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Getting to know better VMS investigation tools

Ideally every camera on every system would be monitored live to catch bad guys in the act. The reality is that a lot of systems are used in a more passive manner — the system is only being used after an incident takes place and an investigation is required. For this reason it is important for an integrator to help end-users select a video management system (VMS) that is easy to operate, but also offers the most advanced feature set for their after-the-fact investigations.

July 6, 2011  By  Rob Colman

Some of the newer VMS functionalities I am seeing in the market place can be very useful in a video investigation. In the last year, megapixel and HD cameras have become mainstream. The main selling points of these types of camera are better quality images, more coverage out of one camera and better definition in the same position than a standard resolution  camera. So a very important forensic VMS tool is the ability to easily do digital zooms and easily export the zoomed-in image in a still frame format (ex: JPEG). Some systems offer digital zoom capabilities on the recorded image, sometimes even allowing the same device associated with live video to digitally zoom around a recorded image. In my opinion, this type of function is almost becoming standard. However knowing this capability is available and how it performs are important factors to understand before approaching the end-user with such a solution, as not all system work the same way.

Furthermore, with trends moving towards hosted and centralized video recording over the Internet, another feature that can be interesting for an investigator is the ability to buffer the centrally recorded video on their client PC. This feature is sometimes referred to as video caching and is similar to how YouTube works. It allows for smoother playback and reduces the bandwidth required when watching a video in a looping manner since the system will not have to request the video from the server again. Once you have found what you are looking for, an advanced VMS should allow a user to easily export the video with encryption or in a standard format, to provide the video to police or anybody that needs to see the video.

This might sound a bit standard, but some systems do this much better than others. What is actually sometimes less standard, but could be considered just as important, is the ability to restrict users from exporting video. If exporting video cannot be assigned with user privileges, confidential video could end up on YouTube. Many higher end VMSs also offer detailed audit trails of who did what to the system. So an administrator could allow video export for all operators, but also be able to know who is exporting and viewing what.

Reporting capabilities that were once only associated with access control systems are now in demand from end-users. Not only do they want to be able to audit who is doing what on the VMS system, reports are also used as a video investigation tool. This is especially applicable with video analytics. It is one thing to be able to generate analytic events, but in my opinion, to make them useful you have to be able to create reports. This will allow an investigator to easily analyze trends, before he or she even looks at the associated video.


To get a handle on what investigative features are best for your clients setup a demo with the end-user and try to best mimic one of their real-life investigations. This will likely show how some of the newer VMS features can speed up their investigations.

Steve Bocking can be reached at sbocking@genetec.com

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