Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7174/lenovoemc-px2300d-network-video-recorder-with-milestone-arcus-vms



Introduction

Analog CCTV cameras used for surveillance purposes are being slowly phased out by IP cameras. These IP cameras compress video in MJPEG / MPEG-4 or H.264 and send it over Ethernet / Wi-Fi. A surveillance system may consist of multiple cameras. A VMS (video management software) system is necessary to manage these multiple video streams (including real-time viewing and archiving for later retrieval).

Companies such as Swann provide complete NVR systems which bundle a dedicated recorder with hard disk storage and multiple cameras. On the other hand, we have standalone cameras compatible with the ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) standards. They can interface with third-party VMS solutions which are ONVIF-compatible. These third-party VMS solutions can run on a PC or be an app / add-on for NAS devices.

Over the last few years, we have been working on improving our coverage of network attached storage (NAS) devices. The focus has been on performance, usability and reliability in generic scenarios. NAS units, however, have varied usage modes. With increased surveillance needs (at homes and offices), consumers often end up dedicating a NAS as a network video recorder (NVR). While some vendors such as Thecus and QNAP offer dedicated NVRs, other such as LenovoEMC and Synology tag on NVR capabilities to their NAS models using add-ons. While Synology develops their Surveillance Station in-house, LenovoEMC works with a third-party, Milestone Systems, to add NVR capabilities to their x86-based NAS models.

LenovoEMC provided us with a review unit of the PX2-300D NVR along with two Axis M1031-W IP cameras. The PX2-300D NVR edition is the same as the PX2-300D (specifications below) in terms of hardware. The NVR edition comes bundled with enterprise HDDs (Our review unit had 2x Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 HUA723020ALA640 2TB drives). From the firmware perspective, the NVR edition comes bundled with the Milestone Arcus VMS. Four camera licenses are included. Arcus from Milestone Systems is a new Linux-based VMS solution for embedded systems to go along with their XProtect VMS for Microsoft Windows.

LenovoEMC PX2-300D Specifications
Processor Intel Atom D525 (2C/4T, 1.80 GHz)
RAM 2 GB DDR3 RAM
Drive Bays 2x 3.5"/2.5" SATA 6 Gbps HDD / SSD (Hot-swappable)
Network Links 2x 1 GbE
USB Slots 1x USB 3.0 / 2x USB 2.0
eSATA Slots None
Expansion Slots Yes (1 PCIe for Analog PCIe encoder)
VGA / Display Out VGA
Full Specifications Link LenovoEMC PX2-300D Hardware Specs

Evaluating a NVR is mostly a subjective qualitative exercise. At AnandTech, we are big fans of Synology's NAS units. Since we had a couple of them lying around, we requested Synology for a Surveillance Station license (4-pack). Thanks to Synology, we were able to obtain a frame of reference while talking about Milestone Arcus in the PX2-300D. In the first section, we will take a look at the setup process and browser-based usage. In the second section, we will take a look at the Android app for surveillance using a smartphone / tablet. We will conclude with a look at some power consumption numbers.



Setup Impressions

The PX2-300D NVR edition 'boots; directly into the Milestone Arcus VMS interface (i.e, accessing the IP of the NAS using a browser leads to the Arcus login page and not the NAS management UI). The setup process is trivial. Upon login (all user credentials set up in the main NAS management UI are retained for the Arcus VMS too), we are presented with a pretty barebones page with a certain number above the Settings menu on the top right. This number indicates the number of cameras auto-detected by the VMS that haven't been set up yet. Configuration involves entering the user credentials for the camera. The IP camera may support multiple codecs / resolutions and frame rates. In such a case, the Arcus VMS chooses some default values which can be altered, if necessary. Recording mode can be set to continuous, never and only when motion is detected. The number of days to retain the captured footage is also available as a configurable option. Motion detection can also be configured with finer granularity. It is also possible to set up IP cameras manually (though my efforts to get a Compro IP70 recognized didn't bear fruit).

After setup, the video streams from the IP cameras show up in the Arcus home page. Selecting a stream leads to an expanded view of the video. A menu at the bottom of the video allows us to go back and view archived footage from a timeline. It is also possible to export the archived video between any two timestamps. The exported file is in the MKV format.

Compare these with the UI from the Synology Surveillance Station below. In addition to recognizing the two Axis cameras, the add-on also had in-built support for the Compro IP70. The LiveView matrix in the browser interface as well as the controls / configuration options are better in Surveillance Station. An example of a useful configuration option available in Surveillance Station, but not in Arcus, is the ability to have fine-grained control over the recording schedule (say, a simple schedule to record only on Fridays between 11 AM and 4 PM).

