CaseCracker Onyx: A Solution Like No Other

If you’re in the market for a new interview room recording solution, chances are, you aren’t looking for something ordinary. You’re looking for something extraordinary. And that’s where CaseCracker Onyx comes in.

After four and a half years of intense focus and development, I had the pleasure of sitting down with our engineering team, to ask them what they enjoyed most about developing Onyx. I knew they were proud of the product they had created, but hearing the ins and outs of the features central to their vision—reliability, ease-of-use, and security—left me feeling very proud, too.

In the early stages of our development of Onyx, a major federal agency happened to put out an RFI in search of a specific kind of interview room recording solution. Out of 10 finalists, we ultimately won the contract—and the subsequent backing—to develop a truly cutting-edge, next-generation product. I had a front-row seat during the engineering team’s brainstorming and collaboration efforts, and I gained a whole new appreciation for the work they do as I watched Onyx develop from an idea to an actual tangible asset.

When I sat down with the team, I first wanted to know what they enjoyed most about creating the product. I wasn’t terribly surprised when I got a short and simple answer: “We do not often get the chance to work on a project from the ground up. Onyx gave us the opportunity to build something from scratch.” I didn’t push for more—after all, I learned early in my career at Cardinal Peak Technologies that most engineers don’t enjoy talking about themselves. But get them talking about something they’ve created? You might not get them to stop! 

That was certainly the case when I asked them to elaborate on the reliability features they found most interesting. The first one they mentioned was Onyx’s ability to record up to 16 interviews simultaneously.  “We ensure that no recordings are lost due to a lack of space. When a recording is started using Onyx, a configurable amount of recording time is reserved. This gives the detective assurance, before the interview has begun, that the recording will not fail for lack of storage space.  This is because all recordings created with Onyx are centrally stored on a single server capable of recording multiple interviews in multiple rooms. Suppose the server’s discs were almost full, with room for only 5 complete recordings left. On other systems, if 10 different detectives started 10 different recordings at roughly the same time, they would all run out of space about half-way through their interviews!   On Onyx, only the first five recordings would be allowed to start: the other five would be cautioned to wait until space is made available.”  

Another common reason recording fails is that devices can freeze up if the network gets too busy. “Our architecture requires that all recording devices (cameras and microphones) run on a private network that is isolated from all other department traffic. If the office LAN is saturated, it will not affect the ability of our equipment to capture the recording.”

Finally, power failures are yet another reason why recordings are lost. If a video server loses power during a recording, and if backup power is not available, the video in progress is often unrecoverable. Onyx, however, implements a technological solution that ensures a complete recording will be saved up to the point of the power failure once power is regained. 

As far as ease-of-use features, the engineers point to both hardware and software enhancements. One thing our team learned from early adopters of our legacy recording solution was their desire for an interior room signal that an interview was being recorded. Our engineers developed a room controller device that allows all peripherals to communicate effectively with the server. When the server is told to record, it sends a signal to the room controller to turn on a confirmation light. If something has gone wrong, like the loss of a camera or microphone feed, the light will blink, indicating a problem. 

Another popular function of our room controller is to manage some optional design components that make recording easier. Many investigators want to start and stop their recordings with a switch outside of the interview room. That switch is wired to the room controller and when it’s hit, a signal is sent to the server to start or stop a recording. The room controller also manages a covert device that allows the investigator to flag (bookmark with a timestamp) important moments to return to during the review stage.

The team also likes to point out one of the most important features of our room controller: powering the cameras. This feature is most beneficial to large police departments that have several interview rooms. Typical interview rooms have two cameras, so an agency with 16 rooms would need to pull 32 cables to a central power source. That’s not just a lot of wiring—it becomes a major risk by creating a single point of failure. Our room controller allows cameras to be powered locally. If power is lost to one room controller, you won’t lose complete functionality of your entire system.  

Before we ended our conversation, we turned his attention to some of the most appealing design features for security-minded consumers. Because IP cameras typically do not encrypt the video, we require a physically-isolated private LAN for streaming video to the main Onyx server. To watch a video (live or pre-recorded), the server streams an encrypted copy of that video to the office network for viewing purposes. The only connection between the private networks used for recording and the office LAN is our server, which is locked in a closet. If someone were to hack into the office LAN, they would not be able to get to the cameras.  

Our method of video transport is RTSP, or Real Time Streaming Protocol, gets latency down to less than a second. Many other systems don’t use RTSP and the video has anywhere from a five to 20-second delay as a result. Of course, seconds matter tremendously during an interrogation, especially when someone is monitoring the interview to ensure no one’s getting hurt.  

Lastly, the team felt it worth mentioning how we store video in an MP4 format. Though MP4 files are common because they allow video to be played on nearly any device, it is unique that we use it as the container to house all metadata (including all flags) for easy access and tamper-prevention. We compute a fingerprint/hash of the MP4 container at the exact moment at which the recording is stopped. If someone were able to subsequently alter the recording, it would be easily detected.  

At Cardinal Peak, our engineering team is pledged to working their hardest to keep our products on the cutting edge.


Author: Tonya Clement, General Manager