Industry Perspective

A conversation with Luke Zitterkopf

We're all familiar with compression technology, and the improved version of MPEG-4 has been bandied about for months. We wanted to know more about H.264, so we sat down with Luke Zitterkopf of Trium Technologies to ask a few questions.

Q. Give us an overview of H.264 technology, the market size and its expected growth.

A. H.264 is the most recent compression standard introduced in the security industry and is expected to become the new standard as technology moves toward a more network-friendly market. H.264 is simply an improved version of MPEG-4, with more efficient video compression technology. In terms of storage requirements, H.264 requires roughly half the storage space than MPEG-4. This improvement allows for greater amounts of data storage, lower bandwidth requirements and greater image quality per bit of data.

The market size, or implementation rate of H.264, is not well defined. There is some controversy within the industry about the benefits and drawbacks of H.264. While most manufacturers are moving toward providing products using H.264 compression, there is still debate regarding whether it will become the new industry standard for compression. For installations that have cameras requiring high frame rates and bandwidth requirements, H.264 is proving to be popular. Heavy growth is expected for H.264 in airports, casinos, banks, government buildings and any facility requiring highly detailed video footage and smaller network footprints allocated to security functions.

Q. How will the H.264 video compression technology impact the security industry in the short term?

A. Trium Security is a strong supporter of H.264 technology, and our new Evolution Series products clearly show a desire to provide reliable products in the market. We anticipate H.264-capable products to be widely used, easing the legacy-to-IP transition. Additionally, the benefits of greater storage capacity, improved image quality and reduced bandwidth requirements deliver what customers demand. We have received a steady stream of requests to provide H.264-capable DVRs, IP cameras and video servers, so the demand is definitely there.

For the short term, we see H.264 becoming an essential component to increasing the quality of video surveillance equipment and continued growth as more installations see the documented results of this much improved technology. One industry example is the implementation of megapixel cameras, where H.264 will provide more incentive, and technology, to increase the use of megapixel cameras.

Q. From an end-user perspective, is this technology relevant or applicable in today's market?

A. For the end user, an important aspect to consider is having a surveillance system that will provide the best possible balance of solutions and value for the physical installation. An installation that requires images of significant detail to be captured for possible judicial review may require megapixel cameras with H.264 technology. If the user does not need or does not own a significant amount of digital storage space—whether locally or on the server side—H.264 will allow the end user to store more data in relation to other compression methods.

In addition to easing some of the bandwidth problems, H.264 will allow the end user to have greater options in relation to data backup and redundancy issues. In smaller installations, H.264 can represent a significant investment and, if done in stages, can allow the user to upgrade their present system at a pace that meets their requirements both financially and logistically. For enterprise-level solutions, the advantages can be invaluable, where the slightly higher market price for H.264 products serves as a good investment for the future, allowing for the most efficient and networkfriendly technology on the market today.

Q. How can the migration to H.264 be as seamless as possible for an installer or end users?

A. The easiest method for migration from an analog system to H.264 would be installing video servers equipped with H.264 compression technology. The video server should be an IP-based A/V stream relay server that converts an analog signal to digital format.

In installations where IP MPEG-4 units are already in use and the end user's needs dictate an upgrade, H.264 units would be added as support to the existing technology— provided all the hardware communicates on the H.264 standard.

In short, balance is vital to any smooth migration, and growing pains can be eased if proper planning, quality hardware and professional counsel are implemented.

Q. How important is H.264 technology to your basic video surveillance system owners? Is it a specialized technology?

A. For most surveillance systems, H.264 is beneficial. The real question becomes a matter of cost versus benefit. If a system consists of three or four analog cameras recording at 4 to 5 frames per second, 24 hours a day, H.264 may not be a necessary upgrade. If a system does not use much of its available storage space and the installed cameras are not streaming large amounts of data, H.264 is probably not of concern. However, in systems with IP cameras, megapixel cameras or those requiring high frame rates for recording, H.264 is an important upgrade that should be given strong consideration.

Q. What are the foreseeable drawbacks or problems associated with H.264 integration?

A. The main concerns seem to relate to compatibility with various brands of NVRs and the CPU processing power required to continuously "unzip" the H.264 data stream for viewing. At this point, there is little evidence to cause concern about using H.264 compression. It is a viable and stable compression format.

H.264 is already a proven compression method with a solid set of quality features to push it toward the forefront of video compression technology. With H.264, the future of the network security industry looks promising, and it is already proving highly valuable to any surveillance system architecture.

Q. Looking into the "crystal ball," what is the future for H.264?Is there anything else on the horizon for compression technology?

A.To the best of my knowledge, there is no immediate successor in the pipeline for H.264. The benefits of H.264 will likely be another major step forward in the powerful and increasingly affordable surveillance equipment market, one that is transitioning toward a standard in IP technology.

We are all looking forward to the exciting new technologies that will shape the security industry for the future, providing a platform for a more secure world. Anticipation is high in the global security market for technologies that will produce better image quality, faster transmission speeds, quicker emergency response times and improved storage capacity.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Security Today.

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