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Everything is about to change in multi-sensor cameras

Megapixel technology has been a tremendously disruptive force in the security industry, as the superior image quality made possible by high-resolution imaging has led to increased capabilities and effectiveness of video surveillance. As the technology has matured, the barrier for entry into megapixel video surveillance has lowered, making high-resolution video accessible to virtually any end user.

The speed with which new developments in video technology arrives can at times be dizzying, as manufacturers seek to deliver the greatest performance and highest value in their cameras. However, the main driver behind new video technologies is providing solutions that solve end users’ problems and relieve their pain points. This has certainly been the case with multi-sensor megapixel cameras, which have recently begun to gain traction for mainstream applications.

Within a multi-sensor, each sensor can be individually configured and adjusted to cover areas of interest, whether in 180, 270 or 360 degree fields of view. This design allows a single four-sensor megapixel camera to capture large, clear images in four directions and provide the same detailed coverage as multiple single-sensor megapixel cameras.

There are a number of factors that have led to the increased popularity and more widespread use today, which will contribute to their continued adoption in the near future.

THE PTZ CONUNDRUM

For a long time, PTZ cameras have played an important role in video surveillance, offering the ability to shift camera views to capture particular areas of interest in a high level of detail. That precise field of view, which has been the main selling point for PTZs, is also the source of their biggest downside. All too often, PTZ cameras—whether controlled manually or automatically—are pointed in the wrong direction when an incident occurs.

Because PTZ cameras rely on motors and other mechanical parts to perform, maintenance and reliability have been other knocks against them. Moving parts and components eventually fail; this is an indisputable reality.

HD and megapixel cameras in general have solved many of these issues with much larger viewing areas and electronic zoom in high resolution, thus eliminating the issue of direction. With no mechanical components to fail, reliability is significantly improved. With more megapixel imagers, multi-sensor cameras multiply these benefits fourfold with performance that is far beyond the capability of PTZ or even single-imager cameras.

EXPANDED COVERAGE

Even the most advanced PTZ cameras can capture images around corners or down the entire length of corridors, but they can’t do both—or even capture images from multiple corridors [A1][A2][A3]at the same time. If that’s an organization’s surveillance goal, then multiple cameras would need to be deployed. Multi-sensor cameras, on the other hand, are purpose-built for handling this kind of double duty, with a single unit capable of providing the same detailed coverage for four separate views.

When installed on the exterior of a building, for example, a multi-sensor camera can be configured to provide 270 degrees (three sensors at 90 degrees each), while also focusing on an entrance directly below the camera. Another ideal use would be a parking lot, where a multi-sensor can be installed at the center to provide 180, 270 or 360 degree coverage of the entire area. These are just two examples of the types of deployments for which the expanded view provided by multi-sensor cameras is ideally suited.

HIGHER VALUE

Naturally, the ability for a single camera to cover the same area as multiple cameras creates cost efficiencies for end users. Because a single multi-sensor camera can provide the same coverage as multiple single-sensor cameras, surveillance systems can often be designed with fewer cameras to cover the entire area of interest. Lower camera counts translate into lower equipment costs, but that is only the beginning. Fewer cameras mean fewer VMS licenses, lower installation costs, fewer network switches and a fraction of the long-term cost of maintaining multiple cameras. Compared to PTZs, the savings on maintenance costs alone could be staggering.

On its own, each megapixel sensor allows a camera to view large areas and capture everything within that field of view in high resolution without the need for mechanical panning, tilting or zooming. Within a multi-sensor camera, this benefit is multiplied, as each individual sensor can provide the same detailed coverage as a single sensor, delivering even greater value beyond the cost savings of a lower camera counts.

IMPROVED SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

One of the most critical functions of security is real-time situational awareness, which speeds the process of identifying an active or developing incident and allows security professionals and first responders to determine the best response based on that information. To some extent, most megapixel cameras are capable of providing a degree of situational awareness, but multi-sensor cameras deliver a much greater level thanks to their ability to provide a continual high-resolution video feed from every direction. This guarantees that incidents won’t be missed because the camera was pointed in the wrong direction.

Additionally, high-resolution image sensors make it possible to see incidents and/or people clearly over long distances, while also providing the ability to zoom in on recorded video to for a highly detailed close-up view of those images.

GREATER EFFICIENCY

For operators responsible for monitoring and reviewing video, the tasks can be overwhelming at times. Because multi-sensor cameras can easily integrate with VMS, operators have access to enhanced views that allow them to easily see and better comprehend what is happening. Rather than forcing operators to try to make sense of feeds from several cameras, multi-sensor cameras can be configured to arrange all of its fields of view as if they were a single feed from a single camera. As a result, they can more make informed decisions on the best response more quickly and more effectively.

SUPERIOR IMAGE QUALITY

The main benefit of megapixel video, and the reason it has become the de facto standard for surveillance video, is the ability to capture high-resolution images. The amount of information captured in these images enables a wide range of additional functionality, including the use of video analytics.

With multiple sensors capable of operating independently of one another, multi-sensor megapixel cameras capture four times the amount of video, increasing the value of that video—and the value of the camera itself—for end users.

As we’ve seen in the past, technology changes fast and there’s no reason to expect that to stop anytime soon. Each advance brings with it additional benefits designed to address end users’ needs, including the development of multi-sensor megapixel cameras. As these technologies grow and mature, the benefits of these cameras will continue to expand. Given the increased capabilities, coverage and performance, lower total cost of ownership and higher ROI that multi-sensors deliver, it’s no wonder that these cameras are being more widely adopted as a more effective alternative to PTZ and multiple single-sensor cameras.

Increased capabilities, coverage and performance, higher reliability, lower TCO, higher ROI are changing the landscape of professional surveillance. And as prices continue to drop as demand increases, everything is about to change for the better in the market for multi-sensor megapixel cameras as more competitively priced offerings are introduced by leading suppliers of professional video surveillance systems.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Security Today.

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