Panasonic Video Insight VMS Tested
Panasonic not only bought an open VMS provider, VideoInsight, Panasonic is now giving away free VMS licenses for their cameras. Plus, the VMS includes free access control.
Though Panasonic has talked about selling 'solutions' for years, they never had much on the VMS nor access side.
And though Panasonic has a global brand, Video Insight is relatively unknown outside of the US southwest and their historically strongest market, education.
We tested Video Insight v6 to see how it compares to major VMSes such as Exacq, Avigilon, Genetec, and Milestone on these key questions and more:
- What features, if any, are lacking compared to mid level and enterprise VMS systems?
- How does this version compare to Video Insight historically?
- How well does their free access control work?
- Can this compete against leading providers?
VideoInsight's VMS is competitive with mid-tier professional VMS offerings, notably improved in the past few years, though with some important limitations. With the free licenses and free access control, we believe Panasonic / VideoInsight is going to be an attractive combination, especially as an alternative to top 'solutions' like Avigilon, emerging solutions like Tyco/Exacq and most of all, to Genetec and Milestone, that have no camera discounts / specials.
The main positive surprise was the quality and depth of their free access control support/integration, e.g., better than Avigilon's.
The main product negatives we found were search functions limitations, lack of deep integrations and edge recording.
The other key downside of Video Insight is the lack of Video Insight's brand. Between the company's limited geographic presence, their selling direct to end users and their relative late product development, Video Insight does not have a strong VMS brand, compared to Exacq, Genetec, Milestone, etc. We believe that Panasonic couldhelp themselves considerably by making VideoInsight to be Panasonic's direct branded VMS.
Export options are limited, as multiple cameras are exported either as separate AVI files or combined into a single AVI file using a split screen view. No synchronized standalone executable player is available, typical in many VMSes.
The VI Monitor client application lacks advanced search options such as pixel/ROI search. This client now includes multi-camera playback (synchronized only), a feature lacking in their previous client application, Monitor Station.
Supported access control platforms are deeply integrated to the VI Monitor client in a dedicated tab, allowing users to view events in real time, view live video associated with each door, control doors, and access archived video for each event.
Finally, video is routinely distorted when viewed in both live and recorded tasks as VI Monitor stretches video to fill the view, requiring clicking on the 'Normal' button for each video displayed (as opposed to "Stretch" mode). View mode is not stored in saved views or workspaces, either, requiring users to manually switch to "Normal" each time a view is opened.
Video Insight includes several features typically found in enterprise VMSes (aside from access integration, described above), including:
- Enterprise management: Users may manage multiple servers from a single client, pushing users, permissions, and other settings changes to all VI servers.
- Network video wall: Video Insight offers a separate standalone application, simply named Video Wall IP Server, which may be used to receive views from other VI clients.
- Push video: VI Monitor clients may be used to push video manually or on event to other users or network video walls.
- Complex rules: Video Insight supports complex rules beyond simply if/then, allowing multiple trigger conditions for each (AND/OR), and multiple actions upon activation.
- Health monitoring: VI offers a separate standalone health monitoring application at no extra charge, tested as part of our VMS Health Monitoring Shootout.
- License plate recognition: Similar to their access integration, Video Insight integrates LPR (OEM from Carmen FreeFlow) directly into the VI Monitor client.
However, there are several key limitations, as well, including:
- True multi-camera export: VI exports multiple cameras as a single split-screen AVI, instead of a standalone executable player typical of other VMSes.
- Advanced search: VI is limited to timeline, "motion", and bookmark searches, with no advanced ROI/smart search options common in advanced VMSes. Note that "motion" searches refer to video flagged as motion in the database, which may include analytics, access, or other events.
- Deep integrations: Video Insight supports only a select few camera analytics [link no longer available], and a handful of access control integrations, far fewer than the large numbers supported by XProtect or Genetec Security Center.
