Axis Communications Q1614: The Overachieving Indoor IP Network Camera

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There are IP cameras, and then there’s this camera. The Axis Communications Q1614 stands above and apart from what you’re used to seeing, and what follows are the reasons why this camera isn’t like any of the others. Many cameras simply capture images; some might have limited recording options, and onboard memory card storage. The Q1614 does all this, and so much more.

It all starts with the hardware. With a CS-type mount, you can easily remove the lens that comes with it and install any compatible lens, including one with a DC-powered iris, letting you tailor it to your needs. The included lens is a varifocus 2.8 - 8mm f/1.2 with an automatic P-iris and a 135- to 43-degree field of view. Behind the lens is a 1/3" RGB CMOS progressive-scan image sensor. This combination of changeable lenses and large sensor sets the stage for the feature-rich surveillance software to show you what it can do.

Setup and Live View

Let’s start with the screen you’re going to see the most of: the live view main screen. The layout and configuration is completely customizable per user. You can scale the size of the display up or down, depending on the size of the monitor on which you’re viewing. Since the light changes throughout the day and the year, you can turn the Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) and the Lightfinder modes on or off, and select a media-stream profile. What these features are will be discussed below. Also, from the live-view screen you can manually activate, de-activate, or pulse-activate the output terminal. Again, I’ll elaborate in a separate section, later. Finally, on this screen are the audio buttons and Pan/Tilt/Zoom virtual joystick, and a drop-down menu for selecting PTZ presets and guard tours.

Right from installation, this camera marks itself above many others. When you’ve mounted, wired, and powered it, you can have it help you make sure it’s installed properly. It has two systems to help: leveling assistant and focus assistant. Normally, an installer will have a small test monitor while they’re setting the camera position and focusing it. Many times, lighting conditions or the small size of the monitor make it hard to get the focus quite right, or the camera level. This is where these systems help. When you activate them, a series of “beeps” and blinking LEDs will let you know when the camera is in sharp focus, and the image is level. If, after you’ve packed up your ladder and are in the surveillance room, you notice that the image isn’t quite right, there’s also an automatic fine-focus that you can activate.

When it comes to setting up the cameras, you’ll find that your particular installation requires changes to the default camera settings. Also, the camera placement might cause problems with the view and picture. Adjustments to the image such as brightness, contrast, sharpness, and color saturation are easily made, as is the exposure.

 

Left: Image taken without WDR. Right: Image taken with WDR.

But what happens if you have a normally lit room with a large window that gets lots of sun? Under normal conditions, the picture will be blown out with the bright light, making the rest of the view too dark to see very much. That’s when Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) comes in handy. WDR automatically compensates for the bright light, and balances the view for clear images. Another feature is Lightfinder, which automatically changes various settings that increase the camera’s performance in low-light conditions, enhancing the view for maximum image clarity and visibility.

 

Left: Image taken without Lightfinder. Right: Image taken with Lightfinder.

Recording

A huge part of recording anything is determining to what you will be recording it. If you’re integrating the camera into a larger system, you’ll have an NVR or surveillance software to manage the footage. If it’s being used as a stand-alone camera, you can specify the pathway and record it to your computer or NAS. With either method, you run the risk of something happening to your network or the wire itself. Normally, if that were to happen, any footage is going to be lost—but not with this camera. Built into the housing is a MicroSD slot, which supports up to 64GB cards. It also comes with EDGE storage. EDGE will detect when the network connection is lost, and automatically start recording to the local card. When the connection is restored, it will automatically send the captured footage to the remote storage location, ensuring that all the data is put where it belongs. Obviously, if the connection is down for a long time, you’ll run the risk of filling the card, at which point the oldest files will be over-written first.

When privacy is a concern, there’s a system for that, too. Known as Privacy Masking, you’ll be able to black out sections of the view that won’t be visible to live view or in the recorded footage. A few examples of its application will show its usefulness:

  • Let’s say there is an access-control keypad or an ATM in the field of view. By putting a privacy mask over the keypad, you protect that individual’s access code or PIN from someone who has access to the camera view. 
  • The camera is in an office, and the HR manager’s computer is visible. She often has sensitive information on her screen, like social security numbers or salaries. A privacy mask can be used to black out her screen.
  • Finally, the camera is in a common area. In the field of view is a rest room door. Establish a privacy mask blocking the door.

The recording functions are pretty standard for an IP camera, but there are a few surprises. You can choose your resolutions, frame and bit rates, and image quality, and as you’d expect, there are the normal options: digital motion detection, manual, and scheduled. But, there’s also an external trigger option, and audio detection. You can use the schedule mode stacked with motion detection to have it only start recording when motion is detected during certain days and times.

