What Integrators Look For
The inventor of the network camera discusses the secret sauce
- By Martin Gren
- May 01, 2011
In today’s innovative surveillance camera market, dealers might be
overwhelmed by the many choices. It may be confusing to determine
which product is best for a specific installation with all the options
available from different manufacturers -- many of which have seemingly
similar data sheet specs. Because of this, manufacturer research
and development departments need to ask themselves, “What are dealers and
integrators really looking for?”
The secret recipe for creating a product that users will love has six main
First and foremost, dealers and integrators should be well aware of the technology
shift from analog to network surveillance. Network cameras -- or IP
cameras -- are today a mature technology.
The key benefits of IP include getting rid of the interlaced image, adding
the ability of high-resolution imaging like HDTV and megapixel, scalability
of the system, and installation cost cutting by powering the cameras through
the same Ethernet cable that delivers video (PoE). Users can do much more
with IP, from easily moving and adding cameras where needed, to improving
intelligence and operational benefits. Having a broad IP portfolio that includes
cameras and encoders is key, especially if working with customers who
have working analog cameras and are happy with the performance.
When it comes to camera installation itself, the dealer must first determine
the basic camera usage. What category of cameras do I need: PTZ, fixed
domes or fixed box cameras? What are the environmental requirements: Do
the cameras need to be outdoor or vandal resistant? How is the scene lighting:
Will I need artificial light, or should I use IR illuminators, day/night cameras,
or even thermal cameras?
If the camera selection meets the expectations of the integrator, the next
step is to ensure the video is supported by the leading video management
Resolution has been a big factor in the performance debate. A modern IP
system today has the ability to feature the same 720p or 1080p HDTV resolution
found in home entertainment centers. These HDTV-compliant cameras
conform not only to pixel-based standards but also to full-frame rate, color
fidelity and aspect ratio standards set forth by the Society of Motion Pictures
and Television Engineers (SMPTE), an organization that has standardized
broadcast and cinema quality since 1911.
If the installation calls for an even higher resolution picture -- like three or
five megapixels -- the camera should provide both an HDTV and megapixel
option. More importantly, the appropriate lens to handle the high-resolution
image is critical and should come preconfigured with the camera (if not preconfigured,
then the manufacturer should provide clear direction for lens selection).
Keep in mind that the products should feature the most advanced
compression standard for video surveillance, today H.264, to keep the video
stream at a reasonable size for viewing and storage.
Pan-tilt-zoom cameras also conjure up debates where performance is concerned
and can be the most complex factor to select for dealers. These are
advanced mechanical products, and many factors and functions can affect
In particular, if the camera is to be placed outdoors you need to look at the
temperature range beyond the camera’s daily operational temperature. For instance,
what do you do if there is a power outage on your camera system in the
dead of winter in Chicago? Many cameras rely on self-heating for continuous
operation when power is on, but when a PTZ camera does a cold-start after
power loss, it needs to heat up before it can be used without damaging internal
mechanisms. Conversely, cameras covering a power plant in New Mexico
must be able to handle the heat caused by the continuous sunlight. This saves
on late-night and unexpected truck rolls to the site.
Zoom number as it relates to the camera’s resolution is another performance
function to consider. Broadly speaking, 18x zoom in HDTV resolution
is the same as 36x zoom in standard definition. So just comparing zoom
numbers between different resolution cameras will not be accurate -- match it
A surveillance installation should last for a long time, so understanding what
goes into the total cost-of-ownership is essential. In the long run, upgrades
and replacements can be more expensive than the initial installation, so service
The first years should be covered by a good warranty from a reputable vendor.
Oftentimes when a product is thought to be defective, it could actually
be an installation or configuration error to blame. Because of this, effective
field support in the form of telephone, e-mail and chat can be the difference
between getting it right the first time and having a camera down for a couple
days while the product is being replaced.
Additionally, the system should be future-proofed to plan for adding to the
camera population as well as installing new applications. The amount of cameras
in a system normally increases over time -- sometimes as much as two
times the size of the initial installation. This requirement suggests one should
select vendors with a good track record for growing with an installation as
well as a consistent architecture.
Something that often goes hand in hand with service is the education offered
by the manufacturer to ensure solutions are installed by qualified partners.
The vendor should have a long experience both in cameras as well as networking,
and have the avenues to share this knowledge with the dealers by means
of classroom education, Web-based tutorials, self-paced online training and
takeaway literature. Additionally, as evidenced by its importance in the IT
industry, an official certification process will help the dealer and/or integrator
differentiate himself or herself in a competitive marketplace.
When selecting a video surveillance system, there are two options: Select a
single vendor that provides the whole system, or opt for an open system that
can marry components from different vendors in a best-of-breed solution. In
general, best-of-breed solutions have proven most effective because, with support
for a consistent, open API, the products are truly interoperable.
From a dealer/integrator perspective, interoperability is easy if products
are purchased from a distributor who offers complementary products and has
expertise in networked video. Having cameras that support a common industry
standard such as ONVIF can be another advantage to make the installation
The Video Management System selected also plays a key “openness” role.
One can either use a boxed NVR or a PC running VMS software. A PC with
VMS is typically better for mid-size to larger installations, where a boxed NVR
or even hosted video services are typically better for smaller camera counts.
Analytics of the system also tie closely to the VMS and depend heavily on
camera chip performance for accuracy. But, while getting analytics right can
be very valuable, configuring can be difficult. Even simple analytics such as
Video Motion Detection and Tampering Alarms need to be tested before deployment.
Here the dealer will benefit from a good relationship with a valueadd
reseller and a manufacturer with a large, open application development
None of the above factors will improve the system if the products can’t be
found. Vendors who have broad, well-educated distribution partners can be
invaluable. Not only will products have a better chance of arriving on time,
but the distributor can make educated recommendations for other products,
manufacturers and services to round out the solution.
Finally, commitment to R&D by the manufacturer is a major sign that the
vendor is the right partner. In the world of IP, innovation moves much faster
than it ever did in analog, and integrators should align themselves with vendors
who can ride the technology wave, not get swallowed by it. Putting a
significant portion of revenue back into Research & Development is the only
way to stay ahead.
Reinvesting in R&D also gives a strong indication that the partner has
long-term stability. There have been unfortunate stories of short-lived security
vendors who were selected for significant projects only to go out of business
or discontinue a product before the project was complete.
As we move into the next age of video surveillance where IP takes a strong
foothold over analog, dealers and integrators must keep pace not only with innovation
but also with the speed at which vendor partners adapt. By making a
checklist of the six ingredients that make up a successful product partnership,
dealers and integrators can ensure that they are getting the best products to
build effective solutions.
This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Security Today.
About the Author
Martin Gren is the co-founder of Axis Communications and an inventor of the world’s first network camera.