Testing Milestone SmartClient and SmartWall

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 01, 2010

Enhancing the usability of video management clients is a major trend within video surveillance. As VMS offerings increase, superior user interfaces are viewed as ways to differentiate offerings.

In this test, we examine Milestone's VMS client (SmartClient) and their network video distribution add-on (SmartWall). The SmartClient is used by all Milestone VMS versions. However, mapping and the SmartWall are only available for use with the Milestone Corporate edition. We test both the basics and the advanced Corporate only features.

In January 2010, we tested SmartClient 4.1 (as part of the Milestone Enterprise test). This test is of SmartClient 5.0 and reviews changes in the client (which are significant).

Key questions that specifiers should consider include:

  • Will the complexity of key live monitoring and investigations functionalities cause problems?
  • Will the cost of a full system with adds-on be prohibitive or uncompetitive?

Product Overview

The Milestone SmartClient is a thick client that runs on many, if not all modern Windows OSes (including 32 bit and 64 bit versions).

  • The client integrates live monitoring and investigations into a single application. 
  • Alarm monitoring requires the use of XProtect Central add-on
  • Video wall / video distribution requires the use of the SmartWall (only for Corporate edition).
  • System administration (configuring cameras, storage, etc.) is not performed in the Smart Client. The specific client used depends on the VMS version.

In the new version of the SmartClient (5.0), the most notable feature additions are (1) thumbnail search (called Sequence Explorer in their system), (2) quick playback in live monitoring and (3) mapping (Corporate only).

As we examine in the usability section, the SmartClient still has a number of important usability concerns in both live monitoring and investigations. The most important issue to consider:
  • Individual cameras can only be selected by a cumbersome, hidden, multi-click process. This is unlike almost every other VMS system on the market. This makes it difficult for users to find a single camera that they are seeking. It also requires an administrator to carefully set up 'views.'
  • While numerous, search options can be overwhelming and can hide basic controls like playing or rewinding video. Indeed, time navigation can be hidden or lost amongst more than a half dozen options.
  • Exporting is cumbersome and problematic. Selecting video to export requires users to manually note exact times and enter them in a pane that can be hidden. Exported video is placed into a folder with numerous low level files making it difficult for users to find which file to open to view video.
  • Important high end features are either unavailable or require purchasing adds-on (mapping, alarm monitoring, video walls). Alarm monitoring, in particular, requires a separate client which increases complexity of operation.

Pricing

The SmartClient does not require a license and is freely available for use with Milestone's VMS systems. Of course, the Milestone VMS systems require licenses. Their Enterprise and Corporate editions have MSRPs in the $275 - $350 price range (per camera).

Alarm monitoring requires the purchase and use of Milestone XProtect Central. The MSRP ranges from about $5 to $30 per camera (depending on total cameras/server deployed). Read our Central test report for details.

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SmartWall, available for Corporate edition only, requires a separate license fee of $20,000 MSRP per deployment (independent of the number of cameras or servers one uses). Assuming 100 cameras, this would increase per camera cost by $200 MSRP per camera. Assuming 1000 cameras, this would increase per camera cost by $20 MSRP per camera.

Usability Review

In the screencast below, we examine key usability issues in the SmartClient. We examine what's new in SmartClient and how this improves or detracts from usability. Compare to our original usability video/analysis in the Milestone Enterprise 6.5f test.

