Driving Video Surveillance

Megapixel imaging, cameras, wireless transmission are game changers

The transition from analog to IP video systems has been a dominant market trend in the last several years, and the associated technology transition has similarly dominated the attention of integrators and end users. Now, there is a new wave of innovation ready to make its impact on the industry, even as the evolution of video surveillance based on the benefits of networking is clearly still underway. The newest technologies are dependent on the capabilities of networking, but they also incorporate benefits that could potentially remake the industry once again.

First, megapixel video is already being implemented as an extension of—and enhancement to—networked systems. The industry has only just scratched the surface of the true and lasting impact of megapixel cameras. Furthermore, 360-degree panoramic cameras also are on the cusp of transforming the surveillance industry in a big way. Wide panoramic views can replace multiple cameras and simplify system design while boosting system value. Finally, wireless transmission of video signals is poised to expand the flexibility of camera locations and total system configuration to the substantial and lasting benefit of integrators and their end-user customers.

Each of these three new, evolving technologies has the potential to create a serious impact on the video surveillance market.

Megapixel cameras. Cameras with advanced image-enhancement features— such as dynamic range improvement—are already creating expectations of clearer, more detailed video. The swift advent of megapixel technology is further raising those expectations, and the full impact of its potential has just begun. Higher resolution, especially when complemented by intelligent image-processing technologies, makes surveillance video more valuable for all identification-related applications. In addition, megapixel images simply contain more information than standard-definition images, providing a greater wealth of resources for video analytics. Analytics algorithms depend on data to be effective and to yield betterfunctioning systems. Whether the analytics system looks to read a license plate or to recognize a face, more information increases the likelihood of success.

A growing selection of camera models is further enhancing the usefulness of megapixel cameras. Some manufacturers have put forth the suggestion that megapixel cameras can fully replace PTZ cameras. This refers to the ability to use forensic zooming to enlarge any area of a megapixel image and see greater detail. This useful capability does not fully replace the real-time zoom functionality of a PTZ camera. However, when the two capabilities are combined, it creates a whole new degree of efficiency for surveillance operators and further expands the potential of the camera. Higher-definition PTZ cameras combine the advantages of more resolution with the additional ability to zoom and see clear images from far away. Combining 720p or 1080p resolution with 36x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom enables 432x zoom in HD, a valuable tool for real-time surveillance. As a broader range of megapixel cameras continues to emerge, expanded feature sets will make them useful to more applications in more locations.

The economics of system design is one of the most significant ways in which megapixel cameras will impact the market because they can be more cost-efficient than conventional cameras. Their capabilities are one potential path to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) of video surveillance systems, both now and in the future. These calculations are based both on using fewer cameras to cover larger areas and on the lower associated system costs, including physical infrastructure. Viewing larger areas with fewer cameras also reduces the manpower needs of monitoring a system. Using this as a benchmark, megapixel cameras may provide a better return on investment (ROI) than analog or standard-definition cameras. The marketplace has already spoken on this point and will likely keep speaking—more loudly and clearly—as the megapixel transition continues.

360-degree panoramic cameras. For security and surveillance professionals, the ability of a single camera to provide a panoramic view has practical advantages. There is only one camera—versus several—to buy, connect, view and administer, which translates into lower system costs. High-definition, 360-degree panoramic view cameras can provide wide views of large areas such as parking lots, stadiums or shopping malls with even greater advantages. The higher-definition capabilities enable a user to pinpoint a section in the larger image and see important details.

Wireless transmission. Networked video has provided the ability to locate a camera anywhere on the network, which has greatly expanded system design flexibility. No longer is it necessary to run a coaxial cable to a camera location. The newest emerging infrastructure platform—wireless transmission—expands that flexibility even further. Wireless transmission holds the promise of allowing any camera to be located anywhere and to communicate—and send video—wirelessly through a WiFi connection, 4G network or other wireless network. Not only can cameras be located anywhere, they can be moved anywhere, anytime—and effortlessly, without having to do any physical connections.

Consider how these new capabilities will decrease installation time, labor and costs. Wireless transmission, in effect, takes the costs of “wires”—running them, connecting to them and maintaining them—off the table. There are a number of potential challenges to wireless transmission, including the bandwidth of wireless networks, signal transmission distance limitations and the need for line-of-sight transmission.

A remote power source will still be necessary because PoE is no longer workable in a wireless situation. However, technology is moving fast, and many of these obstacles will soon be overcome.

What Comes Next?

The eventual effects of all these new technologies may be greater than the sum of the parts. As obstacles are eliminated and free-market ingenuity kicks in, the compounded impact on video surveillance systems of the future will be monumental. Here is just a sampling of where these technology developments will lead us:

Higher-performing systems. Consider the impact of video cameras that can see more, view larger areas in greater detail and be located anywhere.

More versatile systems. These new technologies are systematically stripping away obstacles to achieve better systems for any application. One of the biggest developments of the 21st century so far is the ability to put powerful technology in the palm of our hands. The consequence of this capability, coupled with the ongoing impact of the technologies we have listed, is a profound one for the surveillance market.

Less expensive systems. No wires and fewer cameras that have more features all point to systems that are less expensive to install and maintain.

More systems deployed. Simple economics tells us that if you lower the cost of something, you will likely sell more of it. Such will be true of video surveillance systems. As prices go down, systems will be practical, affordable, and cost-justifiable for more applications than ever.

A Higher Level of Integrated Systems

One more change our industry faces is the growing and dominant role of software to control systems. One beauty of software is that it can be customized to the specific needs of an application and a set of users.

Additional layers of software can efficiently tie disparate systems together and increase their efficiency, effectiveness and user-friendliness in the process. Therefore, systems will continue to benefit from higher levels of integration, to the greater benefit of end users. Welcome to the new and changing world of video surveillance.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.

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