Happy 15th Birthday
Analog is the past; IP solutions represent the future
- By Fredrik Nilsson
- Mar 01, 2011
2011 will be a big year for IP surveillance. Not only has
its growth remained steady throughout a recession,
but large surveillance projects are announced each
day. This is the year when the network camera celebrates
its 15-year anniversary.
The technology wasn’t exactly a game-changer when first launched in 1996, but
as innovators have honed it to specifically improve physical security, it’s clear that
security professionals can do so much more with IP. Still, 15 years later, it’s surprising
to see so many still stuck in an analog age.
IP-based installations make up only about 25 percent of the total surveillance
market, which on the surface is not that impressive, considering how long it’s been
around. But after further examination, we see that it was really only about five
years ago when conversion of the market really took off. This was driven in large
part by rapid technological improvements, along with extensive market education
efforts from several vendors with an interest in accelerating the shift. As analog
has been a trusted surveillance technology for decades, this education was, and
remains, key to convergence.
As the industry is in the middle of this shift, it’s interesting to look closer and
see that the rate of conversion is drastically different if we compare small systems --
fewer than 16 cameras -- to large systems -- more than 50 cameras.
The smaller systems are still predominantly analog due to the perception that
DVRs and analog cameras are the most cost-effective solution. For large systems,
IP seems to be the only solution that can adequately address end-user needs.
So why is IP such a good fit in many systems? Why should customers move to
IP? The end-user’s decision typically boils down to the following three reasons:
better video quality, better scalability and lower total cost of ownership.
Better video quality. Video quality is, or at least should be, the most important
feature of a surveillance system. We have all seen grainy black and white video
from a gas station robbery on the local 10 o’clock news, and not many could
forget the blurry image of the Craigslist Killer strolling through the hotel lobby.
Despite what is shown on many crime dramas like CSI and Law and Order, the
images are only as good as the camera’s capabilities allow and cannot be enhanced
after the fact.
In truth, IP cameras initially offered video quality inferior to that of analog
cameras. The quality became on par some eight or nine years ago and then became
slightly better a couple years later with the introduction of progressive scan imagers.
Still, the quality difference between analog and IP was subtle for many and not
a key driver to make the move.
Then, about five years ago, megapixel cameras became prevalent, creating a
popular reason to move to IP. Unfortunately, this often came at the expense of lower
frame rates, large storage costs and less light sensitivity. That changed in 2009.
With the introduction of the first true HDTV network cameras -- those that
complied with the relevant parts of the SMPTE standard for frame rate, resolution,
color fidelity and aspect ratio -- IP cameras’ video quality was suddenly vastly
superior to analog cameras and quickly became the main driver toward IP. This
is no different from how flat-screen TVs in our homes have turned old tube TVs
The previously high cost of storing high-quality video also was addressed in
HDTV cameras by using H.264 compression, effectively cutting storage costs
caused by earlier megapixel network cameras that used M-JPEG. The quick adoption
has made many cost-effective HDTV-compliant cameras available on the
market, starting at $400.
Better scalability. Thinking about the more than one billion Internet users on
the planet and then considering that IP also can scale down effectively to two to
three computers in a home network makes you quickly realize the unmatched scalability
of IP for any application. Analog surveillance technology has very limited
and expensive infrastructure choices -- coax cable or fiber -- that are all home-run
per camera and rarely found in existing facilities.
IP infrastructure, such as Cat. 5 or Cat. 6, is often available in facilities both old
and new, and there is a vast array of fiber and wireless options available.
Additionally, analog systems are limited by the 8-, 16- or 32-channel building
blocks restricted by the DVR. This means that commissioning a 17-, 18-, 33-, or
34-camera system is very expensive even if the user wants to add only one or two
more cameras. The greater scalability of IP has long been a driver in large systems,
and many new systems have been buildable based on IP technology.
There are quite a few systems in the world with more than 10,000 cameras in
one integrated surveillance system, and even a few with more than 100,000 cameras.
This scalability and integration with other systems could only be possible using
IP technology, making it one of the main drivers of IP for a long time.
However, the majority of surveillance systems installed today would be classified
as small. These are still predominantly analog, mainly because of cost justification,
lack of education and perceived complexity of IP. This is expected to
change over the coming years as more manufacturers are focusing on providing
cost-effective and easy-to-install solutions for smaller systems.
One technology that will be the catalyst for this change is cloud computing, also
known as hosted video. Leveraging hosted video services will make it extremely
cost-effective to deploy small systems with fewer than five cameras per site using
Finally, for local storage solutions, expect to see systems based on networkattached
storage (NAS) or even higher-capacity SD-cards built into the network
camera. This will provide an inexpensive video storage solution for small camera
systems, as opposed to using a proprietary DVR.
Lower total cost of ownership. The total cost of installation and ownership of
IP has been a much-debated topic over the last couple of years. As with any technology
shift, there were a number of early adopters that bought IP-based surveillance
systems some 10 years ago despite its higher cost. But as the technology
matured and costs of IP came down, it was revealed in a 2007 independent study
that systems with more than 32 cameras actually had lower costs if they used IP.
This is when total cost became a major driver.
More recently, a follow-up study showed that IP now has a cost advantage for
systems as small as 25 cameras. To many people’s surprise, the study also claimed
that in even some smaller camera systems as low as 14 cameras, the costs for IP
and analog installations in a greenfield could be similar.
The most common cost misconception regarding IP-based surveillance systems
is to compare only the costs between the cameras. IP cameras are clearly more
expensive than their analog counterparts due to the higher functionality, image
quality and capabilities. It is important to remember that a major part of a surveillance
system consists of cabling/infrastructure and video management/storage.
Both cabling/infrastructure and video management/storage are found in standard
IT equipment for the IP-based system, and therefore users will quickly
find cost savings when compared to analog. Additionally, IP technology follows
Moore’s Law, which states that physical capacity and performance of IP-based
products will double every two years while cost remains the same.
With this trend continuing, and with volumes of IP cameras rapidly increasing,
expect to see lower cost become a major driver for IP in smaller systems just as it
has been in larger surveillance systems. Image quality, scalability and lower total
cost of ownership will not only continue to be major drivers for the shift over to
IP, but their advantages will continue to grow and become more obvious for any
size system, which will only accelerate the shift in the future.
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Security Today.
Fredrik Nilsson is the VP, Americas, for Axis Communications, Inc. He has more than 15 years of experience with IP video systems and is the author of “Intelligent Network Video: Understanding Modern Video Surveillance Systems” published by CRC Press and now available in its second edition.