Baxall’s 360-Degree Fisheye
THESE new digital solutions represent a left-field development when compared to the networked systems security electronics people have come to see as the archetype in digital CCTV. Next-gen digital surveillance solutions include clever software-based applications like video analysis and in the case of CCTV cameras, zero movement ‘dome’ cameras that employ software to get useable video images from the big scenes provided by extreme wide angle lenses.
Technophiles in the Australian industry with a sense of history will recall that the first time we heard of software-enhanced video cameras was way back in 1998 when Melbourne’s RLM Systems launched its PC-based TrueSpective product. Born of the video entertainment industry, TrueSpective offered comprehensive manipulation of images, as well as 360-degree views when teamed up with a fisheye lens.
The fact TrueSpective supported up to 1200 cameras and only required a 100MHz processor(!) and 5MB of hard drive space in a then industry standard 16MB hard drive(!!), shows just how cool a product this was – and just how far ahead of its time RLM Systems got all those years ago.
It wasn’t all good, though. TrueSpective saved just 30 seconds of real time footage to RAM and had set resolution numbers that were equivalent to 180 lines horizontal. In addition, its functions demanded the input of an operator to save alarm images to hard drive.
By comparison, the latest products highlight a decade of advances in software development. The release of eclipse also underscores the fact that Baxall, which recently opened an office in Australia, is not going to be content to be a bit player in our market. The tech muscle evident in this product is something competitors, end users and integrators should be giving plenty of attention. Baxall, its parent Norbain and that company’s onboard tech house Vista, are not to be taken lightly. How eclipse works
The whole idea behind eclipse is relatively straightforward. Here is a technology designed to leverage the enormous scene coverage provided by a single hemisphere 360-degree fisheye lens – it’s essentially a dome camera with no moving parts. There are optical challenges to the process of course, because fisheye lenses have inherent distortions that have to be ‘tuned’ out if the images are to provide coverage useful to the human eye.
The eclipse manages this using an Imtera processor which employs a set of rules that correct the distortion of the lens – a process that is handled in real time depending on which scenes or scene combinations are being viewed by the operator. It’s worth noting that not only does eclipse have no moving parts, virtually the entire unit is solid state. The result of such massive board-based capability is always going to be a crowded and warm-running PCB but there are some advantages, too.
The eclipse should benefit from the inherent reliability of solid state architecture when it’s used in environments with adequate ventilation – though this demand should present no real problem. The current version of eclipse is clearly designed for indoor environments (you could go outside with a custom housing and good lighting) in applications that demand coverage around 10-15 square metres. This may not sound much but it’s more than you’d think. For casinos, retail environments, foyers and spot coverage in high risk public sites like the entrances to sporting venues, eclipse is a pretty amazing solution.
This is partly because eclipse isn’t really a camera at all – instead it’s a full digital surveillance solution. Yes, I know – such a statement has the nasty ring of the marketing department to it – but eclipse <I>really<I> delivers. Any single eclipse unit offers a pair of independent analogue outputs (to the monitor), with each output able to display as many as 4 ‘virtual’ cameras, every one of which has independent pan, tilt and zoom functions. And these functions are seriously good when used in modest spaces.
No you’re not going to be able to zoom all the way across the MCG and use the ultimate in optical focus capability to capture number plates as you might with the latest Panasonic SD3 dome but in a tighter target area you’ll see (and record) things that are invisible to every other camera type.
Simply put, eclipse captures an entire 360-degree scene, missing nothing. How you configure the system to serve you that 360-degree coverage is up to you but the performance is there and the best thing is that these big scenes can be recorded in their entirety. I don’t mean to harp on this topic but this is an ability that offers great strength.
With eclipse you don’t have to worry about things happening outside the camera’s field of view because within the unit’s depth of field and taking any obstructions into account, being outside this camera’s field of view is impossible. In terms of viewing, the entire 360-degree scene can be displayed on a single monitor. Alternatively scenes can be broken into a pair of 180 views or a 360-degree scene can be sliced up into those four 90-degree virtual cameras angles mentioned earlier. If the 4 VCAM option is chosen video flows at 12 images per second. Sensor type
It goes without saying that wringing a 360-degree scene out of a standard CCD sensor device is impossible and Vista has got around this using a 3 Megapixel CMOS sensor with a whopping pixel count of 2048 x 1536. This gives the unit a TVL equivalent resolution of around 600 lines. TVL needs to be this high because the minute you hit the digital zoom you start putting the squeeze on resolution. Any weakness here would see the entire concept fail.
CMOS was made a viable image sensor technology in 1993 when NASA’s Jet Propulsion team achieved a series of breakthroughs with the technology. Since that time early CMOS weaknesses have been demolished and for full digital solutions CMOS is starting to look a very solid option.
Advantages include high levels of on-chip circuit integration and massive reductions in power consumption thanks to common 3.3V power draws (with CCDs draw can go as high as 15V). But it’s the on-chip analog-to-digital conversion capability that really cranks things up. Taking out the clunky CCD processing significantly increases signal speed and cuts out cross talk and EMI pickup within the circuitry. There’s also elimination of charge leakage across pixels as well as their associated blooming.
Other advantages of CMOS architecture include greater toughness, increased control interface capability and integrated timing control. Then there’s the really interesting stuff like colour encoding, image stabilization and compression for motion monitoring, on-chip AGC, colour balance, auto exposure and focus control. And this is all solid state, remember! System features
Key features of the eclipse include advanced motion detection and alarm functionality. There’s also subject tracking which can be applied to any object in a scene. The motion detection triggers the tracking feature so anything or anyone moving in a scene will be followed as long as it is in the camera’s field of view. None of this impacts on the camera’s continued monitoring and recording of a live scene and all the functions can be applied to each of the 4 virtual cameras independently.
The eclipse’s pan and tilt on preset are instantaneous, with a ‘manual’ pan and tilt of 270-degrees per second during searches. There’s auto flip, 75 privacy zones, 128 presets, four 64-preset guard tours, 3 and 4 minute guard tour learning functions, password protection and 4 alarm inputs. You also get 75-zone motion detection with selectable sensitivity, motion tracking with adjustable zoom on motion and x3 digital zoom.
Programming is handled by an on-screen menu. This allows setup of tours and presets, as well as configuration of motion detection zones and zoom levels on presets and motion detection activations.
While we did not see the unit working in low light conditions (it has a claimed minimum scene illumination of 2 lux and there’s a low light assist function) it’s likely eclipse would require support from light sources to function effectively after dark. The eclipse is not a replacement for traditional outdoor domes. Instead it’s an extremely intelligent alternative to those rafts of indoor fixed cameras whose frozen fields of view always seem to be pointing in the wrong direction. nnn