Nostalgia has No Place in Video Surveillance

Nostalgia has No Place in Video Surveillance

Why IP video will eventually supplant analog technology

When network cameras first appeared on the market in 1996 who could have imagined this fledgling technology ever gaining a toehold in an industry dominated by analog cameras? Fast forward to today and one marvels at how much IP video has transformed the surveillance landscape.

In fact, market projections show that 2014 will be the year when IP video clearly surpasses the dollars spent on analog surveillance technology. What makes this all the more significant is that IP video is only reaching 30 percent of today’s channels, which means there is enormous opportunity for further market growth.

Why IP is Gaining in Popularity

There are a number of factors propelling the industry to supplant long-entrenched analog with more advanced IP video systems. Foremost is image usability. Resolution has progressed from a mere CIF resolution (352x240 pixels) to stunning multi-megapixels and full HDTV clarity. Superior H.264 compression standards and greater in-camera processing power have changed streaming from a few jerky frames per second to a smooth 30 frames per second, and in some instances even up to 60 frames per second.

The constrictive 4:3 aspect ratio reflective of old CRT computer screens has been replaced by an expansive 16:9 ratio to complement the widespread adoption of widescreen HDTV monitors, a carryover from the home entertainment market.

Open standards afford another advantage. With so many business applications operating on the network, users have come to expect open platform architecture from all their IT products. IP video delivers.

Instead of being locked into proprietary DVR-based analog solutions, IP-based video surveillance systems allow users to pick and choose the best components for their environment. They can integrate storage, fiber network and switch, operating systems, processors, network cameras and video analytics from multiple vendors with cost-saving off-the-shelf components. Because each component adheres to open standards, systems integrators can interconnect all the elements into a single cohesive system and replace or update components at will. This allows users to acquire ever-increasing functionality and performance throughout the life of their surveillance system and extend the return on their original investment.

Remote accessibility also has contributed to IP video’s growing acceptance. As a network-based system, video cameras and storage can be accessed over the web. Unchaining security from their desktops and enabling them to view cameras live from remote devices like smartphones and tablets delivers unprecedented situational awareness wherever the user may be. It also means that integrators and service providers can troubleshoot, service and upgrade systems remotely, saving the expense and delay of an on-site service call.

Cementing IP Video’s Place as a Frontrunner

As with all technological innovations, IP video continues to evolve. With that evolution, high-end features are swiftly permeating the market at ever more affordable price points. Take, for example, Lightfinder technology that delivers full color even at night under poor lighting conditions. The advanced image processing and in-camera software required to produce life-like color in HDTV resolution without artificial illumination cost $999 when it first debuted in 2011. In 2014, the price has dropped to $699.

The same economies apply to the wide dynamic range with dynamic capture feature that solves the problem of delivering a usable image in a scene comprised of both deep shadows and bright light. When the technology debuted in 2012, it sold for $999. Today, cameras featuring both Lightfinder and the latest wide dynamic range innovation—WDR—Forensic Capture start at $1,099.

Built-in optimized infrared LED is another example. Built into the camera itself, these LEDs are power efficient and automatically direct IR light exactly where the camera is pointed so that the illumination angle automatically synchronizes with the remote zoom. They produce less heat than their predecessors and therefore generate far less image noise. Unlike old IRs that burn out in a few short years, these new IR LED lights last at least seven years, even if used 24/7. Cameras with built-in IR LEDs first came on the market in 2012 for an already attractive cost of $499.

Given all of IP video’s advanced capabilities, it is no wonder that nostalgia for grainy, proprietary analog surveillance systems is sharply waning.

Accelerating Growth at Both Ends of the Market

IP video is a far more scalable technology than DVRbased systems, which makes it ideal for enterprise surveillance— large corporations with multiple satellite offices or citywide surveillance systems. In fact, most enterprise installations with more than 100 cameras are IP systems. While quite a few systems in the world have more than 10,000 cameras integrated into a single surveillance network, there are even a few with more than 100,000 cameras. This level of scalability can only be possible with network-based technology.

Despite the promise of IP video, there is still a high percentage of mid-size installations with between 10 and 100 cameras tied to analog technology. Their decision to cling to this older technology has been influenced by integrators comfortable with the simplicity of installing and operating DVR systems. But with innovations making network systems even easier to install and use, security integrators are starting to shift their influence to IP.

Analog also continues to dominate small system markets with fewer than 10 cameras due to the misconception that the old technology is the most costeffective, least complex solution. But that perception is changing due to two important catalysts: cloud computing and low-cost, high-capacity on-board storage. In addition to making IP more affordable for low camera-count users, these innovations deliver the same technological advantages found in enterprise level systems, namely HDTV image quality and full scalability in single and multiple camera increments.

