What our experts say
Following a short run of unconventional digital video recorders, the LiLin PDR 6160A gets us back on track to normality with a DVR that looks the part and steers clear of controversial facilities and radical technologies.
If that all sounds a bit dull, stay tuned because what it lacks in glamour and glitz, the 6160 more than makes up for with a solid specification and an unusually generous feature list.
The 6160A is a part of LiLin's new 6000 range of DVRs and this one is the 16-channel version; 4 and 8 channel models are also available.
In no particular order, the highlights are MPEG-4 compression and at the lower mid-range 'Normal' picture quality setting (CIF resolution/100 fps) it can record continuously for almost 42 days per terabyte of storage space. Resolution is switchable between 720 x 240 and 320 x 240 (PAL mode) and for good measure it can record up to four audio channels.
Our review machine came with a removable 500Gb SATA drive and there's room inside the case for a second drive. It supports up to 2Tb of internal storage and up to 4Tb using external drives.
Recordings can be exported using a built-in DVD+R/RW drive and USB port in MPEG 4 or AVI format. It has motion detection (and trace) facilities, high quality SVGA and composite video monitor outputs (main and spot). There's a LAN port for network viewing, remote configuration and control plus email notification.
Multi-protocol PTZ camera support is built-in, it comes with a mouse and an infrared remote handset and should you feel the need, up to 255 DVRs can be cascaded together. There's plenty more, and we'll look at some of the more interesting secondary features as we go, but it is time now to take the guided tour.
The front panel is a rather flashy affair with lots of shiny buttons but they are logically arranged and clearly labelled. From left to right there's a drop down panel with the main transport functions and status indicators on the front and it opens - very smoothly - to reveal the DVD loading tray and the lockable caddy for the hard drive.
In the centre of the front panel is a bank of camera selector and display mode selector buttons (single/sequence, PIP, quad, 6+1, 3x3, 12+1 and 4x4). Next to that is a circular cluster of dual function buttons for menu navigation and PTZ control. Right of that are three large buttons for selecting shutdown, menu and backup functions and finally, on the far right, there's a jog/shuttle dial, one of two USB ports and a sensor window for the IR remote control handset.
Around the back is a bank of 32 BNC sockets for camera inputs and loop throughs; two more BNCs carry the main and spot video monitor outputs and beside them is a row of phono sockets for the audio inputs and single output. Nearby a 3.5mm jack socket is for an optional wired IR remote sensor. Moving along we come to a pair of PS2 and USB sockets for the mouse and to the right of that is a standard VGA D-Sub socket.
Moving to the interior of the case there's a modestly sized motherboard connected by ribbon cabling to PCBs on the front and rear panels and various daughter boards. The HDD and DVD writer drives are situated behind the front panel and behind them there is a surprisingly small PSU module and a single cooling fan mounted on the rear of the case. Now that is unusual, and something of a breakthrough! Many DVRs have a tendency to run quite hot, and often rely on a clutch of fans to keep the air circulating the record so far is five
This one remains cool, and as an added bonus it's relatively quiet too. The quality of construction appears to be generally very good, though the plasticky front panel and chrome buttons lets the side down a bit, giving it the appearance of a mid-90's VCR. Hat's off to LiLin, though, for the impressively comprehensive accessory pack.
SETUP AND OPERATION
From switch on it's up and running in a little over 30 seconds, which is pretty good going and almost certainly due to the normally very reliable Linux operating system. Although it can be adequately configured and controlled using the front panel buttons, it's much, much easier with the mouse! A task and status bar appears when the mouse pointer is moved to the bottom of the screen and clicking the menu button brings up eight options: Live for selecting monitor display format, Setup the main menu, more on that in a moment, Playback the main Search tool, Motion Tracer switches the function on and off, Zoom Mode another feature we'll come back to, Sequence on and off, Audio live sound enable/disable, and Shutdown password protected.
The designers have worked hard to make the main Setup menu easy to use though it could be argued they've gone a little too far and the graphics are a touch twee in place, but at least there's little or no need to keep consulting the manual.
It's a multi-icon affair and clicking on each one takes you to a series of sub-menus, and at this point it becomes obvious why it comes with a mouse. Navigating the menus using the front panel buttons and remote control handset is really hard work and to be avoided if at all possible.
When you click on a setup icon an even bigger icon and label appears on the screen and from left to right they are: Camera, Monitor, Record, Alarm, Network, System, PTZ and Backup. Camera leads to a series of sub-menus for setting each camera's title, disabling its input, video setup (contrast, brightness, hue, saturation), enabling video loss detection and the noise filter. The Monitor menu has a number of interesting options, including several enhancements for the VGA output, including adaptive interlace, edge preservation, moving object correction, film mode and sharpness enhancer. There are also settings for main and spot monitor sequence times.
