Ten Steps to a Successful IP Surveillance Installation: Step 3

April 11, 2006
What to look for in a video management system, plus how open and closed systems differ

Video management platforms in IP surveillance systems can be likened to what VCRs did for pure analog systems and what digital video recorders (DVRs) do for hybrid analog and digital systems. However, unlike a simple hardware upgrade, today's video management platforms also add new possibilities in functionality, scalability and integration.

A video management system is a very important component of IP surveillance systems because it effectively manages video for live monitoring and recording. Video management requirements differ depending on the number of cameras, performance requirements, platform preferences, scalability, and ability to integrate with other systems. Solutions typically range from single PC systems to advanced client/server-based software that provides support for multiple simultaneous users and thousands of cameras.

No matter the type or size, there are common features in almost every video management system including:

  • Motion-Based Recording: Video motion detection (VMD) defines activity by analyzing data and differences in a series of images. VMD can be performed at the camera level, which is preferred, or reside in the video management software. Video management software can provide motion detection functionality to network cameras not equipped with this feature.
  • Alarm Generation: Video management systems permit users to generate alarms based on motion. For example, parameters can be established so that alarms are not sent during hours of normal activity, such as from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Therefore, if motion is detected at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, the system knows that this activity is not normal, and can send e-mails or text message alerts to the proper authorities.
  • Frame Rate Control: Video management allows for frame rate control - meaning that video is monitored and recorded at pre-determined frame rates. It can also be configured to increase frame rates if activity is detected, or to reduce frame rates if there is no motion.
  • Simultaneous Camera Monitoring: Video management makes it possible for multiple users to view several different cameras at the same time, and increase the resolution for cameras with activity or alarms. This enables the system to be utilized for different purposes and even different departments (such as a system in a retail space used for both security and store traffic studies).
  • Camera Management: Video management systems allow users to administrate and manage cameras from a single interface. This is useful for tasks such as detecting cameras on the network, managing IP addresses, and setting resolution, compression and security levels. Cameras are often located in distant or hard-to-reach locations, making it impractical for the administrator to visit every location and individually upgrade every camera. Video management systems provide access to every camera on the network and will automatically administer firmware upgrades.

Open and Closed

One of the first considerations when designing a video management system is the type of hardware platform that is used. Just like with DVRs, there are closed systems in which the software and hardware come bundled. These are typically referred to as Network Video Recorders, or NVRs.

Although they are networked, NVRs are dedicated to the specific task of recording, analyzing and playing back video. They do not allow other applications to reside on them, so the hardware is essentially "locked." This means that it can rarely be altered to accommodate anything outside of the original specifications, such as virus protection or intelligent video. NVRs are easier to install, however the number of cameras is often limited to four or 16, and upgrading functionality or security is not normally possible.

Network video systems also allow for open systems with video management software that can be installed on a PC server platform. Most video management systems are available for the Windows operating system, but there are also options for UNIX, Linux and Mac OS.

Open platform solutions run on "off-the-shelf" hardware, with components selected for maximum performance. This allows end users to work with their preferred equipment suppliers and makes it easier to upgrade or replace damaged parts. The systems are also fully scalable because cameras can be added one at a time, and there is no limit to the number that can be added or managed. Open systems are suitable for scenarios where large numbers of cameras are deployed. They also make it easier to add functionality to the system, such as increased or external storage, firewalls, virus protection and intelligent video algorithms.

Some video management systems use a Web interface to access the video from any type of computer platform. Web interfaces allow video to be managed online from anywhere in the world, using the proper safeguards such as password protection and IP address filtering.

It is also important to consider whether a video management system is proprietary and only works with network cameras from select vendors. Video management software should support network cameras from multiple vendors to ensure flexibility. However, even if a system claims to work with many or all network cameras, the system may still not provide the same functionality for all types of cameras, and integration may not be as seamless.


Video management systems based on open platforms have another advantage in that they can be more easily integrated with access control devices, building management systems (BMS), industrial control systems and audio. This allows users to manage video and other building controls though a single program and interface. Integrating a video surveillance system with access control systems allows video to be captured at all entrance and exit points and for pictures in a badge system to be matched against images of the person actually using the access card.

A prime example of integrating video with access control systems is the Michigan State Police's Forensic Science Lab. When the lab moved to a new facility outside of the police compound, it installed a network video system integrated with the building access systems. This allows off-site police officers to visually verify that the person entering a secure area is authorized to do so. As employees use their cardkeys for access, officers are able to match live images of the people against pictures stored in the access control database. This also saves officers from manually verifying false alarms, which saves time and manpower.

Video management systems also enable video to be integrated into industrial automation systems or BMS, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC). To do this, digital inputs and outputs (I/O) provide data to the system or the network cameras for functionalities like controlling the heating or lighting in a room when it is not in use.

I/O can be configured to record video or send alarms in response to external sensors. This allows remote monitoring stations to become immediately aware of a change in the monitored environment.

Device type



Door contact

Simple magnetic switch detecting opening of doors or windows.

When the door is opened the camera takes action sending full motion video and notifications.


A sensor that detects motion-based on heat emission.

When motion is detected, the camera takes action sending full motion video and notifications.

Glass break detector

An active sensor that measures air pressure in a room and detects sudden pressure drops.

When an air pressure drop is detected, the camera takes action sending full motion video and notifications.

Chart A. The range of devices that can be connected to a network camera's input port is almost infinite.

Device type



Door relay

A relay that controls the opening and closing of door locks.

The locking/unlocking of a door controlled by a remote operator (over the network).


Alarm siren configured to sound when alarm is detected.

The camera activates the siren either when motion is detected using the built-in VMD or using “information” from the digital input.

Alarm/intrusion system

Alarm security system continuously monitoring a normally closed, or normally open, alarm circuit.


The camera acts as an integrated part of the alarm system serving as a sensor and enhancing the system with event triggered video transfers.

Chart B. The output port's function is to allow the camera to automatically trigger external devices by remote control from human operators, or software applications.

For industrial automation systems, video is sometimes the only way to monitor activity in a room. For example, it is often not possible to enter a clean room or an area containing dangerous chemicals. Integrating video surveillance with access control is the only way to have visual access to the area both for security purposes and for monitoring processes.

Audio can also be easily integrated with video management systems because networks can carry any type of data. Depending on the video file format, audio can be transported with or in tandem to the video stream. This reduces the need for extra cabling - as opposed to analog systems where an audio cable must be installed along with the coaxial. Integrating audio into the system makes it possible for remote personnel to hear and speak with possible perpetrators. Audio can also be used as an independent detection method, triggering video recordings and alarms when audio levels surpass a preset threshold.

IP-based video management platforms allow users added flexibility and control of a surveillance system. As additional features are integrated into the system it creates a more total solution for the security and building management needs of an organization. As we look forward to intelligent video, video management software will increasingly help generate and manage "actionable information."

About the author: As the general manager for Axis Communications, Fredrik Nilsson oversees the company's operations in North America. In this role, he manages all aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, business expansion and finance. He can be reached via email at [email protected].