The Arcus UI also doesn't allow users to view archived footage from multiple streams simultaneously in a synchronized manner. This is possible in Synology's Surveillance Station. However, a big drawback of the Surveillance Station is that the browser UI is heavily based on Java. I also found that Surveillance Station would drop cameras more often than Arcus. I let the NVRs operate for close to 30 days continuously and Arcus dropped the cameras only a couple of times (both times, I suspect, were due to the DHCP lease of the IP camera expiring. This could have been easily avoided by setting up the IP cameras with static IPs).

On the whole, setting up the PX2-300D NVR was a breeze. The browser UI is a bit bare and the VMS currently on the PX2-300D could do with some feature updates. However, the robustness of the system for straightforward configurations will definitely need to be appreciated. The firmware does have some memory effect in terms of not allowing re-addition of the IP of a recently deleted camera, but it was nothing that a reboot couldn't fix. In any case, I don't expect the average consumer to go about randomly deleting and manually adding cameras like I did during the review process. Let us now move on to the mobile scheme of things.



Mobile Apps: Surveillance On-the-Go

Arcus and Surveillance Station have mobile apps for Android and iOS. We took the Android versions out for a spin. The PX2-300D NVR can be accessed from any Android device using the Milestone Mobile app. Synology's Surveillance Station's Android app is the DSCam.

Compared to the PC-based browser interface, things are reversed in the mobile arena. The DSCam provides an amateurish experience with none of the elegance and features of the PC-based browser experience. Milestone Mobile, on the other hand, is very professional. It is possible to have a matrix view, and the menu options are clearly labeled (unlike the desktop browser interface).

Unlike DSCam, Milestone Mobile allows users to export footage and also view archives. In fact, the slider mechanism used to choose the date and time is in fact more suited for touchscreens rather than mouse-based desktop interfaces (though it is used in both). DSCam has a lot of catching up to do. One nice to have feature in both apps would be the ability to do NVR management (for example, say, make it possible to add back a dropped camera or a newly installed camera with a fresh IP) without resorting to the desktop browser interface. On the whole, Milestone Mobile emerges as the clear winner here compared to DSCam.



Miscellaneous Factors and Final Words

The presence of a x86 processor has a negative effect on the power consumption figures (when compared against an ARM-based unit). However, such a powerful processor is necessary in order to support multiple IP cameras. In the idle state with the two Hitachi drives, the unit consumed around 27.29 W on an average. When recording two standard definition streams from the AXIS M1031-W cameras with the disks in RAID-1 configuration, the power consumption was around 27.37 W. The unit continued to operate well even when one of the disks was removed (degraded RAID-1). In this case, the unit consumed 20.56 W. Recoding during RAID rebuild consumed 29.73 W on an average. The rebuild time for the 2 TB Hitachi drive was 8h 16m.

Coming to the business end of the review, I will make it easier for readers by listing out the pros and cons of the unit.

Pros:

  • Simple and easy to get the unit up and running
  • Robust and reliable compared to the competition at similar price points
  • Excellent mobile interface

Cons:

  • Desktop browser interface needs uplift and more features to achieve parity with what is offered by the competition at similar price points
  • Camera compatibility list needs to expand to cover low to mid-range IP cameras such as the Compro units

In this particular situation, the pros outweigh the cons, particularly for fresh SMB / SOHO installations where the choice of IP cameras hasn't already been made. LenovoEMC suggests that the PX2 and PX4 NVR units can be used where the number of cameras to be managed is 20 or less. The PX2-300D NVR with two enterprise HDDs and four camera licenses costs $999. Each additional camera license is expected to cost around $70. The additional license cost is similar to most other professional NVR camera licenses. Software updates to the VMS are available for one year from purchase of the camera license.

Consumers who have already purchased the non-NVR version of the PX2-300D can download a 30-day two camera demo license provided the firmware has been upgraded to Lifeline 4.0 or later. LenovoEMC also provides a 16-channel analog encoder PCIe card accessory for scenarios involving analog cameras. The pricing for this accessory card is yet to be determined.

Obviously, the PX2-300D NVR version can also be used as a standalone NAS. However, we haven't touched upon that aspect in this review. We will be providing benchmark figures for the PX2-300D in one of the upcoming 2-bay NAS reviews.

There are advantages and disadvantages to developing a VMS solution in-house vs. outsourcing it to a experienced third-party such as Milestone. With Milestone Arcus in the PX2-300D NVR, we believe LenovoEMC has taken the right approach to quickly bring a highly recommendable product to the market.

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