  • Login from Smart Client to Corporate (server side) much faster (00:37 min)
  • Scroll bar improves sidebar navigation from previous version (1:20 min)
  • Issue:  Panes now hidden when minimized and can be confusing (1:52 min)
  • Interface options provide preferred viewing options (02:23 min)
  • Viewing preferences are local configurations to that workstation (02:49 min)
  • Still remaining issue:  Cameras can only be monitored via views (03:16 min)
  • Still remaining issue:  Cameras selected only via views
  • Issue:  Initially unassigned panes are diabled (03:56 min)
  • Limited ability to switch cameras (04:16 min)
  • Issue:  With no mouse, digital zoom causes problematic workflow (05:03 min)
  • Still remaining issue - Snapshot does not provide feedback & must use independent (05:35 min)
  • Issue:  Sequence Explorer displayed in pop-up  (06:36 min)
  • Resizing thumbnails is helpful in Sequence Explorer (07:02 min)
  • Issue:  No feedback for time sync playback (07:41 min)
  • Issue:  Playback controls easy to lose (07:59 min)
  • Issue:  No time navigation and playback controls not locked on interface (08:37 min)
  • Timeline span maximum one hour (10:29 min)
  • Still remaining issue:  Manual flagging of video provides no visual reference (11:01 min) [UPDATE: 'Set' button allows automatic setting of time currently being displayed on screen. If you want to set specific times, you either need to pause playback (to get the time you want and not be off by a few seconds), switch over to export dialog and set or mark the times down and then manually enter.]
  • Still remaining issue:  Export files not cleanly wrapped into single executable (11:16 min)
  • Issue:  By default, client application launches in full screen mode (11:28 min)
  • Potential performance issues (12:53 min)

Live Monitoring and Investigations

In the screencast below, we explain and demonstrate the basic features of Milestone's SmartClient. This is meant to be a tutorial to better appreciate key features and organization of the client.

 

  • Smart Client compatible with both Corporate and Enterprise (00:36 min)
  • Smart Wall only available on Milestone Corporate (00:55 min)
  • Setup in the Smart Client relates to the viewing console only (01:57 min)
  • By default, no view is displayed (02:30 min)
  • Desired cameras must be setup in 'views' to monitor in Live mode (03:04 min)
  • Smart Wall provides video large scale distribution (05:36 min)
  • 'Start playback' provides limited playback capabilities in Live (06:04 min)
  • Detailed investigations in Playback mode (06:47 min)
  • Synchrnonized playback also possible (07:37 min)
  • Many playback controls with no labels (08:41 min)
  • Thumbnail view not ideal for high traffic areas (09:40 min)
  • Database Export provides both multi-camera export & Milestone's media player (11:14 min)
  • Many supporting files will be viewable within the export folder (11:28 min)
  • Overlay button provide custom on-screen functionality (12:16 min)

SmartWall and Mapping

In the screncast below, we examine the setup and use of maps and the SmartWall. As background, we recommend viewing Milestone's overview video of the SmartWall. It provides useful explanations that are fairly technical and not simply marketing hype. In our video, we certainly review the SmartWall in detail but the Milestone video may help provide another perspective.

  • Two features only available in Corporate: (1) Maps & (2) Smart Wall (00:26 min)
  • Smart Wall installation fairly simple (1:00 min)
  • Smart Wall setup physically represent monitors (1:52 min)
  • Good Smart Wall feature demo video provided by Milestone (2:09 min)
  • Smart Wall network based (3:00 min)
  • No informational feedback on video distribution (03:18 min)
  • No method to verify video is sent to desired recipient (04:21 min)
  • Setting up Smart Walls (05:10 min)
  • Controlling Smart Walls (6:00 min)
  • Changes to the virtual display are updated on physical monitors (07:00 min)
  • Distributing video (8:00 min)
  • Recommended to install map server on separate physical system (10:17 min)
  • Map setup in Smart Client, not Management Client (10:53 min)
  • Map saved on central server accessible by network (12:13 min)
  • Map zooming best with mouse scroll wheel (12:53 min)

Recommendations

Selecting the Milestone SmartClient requires a decision on the entire Milestone 'platform' as the Client manages video only from Milestone VMS systems. To that end, users may choose Milestone based on its strong 3rd party IP camera support, 3rd party security system support, 3rd party video analytic support, etc.

However, for client seeking optimal live monitoring and investigations, Milestone's product offerings are likely to be more complex or more expensive (and often both) compared to their competitors.

For basic operators where users want to simply view live video and do basic searches, most VMS systems on the market are less expensive and have equal to less usability issues (see Exacq, Digifort and Luxriot as examples). For more advanced operators where alarm monitoring is critical and video distribution is important, a number of offerings provide this integrated and at lower prices than Milestone (see Genetec as the best and most direct example).

We believe for many applications, users can reasonably accept the limitations of the SmartClient as the breadth of Milestone overall functionalities offsets this. However, for more basic applications, where price sensitivity is key, users should strongly consider client software with equal to better usability and lower overall prices.

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