VARS Annotation Glossary

This is a list of the various entry items and buttons on the VARS Annotation interface that is used at MBARI. Details on how to use these features are in the VARS Annotation User Guide.

Definitions and descriptions

The type of item and/or the window where it appears is noted in parentheses.

? (annotation button)
Use to indicate that the identity is uncertain.

Annotation Mode (main window, bottom left)
Select the mode—Outline or Detail

Outline annotations include animals discernable at approximately 2x real-time tape speed. The level (species, genus, family, etc.) and certainty of identification depends on current knowledge of deep-sea organisms and physical factors, such as ROV speed, camera setting, or visibility. Outline annotation also includes characterization of major habitats, such as seep or canyon wall, and geological features such as rock outcrop, sand, or fault. The characterization is usually annotated at a regular intervals (approximately five minutes), at identification of samples and equipment, and at the start and end of transects.

Detailed annotations include all discernable organisms, behaviors, and habitats possible at real-time speed.

Descriptor(s) for physical object in observation. The descriptor must match an association entered in the knowledge base, or it will not be recognized by VARS.
The buttons in the middle of the interface have various purposes. Some are action buttons and some are annotation buttons.
C (double C button)
Indicates a close-up view.
Camera Data tab 
Shows details of the camera settings for the selected entry.

  • Direction
    Indicates the direction that the ROV is moving (ascend, cruise, descent, endtransect, launch, starttransect, stationary, transect). Default value when starting a new video set is descend. The direction in an existing entry can be edited by clicking on the Edit button.
  • Name
    Displays the name of the camera that recorded the observation. Almost all annotations are associated with main camera. Other available names are aux-camera, bioluminescent-camera, color-bars, main camera, sit-camera, and still-photo-camera.
  • Zoom  
    Displays the current value which, for this purpose, indicates the relative distance from an object. The units are in millimeters (mm) and values generally range from -200 to 1000.
  • Focus 
    Indicates the distance in millimeters (mm) from the center of the lens to the focal point. The general range is from -511 to 1000 mm.
  • Iris
    Displays the setting for the aperture (iris), which controls the light and depth of field. This setting indicates the amount of light allowed to enter the camera lens for recording. Settings range from 0 to 4095.
  • FieldWidth
    The width of the field visible in the frame. This varies with the Zoom value.
  • StlllImage
    Displays the directory in which the frame grab (still image) is stored.
See Observation Table Columns
Name of physical object in observation. Must match a concept entered in the knowledge base or will not be recognized by VARS.
Connect (File>Connect)  
File menu option that allows the user to log in to the VARS database and to connect to the video recorder through the VARS interface (VCR control feature is read-only aboard the ships). User must choose COM1 or COM2 (usually COM1) and specify VCR type (default is Sony).
Custom (concept) icon tab
A user's custom panel of one-click icon buttons for most commonly-used concepts, located at the bottom of the interface with the user ID on a tab. To create a custom panel, see the detailed instructions in the User Guide
  • New tab
    Add a new concept icon tab
  • Remove 
    Remove a concept icon tab
Copy Anno (button)
Creates a new row in the observation table with the same 
concept (and associations) as the highlighted row but a new time code.
Copy TC (button)
Creates a new row in the observation table with the same time code and concept as the highlighted row. You can then change the concept. Useful for situations with more than one object in a frame (grab).
D (button)
Population quantity dense
Delete (button)
Delete observation row.
Drop-down menu with these selections: 
  • Reload Knowledge Base
  • Update with info from camera-logs and EXPD
    Select this to link the camera log and ROV nav data to the annotations after annotating an archive set.
File menu option. Quits the program.
F (button)
Creates a new row in the observation table with physical-object'concept and a frame grab. A green F will appear in the FG/S column for that observation.
A drop-down menu with three options: Connect, Open Archive, and Exit
Frame-grab tab
Displays a frame grab of the observation that is highlighted, if it is available.
Good (button)
Image quality is good.
green checkmarks (bottom of the screen)
Displays the current user name (should be updated as annotator changes), the status of connections to the VCR and the VARS database, and the video archive currently in use (camera platform, dive number, and tape number).
keyboard shortcuts
The following shortcuts may be used, instead of clicking buttons, to create new or multiple annotations. (Using keyboard shortcuts reduces the risk of repetitive strain injury from excessive mouse clicking.)

