As we've already seen in this series of articles, a networked video camera differs from a traditional analogue CCTV camera in a number of ways.
The most notable feature distinguishing a networked camera is its embedded server that transmits video images as a stream of digital ‘packets’ across the Internet or any standard data network. This means that images can be viewed via a PC and web browser. What’s more, it also allows remote control of camera functions like tilt, pan, zoom and exposure mode via the same network connection that’s carrying video information – cutting down the cost and complexity of laying cables, especially in hard-to-reach places.
It’s easy and cost effective to view networked camera images using a standard PC, and indeed this solution is more than adequate for a wide range of simple monitoring applications. A small shop or office could site a camera overlooking a door or reception area, allowing staff to keep a watchful eye on things as they work at their desk. No other hardware or software is required, and it’s simple to integrate pictures into an existing web site such as a company intranet
But what about larger organisations with more sophisticated monitoring requirements? What if a dozen cameras or more are required to provide coverage of a car park, retail store or warehouse? What if it’s necessary to record images for later viewing? What if you need to manage functions such as image quality and resolution for a large number of cameras?
Fortunately, Sony offers an easy-to-use software management platform that brings all these functions – and more – under the control of a network-connected PC. With Sony RealShot™ management software, a standard PC becomes a powerful ‘command centre’ for Sony video network cameras and servers. Firstly, RealShot Manager allows a single PC to control, monitor and record images from up to 32 networked video cameras – these can be any mix of M-JPEG or MPEG-4 models.
This immediately means that it’s easy for security and surveillance users to build a powerful multi-camera video monitoring system running over their existing Local Area Networks (LANs) or Wide Area Networks (WANs). With RealShot™ Manager, it’s simple to add additional cameras as required, offering a highly cost effective upgrade path to scale any systems as your needs grow – all that’s required is the purchase of an additional software license.
As any security manager knows, with analogue CCTV systems it’s impossible to record and view images from the same videotape simultaneously. RealShot Manager circumvents this problem, offering simultaneous recording and playback of images from a connected PC or server. RealShot Manager also offers a range of flexible recording modes. Recordings can be controlled either manually, in accordance with a pre-defined schedule, or in response to an alarm event, such as the triggering of a door sensor. This alarm mode is particularly useful, since it allows a camera to keep watch over an unattended scene without constantly transmitting a stream of images even when nothing’s happening in its field of view. As we have seen in previous articles in this series, this dramatically reduces server storage capacity requirements as well as minimising network traffic when things are ‘quiet’ – welcome news for any system administrator concerned about the available bandwidth, performance and resilience of their IT networks.
It’s also quick and easy to track down a recording with RealShot’s powerful search functions – an obvious benefit when you’re trying to pinpoint a particular event from day’s worth of recordings from multiple cameras that are held on a server. A calendar displays all recordings made on a per-camera or per-camera group basis, making it simple to see at a glance what recordings have been made and when. Information about recordings can be filtered according to criteria such as time/date, alarm events or even comments inserted by the user. Recordings can also be displayed in the form of ‘thumbnail’ images, making it far quicker and easier to track down a particular sequence than tedious wading through a box of videotapes.
Just as importantly, RealShot Manager provides an intuitive, user-friendly interface that can be personalised to match any user’s personal preferences. For example, it’s easy to create a customised on-screen ‘map’ showing the position of every camera in, for example, a department store or warehouse complex.
As we have already seen, a major benefit of networked video solutions is the ability to control camera parameters remotely. RealShot’s ‘Camera Manager’ is a powerful tool to help security professionals fine-tune the performance of their digital video networked according to their operational needs and available network resources. Individual cameras can be added to specific ‘groups’ and configured for optimal performance by adjusting camera parameters such as refresh rate and resolution. This means that users can actively trade off image quality against bandwidth requirements. For example, image quality and frame rates could be maximised for cameras in critical locations, while other cameras in less sensitive areas can be operated at a lower refresh rate, reducing the overall burden on the network.
Sony also offers a choice of slim, rack-mounting Network Video Recorders that come ready to run with RealShot Manager software already installed. Offering generous on-board storage and capable of recording video image streams from up to nine (or sixteen, depending on model) camera sources simultaneously, these networked recorders offer an ideal ‘all-in-one’ solution for unattended monitoring and recording, with unlimited capability for expansion by adding new servers and clients as required
Incidentally, RealShot Manager isn’t just limited to use with IP-enabled network cameras. It’s easy to bring analogue legacy cameras into the digital world with products such as the Sony Video Network Station: this means that there’s no need to throw away your existing camera inventory as you upgrade to the benefits of a network-based video monitoring solution.