Testing Sony's HD Camera (SNC-CH140)

By Scott Oie, Published Feb 23, 2010, 07:00pm EST

Sony is well known and respected in the consumer market for its electronic products. The question, though, is how well does that carry over into their security products?

In this test of the Sony SNC-CH140, we tested their H.264 720p stream integrated with Milestone's Enterprise VMS 7.0 with device pack 4.7. Additionally, we tested their advanced lighting filters: View-DR (filter that compensates light under a wide dynamic range scene) and Visibility Enhancer (filter that automatically adjusts the gain of dark objects in a scene).

Our key findings include:

  • Exceptional picture quality in wide dynamic range scenes
  • Integrators should appreciate trade-offs in image optimization options
  • Limited third party VMS support

The following key feaures of the Sony SNC-CH140 include:

  • Supports resolution up to 1.3 MP, but if utilizing dual streaming, either resolution or framerate needs to be dropped in order to enable second stream. Full 30fps is only available in 720p mode.
  • 2.8-8mm lens is included with the SNC-CH140 and is meant to be sold as a kit.
  • Supports ONVIF specification. However, as of Feb 2010, only Milestone offers production support for ONVIF. Because of a technical incompatibility, Milestone's ONVIF driver does not work with Sony's Camera (Milestone XProtect Enterprise with current device pack 4.7)
  • Features wide dynamic range optimization filters. Camera includes filters to compensate for lighting variances. Under low light / nighttime scenes, images were darker with the setting on.
  • Adaptive Rate Control is a feature that alters the prioritization of framerate and resolution. By default, with Adaptive Rate Control OFF, resolution will be automatically dropped in favor of framerate.  We recommend that this feature is set to ON. So under bandwidth constraints, framerate is dropped in favor of resolution.
  • Automatic back focus worked within a limited range when camera was out of focus. Feature can be accessed with a button on back of unit or through it's web interface.
  • On-board storage is supported through the addition of a Compact Flash slot.  However, by default, camera will record to storage media at whatever framerate and resolution is set on the primary stream.  Must enable second stream and set appropriate resolution and framerate for on-board storage. In addition, on-board storage is not supported by third party VMS software. 
  • Bandwidth consumption: We tested the camera using the H.264 codec with a constant bit rate of 2Mbps.  Sony recommends streaming at 2Mbps, and under our tests, changing the bitrate to 4Mbps did not yield any significant improvement in quality.

Pricing. The online price for the SNC-CH140 ranged from $759 - $949 USD. However, Sony reported that they require this camera to be sold as a lens/camera kit; therefore, the online price may not reflect the cost of the lens. So with the inclusion of the lens to the camera, the estimated street price is $1200.

Physical Overview

In the following screencast, we examine the physical characteristics of the Sony SNC-CH140.  The following key points are of note:

  • Camera has automatic back focus button on the back of the unit.
  • In back on unit, cover plate can be removed to install Compact Flash media for on-board storage.

Configuration and Optimization

In the following screencast, we examine the configuration and optimization of the Sony SNC-CH140 camera. The key points in the screencast include:

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  • In accessing the web interface, we recommend using Internet Explorer 6.0 or greater - The Active-X plugin supports the recording and screencap features, while the plugin free version (when using Firefox, Chrome, etc.) does support those capabilities.
  • Automatic back focus is called Easy Focus in the interface.
  • By default View-DR (the wide dynamic range optimization filter) is set to ON.
  • An alternative configuration is turning View-DR OFF and Visibility Enhancer ON - this will automatically adjust the gain of dark objects.
  • Camera shutter speed can be set to a range - Sony recommends the range of 1/500 sec and auto slow shutter of 1/15 sec.
  • By default, Day/Night mode is set to OFF - Change the setting to AUTO unless your application requires you to force color or black and white mode.
  • In the Video Codec tab, change the Adaptive rate control setting to ON, to prioritize resolution over framerate in low bandwidth network conditions.
  • In the Video Codec tab, second image stream can be enabled, but it is required to either drop frame rate or image size to open up the second stream's options.
  • On-board storage will record the framerate and resolution of the primary image stream - Second image stream can be enabled and set to 1fps, to accommodate the limited storage capacity of removable media.

Image Quality

The following screencast examines the image quality of the Sony SNC-CH140. Download the zip file of sample videos (110 MB total size) to examine the quality for yourself.

Important elements include the performance of wide dynamic range scenes and the trade-offs of using View-DR and Visibility Enhancer filters in nighttime scenes.

Recommendations

In summary, the Sony SNC-CH140 is ideal for users looking for efficient encoding (H.264), strong wide dynamic range scene support and efficient automatic back focus feature but can accept limited third party support and a moderately high price.

The key elements that may impact your purchase decision:

Positive - The SNC-CH140 has strong wide dynamic range optimization support. For scenes with bright sunlight, this camera may be especially attractive.

Negative - The limited third party VMS support may be a constraining factor if you are considering integrating this camera into an existing system.

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