VMS Challenges Examined

By John Honovich, Published on Aug 01, 2010

With dozens of options and novel issues in migrating from appliances to software, using and selecting VMS systems can be a challenge. In our recent webinar, we had an in-depth discussion with our members on a variety of key issues.

As an example of the discussion, in the video screencast below, we discuss what makes easy to use VMS software and why a number of the most well known offerings present significant usability issues.

Inside the screencast above, we cite the following reports:

We believe that the main impact of IP camera standards will be felt on the low end or basic VMS offerings. Read our most recent update ONVIF/PSIA update for background to this discussion:

NVR vs VMS Comparison

Contrasting the pricing and capabilities of NVR appliances and VMS software is key to making decisions about platform selection. For background on VMS pricing, read the pricing examination inside our recent Milestone price drop review.

What are the basic criteria for selecting VMS systems?

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We provide an in-depth examination of the 9 key criteria we found for professional/enterprise VMS systems. These criteria were developed from our testing series and hands-on evaluation of product differences.

What type of multistreaming support do VMS systems provide?

Most VMS systems offer limited multistreaming. For example, neither Exacq nor Milestone Enterprise provide multistreaming. Milestone Corporate only provides 2 stream support. Genetec provides many multi-stream support.

Multi-streaming is one way of providing enhanced remote viewing over low bandwidth connections (the genesis of this question). Most VMS systems drop frames to throttle bandwidth over connections with insufficient bandwidth available. This creates a slideshow appearance on the client's display. With multi-stream support, a VMS can switch to a lower resolution stream. However, we are not sure how many will benefit from this as most users prefer slower but higher quality images over degraded but frequently refreshed video.

One future solution to multi-streaming is likely to come from Scalable Video Codecs. This allows a single stream to dynamically adjust its resolution/frame rate without needing to request or store multiple copies of the stream. This has been available for years and is offered in Avigilon's VMS (see a discussion in our Avigilon test results).

In the next few years, we may see a scalable version of H.264 become adopted that would deliver similiar benefits (with increased bandwidth savings over MJPEG/JPEG2000). Read a review/discussion on H.264/SVC.

Will VMS core functionalities be commoditized / become free?

We believe the two biggest factors that will drive down the price of VMS software is (1) on-line sales and (2) the 'freemium' business model.

Historically, the VMS market, like the overall surveillance market, has been dominated by regional oriented channel sales. This provides extensive direct contact but at a relatively high cost.

We believe that on-line sales of VMS software direct to end users over the Internet represents the next big opportunity for the market. Read our analysis on the potential for on-line VMS sales.

The other element we believe will be a key driver in reducing the cost of VMS software is the 'freemium' business model. This is already a major force throughout the broader software world. Essentially, basic versions of software are provided for free, attracting a large audience of potential buyers without having to spend on traditional sales/marketing means (trade shows, sales people, advertisements in trade magazines, etc.). A percentage of people using the free software will upgrade to the provider's paid version.

We believe the freemium model makes perfect sense for the VMS market. Provide basic VMS functionality and limited channels for free. This will pull in far more people at far lower costs than could be done with traditional marketing. Today, this is not being done as all offerings are either single channel evaluation versions or 30 day temp licenses. Nonetheless, we think it's a sensible approach that eventually will be used in the VMS market.

What is available for monitoring via the iPad?

Seemingly every VMS provider is developing/releasing an iPhone/iPad application. However, an important problem is that support is fragmented amongst dozens of applications. There is no 'universal' iPad application that supports all or even more than a handful fo VMS systems. Also important, a lot of applications support IP cameras directly but not VMS systems. While this is useful for the home/SMB application, most enterprise deployments will need integration with the VMS.

We have an in-depth review of using the iPhone/iPad for video surveillance. Also, consider the MobileCam Viewer from MobiDeos which supports a handful of VMS systems. Finally, nentioned by a number of people in the discussion was the CAVU system [link no longer available] from VideoNext - an all Apple solution that integrates with their MAC based VMS.

What about testing VMS systems for throughput?

Starting in September, we shall begin load testing VMS systems. We plan to use the Axis virtual camera tool to simulate camera streams (as recommended by members in a LinkedIn thread [link no longer available]). Our goal will be to explore what factors most impact system load and in what ways VMS systems respond differently to load.

Computer selection and load factoring are contentious issues within the IP video community (see a recent heated thread in our LinkedIn group [link no longer available]).

What benefits do VMS systems with a Peer-to-Peer architecture provide?

For VMS systems that provide enterprise/centralized management, most use a master and slave approach with a single service/application coordinating access and configuration of the slave/recorders. In this model, if the central service goes off-line, the entire system can become inaccessible. However, this can be offset in some VMS systems through failover mechanisms within the VMS system.

A few VMS systems offer peer to peer archictecture. These systems need to ensure that the distributed databases are synchronized. The approach to do so can vary by manufacturer.

However, no VMS system offers peer-to-peer for stored surveillance video. While systems allow video to be recorded redundandtly or archived off-site, unlike commercial peer-to-peer systems that provide redistribution of video to many servers, this is not a practical approach for video surveillance, given the large amounts of continuously generated new video.

What options for advanced investigations in VMS systems are available?

In our test results, we were relatively surprised to see that VMS search functionalities were fairly close. While we found important usability differences, we did not find major feature or support variances. All systems supported time and motion based search as well as options for exporting. While we found some to be better, we felt the differences were incremental.

Mainstream VMS systems generally offer little or no innovation in searching or investigations. Below is our video screencast reviewing the fundamentals of VMS search:

A few niche offerings do exist for more advanced search (for example, Agent VI Search, Briefcam, VideoIQ, 3VR, Bosch, IBM). The three key issues for these systems are (1) accuracy, (2) integration and (3) price.

Accuracy is difficult to summarize as it depends on the type of search performed, the quality of the system and the camera to be searched on. Needless to say, advanced video analytic search is still cutting edge and suffers especially from challenging lighting conditions.

Most of these systems are either proprietary or have limited 3rd party integration. For instance, 3VR and Bosch's video analytic search is proprietary, requiring the use of their own VMS/NVR. This is fine for users who are satisfied with those systems but difficult for customers who already have or want to use other VMS systems. Other systems like Agent Vi, Briefcam and VideoIQ seek to integrate (or plug in) to 3rd party VMS systems. However, doing so is not simple (especially for integrating advanced search queries) and can often require running separate servers/systems and using a secondary user interface (outside of the main VMS interface).

What are the top 3 VMS systems?

We examined best fits for specific applications in our 2010 VMS Competitive comparison. The video has been copied and embedded below. One change we would make since this video was recorded in April is to increase the competitiveness of Milestone Essential for the low end of the market (primarily based on the significant price drop).

What is the future for Next Level Systems?

We need more information on Next Level as the product lineup is released into general production. We are skeptical though and see some yellow flags. Our main concern is that the product is trying to solve too broad of a set of problems. It risks being a 'jack of all trades and master of none'. We examined the basic product approach and our concerns in a review of Next Level.

What's the buzz about Luxriot?

Luxriot is a solid system with very broad camera support and very low pricing (e.g., for 16 channels, the per camera price is about $35). Also, they have phone based technical support which is readily available. This is not surprising or impressive for VMS in general but relative to the low price, it is. Read our full test results of Luxriot.

We believe that Milestone Essential may have an especially strong competitive impact on Luxriot as Milestone's new pricing either eliminates or radically reduces Luxriot's price advantage.

1 report cite this report:

Webinar: What VMS System Should You Use? on Jul 19, 2010
On Thursday, July 29, 2010 we held a webinar answering the question "What...

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