A Conversation with Bill Taylor

Video cameras are better than ever, and the newer surveillance systems have vastly improved functionality. One of the suppliers leading product improvements in the video arena is Panasonic, which offers IP addressable, analog and hybrid video systems for the surveillance industry. We spoke with Bill Taylor, president, Panasonic System Networks Company of America, about changes and enhancements users and integrators are seeing in the latest video cameras.

Q. How has the arrival of high-resolution IP cameras changed the approach to systems design?

A. By providing more data to be analyzed, higher-resolution cameras are one part of a larger equation. The technology works in tandem with the addition of more intelligence inside the camera. There are many benefits to having more intelligence here, at the edge of the network. For example, any operation performed inside the camera frees up other network components to execute other functions. When high resolution is combined with in-camera intelligence, the camera is able to provide a higher level of functionality for the user.

Our i-PRO SmartHD cameras combine higher resolution and enhanced processing for improved imaging along with more intelligent functions such as face detection. The cameras also offer more flexibility related to functionality and the use of system resources. For example, variable image and resolution technology enables a less-important part of an image (such as the sky) to be coded at a lower resolution to save data file size. Ultimately, smarter cameras do more at the edge of the network, which frees up intelligence and data capacity at the server level for other uses and applications.

Q. How do new imaging and processing capabilities actually improve security?

A. Historically, advanced functions such as object left behind or face detection have been outside the reach of mainstream applications. Such abilities were seen as specialized and too expensive to be used as part of day-to-day security functionality. The systems often involved expensive software and per-camera licensing fees, and they were not robust for many applications. However, some newer cameras provide a cost-efficient means of applying advanced capabilities even in smaller, budget-conscious systems.

There is no complicated integration involved; the components are pre-engineered to work together as a system, and installation is simple. Image processing also combines with higher-resolution imaging to expand the ability of operators to identify details, such as the face of a person, a questionable object or a license plate number. Megapixel cameras provide clearer, better images and capture more information.

Forensic zooming in recorded megapixel video enables better identification of individuals and vehicles, and the megapixel camera captures more of the details in any given scene. Some cameras offer “intelligent resolution” to prevent deterioration of an image during digital zooming. Megapixel images also provide more information for video analytics.

Q. Aside from the performance advantages provided by high resolution cameras, what are the effects on total cost of ownership and return on investment?

A. From a cost-justification standpoint, one megapixel camera can take the place of many standard-resolution cameras in applications such as a parking lot. Fewer cameras mean lower total costs. At the same time, intelligence inside the camera compresses the signal to minimize network bandwidth requirements, another way of minimizing costs and boosting ROI.

This is an important consideration for any installation using megapixel cameras, which require more bandwidth. Intelligent cameras provide the needed computational power to handle the highly complicated algorithms and high-speed processing needed for H.264, a compression standard used to minimize bandwidth and storage needs. H.264 high profile provides even better picture quality using lower bandwidth compared to H.264 base profile.

Q. What applications outside of traditional security and surveillance can these new imaging technologies be applied to?

A. New imaging technologies can have applications in processes as diverse as inventory management, retail traffic pattern analysis, manufacturing, medical processes and diagnostics, and crowd and traffic management. Any true business application that can benefit from high-resolution imaging can leverage the new imaging technologies.

Interoperability and the availability of video anywhere on the network open the door for utility in any department in the enterprise, not just security. The market will continue to develop these applications based on user needs. With the capabilities of intelligent cameras and the ubiquity of networks in today’s companies, there is no limit to what can be achieved.

Q. As imaging technologies continue to commoditize, what if anything differentiates one supplier from another?

A. There is a big difference between a supplier with core expertise in a market and a supplier that duplicates or re-engineers existing technologies. Companies like Panasonic earn their reputation as imaging leaders in multiple markets, from consumer electronics to broadcast technologies. Extensive investments in research and development in these related fields provide a wealth of usable technology innovation in the arena of video surveillance equipment.

One great example of this is our UniPhier® LSI chip, which derives from Panasonic’s digital still camera technology and drives many of the advances in our newer video surveillance cameras. New technologies and even software innovations like this continue to emerge based on fundamental research that relates to multiple markets. This kind of innovation helps to move the industry forward. It is also reflected in the diversity and innovation of products that evolve from the broader approach. Our customers also tell us that the initial price of a camera is only part of the cost equation.

Dependability of cameras over time can more than offset a higher price tag, and many lower-cost camera models may not perform as well or as dependably over time.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Security Today.

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