What Integrators Look For

The inventor of the network camera discusses the secret sauce

In today’s innovative surveillance camera market, dealers might be overwhelmed by the many choices. It may be confusing to determine which product is best for a specific installation with all the options available from different manufacturers -- many of which have seemingly similar data sheet specs. Because of this, manufacturer research and development departments need to ask themselves, “What are dealers and integrators really looking for?”

The secret recipe for creating a product that users will love has six main ingredients:

1. Selection
2. Performance
3. Service
4. Education
5. “Openness”
6. Availability

Selection
First and foremost, dealers and integrators should be well aware of the technology shift from analog to network surveillance. Network cameras -- or IP cameras -- are today a mature technology.

The key benefits of IP include getting rid of the interlaced image, adding the ability of high-resolution imaging like HDTV and megapixel, scalability of the system, and installation cost cutting by powering the cameras through the same Ethernet cable that delivers video (PoE). Users can do much more with IP, from easily moving and adding cameras where needed, to improving intelligence and operational benefits. Having a broad IP portfolio that includes cameras and encoders is key, especially if working with customers who have working analog cameras and are happy with the performance.

When it comes to camera installation itself, the dealer must first determine the basic camera usage. What category of cameras do I need: PTZ, fixed domes or fixed box cameras? What are the environmental requirements: Do the cameras need to be outdoor or vandal resistant? How is the scene lighting:

Will I need artificial light, or should I use IR illuminators, day/night cameras, or even thermal cameras?

If the camera selection meets the expectations of the integrator, the next step is to ensure the video is supported by the leading video management software vendors.

Performance
Resolution has been a big factor in the performance debate. A modern IP system today has the ability to feature the same 720p or 1080p HDTV resolution found in home entertainment centers. These HDTV-compliant cameras conform not only to pixel-based standards but also to full-frame rate, color fidelity and aspect ratio standards set forth by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE), an organization that has standardized broadcast and cinema quality since 1911.

If the installation calls for an even higher resolution picture -- like three or five megapixels -- the camera should provide both an HDTV and megapixel option. More importantly, the appropriate lens to handle the high-resolution image is critical and should come preconfigured with the camera (if not preconfigured, then the manufacturer should provide clear direction for lens selection).

Keep in mind that the products should feature the most advanced compression standard for video surveillance, today H.264, to keep the video stream at a reasonable size for viewing and storage.

Pan-tilt-zoom cameras also conjure up debates where performance is concerned and can be the most complex factor to select for dealers. These are advanced mechanical products, and many factors and functions can affect performance.

In particular, if the camera is to be placed outdoors you need to look at the temperature range beyond the camera’s daily operational temperature. For instance, what do you do if there is a power outage on your camera system in the dead of winter in Chicago? Many cameras rely on self-heating for continuous operation when power is on, but when a PTZ camera does a cold-start after power loss, it needs to heat up before it can be used without damaging internal mechanisms. Conversely, cameras covering a power plant in New Mexico must be able to handle the heat caused by the continuous sunlight. This saves on late-night and unexpected truck rolls to the site.

Zoom number as it relates to the camera’s resolution is another performance function to consider. Broadly speaking, 18x zoom in HDTV resolution is the same as 36x zoom in standard definition. So just comparing zoom numbers between different resolution cameras will not be accurate -- match it with resolution.

Service
A surveillance installation should last for a long time, so understanding what goes into the total cost-of-ownership is essential. In the long run, upgrades and replacements can be more expensive than the initial installation, so service is critical.

The first years should be covered by a good warranty from a reputable vendor. Oftentimes when a product is thought to be defective, it could actually be an installation or configuration error to blame. Because of this, effective field support in the form of telephone, e-mail and chat can be the difference between getting it right the first time and having a camera down for a couple days while the product is being replaced.

Additionally, the system should be future-proofed to plan for adding to the camera population as well as installing new applications. The amount of cameras in a system normally increases over time -- sometimes as much as two times the size of the initial installation. This requirement suggests one should select vendors with a good track record for growing with an installation as well as a consistent architecture.

Education
Something that often goes hand in hand with service is the education offered by the manufacturer to ensure solutions are installed by qualified partners.

The vendor should have a long experience both in cameras as well as networking, and have the avenues to share this knowledge with the dealers by means of classroom education, Web-based tutorials, self-paced online training and takeaway literature. Additionally, as evidenced by its importance in the IT industry, an official certification process will help the dealer and/or integrator differentiate himself or herself in a competitive marketplace.

“Openness”
When selecting a video surveillance system, there are two options: Select a single vendor that provides the whole system, or opt for an open system that can marry components from different vendors in a best-of-breed solution. In general, best-of-breed solutions have proven most effective because, with support for a consistent, open API, the products are truly interoperable.

From a dealer/integrator perspective, interoperability is easy if products are purchased from a distributor who offers complementary products and has expertise in networked video. Having cameras that support a common industry standard such as ONVIF can be another advantage to make the installation more future-proof.

The Video Management System selected also plays a key “openness” role.

One can either use a boxed NVR or a PC running VMS software. A PC with VMS is typically better for mid-size to larger installations, where a boxed NVR or even hosted video services are typically better for smaller camera counts.

Analytics of the system also tie closely to the VMS and depend heavily on camera chip performance for accuracy. But, while getting analytics right can be very valuable, configuring can be difficult. Even simple analytics such as Video Motion Detection and Tampering Alarms need to be tested before deployment.

Here the dealer will benefit from a good relationship with a valueadd reseller and a manufacturer with a large, open application development partner base.

Availability
None of the above factors will improve the system if the products can’t be found. Vendors who have broad, well-educated distribution partners can be invaluable. Not only will products have a better chance of arriving on time, but the distributor can make educated recommendations for other products, manufacturers and services to round out the solution.

Finally, commitment to R&D by the manufacturer is a major sign that the vendor is the right partner. In the world of IP, innovation moves much faster than it ever did in analog, and integrators should align themselves with vendors who can ride the technology wave, not get swallowed by it. Putting a significant portion of revenue back into Research & Development is the only way to stay ahead.

Reinvesting in R&D also gives a strong indication that the partner has long-term stability. There have been unfortunate stories of short-lived security vendors who were selected for significant projects only to go out of business or discontinue a product before the project was complete.

As we move into the next age of video surveillance where IP takes a strong foothold over analog, dealers and integrators must keep pace not only with innovation but also with the speed at which vendor partners adapt. By making a checklist of the six ingredients that make up a successful product partnership, dealers and integrators can ensure that they are getting the best products to build effective solutions.

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

About the Author

Martin Gren is the co-founder of Axis Communications and an inventor of the world’s first network camera.

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