A Conversation with Steve Carney

IP cameras didn’t come into the market on their own; they came as part of a solution.

At first, they simply replicated analog resolution and functionality in an IT world.

But as the IP space matured, such technologies as megapixel cameras began to advance the video surveillance market.

Five years ago, megapixel technology most likely was not part of the IP video equation. At that time, customers wanted control of the system and wanted to ensure it was future-proof.

We wanted to know more about IP cameras and how technology began to deliver on the promise of connectivity, improved image resolution and the ability to manage bandwidth, so we talked with Steve Carney, senior product manager of IP cameras and encoders at Tyco Security Products.

Q. What are the primary reasons for implementing IP cameras?

A. One of the primary reasons is to take advantage of megapixel technology that would allow customers to get far superior images. Initially, IP cameras started out with the promise of future-proofing the video solution.

It was when megapixel became manageable with H.264 that the technology delivered on that promise.

Analog creeps along with small incremental growth of a few TV lines at a time. IP cameras, conversely, multiply their resolution with each new release along the megapixel continuum. Megapixel resolution transforms video images from simply being used for general awareness to being used for actionable evidence of events. It also vastly widens the viewable scene, allowing customers to deploy fewer cameras with better image quality.

Q. What role is the standard-resolution IP camera playing in the market today?

A. Standard-resolution cameras are ideal for customers who are price-conscious or who have shortrange applications that don’t require the long-range detail or wide field of view enabled by megapixel. Additionally, there are markets just beginning to embrace IP technology for which standard-resolution cameras would be a more efficient solution.

Q. What are the challenges to megapixel technology?

A. The challenges tend to be twofold. First, early megapixel solutions struggled with low-light performance. Sensor and chip manufacturers have worked hard to rectify that issue, though, so new releases are showing vast improvement.

The second challenge with megapixel technology is bandwidth consumption.

Increased resolution comes with increased data. Megapixel cameras were limited in the marketplace until H.264 compression allowed the images to be transmitted and stored efficiently.

The market didn’t really tip favorably toward megapixel technology until the processors in the cameras dealt with the computing needs of H.264 and high resolution in a cost-effective way.

As a result, HD cameras and 4:3 format megapixel cameras are becoming a core element of camera portfolios.

Q. How is the industry addressing these challenges?

A. The sensor and chip manufacturers have really taken the next technological leap to allow for very good low-light sensitivity in cameras that are two megapixels and beyond.

That started in 2010, and the market is beginning to introduce that core technology now with solid, low-light level performing cameras in 2011.

On bandwidth consumption, the industry is behind. Even though it’s commonly thought that storage is cheap and getting cheaper, the fact is, it’s not inexpensive enough to support the amount of data that megapixel technology often produces. We often see customers reduce the number of cameras they intend to deploy because the storage costs exceed their budget. One way we are addressing this challenge is by identifying dynamic regions of interest.

For example, a customer can select specific areas of a scene and increase the bit rate around that area while keeping the rest of the scene at a lower bit rate.

Customers can get the detail where and when they want it without the full-time penalty of megapixel data rates. This remains an active area of development with plenty of room for innovation.

Q. With numerous IP megapixel cameras on the market today, how does a customer select the right solution for his or her application?

A. It all starts with what you want the camera to accomplish in that scene. Is it a camera that is viewing a fence line at a secure facility?

If so, do you need to know who is at the fence, because no one should be there? In this application, thermal imaging and low-light performance is the solution. Megapixel might not be necessary because you are not worried about the details.

If you want to minimize the camera count at the front of the building, a megapixel camera with a Theia lens is the ideal choice to see a non-distorted, wide-angle view where you want a general view of the scene. If you want to identify license plate numbers or faces, then you need to focus on pixels per foot. Selecting the right camera for your application is driven by the specific situation.

Q. Beyond megapixel technology, what new innovations has IP enabled?

A. IP has enabled the development of multi-sensored cameras and cameras that string together wide-angle views. These cameras expand the field of view when compared with the view provided by a traditional, single camera. So here, one camera can take the place of many cameras with improved response.

Q. How are IP cameras affecting the installers in the field?

A. A key battle occurring in the market is ease of installation, which is important to all systems integrators in the field. They want to see a reduction in the cost of the installation and margin for error.

It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to integrators to provide tools that ensure cameras can be quickly and easily installed, both physically and configured on the network. With that in mind, American Dynamics offers the Illustra 600 IP cameras with integrated recessed and hard-surface mounts, instead of using separate mount kits that add time and cost. This is a huge time-saver, especially for tough installations when an integrator is recessing the mount in the ceiling.

On the networking side, there are many improvements taking place, which is where our Illustra Connect comes into play. This discovery and configuration tool allows the installer to save time with auto-assigning static IP addresses, quick views of snapshots from all of the cameras and super-fast firmware downloads. We’ve worked hard to identify and address some of the common pitfalls in installing and managing cameras on a network.

Q. What’s in store for IP and megapixel cameras?

A. Intelligence. A number of years ago analytics took the industry by storm. The storm was short-lived, with delivery that did not really live up to the hype. There has been enough consolidation and refinement in this area that intelligence at the edge is maturing.

It’s maturing to the point that edge devices can be relied upon to make decisions and act dynamically. This maturity can now transform intelligence into solutions that meaningfully address customer needs, solve customer problems and enable new business opportunities.

Edge intelligence is getting to the point where it can transform and enable.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Security Today.

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