Pelco's 3D Design Tool Reviewed

By Brian Rhodes, Published May 25, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Despite living in the age of computer aided design, many designers and engineers take to 'paper and pencil' during video system design because the software based alternatives are simply too expensive or too awkward to use. A few surveillance design tools do exist but are often either limited in functionality or hundreds of dollars.

In a surprise, Pelco has elected to just "give away" such a piece of software. In this note, we overview Pelco's "3D Camera Design Tool", describe the strengths/weaknesses of the software, and summarize when it is most useful.

Regular readers may remember Pelco has another utility called the Pelco Camera Tool, a free 2D offering that we previously reviewed and found quite useful. This 3D Tool is more powerful yet more complex.

Below is a screencast reviewing the software, how the interface works, and what to expect when using it:

Note, as shown in the User Guide and in a press release [link no longer available], this tool is an OEM of Feeling Software / Fortem's 3D Pro Design, which costs thousands per license.

If you are interested in learning more, here is Pelco's own tutorial on how to use the 3D camera tool:

In general, the software guide [link no longer available] was straightforward in describing software features and does a good job of explaining basic operation.

Below we contrast 'Strengths' and 'Weaknesses' of what we found especially useful, insightful, or limiting:

Strengths

  • Free download from Pelco's website.
  • Works with common 'CAD' format .dwg files
  • Easy to take a '2D' only floorplan and make it '3D' through automated process
  • Includes scaled reference models of people and cars for planning camera locations and lens specification.
  • The 'bill of material' export provides a simple, easy to understand way to share critical design details with field installers.

Weaknesses

  • The software is more of a 'visualization tool' than a true 'design tool', because it lacks or omits important details like cabling, power, server locations, network/storage design, and lighting details.
  • Base drawing information must be drawn in a certain way in order to be successfully imported. For example, windows have to be drawn properly or they will be imported as sections of walls.
  • The software only imports 'simple details' like walls, doors, and windows, and can not display complex features like columns, cased openings, and ceilings without substantial tweaking of imported drawing.
  • Camera selection is limited to Pelco products. However, general substitutions with other manufacturers can be made based on similar performance specifications.
  • Our test computer met all the minimum requirements, but the software intermittently locked up a few times during the evaluation period.
  • The software becomes unwieldy and cumbersome when trying to navigate large plans, and would require too much 'rework' of base drawings for productive use.

In all, we expect this tool to be most useful for those designers who may not have a firm understanding of spatial relationships in camera design, or for use in smaller jobs. The Design Tool might be helpful 'walking a customer' through a proposed system, especially when justifying proposed camera counts. Understanding exactly the cameras needed to 'see' an area through simulation could help the integrator defend a design or permit the customer to prioritize the most important views.

Alternatives

The two most commonly cited camera design tools are JVSG's CCTV Design Tool and CCTVCAD's VideoCAD.

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