On the Topic of Technology… 4

7 05 2012

May 7, 2012

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Today’s blog article has an unusual tie in with Oracle.

The last couple of weeks I have been experimenting with video technology.  Computer related video capabilities have certainly changed over the years.  In 1996 I purchased a Sony Handicam and a Video Snappy.  The Sony video camera was capable of recording video with about 480 lines of resolution (NTSC standard) with a 10x optical zoom and recording capability in just 0.6 LUX of lighting.  The Video Snappy plugs into a computer’s parallel (old style printer) port, connects to the Sony video camera by an RCA style video cable, and converts the live video feed from the video camera to still photos.  Combined with a 120MHz Pentium processor, it seemed to be a state-of-the-art setup at the time (of course ignoring the capabilities of the Commodore Amiga/Newtek Video Toaster).  A picture of the Sony/Snappy configuration is shown below.

Of course the video capabilies of current tablets, cell phones, and digital cameras far exceed what was available in the 1990s – video recording with those devices was described in the previous blog article in this series (see the link at the top of this article).

A product that I recently found is the Synology DiskStation DS212+, which has some remarkable features considering that its primary objective is to provide an external hard drive array with RAID 1.  This particular unit ships without hard drives, so I purchased two Western Digital 2TB Green hard drives.  The external hard drive enclosure includes an SD media card reader, a single USB 2 port, two USB 3 ports, and an ESATA port to allow connecting additional external hard drives, printers, and wireless cards.  While not much larger than the hard drives installed in the unit, it certainly offers much more than access to those drives.  The DS212+ offers FTP services (including secure FTP), an iSCSI interface, DHCP services, media sharing services, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, a remarkable operating system that fully renders console screens in a web browser without the use of Adobe Flash (uses HTML 5 and CSS 3), and more.

The Synology DiskStation DS212 line’s disk throughput is limited by a combination of CPU performance and gigabit network maximum transfer speed, with the DS212+ offering the fastest rated transfer speed of roughly 108 MB/s read (very close to the maximum speed of gigabit Ethernet) and 66 MB/s write.  The Synology DS212+ is pictured below, measuring roughly the same height as five books on the topic of Oracle Database.

So, what does the first picture have in common with the second?  More about that commonality later.

Below is a screen capture of the Synology DS212+ operating system GUI (graphical user interface) rendered in Internet Explorer 9, roughly 21 minutes after powering on the unit for the first time and installing the latest version of the operating system.  As seen below, the 2TB drives were 84% formatted roughly six and a half minutes after I connected for the first time (a verify process lasting several hours started immediately after the format, but the hard drives were accessible during this verify process).

The operating system renders resizable, movable, drag and drop capable, right-clickable windows within the web page.  Several of the free optional packages for the DS212+; a resource meter showing CPU, memory, and network utilization; current network connections; and recent log entries are shown in the picture below.

So, what function does the DS212+ serve other than consuming electricity?  That is still a question that I am trying to answer, but I have only had access to the system for a couple of days.  I installed several of the free optional packages (after downloading the latest version from the company’s website), and experimented a bit.  The screen capture below shows the DS212+ playing an Internet radio stream (the channel was essentially selected at random), while simultaneously playing back a 640 pixel by 480 pixel video.

Incidentally, the above video was captured in a completely dark room using infrared lights that are built into the video camera.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, over the last couple of weeks I have spent a bit of time working with video technology.  Pictured below are two TriVision NC-107WF video cameras and a SanDisk 32GB micro SD memory card that works with the cameras.  I have also worked with a couple of TriVision NC-107W video cameras, which lack an infrared cut filter, resulting in poor color rendering.

So, what has 16 years of technology progress provided, comparing to the Sony Handycam shown at the start of this article?  The camera shown below records video at 640 pixels by 480 pixels, much like the Sony Handycam, so that feature has not improved much.  The TriVision camera digitally records nearly a month’s worth of video to a memory card that is about the size of a thumbnail, while the Sony Hanycam digitally records between a half hour and two hours of video to a tape that is about the size of an average person’s fist.  The TriVision camera records black and white video in complete darkness due to its built in infrared lights, while the Sony Handycam records excellent completely black videos in the same lighting conditions.

Surprisingly, there are no reviews of the TriVision line of cameras on Amazon.  The cameras appear to be a clone of the (Amazon) highly rated Sharx Security brand of security cameras.  Unlike some of the other security cameras on the market, this camera ships with a well written user manual (with only a small number of typos).  Offering motion detection, support of up to 32 GB of storage, automatic upload of video and still photos to an FTP server, live streaming through desktop web browsers and mobile devices, and a handful of other capabilities, it is hard to believe just how much technology is stuffed into such a small package.  The wireless range when paired with a Cisco 1250 series access point is impressive, but not terribly impressive when paired with a consumer grade Linksys/Cisco wireless router with integrated antennas.  Poor wireless performance is not necessarily a problem, since the camera stores recorded video to the memory card until the specified FTP server is accessible.  The cameras ship with Multi-live software that permits simultaneous viewing and recording of up to 36 cameras directly from the video streams, which is helpful if an FTP server is not configured.

Reliability of the TriVision NC-107WF/NC-107W cameras is still an unknown.  I have experienced occasional glitches accessing the built-in web server, making it impossible to adjust the camera settings (power cycling the camera seems to correct this issue), however those glitches apparently do not affect video recording or uploading of the captured video to FTP servers.

I have also spent a bit of time working with TriVision’s NC-306W outdoor wireless video cameras, which are shown in the picture below.  The NC-306W camera appears to be a clone of the (Amazon) highly rated Sharx video camera.  The web-based configuration of the NC-306W is nearly identical to that of the NC-107WF.  A 32GB memory card with automatic FTP uploading is supported, as is two-way audio (the NC-107WF supports one-way audio).

Since there are no reviews of the Trivision NC-306W, it is difficult to determine the long-term reliability of this camera.  During installation, one of the mounting nuts snapped due to over-torquing, but that nut is only needed for overhead mounting as seen in the picture below (the mounting nut is attached directly between the sun shield at the top of the camera and the white colored dial at the end of the mounting rod).  As with the TriVision NC-107WF/NC-107W cameras, the built-in web server has occasionally stopped responding, but that problem has not affected video capture or FTP upload.

Below is a screen capture of a video stream from a TriVision NC-107WF camera.  The original video quality was slightly better than pictured below (conversion of the screen capture to JPG format caused some detail loss).  The same scene captured by a TriVision NC-107W camera would have a pink, purple, or red cast due to the presence of infrared light (the NC-107WF and NC-306W are able to selectively filter out the infrared light).

I had hoped to upload a couple of videos captured by the cameras, however, WordPress apparently does not support directly uploaded video formats.  I plan to update this blog article as I better understand all of the features that the Synology Diskstation DS212+ offers, and to provide reliability updates of the DS212+ and the TriVision cameras.