But there’s more to the motion detection. Want the most coverage? Choose to have motion detected in the entire screen. Have a window in the view that has a lot of traffic? Draw a box around the window and have that area be excluded to reduce false alarms and save memory space. If there are only one or two ways into your viewing area, draw a box around them, and have only those zones trip the recording. In this way, by including and excluding areas, you make sure you capture only what’s important, and nothing that isn’t. There are multiple sensitivity levels as well, so you’ll be able to ignore the office cat, but capture the trespassers. Since the camera is always watching, even if it isn’t recording, there’s a small buffer that constantly holds some footage. If motion is detected (or other events like external or audio, again see below), it will grab what was happening immediately before the event was detected and capture it, ensuring you don’t miss anything. The pre-event interval is selectable, as is the post-event time period, to make sure you capture the entire event, while conserving memory.

External Devices

As I touched on earlier, there are terminals you can use to wire the camera into an alarm panel, or to wire external devices directly to it. As a stand-alone, you can have appliances like PIRs, door/window contacts, smoke detectors, glass-break sensors, or any other device activate the camera when they are tripped. Additionally, there’s an output terminal to activate an external device, like a siren or a relay. In this way, you can have a door contact cause the camera to start recording, and sound a siren or turn on lights. These in/out terminals would also let you wire it to an alarm panel to have it work in a similar way, except with central station response and any other external appliances wired into the panel. If you were to wire a door relay into the “out” terminal as discussed above, you could use the camera as an access system by using the external device button on the live screen to manually activate the relay to hold the door open for anyone to enter, or pulse-activate to release a door for a brief period, then have it automatically lock again.

Using the audio in/out RCA ports, you can integrate the camera into a PA system, or install external microphones and speakers. You can then have the microphone detect sounds and start recording. There’s also the option to use this audio capability for one or two-way communication. From the live-view screen, choose Simplex (one-way mic only), Simplex (one-way, speaker only), Half-duplex (push-to-talk, one way at a time), or Full-duplex (2-way communication). This lets you hear what’s happening, just talk, or have a conversation with someone. You can also transmit pre-recorded audio bites at the touch of a button. Upload the bite and, when it’s closing time, broadcast it.

Dual Streams

An integral part of recording any footage is to be able to retrieve and view it later. But here’s the problem with capturing everything in 1080p at 30 frames per second: if you’re viewing that live footage remotely, your computer’s video card is going to be over-worked and if you try multi-tasking you’re asking for trouble; not to mention the bandwidth you’ll be taking up, slowing entire networks down. There’s a solution for this, and its another feature that helps you more than you might realize. Using H.264 compression, the video (and audio if set up) will be transmitted very efficiently, enabling the use of dual-stream feeds. Your primary feed will be hi-res and high image quality for recording. The secondary stream will be a medium to low quality, for live-viewing. This low-res stream reduces the strain on your video card, frees up bandwidth, and allows for smoother live viewing, without sacrificing the hi-res recording you may need later if something happens.

As with so many other features, these streams are configurable, and multiple-stream profiles can be set up. Have one for daytime, another for night, and have another stream set up for motion-detection recording. An icon on the live-view screen lets you choose a stream quickly and easily. This is yet another way to maximize your security, while optimizing your memory.

Events and Actions

We’ve discussed most of the features and functions, but there’s an area that doesn’t really fit into any of the categories above: events that can happen that will trigger actions. Obvious events are things like motion-detection, or an external door contact being tripped. But it can also be when the network connection is lost, if the camera is moved or tampered with, the live-stream is accessed, the temperature gets too hot or cold, or PTZ use. These events can trigger specific actions, with multiple event/action rules able to be programmed. There are twelve available actions that can be taken when eighteen different events happen.

A simple example of this is that when motion is detected, recording starts. They can, however, be more complicated. For example, let’s say you’ve mounted your camera on a Pan/Tilt pedestal with a zoom lens installed. When motion is detected, recording starts, the camera moves to the motion and zooms in, it trips the alarm panel, and sends multiple email alerts with a screen-shot attached. Speaking of email alerts, multiple recipients can receive notifications with still images, video clips, or audio bites attached.

Pan / Tilt / Zoom

Right out of the box, this camera offers digital PTZ capabilities, meaning that you can zoom in digitally on a particular area in the field of view, and move that zoom area around, but the camera will stay stationary. Using the PT terminal and auxiliary power terminal, you’ll be able to add on a PT mount and a zoom lens to convert this camera to a true PTZ platform. Digital or physical PTZ controls are supported by the camera, using an OSD with a virtual joystick.

In addition to the pre-set points, there’s a guard-tour function that works as a virtual guard to "make rounds."

