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Reviewing Merit Lilin’s CMX VMS software

May 19th, 2012 by Kevin Bowyer

Lilin CMX VMS and Lilin logo

We’ve fired up and installed Merit Lilin’s 72-channel VMS software ‘CMX’ and taken a quick look at its usability, its main features, its suitability for its market and its downfalls.

Can free VMS software from an IP camera manufacturer compare with established premium VMS brands like Milestone or popular NAS-based surveillance systems like those from QNAP?

Free IP camera recording software released by IP camera manufacturers has historically been fairly lacklustre and lacking in features and performance, consisting of either a cut-down version of the manufacturer’s paid-for VMS suite with limited features, or being itself limited to only a single camera license, meaning that for all but the smallest security systems, the software is little or no use.

Contrast this with Merit Lilin who, on the other hand, provide software for up to 72 cameras at no additional cost bundled with their IP cameras. But is it worth the savings made? We’ve taken a look at the software to see how it stands up to the competition.

Key Findings

  • For multi-camera installations where only Lilin cameras are installed, CMX delivers a solid surveillance platform, offering all the basic features, as well as some of the more advanced ones, that a basic security system requires.
  • ePOS integration is a unique feature for a free VMS tool
  • Despite a large feature set, CMX is not as polished as systems such as Milestone’s XProtect. The user interface is less professional, less intuitive and sometimes difficult to operate.
  • Mobile support, while appreciated, is limited
  • A free VMS at 72 channels from a major manufacturer is unique
  • Missing some key features such as carousel viewing and hotspot windows

Scope

We’ve taken a look at the features available in Merit Lilin’s CMX 3.6 software on a Windows PC. We’ve not tested Merit Lilin’s CMX Advanced or the PoS integration.

Versions and compatibility

There are two versions of the software available, CMX 3.6 and CMX 3.6 Advanced. The only difference between the two is that the standard version is limited to 16 concurrent cameras, while the advanced version can handle 36. We are told by Lilin that the camera limit has just been increased to 72, allowing for large-scale surveillance systems to be created. Both versions are available for free, but the Advanced license requires registration with Merit Lilin.

The software is compliant with all Merit Lilin IP security cameras, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) and video encoders. When we saw mention of ONVIF in the software’s interface we had hoped third-party cameras would be accessible, but this is for Lilin cameras only. This limits any system based on CMX to Merit Lilin cameras, but that’s to be expected and we’ll not hold that against them.

User interface

Merit Lilin's CMX 72-channel VMS

On first inspection, the user interface of the software looks professional enough, featuring the standard 4×4 grid. Double-clicking a camera will enlarge it to full screen, while right-clicking exposes contextual options to change video and recording settings. It’s a little basic but perfectly usable, though there are no custom layouts, carousel capabilities or hotspot window functionality as we would expect from a VMS which is actually to be deployed in the field.

We found the button layout confusing. Like most VMS applications, there are control buttons to switch a camera between live view and playback, but these are mixed in with user control, PTZ control and property pages. This makes the user interface more cluttered than it needs to be, especially when these buttons will be unauthorised and grayed-out for most users. it’s all a touch messy.

Key features

The software comes with a number of features which are rare in VMS applications, and even rarer in the good, free ones.

Mobile access

For monitoring on the move, there are a number of technologies available. For Windows, Mac and Linux PCs, CMX comes with an integrated web server powered by a Java application. iPhone and iPad users can download an app from the iTunes app store (LiveCams Pro) for a small fee (currently £0.69) which will integrate with CMX, while the Android app is available free of charge. Both Android and iPhone apps are developed by third party companies.

We tested all three methods for remote access across a local area network and while all three connected up for viewing relatively easily, the live view using this method seemed limited to about 1fps. We would have expected higher frame rates on an unstressed local network, though for remote access over the internet, this would be just about acceptable. This mobile stream is also limited to single JPEG images only, not making use of the H.264 video streaming capability available in the cameras.

The comparable Milestone offering, Mobile server, is a free bolt-on to a Milestone installation and delivers more fluid streaming, even across internet connections.

ePOS integration

Electronic Point of Sale (ePOS) integration is designed for use in retail environments. With the addition of a separately available hardware ePOS unit or barcode scanner (connected via RS232 or PS/2) the VMS software is sent information on each sale going through the till. This information is recorded with and made visible on-screen with the video feed from a camera located at the till or other device, allowing administrators to check individual transactions to pinpoint loss or theft. Administrators can also perform conditional searches for the sale of a specific item or price to quickly locate an recorded event which has been tagged with the recorded information. It’s a basic ePOS implementation, yet a powerful feature and will appeal to retail shop and small business owners struggling to justify outlay on ePOS and IP security.

Additionally, ePOS is tied in with CMS in such a way that alarms can be raised on events such as till draws being left open. Here’s a short video explaining this feature:

Similar systems are available, such as Milestone’s XProtect Transact, but this is a premium upgrade to an existing system, making it a costly system to setup.

Recording to Networked drives

In addition to internal and external hard drives, the software is capable of recording to networked drives. This is a very useful feature not available on some premium surveillance applications, such as Milestone XProtect Essential. This means that for larger systems, recording capacity isn’t limited to the number of hard drives that can be installed into the server.

Wrapping up

While the CMX user interface doesn’t have the polished feel of premium brand applications, it is perfectly usable though, so that even non-technical users can utilise system functionality.

The feature set available from the software is very good for a free application, considering that features such as NAS drive recording and point-of-sale integration are not available in Milestone’s entry-level offering, instead requiring an upgrade or premium “bolt-on” application.

There is still work for Merit Lilin to do to compare directly with premium brands, such as improved streaming for the mobile client or a coalesced settings page, but for basic use, the software provides all features necessary to build a powerful, but basic surveillance system. Its suitability for the retail sector stands out in particular.

Detailed technical information for CMX
CM registration

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