The Record menu covers recording quality (Highest, High, Standard, Low), Frame rate (0 -25 fps, depending on the number of connected cameras), Audio on/off, Pre and Post Alarm recording times, Resolution (CIF/Field), GOP
(Group of Pictures, MPEG4 encoding options for optimising quality when recording scenes containing varying amounts of movement), Schedule Table (timer programmed recordings), HDD overwriting enable/disable and Limited Recording (imposes time limit on how long recordings can be viewed).
On the Alarm menu there are options for selecting external input and alarm type (NO/NC), setting the motion detector grid (16 x 12), motion sensitivity, alarm recording time and buzzer enable. Network includes the usually IP address, subnet mask gateway etc. settings. System deals with time/date, HDD info, password setup, system logs, factory reset video system, firmware update, OSD language and live audio on/off.
The PTZ menu is used to setup control protocols, camera presets, position and dwell times and last but not least, the Backup menu is responsible for selecting recordings and exporting them to the DVD writer or USB port, managing discs and formatting USB flash drives and selecting the export file format.
There's really not a lot to say except that the menus are all very easy to use and navigate (with the mouse). The same goes for normal day-to-day operation, and features, like display mode, image selection (use the scroll wheel for super-fast switching) and in particular the digital zoom, simply wouldn't be useable without the mouse. The latter works by the user clicking and dragging a rectangle around the area of interest, which is then blown up to full screen size. It's elegantly simple, and very effective and unlike similar systems we've used, (and got into a dreadful tangle with
) absurdly easy to cancel, by clicking the right mouse button.
The only small criticism we have concerns network setup, which on our setup proved to be a tad troublesome.
The supplied utility failed to find the DVR on the network and we had to resort to lengthy manual configuration. It's also worth noting that some features, like the email notification setup are only accessible through a network PC running the supplied viewer program or on a browser (Internet Explorer it didn't seem to like Firefox) using a downloadable Active X plugin
In the past we have had some mixed results with MPEG4 compression but this time around there were no problems and on the two highest quality setting recorded images were reasonably crisp with plenty of fine detail. Colour accuracy was good and, depending on the frame rate and GOP setting (well worth experimenting with), was able to handle quite rapid movement without blurring or artefacts. Stepping down to the Standard quality setting produced a noticeable reduction in detail and edge definition plus a fair amount of noise in heavily saturated colours. There are further losses at the Low setting, though not as much as we had expected and it is certainly adequate for general scene recording, where capturing fine detail is not a critical issue, with the useful bonus of extending the recording time.
Both the mouse controls and jog/shuttle dial work well for navigating around a recording but there is room for improvement and the top search speed of x6 simply isn't fast enough when hunting through longish segments of a recording.
Having four audio channels is a luxury and recording quality isn't half bad either with a wider than normal frequency range.
Mechanical stability is excellent and it didn't flinch during its brief encounter with the Security Installer rubber mallet.
What the manufacturer says ...
Our latest range of Digital Video Recorders use enhanced MPEG4 compression to maximise hard drive space and transmission speed across networks. They are also equipped with advanced noise reduction filters that reduce the file size of video images captured at night.
Available in 4, 8 and 16 channel versions, the PDR-6000 series builds on the success of previous LILIN DVRs by adding a DVD+RW backup facility.
The new graphic user interface makes programming and operation straightforward and intuitive, with the choice of navigating the menus via the IR remote, front panel or mouse configuration is a snap.
The main monitor output has a wide range of screen divisions with simple drag and drop camera placement and the SVGA output provides extremely high quality images on most PC TFT monitors. The Spot monitor output can display a quad split, full screen image or a sequence of either, giving two individual split screen displays for the first time.
Each DVR can be individually addressed up to 255, providing seamless integration of multiple DVRs from a single keyboard and allowing full control of over 4000 cameras.
Once connected to a network or the internet, the PDR-6000 series can be easily controlled and configured via a simple web based interface, no special software needs to be installed. Multiple user levels enable individual access rights for remote access as well as local operation.
The highly stable stand alone design, simple video backup and feature rich specification are key benefits that will be appreciated by installers and end users for years to come.
Picture quality is good, not quite the best we've seen on a DVR of this type but the differences are relatively small and to put them into perspective they are only really noticeable after much hard staring at static test patterns.
The front panel cosmetics are questionable but when it comes down to it we have no serious, or even semi-serious gripes with this DVR. If pushed we could say that it could do with some faster search speeds, network setup was a little fussy and without the mouse we suspect it would be horrible to use, but apart from that it scores well on just about every count, from picture quality and facilities to user-friendliness. Judging by the standard of components and build quality long term reliability should be good, in which case it looks as though we could have a new contender for the mid-range DVR benchmark.