overwhelmed or distracted due to the minimalist design of Ocularis Client Lite.
  • However, Ocularis Client Lite may confuse and disorient operators as it is hard to know what each functionality does and where to access them. With training and regular use, operators may be able to overcome this.
  • Ocularis Client Lite has notable limitations on PCs supported and sharing exported video.
  • NOTE: We did not test the touchscreen features of the client. Those who use touchscreens or are interested in using them for surveillance monitoring may find this valuable.

In May 2009, OnSSI and Milestone announced a 'component OEM' agreement whereby OnSSI would OEM Milestone XProtect as a 'recording engine'. Based on our tests results, recording engine is misleading. OnSSI is using all of Milestone Enterprise and providing an additional client.

Additionally, OnSSI will be offering Ocularis DS and ES, platforms that include an Ocularis Management Server (called Ocularis Base) and a 'full' Ocularis Client. This is currently in 'controlled' release. When it is in general release, we plan to test and release results on this.

Overview of NetDVMS

In this 5 minute screencast, we explain the major applications and components of the NetDVMS/Milestone Enterprise system. Since there are 5 of components, it is important to understand how the system is segmented. This video is from the Milestone test and shows the exact same functionalities as OnSSI NetDVMS. Only the labels for the applications differs.

Contrast Between Milestone and OnSSI + Intro to Ocularis Client Lite

In this video, we show:
  • How the OnSSI NetGuard EVS client and NetDVMS applications are the same as Milestone Enterprise.
  • How the Ocularis Client Lite is the main differentiator and what it looks like

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Use and Usability of the Ocularis Client Lite

Since the main product differentiation between the two is the Ocularis Client Lite, we provide extensive commentary and demonstration on its use and usability. Ocularis Client Lite provides live and investigation functionalities. Administration and configuration is still performed through the traditional NetDVMS/Milestone Enterprise applications.

This is the most important screencast in the OnSSI NetDVMS review:

Usability Challenges in the core NetDVMS system

We encountered repeated usability challenges across almost all aspects of the system. In this 17 minute video, we examine and demonstrate those issues. This video is from the Milestone review but demonstrates the same issues in using NetDVMS (excluding Ocularis Client Lite, shown above).

Administration Overview

We examine steps to administer/set up the system in the 14 minute screencast below. This if from Milestone Enterprise but works exactly the same in NetDVMS.

NetGuard EVS Live Monitoring Overview

OnSSI NetDVMS provides (2) live monitoring clients - the traditional NetGuard EVS, which is Milestone's Smart Client and the new Ocularis Client Lite.

The screencast below shows live monitoring with Milestone's Smart Client which is the same as the OnSSI NetGuard EVS.

Investigations Overview

The screencast below shows investigations with Milestone's Smart Client which is the same as the OnSSI NetGuard EVS.

The videos above explain most aspects and answer key questions. For completeness and ease of review, below are the answers written out.
Basic Use (Live and Recorded Video)
For live monitoring and investigations, we divide our answers into 2 sections: (1) NetGuard EVS and (2) Ocularis Client Lite.

How do I watch live video?

NetGuard EVS: All cameras are accessed through user defined 'views' which are customized layouts of specific cameras. The system does not offer a camera tree hierarchy to allow users to pick whatever camera they want. If you right click on a currently displayed video, you can choose to display a camera from the list.

Ocularis Client Lite: The same as in NetGuard EVS though the colors of the control and background differ.

What ways can I monitor many video feeds simultaneously?

NetGuard EVS: The system allows 15 types of layouts to be defined as 'views'. These views include traditional 2x2, 3x3 matrix layouts as well other layouts like 1 x 3, 1 x 7, 2 + 8. Each view must be set up in the 'setup' tab. The cameras displayed in a view can be changed by right-clicking and selecting a new camera. However, the layouts can only be changed or added by modifying in the setup.

Ocularis Client Lite: The same as in NetGuard EVS though the colors of the control and background differ.

