Eye on Video: IP video tricks of the trade

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about IP video is that despite all its great benefits, the technology is too complex to install and maintain. That might have been true years ago when the network video first hit the market. Back then, many installations required a fixed IP address, no network cameras were outdoor-ready, nor were there any appropriate tools to help expedite camera installation and focusing. But today the circumstances are very different. Vendors have begun incorporating a variety of tools to make it extremely fast and easy to set-up network cameras and maintain optimal operation.

PoE and Hi PoE: Do it all with a single cable

When the first Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard, called IEEE 802.3af, was ratified in 2004, network video surveillance reached a new cost-savings plateau. While operating an analog camera meant running two cables to the head-end for each camera, network cameras could now use a single cable connected at a network node to both power the camera and transmit the video. It was a great solution for an indoor fixed camera. But the power provided by PoE was still insufficient for a single cable to operate pan-tilt-zoom and outdoor-ready network cameras.

A new PoE standard ratified in September 2009 changed all that. Called Hi PoE or PoE+, the IEEE 802.3at standard boosts the power that Cat 5 and Cat 6 cables can deliver so you no longer need a bundle of cables to power the camera, run the heater and fan, and send control commands. Hi PoE carries enough power for a single Ethernet cable to do it all, even for an outdoor or PTZ camera. This makes it simpler and less costly for security providers to incorporate pan-tilt-zoom and outdoor-ready network cameras into their surveillance plans.

The new Hi PoE standard increased the amount of power that can be supported on a standard Ethernet cable from 12.95 watts to 22.55 watts with an option of up to 50 watts.

Powered Device Classifications

Here’s a quick look at the common PoE classifications, wattage and typical devices that would fall in each of these classes:

Class 0, 0.44 W to 12.95 W
-Any device that does not advertise its class

Class 1, 0.44W to 3.84 W
-Network cameras

Class 2, 3.84 W to 6.49 W
-Network cameras, encoders, VoIP phones, access control readers, RFID, small wireless access points

Class 3, 6.49 W to 12.95 W
-Network cameras, VoIP phones, access control readers, RFID, wireless access points,
video phones

Class 4*, 12.95 W to 22.55 W
-PTZ network cameras, camera heaters and fans
* For Hi PoE-compliant network devices only

Outdoor-ready: Mount right out-of-the-box

Today's outdoor-ready network cameras come pre-assembled for optimum operation under extreme conditions and are IP-66 rated against dust contamination and water damage. Installation is quick and easy because the robust weather-proof casing that encloses the camera contains a pre-installed heater and fan and dehumidifying membrane. Advanced outdoor-ready cameras also include intelligent temperature controls to ensure reliable operation even in extreme climate variations (-40 degrees to +122 degrees Fahrenheit). To simplify installation even further, these outdoor-ready network cameras are powered through Hi PoE which means only one cable is needed for video, power and PTZ control. The outdoor-readiness also makes it easier to swap out a camera as needed.

Modular installation designs for network-connected video surveillance cameras

Above: The modularity of outdoor-ready cameras makes them easy to deploy
in the harshest outdoor environments.

Remote focus: Cut setup time in half

When security systems were purely analog, technicians would test the sharpness of each camera's image by laboriously connecting each, one at a time, to a specialized focusing monitor. With the transition to network video, installation technicians became more creative. Some used their PDAs or precariously balanced their laptops as they climbed ladders to test and retest the camera focus. Others used two-way radios to speak with someone watching a display at the central monitoring station who would give them live feedback as they adjusted each lens. Such an inefficient process inevitably required considerable time and manpower to execute, diverting a portion of a company's security budget that could otherwise have been invested in additional surveillance assets.

Today small optics motors are built into many network cameras that enable installers to use remote computers to manually or automatically fine-tune the focus as well as adjust the zoom angle to optimize the field of view. It's a more cost-efficient process that considerably reduces set-up time. This significant savings in labor costs ultimately lowers the overall total cost of ownership for a network surveillance system.

The motorized lens can also expedite remote maintenance checks and adjustments once the deployment goes live. Instead of setting up ladders and disrupting operations to readjust the field of view or the angle of the zoom, you can do it online via the computer. Installers can even program the camera to automatically self-adjust its focus on a regularly scheduled base, such as once a week.

Motorized lens in current surveillance cameras aid in focusing for installers

Above: Built-in optics motor lets you adjust camera focus and zoom angle remotely.

Pixel counter: Instantly verify resolution

Another innovation in network camera technology is a pixel counter. In the past, installers lacked any tools that could accurately measure whether a camera was delivering the resolution a customer expected. Today, built-in pixel counting analytics let an installer look at a camera's field of view over the network and verify the exact pixel count being captured within various sections of the image frame. The calculations take a number of factors into account: sharpness of the overall image in the recording and viewing systems, the quality of the lens, and the lighting conditions of the scene under surveillance.

A pixel counter verifies a camera's resolution remotely.

Above: A pixel counter verifies a camera's resolution remotely.

While standards have yet to be established in the United States, in some Europe countries law enforcement agencies are already specifying minimum pixel counts necessary to accurately identify people and objects for evidentiary purposes. For example, 20 pixels per foot has been deemed adequate for simple observation. For forensic review, however, the number should increase to 40 pixels per foot and for maximum clarity and recognition, resolution should be set around 80 pixels per foot.

Tampering alarms: Detect problems automatically

While a majority of innovations have been focused on the installation side of network surveillance video, attention is also being paid to the maintenance side. Some the newer network cameras incorporate remote focus motors as mentioned above. But many of today's network cameras also include sophisticated self-diagnostics and tampering alarms. If the camera detects that its lens has become dusty, its view deliberately obstructed or redirected, or that its operation is failing, it will send out an alarm to inform security of the problem so that immediate corrective measures can be taken. The incident at the Newark airport in January 2010, where reports indicated that the airline was unaware that one of its gate cameras was non-functioning, drives home the criticality of this feature. When you consider large retail operations where some chains have reported as many as 5 percent of their cameras essentially out-of-commission at any given time -- and oftentimes it's the very camera that would have had the perfect angle they needed -- the value of self-diagnosis and tampering alarms becomes even more self-evident.

Removing barriers to IP video deployment

So if you've been envying the performance benefits of IP video but thought the technology was too complex to deploy and maintain, take heart. With all the new network video tools on the market today, IP video hasn't just become as easy as analog to install and maintain it's become even easier.

About the author: Fredrik Nilsson is General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications and author of the book Intelligent Network Video. He is a regular expert contributor on topics of networked video surveillance systems and cameras.

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