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Evaluation: Panasonic i-Pro WJ-NV200 Network Video Recorder

June 2nd, 2011 by Kevin Bowyer

Panasonic WJ-NV200 Network Video Recorder

Panasonic has recently released a new range of HD quality security cameras, offering smooth video footage and improved clarity over previous models. However, without the means to easily view, manage and record the increased video quality, the improvements are wasted.

With this in mind, Panasonic has released the WJ-NV200, an updated Network Video Recorder (NVR) that focusses on integration with the new camera range. Recording is available for 16 Panasonic cameras alongside a choice of either 2 or 4 TB hard drive configurations.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the NVR to see how well it performs.

Summary of Key Findings

The Panasonic WJ-NV200 has an automatic setup system that is ideal for basic installations by non-technical users. Navigation of the system is straightforward.

The WJ-NV200 is not ideal for those seeking an advanced surveillance solution. The manual system setup is not as intuitive as it could be and the lack of keyboard support further complicates matters. The system does not integrate deeply enough with camera functionality, meaning that users must log into each camera for configuration of certain settings.

The Face Matching system is also not as well developed as we had hoped. It is around 80% effective in ideal conditions and acts well as a tool for alerting monitoring staff, but is not an effective replacement for a human.

Key Features

Compatible with HD resolution cameras

With so many new Panasonic IP cameras providing megapixel and HD video, it is important that hardware is available to make the best use of them. The WJ-NV200 has this covered, supporting resolutions up to HD 720p with frame rates of up to 30 frames per second.

HDMI output

In addition to the increased input capability, the WJ-NV200 produces high definition output. It is not equipped with a conventional VGA video port, instead featuring an HDMI interface for direct connection to flat panel TVs and monitors.

No need for PC

With a high definition TV connected as well as the included USB mouse, the device can be setup and used without the need for an additional networked PC. This makes it ideal for small surveillance networks without an existing PC infrastructure.

Facial detection and matching

Recently, most new i-Pro cameras have had some form of integrated facial detection. The system analyses captured video and can detect faces in view, either triggering recording or adjusting the video settings to improve definition.

The WJ-NV200 takes this one step further. The device can hold ‘mugshots’ of up to 100 people and can compare these images with any faces detected by connected cameras. Whenever a match is found events can be triggered, such as recording or alarm outputs.

H.264 video compression

Support is available for H.264 video compression in addition to MJPEG and MPEG-4. H.264 is the latest compression format to be adopted by IP camera manufacturers, producing MJPEG-level quality with MPEG-4 level bandwidth use.

16-camera compatibility

Up to 16 cameras can be recorded from the device simultaneously. With a choice of either 2 TB or 4 TB hard drive configurations, there is ample space for storing recordings.

Automatic installation

The WJ-NV200 is designed to be easy to use and features an automatic camera-setup facility. Cameras can be plugged into the network without any prior configuration – IP settings will be supplied by the recorder. For standalone camera systems this should drastically reduce the amount of time required for installation.

Remote viewing

Similar to most other network video recorders on the market, the WJ-NV200 provides remote web-based access for live video and recordings. Remote viewing is limited to Internet Explorer but provides an easy way to use the system off-site.

SD recording

To make simplify the video export process, the unit features an SD card slot. Recorded video can be exported directly to the card for easy transport.

BNC output port

As well as the HDMI port, the unit also includes a BNC analogue video output, providing video for analogue TVs and monitors. This is useful for scenarios such as shop security where an analogue screen is required for display on the shop floor.

Audio output

Users can listen to audio from compatible cameras by connecting powered speakers to the recorder. The unit will output audio from one device at a time, selected by clicking the corresponding live view or playing back a recording.

ONVIF support

ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) is an open network standard designed to make it easy to connect network video devices from different manufacturers. Any camera also supporting the ONVIF standard can be connected to the WJ-NV200.

Evaluation

System Use

Navigation of the monitoring page is straightforward. Live camera views are shown on the left in either single, 4- or 16-camera configurations with the control panel on the right for selecting cameras, reviewing recordings or exporting video.

Switching between playback and live video is performed with a single click and the switchover from one to the other is instant. Footage can be located quickly using the calendar and time settings but there is also an intelligent search function which can search footage in a specific section of the camera’s field of view, handy for locating motion around particular objects or areas.

We found the mouse movement a little jerky when moving around and there is a short pause whenever a button is pressed, especially when entering the setup menu. This can be quite frustrating when using the device for extended periods.

Setup and Configuration

The automatic setup system requires no configuration of individual cameras. The system searches the local network for cameras and displays them in a table. Once cameras are detected you can choose which devices you wish to add to the system.

For cameras that have a default configuration, the WJ-NV200 will setup the camera with a unique compatible IP address. For standalone systems this is quite a time saver. However, we found the system to be quite limited. The unit takes full control of camera setup and does not give users the option to specify IP address ranges. These can be set manually in each of the cameras, but this defeats the purpose of the system.

Facial Detection

We were quite excited about this feature. Facial detection is a very specialist field. Even for high-end camera systems it is rare to see such a feature and we can see many applications where it could be effective (for example, shop entrances).

For a person to be added to the system, they must first be captured on camera. Users must then search through recordings until a facial shot is found. The system can be set to store that facial shot and detect whenever that person appears again.

We tested the system using a Panasonic WV-SC385 camera with five people added to the unit. Two of those people would stand in front of the camera at a distance or around 2 m to test its accuracy.

The system worked quite well, but is not without its limitations. On medium sensitivity, the detection software kept raising false alarms, incorrectly matching people. In addition, there were times when it would not match people even when they were stood directly in front of the camera.