How can I be notified and review alarms?

NetGuard EVS: In the 'live' view, configured events can trigger audible and visible flashes to notify an operator. In the 'browse' or investigation view, configured alerts can be searched.

The system does not support an event viewer in the live tab that provides rows for each new event with means to playback event video.

Ocularis Client Lite: Similar to NetGuard EVS, Ocularis Client Lite adds a trigger tab/button on the top right side to access triggered alarms.

How do I search for recorded video?

NetGuard EVS: The system provides a 'go to' time functionality in the Time Navigation pane that allows users to specify a specific time. The function is a row in the middle of 7 panes and can be overlooked.

The system also provides a smart search functionality. The functionality only allows for motion based searching in the time immediate prior or after a specific time. It requires the operator to set an 'interval' setting that defines how frequently a frame will be searched. Longer intervals makes the search shorter but is likely a confusing setting to those not specifically trained in the implementation of this function.

Ocularis Client Lite: Ocularis Client Lite search functionalities are substantially different from NetGuard EVS.
Ocularis Client Lite offers a browse view and a timeslice view to conduct investigations. The browse view supports a timeline and a collection of controls at the left end of the timeline. It can be difficult to determine what each control does in the browse view (see use and usability screencast above for demonstration).

What ways can I search multiple video feeds?

NetGuard EVS: The system supports simultaneous search and playback across multiple videos that are displayed on a predefined view.

Ocularis Client Lite: The same as in NetGuard EVS

How do you share images from video?

NetGuard EVS: The system offers a right click 'copy' function but does not have a one step export to jpeg or bitmap.

Ocularis Client Lite: The system offers a right click 'copy' function. The function shows a symbol of two rectangles but does not have show text (e.g., 'copy image'). This can make it confusing for a user to know what the function is. Also, there is no confirmation when selecting this function so a user may be confused whether the action worked.
Ocularis Client Lite offers a single image export.

How do you share video clips from recorded video?

NetGuard EVS: The system offers two export functions - one to AVI and another to a Milestone proprietary format. The OnSSI format (called a "Database Export" allows for exporting multiple videos including fisheye/panoramic views and for advanced controls of the enclosed video (panning/zooming, etc.). The Database export generates a new folder with numerous files including the playback executable (There is no wrapped single file player). Also, doing 2 database exports in a row to the default location (the desktop) will silently delete the first export).

Ocularis Client Lite: Similar to NetGuad EVS, Ocularis Client Lite offers both 'Database Export" and AVI export. The export process uses 'flags' or 'markers' on the timeline in browse mode, making it simple to select time frames to export.
Database exports from Ocularis Client Lite may only be viewed through the Ocularis Client Lite. This is a major limitation for sharing video to 3rd parties not using Ocularis.

How do I know if I am in live or recorded video mode?

NetGuard EVS: The system has clearly defined 'live' and browse' tabs that respectively display live and recorded video. It would be very difficult to be confused about what mode one was in.

Ocularis Client Lite: This can be problematic as a user can switch from live into recorded video from the 'live' view by simply clicking the rewind button at the bottom center of the video pane. Additionally, Ocularis Client Live provides a toggle between 'live' and 'browse' views. However, since the controls on top disappear after 5 seconds, a user can be confused between which view they are in.

How do you switch between live video, investigations and configuration?

NetGuard EVS: Live video and investigations are both conducted in the NetGuard EVS (using separate tabs - live and browse). Most of the administration and configuration is divided amongst three applications - Image Server Administrator, Administration and System Status.

Ocularis Client Lite: Switching from live video and investigations to configuration, requires minimizing (or exiting) Ocularis Client Lite to access administration applications.
Note: all administration functions (except for live view configuration) can only be done by accessing the server running the OnSSI recording software. This requires either a direct connection to the server or a remote desktop/console utility to access the machine.

How do I add/set up a camera?

