Too little, too Lite? Not if it is a Sprite Lite

March/April 2000 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

The advance of multiplexer technology has lead to units which only a few years ago would have been defined as cutting edge now being promoted as entry level solutions. In the past, the quad display unit and the simple mechanical video switcher used to offer a good option for smaller CCTV solutions or those which were constrained by a tight budget. However, now there is little reason for the benefits associated with multiplexing not to be enjoyed by all systems.

Some have criticised low-cost multiplexers for sacrificing quality to achieve a financial saving but the day of the £500 (R5,500) mux has well and truly arrived. The Sprite Lite from Dedicated Micros claims to be the next step on from basic entry-levels multiplexers but still retains a £500 (R5,500) price tag for the most basic model. PSI took a look at one to see if it offered anything to professional installers, or was just another unit achieving low costs by cutting corners.

Too lite?

The word 'lite' appended to any product is usually a cause for concern. It generally means that some tasty or important ingredient has been deliberately left out and you will probably end up being dissatisfied with it. Dedicated Micros prove that there is an exception to this rule and it comes in the shape of the Sprite Lite video multiplexer. Lite in this case mostly applies to the price, since the technical specification would not look out of place on a multiplexer costing several thousand rands more. Altogether, there are eight versions of the Sprite Lite. They are available in nine or 16 video input models, with simplex or duplex versions and colour or monochrome options available. This ensures that there is a Sprite Lite for virtually any application. The PSI review sample was a simplex model which supported nine black and white camera inputs. It is promoted as the entry-level variant and is the cheapest in the range, selling for around £500 (R5,500). Given that this is about as low as any engineer will expect to pay for a multiplexer, surely there must be a raft of missing features and functions? Well, true to a Dedicated Micros product, all the necessary functions seem to be present and correct!

The headline feature is a choice of four selectable display formats.

These are full screen display, picture in picture display, quad mode and multiscreen layouts. The latter mode offers a choice of three layouts (3 x 3, 4 x 4 and 2 + 8). Each camera channel has an 8 x 16 activity detection grid with five levels of sensitivity. Although this is a very basic version of video motion detection, it is useful in certain applications and is a whole lot more than most £500 (R5,500) multiplexers will offer.

Cameras can be assigned user-programmable titles to enhance the level of operation and each one has an associated alarm input (via an external alarm module). Secondary video features include 2x zoom and freeze frame.

Default alarm actions upon receipt of an external trigger include displaying an on-screen message and interleave recording. The output from the alarmed camera is also shown on the main monitor and one of two relays closes for the duration of the event. A similar set of actions occurs when activity is detected on one of the camera inputs via the activity detection function and this will activate the second internal relay.

Installation and set-up procedures are handled by a simple menu- driven on-screen display. The multiplexer has two monitor outputs (spot and main) and two levels of password protection to prevent unauthorised access to the on-screen menus and operating mode. The unit automatically detects active camera inputs and 75 W loop-through termination is set to on by default.

Build quality

In common with its better-specified stablemates, this model is housed in a slim rack-mountable metal case measuring 432 x 325 x 48 mm. Inside there are just two fairly small PCBs linked together by edge connectors. The smaller of the two appears to be responsible for handling control and display functions whilst the larger is concerned with video processing and switching. Dedicated digital video processing microchips and surface mount components are used

throughout and the standard of construction is very high. On the front panel there are two groups of buttons - a row of nine on the left-hand side are utilised as the camera selectors whilst four on the right-hand side are for selecting display mode and cursor movement on the on-screen display.

On the far right of the unit there is a Mode button which switches between Live, Play, Spot and Record functions.

The rear panel has two rows of BNC sockets for the camera inputs and loop-throughs, VCR input and output and monitor connections. A multipin connector handles the VCR alarm and camera switching connections and there are two RJ-45 sockets. One of these is for the external

alarm module whilst the other is labelled C-Bus. This is utilised for DM's proprietary serial communications system - marketed as their 'e- support' remote diagnostics and programming tool - although this does not appear to be functional on the baseline model.

Set-up and installation

Installation is, or at least it should be, completely painless, but many professional installers will feel that it is let down by inadequate instructions. Our test unit came with a multilingual set- up guide. However, the English language section is just seven sparsely printed pages long, and is supported by a two-sided quick reference card. It was our feeling that Dedicated Micros has basically tried too hard to make the installation process look simple but in doing so has omitted to mention several key functions - functions which we only stumbled upon by sheer chance.

The problems begin with the on-screen display.

The booklet and card show how to call up the menu system - pressing and holding the mode button - but fail to say how to move between menus (press the mode button again). The instructions also omit to point out that individual camera set-up screens can be called up by pressing and holding the selector buttons. There is nothing written about the camera sequence menu which is accessed by pressing and holding the full screen button, nor is it explained that camera

sequencing can be engaged and disabled. There is surprisingly not even a mention of how to switch between quad display and PIP screen modes.

There may well be even more hidden functions that we did not find! In any event, the instructions are something of a shambles and the supporting documentation needs to be completely revised.

Thanks to the cursory instructions it also requires a fair amount of trial and error to figure out how the activity detection grid is set up. Fortunately it is not difficult to grasp but the time spent achieving this is another unnecessary delay in what should be a quick and simple procedure.

Operation

Routine operations are fairly straightforward, although the Sprite Lite does have a few little quirks which may or may not prove irritating to some installers and operators. On most multiplexers it is possible to directly access a particular camera display from a quad or multiscreen display by simply pressing the relevant camera selector button. This is not the case with this model, as the camera selector buttons merely switch the quad display around. To display a particular camera input it is first necessary to engage the full screen mode, then make the selection.

The positions of the camera titles and time and date displays are fixed. This is not a huge problem but we can foresee that there may be occasions when they could obscure detail.

Performance Monochrome resolution is claimed to be 832 x 512 pixels with 1024 levels of grey and this specification is in line with our findings.

Full screen 'live' images are crisply defined with plenty of fine detail. There was also no increase in noise levels on the video outputs going to the monitor or VCR.

There was an inevitable drop in picture quality in the zoom mode but this was no worse than normal and the image still contained a lot of useful detail. The cursor buttons act like a virtual pan/tilt control, changing the area of the image being displayed. Movement is

smooth and easy to control.

Recordings replayed through the multiplexer can be viewed in any of the live/record display modes (ie full screen, quad, picture in picture, multiscreen). Image stability is very good indeed with no additional reduction in quality over and above that introduced by the video recorder.

In conclusion

Leaving aside the instructions for the moment, Dedicated Micros have put together a superbly well-specified product at a remarkably low price. Technically it is hard to fault, although there is scope to tidy up the control system and make it a little more intuitive.

Dedicated Micros has skimped on the instructions and has done itself no favours whatsoever by forgetting to mention key functions. As a result, the package might initially seem to offer less than it really does.

Fortunately, this one quibble can be resolved quickly and easily and does not affect our overall conclusion that the Sprite Lite's specification, performance and above all low cost should make the many and varied advantages of video multiplexing available to a much wider market.

As an entry level multiplexer, the Sprite Lite basic model gives more to the engineer than many competing products could. The variety throughout the range ensures that many applications will be able to benefit from lower costs when considering multiplexing options.

Certainly the unit has fewer negative points than other products pitched into the same section of the CCTV marketplace and as such is recommended to installers ... an instruction upgrade would serve to make it better!

For details contact Will Nuttall of Dedicated Micros, on tel: (0944) 161 727 3350, fax: (0944) 161 727 3314 or e-mail: wnuttall@dmicros.com




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