Giving Your Surveillance Network a Workout

Gauging the strength of your network will answer many questions

With so many applications riding on today’s networks, bandwidth consumption on Wide Area Network (WAN) connections, particularly over the Internet, creates real challenges for network professionals on a budget. Add network video to the pipeline and it makes you wonder whether the infrastructure will eventually collapse under the increased traffic. If you look at current fiber optics technology; however, you’re bound to feel much more confident that today’s networks will be able to handle the load.

It is common knowledge that transmitting data via light allows fiber optics to deliver data speeds several hundred times faster and over much longer distances than conventional copper cable. There have even been demonstrations where data has been pushed through a single strand of fiber over a certain length at an amazing 186 Gbps.

In comparison, the fastest available, residential, copper-based Internet service in the country tops out at 50 MBps. Furthermore, unlike copper, which needs multiple amplifications to function over long lengths, the light that passes through fiber optic cable doesn’t diminish, even over many miles. This is great news for network surveillance integrators who are building solutions that often include streaming high-definition video to and from remote locations.

But for LAN solutions, generally 100MBps to the edge with multi-gigabit backbones is needed. So, streaming the video locally doesn’t create bandwidth consumption concerns especially when you can leverage technologies like VLANs.

Supplanting 1080p with 4K

The importance of network capacity will be challenged as 4K technology gains momentum in the coming year. This will be the most anticipated advancement that camera manufactures will deliver. There is a lot to look forward to with resolution increasing to 8.3 megapixels—four times the resolution of 1080p—greater color fidelity and a potential quadrupling of frame rates to 120 fps. The unprecedented image detail, however, will mandate more advanced compression technology in order to avoid clogging the pipeline or compromising frame rates and resolution.

While it may take a while for 4K cameras to permeate the market, the more immediate impact for surveillance will be in the displays used to view video. At 8MP, security professionals will be able to view four 1080p images in their native resolution or eight 720p cameras. The current price of 4K displays is still a barrier to entry. But, with the price of new television technology dropping year to year, I anticipate we will be seeing affordable displays for professional security installations sometime in 2015.

Adding More Intelligence to the Edge

Image processing chips, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), continue to increase in power every 18 months. The latest generation will be available in network cameras by late 2014. In addition to significantly enhancing image usability, these chips deliver excess computing capacity that analytics programs are leveraging. Whether it be cross line detection, people counting, queue management or simply video motion detection, expect to see greater reliability with the next generation of in-camera analytics.

As integrators place more reliable intelligence at the edge, bandwidth consumption actually drops since video doesn’t get recorded or transmitted unless an event takes place. The following are examples of such intelligence:

Adding hardware intelligence. Software applications aren’t the only area of intelligence being introduced at the edge. Smart hardware advancements, such as Optimized IR, Auto Rotation and leveling assistants, are also helping integrators simplify and expedite installation.

Optimized infrared cameras. These cameras automatically adjust the IR illumination angle with the focal range of the camera so that the two match. Once a twostep process involving separate products, optimized IR cameras are able to adjust both the illumination angle and the focal range through the same HTML interface, saving time and ensuring the accuracy of the install.

With better IR illumination there is less noise in the image which significantly reduces file size, and therefore, bandwidth consumption.

Auto rotation. This feature involves placing a small accelerometer in the camera so that it knows which orientation to use when delivering the image for viewing. Similar to the way a smartphone rotates the image as it is moved, the camera will automatically detect if you are hanging it upside down or placing it onto a table. These cameras even recognize when they are being put in Corridor Format mode, a specialized format where 16:9 aspect ratios are turned on their side to monitor long hallways without wasting pixels on the walls.

In the past, configuring corridor format required logging into the administration pages of the camera and manually selecting the correct image orientation. Depending on the scenario, this might increase bandwidth slightly as more of the activity in the hallway is being captured, rather than the blank walls.

Level assistant. Leveraging the same incamera accelerometer, the level assistant combines flashing LEDs in conjunction with an audible beep that notifies the installer when the camera is level. Think of it like the backup assistant in a car. As the car gets closer to an object, the interval between beeps gets shorter until it becomes one long sound when the car is right on top of something.

In the case of the level assistant, the camera is level when the LEDs stop flashing and become solid green, and the beep is one continuous sound. When combined with remote focus, remote zoom, the leveling assistant and the auto rotation, integrators no longer need to carry a portable monitor to the installation site.

Improving Image Usability

The increased performance of ASIC chips has direct implications for improving image usability as much as it does for analytics. Image usability rather than image quality (something that wedding and portrait photographers tend to focus on) defines the parameters that security professionals need to meet the operational requirements of identification, recognition or detection.

When combined with environmental factors, the following criteria dictate which camera technologies to use:

Handling contrasting lighting conditions. Starkly contrasting lighting conditions in a single field-of-view—bright sunlight and deep shadows—demand sophisticated algorithms for the camera to transmit an image with any usable detail. The increased processing power in today’s cameras means that they can leverage wide dynamic range features to take multiple exposures, combining them into one image for each frame recorded. They are also able to draw out significant details in both the light and dark areas of the image by applying local tone mapping to each exposure, instead of just the final frame. These improved images provide a higher degree of forensic value should an incident need to be reviewed.

Dealing with vibrations. Oftentimes when cameras are mounted on poles or subject to other environmental factors that induce vibrations, the movement of the camera gets directly translated into moving images. At the very least, the wobbly images are distracting. At worst, they might mask activities that would otherwise cause an operator to take action.

Vibration in the video wreaks havoc on analytics that often get triggered and creates false alarm conditions. The latest generation of image stabilization technology combines advanced algorithms and cropped images from higher resolution sensors to deliver stable video for both viewing and recording.

Ask your camera manufacturer to show you their latest offerings and compare that to what you have become used to with previous generations. You’re going to be surprised at the results. Not only will the video be so much smoother, it will also be consuming considerably less bandwidth and storage.

Eliminating “barrel distortion.” This common video challenge appears when using a wide angle lens. In order to cover a wider field-of-view while still maintaining the necessary “pixels on target,” users were forced to accept images that bent at the edges. A special lens could correct this problem, but they were more expensive than traditional wide angle lenses. Today, however, wide angle distortion can be corrected by in-camera software before the video is streamed to the recording device, so there is no need to budget for more advanced lenses.

The money spent by the IT industry on making networks bigger, faster and more secure easily dwarfs whatever the physical security industry spends on creating the latest advances in camera technology. Therefore, one can say with confidence that whatever demands surveillance video places on the network, whether full frame HD or 4K resolution, IT will find a way to handle it. Basically, if you’re willing to pay for the extra bandwidth and storage, just about any solution is possible. But, as tempting as it is to acquire the latest and greatest security solutions, before investing in any advanced technology, take time to determine whether your security needs really warrant the added expense.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Security Today.

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