Testing Blue Iris VMS Software

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Jul 04, 2010

What kind of open Video Management Software can you get for $50? Not $50 per channel but $50 for an entire server?

In our first report on 'entry-level' or 'budget' lineup, we test the most inexpensive open video management system we have found, Blue Iris's VMS software (version 2.41). We hosted the test on a Windows 7 system, connecting the IQ42S, Panasonic BL-C210A and the D-Link DCS-920.

With the recent price drop announcement from a major VMS incumbent, end-users will need to analyze their needs more closely than before. What am I giving up? What do I really need? How much can I save? Is it worth it?

We were impressed with Blue Iris's software. While it certainly lacks many high end and even some VMS features we consider to be fundamental, it is simple to setup and use, supports lots of cameras and could be quite attractive for someone who just needs the basics.

Key Criteria / Decision Points

When evaluating Blue Iris VMS, the following 10 key criteria / decision points should be considered.

Criteria Strength Description
 Pricing Strong Most inexpensive of our lineup, $50 license for a server
 Simplicity  Moderate Lack of search and multi-camera playback
 3rd Party IP Camera Support  Moderate Support for both high and low-end camerasr
H.264 Support  Moderate Live streaming only
 Analytics Support  None Not supported
Exporting  Strong Provides visual flag in / out and easy to perform
Remote Monitoring  Strong Both live viewing and investigations with limited controls
Run as a service Moderate By default, this is not enabled
Multi-camera playback None

Not supported

Support Moderate Responds to e-mail / forum inquiries but not generally available phone support

Recommendations

In regards to the very small business / home office, Blue Iris provides a very attractive price point if "just enough" and "peace of mind" is the target for the business owner.

If a larger SMB requires additional cameras, Blue Iris can prove troublesome with the lack of some 'basic' features such as:

  • time-based search
  • multi-camera playback for investigations

Considering that the full version provides up to 64 channels for $50 is still an attractive price point, but not if search and synchronous playback are required. We feel that this is the major obstacle for Blue Iris when compared to those within the same market where these items may be provided 'out-of-the-box.'

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However, when compared to single vendor VMS systems (even if free), Blue Iris provides an attractive open option that is likely to be simpler to setup and use than most single vendor VMS systems.

Additionally, for a user starting out with IP video, Blue Iris is an attractive option. With its low price, simple use and easy access on-line, Blue Iris is a low risk way to evaluate what you really want without committing to a significantly more expensive and complex system.

Key Findings

Setup:  Within the product line up of our budget / entry-level VMS, it seems common that administration still requires some level of technical / IT knowledge. There's no plug-n-play capabilities within the Blue Iris software to auto-detect and add IP cameras to the system. Your home craft retail store owner, for example, will still need knowledge of what an IP address is, what is the appropriate frame rate to set and why the application should function as a Win32 service

Live Monitoring / Investigations:  Blue Iris' minimal approach to the interface allows the SMB some surveillance insurance. For the users that are generally comfortable with other desktop applications such as Power Point, will find the interface simple to navigate. There's rarely going to be a question on how to access archived video or how to return to the live monitoring mode because the clips sidebar remains on the same page as the live camera streams.

The big contrast here is the lack of a search feature. The operator would literally visually scroll through the clips list and first find the correct date, then camera, time, then scan through potentially hours of video.

H.264:  Blue Iris confirmed that currently H.264 is not used for recording; this feature is supported via RTSP (real-time streaming protocol), generally used for mobile applications. Our tests were a bit troublesome in  getting this to work, so your mileage may vary. Supported for the live stream, however, provides some savings on bandwidth for those users deploying megapixel cameras. Blue Iris has informed us that in a couple months, H.264 will be available for both live monitoring and recording.

Product Overview

Blue Iris provides 'basics' including:

  • multi-camera live monitoring
  • remote access (both live and investigations)
  • motion event and schedule based recording
  • continuous recording
  • exporting
  • visual thumbnails for archived events
  • running the software as a Windows service

The remote access capabilities mimic the minimal design approach so is limited, providing access to archived clips of video, multiplex live monitoring and limited controls. We feel that for any SMB, strong remote access will be essential and Blue Iris provides.

A note to consider for those that may seek immediate technical support - you will notice on Blue Iris' support page that assistance is offered either via e-mail or discussion forum. No phone support is available.

Computing Platform Support

Blue Iris provides their VMS software as a downloadable package on their website, which will include the thick client and components necessary for remote access via the web interface.

Software updates can be downloaded from either the primary site or the support site. To date, version 2.41.06 was released on June 17, 2010.

Third Party Support

Blue Iris supports various high and low-end cameras. For example, the Axis Q1755 and the Mobotix M22 are on the high end compared to the Panasonic BL-C210A, which is a budget camera. The variety in IP camera support should provide choices for both consumer and professional grade deployments. In addition, webcams, analog cards are also supported and a list can be found on their website.

Pricing

Blue Iris offers two tiers of their licensed software:

  • LE version - $29.95
  • Full version - $49.95

As noted on the purchase page, the LE version only supports a single camera and the full version supports up to 64 cameras.

Usability

The following screencast examines usability highlights of Blue Iris' VMS system. Key points include:

  • No search capabilities (00:30 min)
  • No multi-camera playback (02:27 min)
  • H.264 is for live streaming only (03:40 min)
  • Interface is generally simple to use and navigate (04:46 min)
  • Run the system as a service (06:00 min)
  • Both live monitoring and investigations with remote access (07:07 min)

Administration

The following screencast examines how to configure/setup Blue Iris' system. Key points include:

  • Items included with the install package (00:20 min)
  • Working with camera templates (01:12 min)
  • Schedules can be applied for motion detection (02:11 min)
  • Differences with Store, Protect and Archive (02:50 min)
  • Running the system as a service (03:38 min)
  • Obtaining technical support and NOT over the phone (04:20 min)

Live Monitoring & Investigations

The following screencast examines live video monitoring and investigations with Blue Iris' VMS system. Key points include:

  • Overview of the client interface (00:18 min)
  • Selecting cameras without the traditional tree hierarchy (00:46 min)
  • Single client to access investigation functionality (02:16 min)
  • Investigations without search (02:55 min)
  • Visual flag in / out and working with exports (04:26 min)

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