Testing Milestone XProtect Enterprise VMS Software (6.5f)

Author: John Honovich, Published on Dec 31, 2009

Milestone is one of the most used and well-known Video Management Software providers, with 4 VMS versions. Of them, Milestone XProtect Enterprise is the most commonly discussed and referenced by industry people.

In this report, we test Milestone's XProtect Enterprise Version 6.5f with SmartClient 3.6f and Video Device Pack 4.6. We tested Milestone with Axis's Q1755 MP camera, Canon's IP PTZ, Oncam's Panoramic camera and Lilin's PTZ using the ONVIF protocol.

Key results include:

  • Integrates and allows simultaneous use of a broad array of leading edge cameras
  • Without training, conducting investigations can be confusing and frustrating
  • A variety of usability issues exist across all aspects of the system
In August 2009, Milestone announced Enterprise Version 7.0, however it is not currently released. Milestone notified us that 7.0 would be released later this month. [Update: On January 12, 2009, Milestone released Enterprise Version 7.0] Additionally, a new version of their SmartClient is scheduled for later in Q1 2010. Review the test results of the SmartClient 7.0.

Overview of the System

In this 5 minute screencast, we explain the major applications and components of the system. Since there are 5 of these, it is important to understand how the system is segmented.

Usability Challenges

We encountered repeated usability challenges across almost all aspects of the system. In this 17 minute video, we examine and demonstrate those issues.

Administration Overview

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We examine steps to administer/setup the system in the 14 minute screencast below.

Live Monitoring Overview

Investigations Overview

The videos above explain most aspects and answer key questions. For completeness and ease of review, below are the answers written out.
Basic Use (Live and Recorded Video)

How do I watch live video?

All cameras are accessed through user defined 'views' which are customized layouts of specific cameras. The system does not offer a camera tree hierarchy to allow users to pick whatever camera they want. If you right click on a currently displayed video, you can choose to display a camera from the list.

What ways can I monitor many video feeds simultaneously?

The system allows 15 types of layouts to be defined as 'views'. These views include traditional 2x2, 3x3 matrix layouts as well other layouts like 1 x 3, 1 x 7, 2 + 8. Each view must be setup in the 'setup' tab. The cameras displayed in a view can be changed by right-clicking and selecting a new camera. However, the layouts can only be changed or added by modifying in the setup.

How can I be notified and review alarms?

In the 'live' view, configured events can trigger audible and visible flashes to notify an operator. In the 'browse' or investigation view, configured alerts can be searched.

The system does not support an event viewer in the live tab that provides rows for each new event with means to playback event video.

How do I search for recorded video?

The system provides a 'go to' time functionality in the Time Navigation pane that allows users to specify a specific time. The function is a row in the middle of 7 panes and can be overlooked.

The system also provides a smart search functionality. The functionality only allows for motion based searching in the time immediate prior or after a specific time. It requires the operator to set an 'interval' setting that defines how frequently a frame will be searched. Longer intervals makes the search shorter but is likely a confusing setting to those not specifically trained in the implementation of this function.

What ways can I search multiple video feeds?

The system supports simultaneous search and playback across multiple videos that are displayed on a predefined view.

How do you share images from video?

The system offers a right click 'copy' function but does not have a one step export to jpeg or bitmap.

How do you share video clips from recorded video?

The system offers two export functions - one to AVI and another to a Milestone proprietary format. The Milestone format (called a "Database Export" allows for exporting multiple videos including fisheye/panoramic views and for advanced controls of the enclosed video (panning/zooming, etc.). The Database export generates a new folder with numerous files including the playback executable (There is no wrapped single file player). Also, doing 2 database exports in a row to the default location (the desktop) will silently delete the first export).

How do I know if I am in live or recorded video mode?

The system has clearly defined 'live' and browse' tabs that respectively display live and recorded video. It would be very difficult to be confused about what mode one was in.

How do you switch between live video, investigations and configuration?

Live video and investigations are both conducted in the SmartClient (using separate tabs - live and browse). Most of the administration and configuration is divided amongst three applications - Image Server Administrator, Administration and System Status.

Administration
Note: all administration functions (except for live view configuration) can only be done by accessing the server running the Milestone recording software. This requires either a direct connection to the server or a remote desktop/console utility to access the machine.

How do I add/setup a camera?

The administrator tool offers an 'add device' button that provides a wizard to setup a single camera. The workflow is straightforward except for an extremely long drop down list to select the camera type. The system (6.5f) does not automatically discover cameras. It does offer to discover the type of the camera when an IP address is input but this process can be very long and may not always work.

How do you restrict access to the system?

From the Image Server Administrator, the system offers 2 types of user administration: basic and windows. Basic users are usernames/passwords that are specific to the Milestone system only. Windows users utilize authentication through Windows accounts, including Active Directory integration.