Ctrl + n = New: Create a new observation
Ctrl + d
= Copy TC: Create a new observation with a selected timecode
Ctrl + f
= Copy Anno: Copy an observation to a new timecode

knowledge base 
A dictionary of names and terms referenced by the video annotation interface and the VARS query to ensure consistent annotations. The entries consist of marine organisms and geological features commonly seen in Monterey Bay and other regions where ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) have recorded video. The knowledge base contains terms for equipment attached to the ROVs or deployed by the ROVs for deep-sea experiments. In addition, it contains a number of associations or formats that annotators can use to describe the behavior, color, position, or appearance of an organism, geological feature, or piece of equipment.
Sample knowledge base entry
Knowledge Base tab 
Displays the entire knowledge base as a searchable tree so users can navigate through the hierarchy and view the parents and children of a concept of interest.
N (button)
Population quantity 999 (3 or more individual objects observed in a frame)
New (button)
Creates a new row in the observation table with the  object concept.
New # (button)
Adds a new identity reference to the observation (auto-increments throughout annotation session)
Observation tab
  • TimeCode
    Time elapsed since recording started on the tape. The format is HH:MM:SS:ff, where ff is the number of frames into the last second. TimeCode on an existing entry can be edited by clicking the Edit button.
  • Concept
    Name of physical object in observation. Must match a concept entered in the knowledge base or will not be recognized by VARS.
  • RecordedDate
    The date that the tape was recorded. Dates and times are in UTC
  • ObservationDate
    The date that the observation/annotation was made (not necessarily the same as RecordedDate). Dates and times are in UTC.
  • Observer
    Name of the person who made the observation or annotation.
observation table columns
The observation table is the large area in the upper left of the window. The various columns are:
  • Time Code 
    Digital Betacam video record time at which the observation occurred.
  • Concept 
    The concept name of the object that was observed.
  • Association 
    Contains associations describing an observation.
  • FG/S
    The F button is green when a frame grab is associated with the observation. The S button is blue when a sample is associated.
  • Observer 
    Displays the user name that was logged in when annotations were created.
  • Camera Direction 
    Displays the ROV direction (ascend, descend, etc.) for each line of annotation.
  • Tape ID 
    Displays the camera platform, dive number, and tape number for each line of annotation. Example: T684-01 means  Tiburon dive #684, Tape 01.
  • Notes 
    Displays any notes added to a line of annotation.
Old #
Allows you to choose a previously assigned identity reference for an observation
Open Archive
Allows user to select the camera platform (e.g, Tiburon or Ventana), dive number and tape number they wish to annotate or edit. If tape has been previously annotated, those annotations will appear in the observation table.
Physical Data tab
  • Latitude
    Latitude in decimal value.
  • Longitude
    Longitude in decimal value.
  • Depth
    Depth in meters.
  • Temperature
    Temperature is recorded in degrees Celsius by the ROV CTD instrument.
  • Salinity
    Salinity is a value calculated from the conductivity and pressure measurements.
  • Oxygen
    Oxygen concentration is measured in milliliters per liter (ml/l) of seawater.
  • Light
    A measurement of percent transmission of the water
Reload KnowledgeBase 
Edit menu item. Select to update to the most current version of the Knowledge base (e.g., just after a new concept has been added).
S (button)
Sample. A blue S will appear in the FG/S column for that observation.
Update with info from camera-logs and EXPD
See Edit definition. Select this at the end of annotating an archive set to link the camera log and ROV nav data to your annotations.
VCR control panel 
The interface includes a VCR control panel for use in onshore annotation. The controls are identified below.
NOTE: These controls are NOT usable on the ships. 


View (menu bar, top)
A drop down menu with one selection, Video Set, which opens another window, showing the annotations from all the tapes in the current tape set.
Video Archive tab 
  • recordedDate
    Date/time that the tape was started.
  • videoArchiveNam
    The name of the video archive, consisting of T for Tiburon, or V for Ventana, followed by a four-digit dive number, a hyphen, and a two-digit tape number.
  • shipName
    Name of the ship from which the dive was made.
  • platformName
    Name of the camera platform.
  • formatCode
  • startDate
    Start date for the dive.
  • endDate
    End date for the dive
  • chiefScientist 
    Displays the name of the chief scientist of the expedition.
  • diveNumber
  • trackingNumber
    A seven-digit number consisting of the year and the year-day. (Example: 2005045)
Video Set  (View>Video Set)
See View.