The True Cost Of 4K

It’s a game changer, cost saver, and a total solution

High definition (HD) and megapixel camera technology continues to evolve, and now 4K is emerging as the latest advancement to video surveillance imaging for security applications.

For specific applications, it actually costs less to deploy 4K cameras versus traditional HD or megapixel units, and the advantages are inherent in the technology. The use of 4K means integrators can deploy fewer cameras and that can equate to significant cost savings, especially for large open areas and public gathering spots, intersections, stadiums, parking facilities or any enterprise location. Fewer cameras equate to lower labor and installation costs, and may also enable the installer to more quickly move onto the next project. The technology in 4K adds up to operational efficiencies for the user in live viewing, search, playback and storage.

As with most video technologies, 4K Ultra HDTV, now referred to as 4K, first debuted in the consumer electronics entertainment industry, where customers demanded the best images to enhance their viewing experiences. It has now made its way to the security industry, providing the ability to capture more detailed images than ever before with this ultra-high-definition megapixel camera technology.


4K is based on a standard defined and approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and offers a video resolution of 3840 x 2160 or 8.3 megapixels at 30 frames per second (fps). Like HDTV, UHDTV adheres to specific entertainment industry standards via the Society of Motion Picture & Technology Engineers (SMPTE) as well as ITU to ensure and deliver consistent image quality. With twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of 1080p HDTV, 4K also features frame rates of up to 120 fps; an aspect ratio of 16:9; and superior color fidelity coupled with a much larger color palette than HDTV.

The technology behind 4K raises the bar, once again, on imaging. But, 4K is most effective when it’s a total solution. To take advantage of all the benefits 4K offers, every aspect of a surveillance system needs to be 4K compatible from head end to final output (monitors). While initially the use of 4K for security applications was hindered by the availability of lenses that could handle the level of resolution required, that is no longer the case. And that’s where the ability to realize the benefits of true 4K optical solutions begins.

It all starts with the image; if the image is inferior, then every other dime your end user spends on the solution from capture to storage, has less value. The reality is that some 4K cameras on the market only result in about half the resolution advertised because of inherent losses due to less capable optics, weak lens performance and other parts of the camera system that have not been optimized for 4K.

Another important step in the evolution of the technology is the adaptation of the entire security infrastructure to the 4K ITU standard, including hardware, video management systems, displays and bandwidth use. Now, 4K monitors are available to view the feed from the camera or the storage appliance and advanced image sensors are capable of managing the light required to activate the smaller, more numerous pixels. For local-based storage, the increased resolution means more bandwidth and greater storage capacities on servers, while addressing overall network bandwidth capacities and utilization.

As such, edge recording via an SD card and new, increasingly efficient bandwidth compression algorithms play a critical role in the proper deployment of 4K technology. In addition, because 4K cameras will most often be applied in selective specifications or strategically added to existing systems, the addition of 4K and fewer cameras overall results in a negligible impact on bandwidth, video recording channels and overall storage capacities.


Because the use of 4K cameras effectively reduce the number of cameras required for selected applications, they successfully lower the lifetime cost of the system solution. Fewer cameras covering the same or more area means less capital outlay for surveillance and more efficient security surveillance by command center personnel. All these efficiencies bring additional value to the surveillance solution for both integrator and end user.

Not only can systems integrators install fewer cameras, but their time on the job is reduced, giving them the opportunity to move to other projects for the same customer or new projects. In addition, their service and maintenance costs are reduced with fewer cameras.

With a wider area coverage by a single camera, 4K resolution provides 4x larger view compared to a 1080p FHD camera and 9x larger view compared to a 720p HD camera. As such, 4K cameras can be deployed for greater efficiencies in a variety of applications and vertical markets. They also set a new standard for lowlight performance, offering high sensitivity in color at less than 0.3 lux illumination, which means they can be installed at areas where lighting may be reduced or simply not optimal.

Some of the early adopter markets for 4K include: public safety and city surveillance (intersections, squares, prisons, parking lots); transportation (airports, stations, hub terminals); industrial (port facilities, plant, energy utilities); shopping malls; stadiums and banks.

The latest 4K cameras include many features that make them highly suitable and customizable for a variety of applications while delivering substantial cost savings. For example, in a retail parking lot deployment of approximately 11.75 acres, 4K cameras enable the end user to effectively reduce the number of units from 70 HD cameras to 21 4K cameras, reducing overall installation, maintenance and server costs by as much as 50 percent.

In a public safety intersection, a single 4K camera can provide complete coverage of all four corners, monitor traffic control, identify traffic violation license plates and observe pedestrian movement for general safety. In this application as well as any location where there are large numbers of people gathering, 4K cameras enable “virtual” PTZ operation.


With virtual PTZ capabilities, multiple users can virtually zoom around the entire image simultaneously and focus in to capture an incident in progress and quickly deploy the necessary support. For example, using 4K cameras in a stadium environment allows operators to get clear shots of each person’s face, monitor people’s movements and detect abnormal situations, such as a fight, fire or smoke, and take more targeted ground and response action. Users can achieve a 9X efficiency in viewing, recording and storage. They can also click on areas of interest while still looking at a bigger picture view simultaneously.

In a stadium environment where a very wide area of coverage is required, as few as four 4K cameras can effectively replace a 36-camera HD (720p) system due to their ultra-wide coverage area and high-resolution.

Applying 4K technology has a trickle-down effect on system solution efficiencies. This translates to reduced labor and camera management by the end user, shortening operational time. For the integrator, there are fewer cameras to mount, reduced network drops and conduit pulls, as well as reduced number of switches which have to be applied.

Overall, a 4K camera system offers as much as a 57 percent cost reduction compared to an HD camera system.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Camera—70 HD units (at $755 each for camera only) cost $52,870; 21 4K cameras cost $35,700, a cost reduction of 32 percent.
  • Installation maintenance cost—$96, 108 for HD units; $28,451 for 4K, a cost reduction of 70 percent.
  • Server cost—$32,046 for HD camera; $14,498 for 4K, a cost reduction of 55 percent.
  • Total—HD, $181,024 and 4K, $78,648, a total cost reduction of 57 percent.

The true cost of 4K camera technology is not simply documented by the price of the device, but the ability to use fewer cameras while enhancing the safety and security at the end-user’s business. Operational efficiencies and the need for less storage also make for a more cost-effective solution. For the integrator, not only does 4K provide a differentiator and lower job costs, it gives them the ability to offer customers new options for more efficient video surveillance operations—at truly, a lower cost.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Security Today.


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