The New Landscape Of Imaging

Affordable, smarter network cameras provide more capabilities at the edge

New developments in network cameras are enhancing their role as imaging sensors at the edge of IP video networks. The new landscape in imaging includes cameras that offer new capabilities, can see better and are smarter and more versatile.

The best network surveillance systems leverage the most value from each system component and offer a wealth of opportunity to improve system functionality at little additional cost. Today’s feature-rich network cameras are costefficient, especially if you factor in their additional capabilities. To appreciate the added value these cameras can contribute to an IP system, it’s important to understand the features these new cameras offer—and how those features can make systems better.

More detailed resolution. Cameras are now available in a variety of megapixel resolutions, from 1.3 to 10 or higher—fitting any application. Most of the growth in megapixel cameras, however, will probably be in the lower-megapixel range—1.3 to 3 megapixels. Higher-quality images are a core advantage of IP systems over analog systems, so interest in megapixel technologies will continue to grow with the industry’s transition to IP systems. Superior resolution enables better identification of details such as license plate numbers and faces. New megapixel cameras deliver more detailed resolution than standard network or analog cameras.

More functionality inside the camera. The chip inside each camera processes and compresses images and supplies additional high-end functionality. New technology offers much more intelligence and enables new, more effective smart functions to be performed at the edge of the network. Smarter cameras help to minimize the system’s computational load and the amount of data that travels across the network, which makes for better use of network infrastructure. Smart functions at the camera level include video motion detection (VMD) functionality with increasingly sophisticated options. Edge-based analytics allow video to be pre-selected, filtered and shared across the network based on content or only in case of an alarm, saving on bandwidth and storage.

Cameras that provide SD/SDHC memory card slots enable in-camera manual or alarm recording. This capability also can provide backup recording in case a system goes down and can be a localized complement to cloud-based storage.

More efficient use of network resources. Cameras that use H.264 compression combine higher-quality video streaming and high frame rates with lower bandwidth needs and storage requirements (at lower cost). H.264 High Profile provides even better picture quality and lower bandwidth compared to H.264 Base Profile. Cameras that provide variable image quality on specified areas (VIQS) can also help to minimize storage needs. VIQS enables non-critical parts of a video frame (such as the sky) to be recorded at a lower resolution to create smaller video files. Additionally, newer video cameras may use 30 percent less power. While equating to only several dollars worth of energy savings in a year, it is an amount that can start to add up in a video system with scores of cameras.

Adaptability to a variety of applications. Newer cameras are much more adaptable to various application conditions. One example is variable lighting. Dramatic differences between light and dark areas complicate the ability of video cameras to view someone standing in the shadows. Stark differences between white and black levels in video images can obliterate the faces or other details of a subject in a darker area. However, today’s cameras can adapt and provide useful images despite lighting variations. Cameras that use progressive scan get clear images with less motion blur and no tearing even when the subject is moving. Many network camera models are hardened to withstand vandalism or environmental challenges. The use of a privacy zone function can mask private areas—house windows and entrances/exits—enabling cameras to be used in more places without creating privacy objections. Lens distortion compensation inside cameras enables natural images to be viewed through wide-angle lenses without distortion.

Coverage of larger areas with greater range. Camera imagers with more megapixels can cover larger areas while enabling an operator to “zoom in” on a region of interest and still have enough pixels in the enlarged image to provide the needed detail. 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, operator-controlled surveillance. Advanced auto-tracking enables cameras to follow moving objects.

More smart features including video analytics. Smarter cameras on the edge of the network can identify objects left behind, analyze movement in a specific area—across a “virtual trip wire”— or track traffic patterns, count people, etc. These abilities at the camera level can be integrated into systems that provide additional functionality, and the possibilities are now being explored in real-world applications. Some network cameras can detect faces automatically and even enhance the features of the face for better identification when reviewing footage. The technology functions effectively even in high-contrast lighting situations with multiple people in a frame. Combining intelligence inside the camera with a database in a connected NVR enables additional features such as face matching and determination of relative age and gender.

Easier integration with other systems. The connectivity of IP systems makes it easier to integrate video surveillance systems with other IP systems in a network environment. For example, smart video can be integrated with access control systems. In a retail environment, video can be integrated with point-of-sale systems to provide video of any specific transaction. Analyzing transactions, for example by specifying “no sales” or all transactions above a certain amount, can help to pinpoint questionable sales, and associated video can clarify what really happened and supply irrefutable evidence for investigation and possible prosecution. Hybrid technologies, such as analog-to-digital encoders, can create systems to incorporate legacy analog cameras into new networked systems.

Video cameras are a robust, dependable tool for security applications, and now is an exciting time for IP surveillance systems. Research and development continues to expand the possibilities for effective applications, building on greater imaging capabilities at the edge of the network.

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

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