Testing Cisco SMB Software and PTZ Camera (PVC300)

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jul 03, 2009

This report examines and shows the abilities and performance of key products in Cisco's emerging Small Business Video Surveillance product line. Specially, we test their IP video surveillance software and their PTZ camera (the PVC-300). For background information, see our recent Cisco SMB product overview and competitive comparison report.

Our key findings from the SMB Video Surveillance software are:

  • The software is basic - good if you want to view, record and export video but not if you are trying to do sophisticated security monitoring.
  • Ensuring recording continues over a long period of time can be problematic.
  • Remote viewing is problematic, if not impossible for most users.

Our key findings from the Cisco's PTZ PVC-300 are:
  • The camera is simple to set up for indoor use.
  • Video quality suffered significantly when viewing bright areas (though indoor/controlled lighting was better).
  • The 2.6 zoom can only cover a small area and should not be expected to monitor large parking lots or outdoor areas.

[Note: As always, the test was not paid by the vendor. They loaned me a camera and provided technical support.]

Download Video Sample of the PTZ - PVC300

Video samples were taken both indoor and outdoor during the day and night. Download a zip file of the 2 videos and 2 images from the Cisco PVC300.

The image quality is OK indoors but problems arise outdoors, specifically when the lighting levels are high (brightness). The brighter the area is, the more 'washed out' the image looked.

Under moderately low light levels, the image quality is OK (see the sample image of the intersection). The PVC300 was not especially sharp but it was good enough to make out the cars and outlines of people (which is not much worse than professional cameras we have tested). At a measured 9 lux, you can make out some details (as we show in another sample image) but faces are obscured. Under 9 lux, the image hardly becomes usable. As 9 lux is still fairly bright, you cannot depend on using this camera to see in the 'dark' or near dark.

Physical Overview of the PTZ

From a physical perspective, the camera is straightforward. There's not a lot of options but it's fairly self-contained and simple to do an indoor setup.

Configuration and Use of the PTZ - PVC300

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Controlling the camera is constrained to small, incremental step movements (unless you are using a preset or a patrol). As such, monitoring a lobby to get a general overview works well. However, if you are trying to track down a thief moving through a large area, it will be very difficult. This problem is especially acute if the target is far away from the camera. With a 2.6 zoom, you can only zoom in a little bit from where the camera is positioned.

Administration and Use of the Cisco Small Business VMS Software

The IP video surveillance software is simple but the default settings can be problematic. Specifically, recording is turned off by default. Plus, the client viewing software and the server application are combined in a single application. This means if you turn off the client viewing application, the system stops recording. Additionally, there is no thick client or web client for remote viewing.

Outside of the significant admin issues, viewing and playing back video is fairly simple and straightforward.

Bandwidth Utilization

Bandwidth utilization varied between 1 and 4 Mb/s using the defaults of MPEG-4, 4CIF, 15 fps. This is within the range expected for cameras using these settings. As is common with cameras using variable bit rate streaming, outdoors and fast motion drove higher bit rates.

Recommendations

The challenge with evaluating Cisco's products is the level of hype the media places on their video surveillance products. For instance, a few months ago, SecurityinfoWatch claimed that, "this camera is largely the same as we're seeing with the "professional grade" cameras." Ironically, SIW was referring to even a lower cost, simpler model in the Cisco SMB line.

The reality is the Cisco SMB software and PTZ are clearly for the SMB/consumer market. It does not come close to professional grade surveillance (Axis, Genetec, Pelco, etc., etc.). Indeed, from my discussions with Cisco, they clearly know and are positioning this to the small business market.

The SMB software has a number of important flaws that could present major headaches/problems for users/specifiers. As this is early in the development lifecycle, it is reasonable to believe that many or most will be fixed over time. Cisco reports that they are working on many improvements but I cannot speculate on how soon or what exactly will be improved.

The PTZ camera is acceptable for indoor monitoring of small space (like a conference room or a lobby). As we have not tested other SMB PTZ cameras, recommendations on competitive comparison is not possible.

5 reports cite this report:

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