The best results were achieved when the sensitivity was set low. Once this was set we had an 80% success rate of matching the correct person, but there were still times when the person was directly in view and not detected.

Remote Access

We tested remote access using Internet Explorer on a Windows 7-based computer.

The remote web client isn’t a mirror of the installed software. The web interface is a cut-down interface with no access to setup options. It is purely for live monitoring or reviewing recordings. That being said, it works very well. Navigating live views is straightforward and switching between live and recorded footage is intuitive. Accessing recordings is also easy.

There is an option to download video through the browser. This downloads .n3r files similar to that of the SD download function, with an additional option to download a viewer.

Panasonic WJ-NV200 Network Video Recorder Web Interface

Compatibility

The WJ-NV200 is designed to be compatible with Panasonic’s i-Pro range of IP cameras and supports most i-Pro features, such as HD resolution, facial detection, audio and pan/tilt. We also tested Panasonic’s BL/BB range of cameras and were pleased to see that these were supported as well. It’s good to see that there is a hardware solution available for home/office users if required. Additionally this gives scope for installers to specify less expensive cameras should budget constraints be an issue.

It is also possible to add IP cameras from Axis Communications. We tested the camera with an Axis P3344. The system can pull megapixel resolution video from the camera but the compression format is limited to MJPEG. We found the video being pulled from the camera was uneven, pausing for a fraction of a second every few seconds. It’s wise to note when investigating the use of such a setup that should a problem arise, getting technical support will be difficult. Panasonic will not provide support for third-party cameras and Axis will not provide support for third-party recorders. In short, integration of the two manufacturers will be down to the installer.

Price Point

The WJ-NV200 is priced at £1,649, in line with what we would expect. The unit is cheaper than similar Sony 20-channel and QNAP 16-channel devices (NSR-1050H and VS-4016U-RP PRO respectively) putting it in a strong position.

In addition to this, when compared to a software-based security solution such as a 16-channel installation of Milestone XProtect professional, The WJ-NV200 works out to be around £1,000 less expensive. Having said that, the Milestone software is scalable so if only some of the channels were being used the system would be cheaper.

Conclusion

In testing the WJ-NV200 we found that it is both very easy and very difficult to setup, depending on your requirements. The automatic setup system is good at improving installation times but only for basic systems with no existing configuration on cameras. In addition to this, only very basic settings are made automatically by the recorder. To make the best use of the features available users must log directly into each camera. Taking into consideration that this unit was designed by Panasonic for its own cameras, we find it strange that there is no integrated access to more advanced camera settings from the WJ-NV200 itself. For a system that is designed to prevent the need to log directly into the cameras, this is a notable shortcoming.

There are also many instances where it seems that Panasonic wasn’t thinking clearly with regards to setup. One example is using a mouse to control the device. Adding integrated mouse support to the unit makes it a lot easier to navigate, control and setup. However, there are a lot of settings on the system that would be far simpler to use with text input. Setting IP settings using an up/down button system makes a 2-minute job into a 10-minute job. Adding a second USB port for a keyboard, even if it was only used for configuration, would have been extremely useful.

The remote client works very well, allowing users to access video and recordings without direct access to the recorder. It’s a shame that it is limited to Internet Explorer at present, but the biggest drawback by far is that there is no access to any settings. We had hoped that in addition to direct control using the mouse and monitor we would be able to get the same interface using a web connection, perhaps allowing systems to be maintained from a remote location, but this is not the case.

Facial detection is a key feature that will attract many users to the WJ-NV200. However, user expectations will be high and the system must perform efficiently. With a successful detection rate of around 80%, the system is a step in the right direction, but it is by no means a replacement for a human. These tests were performed in ideal conditions and it would not take much for the system to be circumvented.

The SD card-based export system works very well. Even inexperienced users can quickly specify the video to be used with only a few button presses. As with the web interface, the exported footage is available for Microsoft Windows only, using a software-based viewer program to display footage. Again, this limits the usability of the system.

Our View

The WJ-NV200 is a powerful surveillance tool, but only when specified correctly. For relatively small surveillance networks without any existing cameras, where the system will be used primarily by non-technical users, the WJ-NV200 is an extremely useful unit which will perform efficiently at a reasonable price. Installation and configuration will be straightforward and users will be able to easily navigate the video feeds and export evidence as required.

However, users looking to make use of more advanced features will find the unit limited and complex. It is not integrated deeply enough into camera functionality and the manual setup system is clunky and slow.

It’s almost as if Panasonic have created this unit as a halfway-house between older analogue systems and IP surveillance. For those who are just looking to hook up the cameras and record video without the need to understand how IP works, the WJ-NV200 fits the bill perfectly, but those looking to use more advanced features will struggle.

One Response to “Evaluation: Panasonic i-Pro WJ-NV200 Network Video Recorder”

  1. Sven says:

    It would be interesting to know the exact recording performance or at least some more details than just what is already listed in the datasheet:

    […]
    Compatible with HD resolution cameras

    With so many new Panasonic IP cameras providing megapixel and HD video, it is important that hardware is available to make the best use of them. The WJ-NV200 has this covered, supporting resolutions up to HD 720p with frame rates of up to 30 frames per second.
    […]

    The datasheet does not list HD720p (1280×720), only 1280×960 is supported. Will this be a problem when using the 16:9 format?

    And will the device be able to record 16 x 30 Fps x HD720p (or 1280×960)?

    I have searched for a calculation tool at the Pana pages, but I have not found anything. Axis is having its design tool which makes it really comfortable to get a first indication of the consumed storage and bandwidth…

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