How do they work?

Cloud security. Also known as hosted video or video as a service limits a user’s surveillance system investment to network cameras and a secure Internet connection. The user pays a service provider a monthly fee to store the recorded data in the cloud and maintain system components remotely, eliminating the need for onsite storage hardware as well as in-house technical expertise to manage, troubleshoot, upgrade and service the system. This shifts the bulk of the surveillance budget from a hefty upfront capital investment to a more affordable monthly operating expense. A hosted video operating model can also easily tie into a monitoring service, enabling an alarm operator to visually verify an event before calling responders to the scene.

SD memory cards. They equip IP cameras with highly-efficient, programmable internal storage. A robust technology that can be accessed remotely over a network, an SD card eliminates the cost of an onsite server, DVR, NVR or PC to house the recorded video. Basic SD cards range in capacity from 64MB to 4GB. SDHC cards offer more storage—from 8GB to 32GB. SDXC cards start at 64GB and can go as high as 2TB of storage. Instead of consuming bandwidth streaming video to an external storage device, the on-board storage can be accessed remotely over the network. When used in conjunction with hosted video, users gain the best of both worlds: having a monitored service and minimizing bandwidth consumption by storing most video on the camera itself.

Making Smarter Use of Video Surveillance

In the early days of surveillance, cameras were primarily installed as a deterrent to crime. In the last decade, surveillance has advanced to a forensic stage whereby video was tagged and viewed to identify details of an incident after it occurred. Most recently, we’re seeing a shift from that reactive use of video to a more proactive use through real-time analysis.

Foremost is using intelligent analytics to bring the most relevant video to the foreground so that the operator can direct attention to a certain area as an incident unfolds or shortly thereafter. Some of those analytics include:

  • Cross-line detection: sending an alert when a person, vehicle or object crosses a perimeter • Motion detection: sending an alert or initiating a video recording when there is movement in the field of view
  • People and vehicle counting: tracking the volume of foot and vehicular traffic to manage location capacity
  • License plate recognition: converting license plate images to OCR data for easy retrieval
  • Line management: triggering an alert when the number of people in line exceeds a specific number

Now that intelligent video has proven itself in security, its use extending into other areas of the business as well. Some of the typical retail and industrial applications for video analytics include:

  • Dwell time analysis at merchandising displays
  • Demographic analysis of shoppers by product category
  • Stock replenishment review
  • Video verification of cash register transactions and vendor deliveries

Because IP video is network-based technology, it can be seamlessly integrated with other physical security information management systems (PSIM) for more complete protection of people and property. Adding video verification into the mix affords a number of advantages:

  • Video verification on alarms: save on penalties for false alarms
  • Access control systems: confirm the identity of badge users
  • Intercom systems: screen visitors before unlocking door

Delivering Even Better Details

The next big game changer for IP video is Ultra HD, also known as 4K, which will bring even higher image quality to the table. Nearly four times the resolution of HDTV 1080p, 4K adheres to the following standards:

  • Resolution: at least 3840x2160 or 8.3 megapixels
  • Frame rate: up to 120 fps
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Color fidelity: a much larger color palette than HDTV

For the surveillance industry this translates into an unprecedented level of detail, making it easier for security professionals to identify people, objects and incidents from greater distances.

But with four times the resolution of HDTV comes at least four times the bandwidth consumption when streaming the video, and, of course, at least four times the volume of video data being stored. Therefore the only way 4K to have any practical application, compression technology will have to keep pace.

To use 4K at full resolution and frame rate, H.264 advanced compression technology requires a bandwidth of roughly 20-30 MBps. Compressing the video stream below 10 MBps sacrifices frames per second, video quality or both.

There is a new compression standard on the horizon, however. H.265, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding is the intended successor to H.264. A more efficient compression algorithm, it’s designed to improve video quality and double the compression ratio of its predecessor. The standard was formally published in June 2013 and the consumer electronics industry anticipates products equipped with H.265 to reach the market by the end of 2014. But the transition to the video surveillance world is still several years out since the standard has to be incorporated not only in video cameras, but also in all the associated components like graphics cards, video displays and video management systems.

IP Video Continues to have Far-reaching Potential

IP video has come a long way from its rudimentary debut in 1996. As its leading edge advantages over analog continue to exceed expectations—at the enterprise, mid-size and small system levels—the potential customer base for IP video continues to expand exponentially. This presents an attractive opportunity for security integrators and installers looking for solutions that will benefit all aspects of their customers’ operations.

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

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