Video management software (VMS) is a fundamental component of an IP camera system.
VMS lets you view, store, and manage your surveillance video feeds. A good VMS solution might let you switch between live feeds, zoom in on important features, search for a video from two weeks ago, or trigger an alarm when a vandal is picked up by a camera.
It might provide many features that improve security, including secure remote access, failover redundancy, and video encryption.
When shopping for a video management solution, there are many things to keep in mind. In this article, we’re going to cover the primary questions you should be asking.
Video Management Software: Things to Look For
What should you be looking for in video management software? Here’s a 1000-ft view.
Do I have to pay for video management software?
Many IP camera manufacturers offer free VMS solutions. These solutions can suffice for small deployments, but are limited in scope and feature-set.
Milestone Systems, one of the premier video management companies, offers Milestone XProtect®, an elite VMS solution that scales based on your needs. You can get XProtect® Essential+ for free, which supports up to 8 cameras at a single site.
There are also open source VMS solutions available, including iSpy, Shinobi, and Zoneminder. We suggest these solutions, which are worthwhile, only to the kind of person who enjoys customizing their Linux distro or programing a Raspberry Pi for fun on the weekend. If you know what we mean.
What devices are supported?
The best VMS in the world is useless if it doesn’t support your camera.
On their websites, most companies will have a product compatibility finder or guide. For example, here’s Milestone’s hardware compatibility tool. Always check these tools before pressing “Buy.” https://www.milestonesys.com/community/business-partner-tools/supported-devices/
There has been an increasing open standards movement in IP cameras in recent years, which has greatly improved the situation.
IP camera makers have come together to agree on open standards under the banner of ONVIF, the Open Network Video Interface Forum. ONVIF Profiles indicate the interoperability of cameras, recorders, and more. See our previous blog on ONVIF for more information.
How many cameras does it support?
The most pressing limitation of free VMS solutions is that they don’t support many cameras. If you have only a small shop to surveil, needing only three or four cameras, then a free VMS option might be best.
Milestone XProtect® supports unlimited recording of 8 connected cameras. If you have a larger space that requires more cameras, you’re going to need more support.
How scalable is the solution?
“Scalable” is a tech industry buzzword meaning how simple it is to add or removes devices or users from a system.
Scalability is one of the key advantages of IP cameras over traditional CCTV cameras. CCTV, as the name states, require “closed circuits,” that is, a whole different wiring system. IP cameras, however, connect using Ethernet cables, making them vastly more scalable.
When thinking about the scalability of VMS solutions, consider whether you hope to expand your camera fleet in the future. If yes, make sure that you don’t lock yourself into a system that will prevent expansion. Give yourself room.
Does it offer mobile integration?
Many VMS solutions now offer you the opportunity to view live feeds and stored video remotely from mobile devices.
Convenience is the benefit, and security is the primary thing you should look for. How does the system secure the connection between your mobile device, the WiFi or cellular network you’re using, and the IP network that the camera is running on.
The convenience factor can be immense, but it shouldn’t outweigh security.
What are your video streaming options?
VMS should give you a simple method of streaming video. Does the VMS interface let you view and switch between feeds easily?
Another major question is: How many feeds can you view at once? Milestone XProtect® Essential+, for example, only lets you view one live stream. (You can have another simultaneous stream for recording.)
But if you want more live feeds than that, you’ll have to find a VMS (and a computer with processing power) to support the number of feeds you want.
You might need to look into the video codecs that are supported, particularly if you hope to use cutting-edge ones like HEVC (H.265), which is highly efficient but still sparsely supported.
What are your video storage options?
You need to store video somewhere, right? Usually this is done on a network-attached storage solution like a network video recorder or a server. Does your VMS work with these?
ONVIF has developed open standards for network video recorders, which is increasing the number of options you have for video storage.
And a final storage feature to look for is redundancy. In computer terms, redundancy means having a back-up in case of hardware failure. If a hard drive goes, which is always a possibility, you don’t want all your video evidence to disappear.
What features are supported?
The list of features that VMS solutions now support is quite incredible.
A particularly important one for many people is PTZ, pan-tilt-zoom. Some VMS solutions let you directly control the camera from a computer or even mobile phone. For busy areas like stations or lobbies, you might want to have a security guard watching live feeds. If they see something, VMS that integrates PTZ functionality will let them do their job better.
Another feature many people like is motion detection. Take a carpark. Motion detection would save you a huge amount of space in storage, because most of the time a carpark is completely still: it’s just cars sitting there. You only need to track people and cars entering and exiting.
How strong is the security?
IP cameras are supposed to increase your security, but if your VMS is unsecure, that can be really bad. IP cameras are network-based, which means hacking is a potential issue. Find a VMS with top-class encryption, and make sure you do your part by choosing strong passwords (or using a password manager).