What to Look for in Video Management Software

Beyond the GUI, ways to differentiate between products

Many multi-facility organizations, like large school systems and campuses, use these capabilities to reduce security staffing levels by intelligently routing alarms and video over WANs to remote security guards. This is the case in a North American homeland security application, where Genetec's Omnicast software provides remote video monitoring of 12 facilities over a WAN. This particular application saves more than $500,000 in annual labor costs.

Video Review and Video Forensics

Retail stores and banks tend to migrate toward playback-centric video systems. While live video is important, the primary application is often forensic, requiring good tools for video searches coupled with intuitive interfaces to quickly export watermarked video for investigations or legal evidence.

Products with advanced video search tools can make it much easier to sort through large video archives.

Some products, such as Verint's Nextiva software, will tag video recordings with metadata that can be searched with a software tool. Metadata can be described as “data that describes data.” For digital video systems, metadata sources can include motion detection events, access control events or data from POS systems.

As metadata is provided to the system, it is indexed and recorded along with the digital video. The video search tools allow the user to define the parameters of the search. For example, the search may seek video in which there is motion at a specific time within a specific region of the building across several cameras. For transaction-oriented systems like access control, the search may seek video associated with a particular employee's movement through a facility.

Once the desired video clip is retrieved through a search, it is important to have VCR-type controls for event viewing, such as stop, fast-forward, rewind and frame-by-frame. The precision and ease of use of these controls varies widely from application to application and can vary by the compression method used. For example, some leading products have excellent tools that work with MJPEG sources but do not function well with MPEG-4 compression.

The software should have a video export tool that bookends the time frame of the event video and quickly exports the video clip to a CD or DVD for forensic evidence. The product should watermark the video during recording and then export that watermark to CD to eliminate the possibility of tampering.

Network Video Recording

Network video recording is the process of indexing and recording compressed video and audio streams to a storage system.

Most network video recording software will digitally sign each video frame as a watermark to protect against tampering or modification. Digital signatures can help the video hold up as forensic evidence in legal proceedings.

Most NVRs do a good job of emulating important DVR features, such as using events and schedules to trigger recording and bump video quality.

Open-architecture software will use the operating system's (Windows or Linux) file system to store video clips. Typically, any storage system that can be mapped as an operating system drive can be used for video storage. This open approach provides tremendous flexibility in the choice of the storage system. Internal disks, direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN) can all be arranged in RAID configurations and provided by storage vendors such as EMC, IBM and HP. Closed systems generally don't support commercially available storage systems.

Administration and Configuration

Video management systems manage users, devices and events. Device management begins with the task of adding cameras and encoders. Software products that support auto-discovery protocols reduce the complexity of adding new devices by recognizing new devices on the network and presenting them in a GUI for configuration. Most products provide the ability to configure basic compression and video quality settings. Fewer software products provide the ability to configure more complex settings like on-board motion detection. Instead, the GUI usually offers a hyperlink to the camera's on-board Web server, allowing you to use the device's built-in user interface for configuration.

Event management is one of the most difficult human-factor challenges for video management software developers. This involves providing an intuitive method of mapping system events like motion detection to actionable system responses like event recording, PTZ presets, video pop-ups and operator alerts. These user interfaces are often complex and require some degree of training.