What to Do When Your Customer Says, ‘I Want My (Remote) CCTV!’

Anyone who has done any type of digital video system installation the past several years has probably heard the question, “Can I can watch it from home?” It is usually the first question out of the customer’s mouth. It seems logical … the video is comprised of digital packets like E-mail, so you should be able to send those packets anywhere, right? The answer can be complex, usually resulting in the answer, “Yes, but … ” 

Truth is there are lots of variables to getting video from its storage location out to remote areas of the world. We’ll look at what it takes to move typically large amounts of video across both private networks and the Internet, and the issues waiting to be encountered. 

Technically, remote viewing means being able to access the device across a network of some type. That can be the Internet or it can be a crossover cable between a PC and a DVR. The underlying technologies that provide the connections are basically the same in both instances.

For the purposes of our discussion, we’re going to consider anything other than pressing buttons on the front panel of a device to be a remote interface, whether it’s across the room or across the world.

Applicability of Web or Software Interface Relates to Scale, Function
Any remote connection will require two things, the connection itself, and a way to interface with the device. Let’s take a look at the interface of choice, the software client. 

These clients generally take two different forms, a proprietary software client (meaning an application designed and programmed by the product manufacturer or an OEM supplier) or a Web-based browser interface, allowing the use of an off-the-shelf Web browser like Internet Explorer™ (IE) or Firefox™. In some cases, both types of interfaces are offered, allowing great flexibility in deploying systems.

For the proprietary software systems, there will be an application to install on a computer, and often this requires some sort of license agreement and purchase. This can limit the number of machines on which you can install software, but that may not be a huge problem as there could be other limitations on a number of clients, either by an organizational constraint (only select employees need to view the system) or hardware constraint (the device can only support a given number of streams/clients).

Web-based systems are usually quicker to deploy, as most PCs already have a browser installed, and there is usually minimal, if any, configuration to do on the viewing station. Browser-based products can also offer a degree of choice in computer platform, allowing the use of Windows® PCs as well as Macs and even possibly Linux boxes. This is because browsers are designed to meet standards, for the most part, that are the same no matter what platform is running the browser. 

There are exceptions to this. A big one that plagues our industry quite often is the use of ActiveX controls. ActiveX is a scripting language that Microsoft™ has in IE that allows control of functions in a Web page. Because this is a feature built into Windows, it is very easy for a programmer to implement control of his or her Web pages with ActiveX. The only problem is there is no support for ActiveX controls outside of Windows. If a DVR client is designed to use ActiveX, you may find problems trying to use other platforms with that product. 

As far as functionality, the software-based system comes out ahead most of the time. When a programmer builds an application from scratch, they can put in whatever they need to accomplish the design team’s goals. This does offer limitations on platform, as mentioned earlier, which means that the application needs to be developed for PC, Mac, etc. It is possible to port an application from one platform to another, but because the Windows PC is the dominant product in the market, most companies don’t put resources into cross-platform programming. 

Web-based apps, on the other hand, have to be written to conform to standards-based specifications that limit what a programmer can do. This is good for Web sites in general, as it guarantees a similar viewing experience for everyone, no matter what type of computer they are using, but it restricts the technologies that can be used to render and display video, control DVRs, etc. Another limitation is the size of the application. Web-based applications are designed to be very small, fast-loading programs that conserve bandwidth. This also places limitations on what functions and features can be put into an application. 

The bottom line: if flexibility and cross-platform installations are important to you, a Web-based system might best fit your needs. If high performance and a high level of functionality is the priority, and you only have PCs to contend with, then a software-based client would be the way to go. 

With regard to WAN vs. LAN (local area network) connections, the software generally doesn’t make a difference. The Web-based app is generally better equipped for functioning over the Internet, while the proprietary program is often better suited for a private network, but these are generalizations and exceptions do apply.

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