Painted into a Corner

When I first co-wrote Milestone Surveillance Lite and XXV we had a performance problem. My PC was a Celeron 300, and the Axis 200+ was unable to stream more than a couple of frames per second. Analog Matrix systems would run full framerate (25 or 30 fps), show 9 or even 16 cameras at any given time, and have virtually zero lag for joystick control.

As the hardware became more powerful we were able to add more cameras. Few people ran XXV (named after its ability to show 25 cameras) at full capacity, but 25 was more than 16 and more is better. People had the theoretical option to run 25 cameras which was a good selling point. People understood the argument instantly.

Since the jump in cameras on the screen was such a good story, we went on and said why not place 64 cameras on the screen at once. Again, few people ever ran 64, but they had the option. Again 64 is better than 25, and it is such a simple principle to explain.. more = better.

Now we can do hundreds of cameras on the screen at once. No-one can make sense of what is going on, but more is better..


What would happen if we released a software that went back to 16 cameras? Would anyone buy such a system? Since we’ve kept preaching that more is better, then 16 must surely be vastly inferior to a 200 camera layout.

That’s a difficult sales-pitch!

We’ve painted ourselves into a corner. Leading the clients to believe that “more is better”. More features, more cameras, more frames per second and so on.

Which would be true if we had infinite resources.

When a company decides to spend time on A, then they are NOT spending time on B. Adding one more camera driver, might mean that the IP auto-detection function did not get done, spending a lot of time on optimizing the decoding pipeline means NOT spending time on simplifying the UI and so on.

I think people like the idea that they CAN go to 100 cameras, just like the speedometer suggests that I can go to 160 mph if i so desire.

Truth is, we never do, and we really can’t – even if we tried.

The iPhone showed the world that people will trade more for less, if things are done right. The world was awash with phones that had myriads of  features. Microsoft laughed at Apple – a phone with no bluetooth, no exchange server support, no cut-and-paste! Microsoft had long followed the strategy that five shitty features had to be better than one good one, and now a newcomer was going to do things totally differently. No chance they would succeed.

Perhaps video surveillance is different.

Why do people REALLY need a 64 camera view? Help me out here!


3 thoughts on “Painted into a Corner

  1. Morten, you’re right, more cameras on-screen at the same time will solve an increasingly small minority of your customer’s problems. It’s also not a challenge that Moore’s Law isn’t going to solve for us anyway–thus it’s not going to be a differentiator.

    We’re at the point where we need to go to customer sites and watch them work. Then try to figure out when and why they do things like bring up a particular camera on a spot monitor, how they perform an investigation, when and why they follow activity from camera to camera, etc. Systems that better facilitate those types of activities will provide more value to customers than will those that show more cameras.

    I really like the idea of a 16 channel display system. Plop that down in front of a customer and if they say “that’s not enough cameras” start asking them “why?” Keep asking “why” until you reach the point where they describe the problem they’re trying to solve. Then figure out a way to solve that problem with only a 16 camera display.

  2. prescienta says:

    My impression is that client apps try to be everything to everybody; It’s built with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality, meaning – it only really fits a small subset of users.

    For some clients, a 100 camera view serves a practical purpose. What I’ve seem people do is to create one large view with all their cameras. This gives them a sense of “overview”. They can quickly tell if cameras are going offline etc. The secondary purpose is that they use it as a “camera picker”. They simply maximize the camera they want to see. When they are done, they minimize it, and get back to the “situation overview” panel.

    I don’t know if anyone did any stats on this; but if we categorize all use incidents, would we not see that the majority of incidents in regular surveillance apps can be boiled down to just a few use cases that cover 90% of all situations. Yet we often design the system to cater for the last 10%. It’s like a sacrificing a good grip of a screwdriver to make it work as a hammer too – a screwdriver that works like a hammer too MUST be better than one that does not, and why not make it work as a thermometer and a knife now that we are at it.. in the end, we have a shitty screwdriver, a shitty hammer, a shitty thermometer and a shitty knife. People who need any of those things would probably prefer a “pure” screwdriver over the hybrid one. Yet, if you ASK them in a forum group they will say that they prefer the hybrids (since they do more). So I totally agree with your strategy to figure out what PROBLEM the client is facing, instead of just trying to bolt more features on.

  3. Brother Brad says:

    Less is more. Companies made a 64 camera view for fun and people took is too seriously. Shoot . . . I have PIP on my tv and never use it 😉 I view what i want to view when i want to view it. Thank goodness for remotes. Hey there is an idea . . . a remote driven version of Ocularis!

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