How do you restrict access to certain features or functionalities?

From the Image Server Administrator, the system allows to select 'restrict user access' (though the default is to allow access to all cameras and functionalities). Users can then be limited to only using some functionalities and accessing a subset of cameras.

Note: there are no user groups so configuration of restrictions needs to be done for each individual user account.

Note: when restricted user access is enabled, adding in new cameras by default are restricted from all users. The administration must remember to manually enable access for the new camera(s).

How can you setup the VMS to handle failures to servers/appliances?

The system (Enterprise) does not offer any built-in failover or redundancy capability for a recording server or master server going off-line.

How can you access reports or alerts on the health status of the servers/ appliances/ applications?

The System Status utility displays a list of cameras identifying connected cameras with a green icon and disconnected ones with a red icon.

How can you upgrade the VMS software?

Each recording server needs to be upgraded individually. There is no push or one touch centralized upgrade. An administration needs to connect to each recording server (locally or through remote desktop tool) and perform the upgrade.
Usability

What, if any, VMS functionalities regularly take more than 10 seconds to load?

We noticed significant latency/delays in loading from: logging in to the smart client (regularly), logging in to the administrator (infrequent), exiting the administrator (sometimes), detecting camera type (frequent) and exporting to AVI (frequent).

We tested both with a Dual Core/4GB machine with local recording and user access as well as remote access to a Virtual Machine running Enterprise 6.5f configured for 2GB RAM on an Quad Core server. Latency results were similar for both.

While latency can vary significantly depending on the setup, Enterprise 6.5f latency was far greater than at least 5 other VMS systems we are testing in the same setup.

What happens when the VMS client cannot connect to a camera?

The viewing client displays an error message "The server has lost connection to the camera" overlayed on the last displayed video image. The system status tool displays the camera with a red icon.

The system is designed to automatically reconnect. There is no way to force a disconnect or reconnect to the stream. The presence of a picture from the last image captured can confuse an operator into thinking that the camera is still live.

What options does the VMS provide to reduce storage consumption?

The system supports motion based recording and a 'speedup' mode. The speedup mode allows the system to record continuously at a lower frame rate and then 'speedup' to a higher frame rate when motion is detected. It is our understanding that this works only with MJPEG streams and not MPEG-4 or H.264.

The system does not support frame dropping or pruning.

What help functionality does the VMS provide while using the client?

The system provides extensive help/supporting information but it is hidden. To access it, requires clicking on a downward facing arrow and selecting help or clicking the F1 key (neither of which is likely for an operator to guess or stumble upon).

How similar is the use of the VMS client to a DVR?

In the live view, the lack of a camera tree picker will be confusing and frustrating for most users used to this common and key control in DVRs. In the browse tab, DVR users can be overwhelmed by the many options provided and the quirks of selecting amongst them.

How similar is the configuration of the VMS server to a DVR?

Configuration of Milestone Enterprise is radically different from DVR setup. With key functions spread across multiple applications, untrained integrators will likely be confused by a variety of the issues and complexity of setting up basic functionalities.

How simple is it for an untrained operator?

While the system does not require significant IT expertise, the various usability concerns makes formal training to be very important to most operators.

How powerful is it for the expert operator?

The system offers a number of advanced options to setup the keyboard for personalized key combinations and the views for customized monitoring/searching.

Scalability
What ways can I add/setup many cameras at the same time?
In this version (6.5f), you cannot. In the upcoming version (7.0), Milestone reports you can.
How do you do restrict access when using multiple servers/appliances?
In the Image Server Administrator, user access can be restricted to an administrator defined combination of cameras and functions. This has to be setup manually for each recording server.
How can I watch live video feeds from different appliances/servers?
The system can display combinations of cameras from different recording server in the 'Live' tab of the Smart Client.
How can I conduct searches from video feeds stored in different appliances/servers?
The system can search and playback combinations of cameras from different recording server in the 'Browse' tab of the Smart Client.
Recommendations on Use and Application
Milestone Enterprise is widely regarded as a premium product and is premium priced. The most frequently cited positive for Milestone Enterprise is its broad third party support. In our tests with a variety of cameras including H.264, ONVIF, panoramic and PTZs, this was clearly the case.
With an on-line license price of $1995 per server plus $269 per camera, Milestone Enterprise is on the high end of VMS pricing (depending on number of cameras used per server, total price per camera can be $300-$400).
Given the usability issues that are likely to be faced, the need for training, the lack of redundancy and the simplicity of enterprise user management, integrators should be careful about choosing Enterprise, especially for the premium price of the system.
For scenarios where using specific 3rd party cameras, encoders or systems are key, Enterprise may be a strong solution but its numerous other drawbacks give reason for concern.

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