The administrator tool offers an 'add device' button that provides a wizard to set up a single camera. The workflow is straightforward except for an extremely long drop down list to select the camera type. The system (6.5f) does not automatically discover cameras. It does offer to discover the type of the camera when an IP address is input but this process can be very long and may not always work.

How do you restrict access to the system?

From the Image Server Administrator, the system offers 2 types of user administration: basic and windows. Basic users are usernames/passwords that are specific to the OnSSI system only. Windows users utilize authentication through Windows accounts, including Active Directory integration.

How do you restrict access to certain features or functionalities?

From the Image Server Administrator, the system allows to select 'restrict user access' (though the default is to allow access to all cameras and functionalities). Users can then be limited to only using some functionalities and accessing a subset of cameras.

Note: there are no user groups so configuration of restrictions needs to be done for each individual user account.

Note: when restricted user access is enabled, adding in new cameras by default are restricted from all users. The administration must remember to manually enable access for the new camera(s).

How can you set up the VMS to handle failures to servers/appliances?

The system (NetDVMS) does not offer any built-in failover or redundancy capability for a recording server or master server going off-line.

How can you access reports or alerts on the health status of the servers/ appliances/ applications?

The System Status utility displays a list of cameras identifying connected cameras with a green icon and disconnected ones with a red icon.

How can you upgrade the VMS software?

Each recording server needs to be upgraded individually. There is no push or one touch centralized upgrade. An administration needs to connect to each recording server (locally or through remote desktop tool) and perform the upgrade.
What, if any, limitations are there to run the VMS client or server on Operating Systems or PCs?
OnSSI is Windows only and does not run on Linux distributions or MACs.
NetGuard EVS: We were able to run all applications (server and client) on Windows XP and Windows 7 on both 32 and 64 bit OSes. We were able to console in to remote computers and view the applications.
Ocularis Client Lite does not run on 64 bit OSes and requires to be run in XP compatibility mode when launched in Windows 7. Ocularis Client Lite also crashes when accessed through remote console (throwing a 'memory error').

What, if any, VMS functionalities regularly take more than 10 seconds to load?

NetGuard EVS: We noticed significant latency/delays in loading from: logging in to the smart client (regularly), logging in to the administrator (infrequent), exiting the administrator (sometimes), detecting camera type (frequent) and exporting to AVI (frequent).

We tested both with a Dual Core/4GB machine with local recording and user access as well as remote access to a Virtual Machine running Enterprise 6.5f configured for 2GB RAM on an Quad Core server. Latency results were similar for both.

While latency can vary significantly depending on the setup, NetDVMS 6.5f latency was far greater than at least 5 other VMS systems we are testing in the same setup.

Ocularis Client Lite: The Ocularis Client Lite loads quickly, in a few seconds or less. This was a notable improvement over NetGuard EVS/Milestone Smart Client.

What happens when the VMS client cannot connect to a camera?

NetGuard EVS: The viewing client displays an error message "The server has lost connection to the camera" overlayed on center of the last displayed video image. The system status tool displays the camera with a red icon.

The system is designed to automatically reconnect. There is no way to force a disconnect or reconnect to the stream. The presence of a picture from the last image captured can confuse an operator into thinking that the camera is still live.

Ocularis Client Lite: The viewing client displays an error message on the upper left corner of the image in orange. The client continues to display the last displayed live video image.
Ocularis Client Lite allows to remove the video of a disconnected camera by right clicking on the image and selecting the "X" option.

What options does the VMS provide to reduce storage consumption?

The system supports motion based recording and a 'speedup' mode. The speedup mode allows the system to record continuously at a lower frame rate and then 'speedup' to a higher frame rate when motion is detected. It is our understanding that this works only with MJPEG streams and not MPEG-4 or H.264.

The system does not support frame dropping or pruning.

What help functionality does the VMS provide while using the client?

NetGuard EVS: The system provides extensive help/supporting information but it is hidden. To access it, requires clicking on a downward facing arrow and selecting help or clicking the F1 key (neither of which is likely for an operator to guess or stumble upon).