But, as with most functions of this camera, there’s more. As mentioned above, you can program the PTZ to activate as part of an Event/Action rule. You can also set up pre-set points throughout the field of view for the camera to automatically lock on and zoom in, linger, then move to the next point. This can be set to happen in a specific sequence, or to go to points at random. In addition to the pre-set points, there’s a guard-tour function that works as a virtual guard to "make rounds." Multiple guard-tour patterns can be set and selected based on your particular needs at any given time.

If you’ve given multiple users remote access to the PTZ controls, you may run into a situation where several people access the camera at the same time and each of them may want to see different things. Simply program a hierarchy of users and, if more than one person tries to control the PTZ, the commands are stored in a queue and each one will be executed after the current one is finished.

All the capabilities discussed above apply equally to the digital and physical PTZ; the only difference is that with the digital, the camera doesn’t move and is restricted to the select view. When you have a motorized PT mount, your viewable area grows and the amount of surveillance coverage increases drastically.

Remote Access

As with many IP cameras, the Axis Communications Q1614 has an Ethernet port for connecting it to a switch or a router. If it’s part of a surveillance system, this would feed everything to the NVR or surveillance software. If you’re not using it as part of a larger system, then the only way to view, change, or adjust anything is to use a web browser, like Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, even if you’re in the same building, on the same network. The manufacturer recommends using IE with a Windows OS for full compatibility, but since it’s a web-based system, you’ll be able to use any OS and browser; however, some of the features might not work perfectly. Valid usernames and passwords will be required to access the camera, and you can choose specific features and functions that different operators can use, from live-view only all the way up to full administrative permissions. Up to 20 users can simultaneously access the camera on the LAN, and an unlimited number can access it using H.264 compression with multicast mode. Again, complete customization is available for the people to whom you give access.

The Wrap-Up

This is a feature- and function-rich camera that comfortably stands alone, can be easily integrated into a larger surveillance system, or can expand the coverage and capabilities of an alarm or fire panel. With its easy-to-use operability and complete customization, you can micro-manage each aspect of the camera's abilities to perform exactly the way you need it to, capture exactly what you want it to, adjust it as conditions change, and optimize your memory—so nothing is wasted.

Signal Type  NTSC / PAL 
Image Sensor  1/3" progressive-scan RGB CMOS 
Lens  Varifocal 2.8 to 8mm f/1.2, 100° to 34° field of view
CS-mount, IR corrected, megapixel resolution
Resolution  25/30 fps mode: 1280 x 960 to 160 x 90
50/60 fps mode: 1280 x 720 to 160 x 90
Extended D1 mode: 768 x 576 to 160 x 90
Compression  Video: H.264, Motion JPEG
Audio: AAC LC 8/16/32kHz
Frame Rate  Extended D1 and 720p: up to 30 fps per channel
LightFinder mode: up to 60
Minimum Illumination 
Extended D1, 720p 25/30 fps Color: 0.05 lux - B/W: 0.008 lux
720p, 50/60 fps Color: 0.1 lux - B/W: 0.02 lux
With WDR - Dynamic Capture Color: 0.4 lux - B/W: 0.06 lux 
Audio I/O  Microphone/Line In: 3.5mm port
Line out: 3.5mm port
Alarm I/O One each on terminal block
Network Connection  RJ45 10/100 Power-over-Ethernet 
Network Protocols  IPv4/v6, HTTP, HTTPS, SSL/TLS, QoS Layer 3 DiffServ, FTP, CIFS/SMB,
SMTP, Bonjour, UPnP, SNMP v1/v2c/v3 (MIB-II), DNS, DynDNS, NTP,
RTP, TCP, UDP, IGMP, RTCP,IGMP, RTCP, ICMP, DHCP, ARP, SOCKS,
Storage Capacity  MicroSD/HC/XC card slot, up to 64GB 
Power  Power-over-Ethernet IEEE 802.3af/802.3at Type 1 Class 3, max. 10.8 W or, 8 - 28 VDC
Environmental  Temperature: 32 to 122°F (0 to 50°C)
Humidity: 10 to 85%, non-condensing
Approvals  EN 55022 Class B, EN 61000-3-2, EN 61000-3-3, EN 55024, EN 61000-6-1,
EN 61000-6-2, FCC Part 15 Subpart B Class B, ICES-003 Class B, VCCI Class B,
C-tick AS/NZS CISPR 22 Class B, KCC KN22 Class B,  KN24, IEC/EN/UL 60950-1,
EN 50121-4, IEC 62236-4, IEC/EN/UL 60950-22, IEC/EN 60529 IP66,
NEMA 250 Type 4X, IEC 60068-2-6, IEC 60068-2-27, IEC/EN 62262 IK10
Dimensions  5.4 x 3.2 x 2.2" (13.6 x 8.2 x 5.8 cm) 
Weight  2 lb (925 g)