Review: Archerfish Mobile Video Intelligence System

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I’ve used a number of video surveillance systems for a variety of purposes. In my experience, most of them are merely adequate. I’ve used Axis and Pelco solutions for different things, and have been fairly underwhelmed with both. It’s a laborious, manual process to search through recordings to find stuff, and the interface for the various applications is pretty lame. As such, I was pretty excited to review the Archerfish “mobile video intelligence system.”

In their own words:

Archerfish is the first and only mobile video intelligence (MVI) solution available today. Using a
combination of video cameras, intelligent software and the Archerfish SmartPortalTM, it watches
your business or home for events you define as important, such as an expected delivery or an
unwelcome intruder. If and only when these events occur, Archerfish finds you and tells you
what’s going on by sending a notification—along with video of the event—to your mobile device,
email, or personal Archerfish SmartPortal.

Introduction
The Archerfish solution is made of three things: the camera(s), the SmartBox, and the MyArcherfish portal. The cameras send video to the SmartBox, which records the video and sends it all back to the MyArcherfish portal. Each SmartBox can connect to up to four cameras, and you can have multiple SmartBoxes all sending data up to your MyArcherfish portal. When you log in to the portal, you can view your cameras in real time. Below is a screenshot of my driveway, which I watch obsessively:

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Setup
The Archerfish system is super easy to set up, and the included documentation is superb. You simply place the cameras where you want them, connect them to the SmartBox with the supplied cables, and then log into the MyArcherfish portal. Once in the portal, you define your SmartBox using the code on the bottom of the unit. Then you define cameras attached to your SmartBox. For each camera, you can define up to three zones:

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I defined my driveway as zone one, the neighbor’s lawn as zone two, and the street out front as zone three. Note: you can only define zones using Microsoft Internet Explorer, as it requires the installation of an ActiveX control. I wasn’t entirely thrilled about that, but what can you do. Once you have zones defined, you then define Events.

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Archerfish claims to be able to tell the difference between people and vehicles, so you can select to be notified only when vehicles enter a zone, for example. That’s useful if you’re pointing your camera down a hallway: you’re unlikely to expect to ever see a vehicle in said hallway, so tell your Archerfish system to only monitor for people. You can also set thresholds for how long something is detected. You might not care about people walking past an area, but you want to know who’s lingering around for more than 5 or 10 seconds. You can specify windows of time, so that you’re only looking for people in a zone at a specific time.

Finally, you define notification methods for who to contact when an Event is triggered. Right now, the only option is to send an email to someone. You can include in that email a link to the MyArcherfish portal, a still picture from the video, or a short video clip of the Event that was triggered. You can define multiple recipients per event, so that you can have broader coverage in the event a response of some kind is necessary.

If the idea of email being sent seems too sluggish, you could send an email to a mobile phone’s number, such that an MMS will be sent. Future updates to the MyArcherfish portal may allow real SMS messaging for notifications, but don’t hold your breath.

The Good
I elected to have video clips sent to my phone. The videos themselves are MP4 files, and play perfectly fine on my iPhone. I circulated the videos to the CG team and the reports I’ve received are that they play just dandy on the Blackberry Curve 8900 and Storm, as well as the G1. The videos I’ve been sent are all under 200K, so they’re easily downloaded via WiFi or 3G connection. I suppose if you selected a really long interval for your Event — 10 seconds or more — and had that emailed to you it might produce a larger video.

Video quality is good. It’s not so good that I can see the face of a person in my driveway, nor can I read a license plate, but it’s still pretty good. I imagine a better camera would produce even better video, should you need it. I also suspect that better camera placement on my part would produce better video. If you’re looking to discern people’s faces, you’ll need to make sure the camera is suitable close.

Here are a couple of videos for you to enjoy. First, Archerfish correctly recognized me on my bicycle as a person, and not a vehicle:

A car turning into my driveway was correctly triggered by the “vehicle” event I had defined:

Me walking across my living room triggered the “person” event I had defined:

Events are stored on your MyArcherfish portal, too, so you can view them online from any PC. You get 50 megabytes of storage, by default, so that should hold plenty of Events for most users. And, if your Internet connection ever drops, the SmartBox will store Events and send then up to your portal once your connection is restored.

You can also use the SmartBox as a DVR, to locally record all the video it sees. Simply plug in a USB drive to the USB port on the back of the unit and press the DVR button. I didn’t try this, but I imagine it would produce MP4 video of the sort that’s sent with notifications.

The Not So Good
The person/vehicle detection idea is sound: there’s lot of things that can move inside a scene, so simply alerting on any movement is too coarse an approach. You might not care about your cat walking around your house while you’re away for a long weekend, but you’d absolutely want to know if a person were wandering through your home. In my experience, the detection system was really hit or miss. I received more than a few notifications that a vehicle was detected in my driveway. When I watched the video clips sent to me, though, there was no vehicle. I stood just outside the camera’s sight and waved various objects into the Zone — my arms, a broom, my cat — and it did not detect any of these as a Person. I guess I’d rather receive notifications of false positives than miss an actual event.

The marketing material states “Access live video from Archerfish SmartPortal & view from any web-enabled PC, PDA or mobile device”. Yes, you can access the portal from any mobile browser, but you can’t actually watch live video unless your browser has Flash. That rules out my iPhone.

A minor complaint I have is that in order to actually get live video to work outside of the network to which your SmartBox is attached, you need to open a port in your firewall so that you can connect directly to your SmartBox. This isn’t a super big deal, but really: the video is already being sent to the Archerfish mothership, why can’t they rebroadcast it to you in your portal, rather than making you connect directly to your SmartBox?

As a somewhat security-conscious individual, I was disappointed to see that all access to the portal site happens over a plain ol’ HTTP connection. I would greatly prefer to use an HTTPS connection, so that my login credentials are protected and so that none of the Events or live video I watch could be intercepted.

Finally, and this is just me being really picky, it would have been nice if the cameras used either plain ol’ CAT5 cable or were wireless. Using the supplied cables works, but it means your camera placement options are limited. For most businesses, this probably isn’t that big of a deal. Like I said: me being picky.

Conclusion
The Archerfish documentation is much, much better than most consumer electronics documentation. It was clear, concise, and accurate. The setup process was a breeze, and the MyArcherfish portal is supremely easy to use. The entire system works as advertised: it detects motion of the kind you define, and alerts you when something happens. The video is easy to view, plays on most smartphones, and shows you just the events you defined, rather than hours of uninteresting dead space.

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