Ocularis Client Lite: The system provides an icon in the upper right hand corner that launches a PDF document.

How similar is the use of the VMS client to a DVR?

NetGuard EVS: In the live view, the lack of a camera tree picker will be confusing and frustrating for most users used to this common and key control in DVRs. In the browse tab, DVR users can be overwhelmed by the many options provided and the quirks of selecting amongst them.

Ocularis Client Lite: Fairly close to a DVR, except for the lack of the camera tree picker. With a full screen default and few options for live monitoring and investigations, DVR users will find this similar.

How similar is the configuration of the VMS server to a DVR?

Configuration of OnSSI NetDVMS is radically different from DVR setup. With key functions spread across multiple applications, untrained integrators will likely be confused by a variety of the issues and complexity of setting up basic functionalities.

How simple is it for an untrained operator?

NetGuard EVS: While the system does not require significant IT expertise, the various usability concerns makes formal training to be very important to most operators.

Ocularis Client Lite: As Ocularis Client Lite is even less complex than NetGuard EVS, it does not require IT expertise. However, because many controls disappear and because most controls depend on symbols, untrained operators are likely to be confused.

How powerful is it for the expert operator?

NetGuard EVS: The system offers a number of advanced options to set up the keyboard for personalized key combinations and the views for customized monitoring/searching.

Ocularis Client Lite: Similar to NetGuard EVS.
What ways can I add/set up many cameras at the same time?
In this version (6.5f), you cannot. When OnSSI releases the next Milestone version (7.0), it should be able to do so.
How do you do restrict access when using multiple servers/appliances?
In the Image Server Administrator, user access can be restricted to an administrator defined combination of cameras and functions. This has to be set up manually for each recording server.
How can I watch live video feeds from different appliances/servers?
NetGuard EVS: The system can display combinations of cameras from different recording server in the 'Live' tab of the Smart Client.
Ocularis Client Lite: Similiar to NetGuard EVS
How can I conduct searches from video feeds stored in different appliances/servers?
NetGuard EVS: The system can search and playback combinations of cameras from different recording server in the 'Browse' tab of the Smart Client.
Ocularis Client Lite: Access to cameras from different servers is similar to NetGuard EVS. Specific search functions are different (including the Timeslice).
Recommendations on Use and Application
Like Milestone Enterprise, OnSSI NetDVMS is widely regarded as a premium product and is premium priced. The most frequently cited positive for OnSSI DVMS is its broad third party support. In our tests with a variety of cameras including H.264, ONVIF, panoramic and PTZs, this was clearly the case.
With an on-line license price of $1999 per server plus $269 per camera, OnSSI NetDVMS is on the high end of VMS pricing (depending on number of cameras used per server, total price per camera can be $300-$400). OnSSI NetDVMS on-line license pricing is essentially the same as Milestone Enterprise.
Given the usability issues that are likely to be faced, the need for training, the lack of redundancy and the simplicity of enterprise user management, integrators should be careful about choosing Enterprise, especially for the premium price of the system.
For scenarios where using specific 3rd party cameras, encoders or systems are key, NetDVMS may be a strong solution but its numerous other drawbacks give reason for concern.
Milestone Enterprise vs OnSSI NetDVMS
In comparison to Milestone, the Ocularis Client Lite offers some advantages in usability but also introduces new problems of its own. We could see reasonable users prefer one or the other. Given's Ocularis Client Lite's own issues, we do not see this as an easy choice.
As the rest of NetDVMS is from Milestone (all administration, services and the Smart Client), buyers should carefully consider which company to choose for essentially the same product. In general, we believe it is beneficial to buy from the developer (in this case Milestone) because the developer tends to have greater knowledge of the code base and ability to troubleshoot/improve features. On the other hand, because the products are so close in capabilities, users may reasonably choose OnSSI or Milestone based on sales support, pricing, channel relationships, etc.
As OnSSI releases more internally developed products and applications, differences and contrast may become clearer.

3 reports cite this report:

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