- Edge recording: Edge recording is not supported on any cameras
In our tests, we discovered that VI Monitor did not export the standalone executable as intended when the option was selected in export. After investigation, VI found that this feature did not work in any version of VI Monitor (though it does in their older Monitor Station client) and it had been submitted to development for a fix.
Releasing a major software version with nonworking features may be a nuisance at best, but a critical error at worst, especially when applied to large production systems. Issues such as these serve to lessen customer (and market) regard for the VI brand.
Video Insight Licensing
Video Insight offers only a single tier of license, with no advanced or basic version typical in other VMSes. MSRP is $150 USD per channel, with no base license cost. Additionally, Panasonic cameras, bought after August 2014, are licensed at no cost.
Unlike most VMS competitors, Video Insight offers a free door license for their integrated MonitorCastEDU access control platform with each camera channel. Users must purchase Mercury controller hardware separately, but no license fees apply.
One year of software upgrades are included with the license. Additional years cost $25 per camera per year, except for Panasonic bought after November 2014 which are free.
Upgrades and Pilot Programs
Video Insight also offers several upgrade and pilot programs:
- Competitive Upgrade Program: License cost is reduced to $60 per channel when moving from a competitive VMS, plus five free years of Software Upgrade Plan (a total of $125/camera).
- Education Pilot Program: K-12 and higher education users may apply for VI's pilot program, which supplies four 1080p cameras, one 8-port analog encoder, and free licenses for all channels for 180 days free of charge. At the end of the term, users may purchase or return equipment.
Competitive VMSes offer some demo and upgrade programs, but few, if any, are as aggressive as these plans.
IP Camera Support
Video Insight supports a broad range of IP cameras and encoders both via direct drivers as well as ONVIF Profile S, currently claiming "over 3000 models" from over 100 manufacturers. We found no issues with IP camera support in our testing, using models from Axis, Avigilon, Arecont, Bosch, Dahua, Hikvision, Panasonic, Sony, and more.
Additionally, VI supports (and recommends) camera side motion detection for the majority of integrated cameras, though unsupported cameras may use server side VMD, as well.
Free Panasonic Licensing
Panasonic cameras purchased after November 2014 (automatically detected based on MAC address) are eligible for free Video Insight licenses. To activate, users must add the cameras to the server, restart services, and select internet or offline method via admin options.
This process is shown below. Note that only one of two models connected to our test system was eligible for this licensing, as the other was manufactured prior to VI's cutoff date.
Free Access Licensing and Integration
A door license for Video Insight's access control platform, MonitorCastEDU, is included with every camera channel. MonitorCastEDU may be run on the same server as VI Enterprise or separate (depending on number of doors) and offers basic access functionality: allow/disallow access on multiple levels, create schedules, lockdown all doors, badge creation, etc.
MonitorCastEDU is integrated via plugin to Video Insight, with access events displaying on a separate access tab, or in map views when mapping is used. We found no issues installing the server, adding controllers or cardholders, and monitoring events using this platform.
VI Monitor integration is shown in this video:
VI Monitor exports of multiple cameras use what they call a "multiplex video", which merges all the selected cameras into a single split-screen AVI. There is no option to play back multiple cameras in a standalone player, typically found in other VMSes. As noted above, the stand alone executable export feature was not working in our tests.
Search and Playback
Users may search archived video in VI Monitor using standard timeline search, bookmark, or "motion" event searches.
Note that "motion" is somewhat of a misnomer in this case, as other events may be flagged as motion recording based on rules, and subsequently appear in this search.
We review search in this video, below:
VI Monitor defaults to "Stretch" viewing mode for all cameras. This stretches or squashes video to fill the entire viewing tile, regardless of aspect ratio. Users must click on a "Normal" view mode button to return to the camera's native aspect ratio. Note that this setting is not saved after saving a workspace or view, requiring users to switch back to "Normal" every time a view is opened.
The following Video Insight software versions were used for this test:
- Video Insight IP Enterprise: 18.104.22.168
- MonitorCast EDU: 2.0