HD gets its day at ISC West 2010

Despite a sometimes mixed messaging on what HD surveillance is, video industry starts to educate buyers

"I don't think HD is yet resonating in the industry," said Pelco's Director of Global Marketing Herve Fages, who noted that Pelco's booth at ISC West is dominated by HD messaging. "Our message here at the Pelco booth is to show where the industry is going, to lead them. I do know that when we ask customers if they want better resolution or better picture quality, we hear that, yes, they want better picture quality. But they have to balance cost, storage requirement and bandwidth to get there. Pelco has been perceived as an analog camera company, and the message we're showing here with our promotion of HD video surveillance is that we aren't just keeping up with the IP video transition, but that we're ahead of the curve."

Fages said that HD video, which isn't the highest resolution video available today, is a reasonable point for the industry to aspire to, without being oversold on products they don't need.

"We are not going to give the industry technology purely for technology's sake." Fages said. "We want to give the industry the right technology. We could give you 20 megapixels, but who really needs that? High definition is not about blowing you away with technology; it's about giving customers the picture quality they want."

In addition to the number of IP camera vendors producing HD video solutions, one group in the industry touting HD surveillance has been the HDcctv Alliance, which was also exhibiting at ISC West.

"The HDcctv Alliance is the only security industry body with a license agreement with SMPTE that enables us to incorporate the 720p and 1080p technical definitions directly in the new HDcctv technical standards. While none of the cameras described in your article [the IP cameras] are capable of transmitting uncompressed 720p or 1080p video signals, every HDcctv camera has that characteristic, while transmitting a full 30 or 60 frames per second without any visible delay or compression artifacts. HDcctv is not merely 'more than 540 TV lines'; it starts with full-frame-rate, uncompressed 720p or 1080p signals and adds features that are valuable for video surveillance."

While at ISC West, Paul Bodell of camera maker IQinVision, helped break down HD video "marketing" to the numbers and standards behind it.

"If you look at how the standards and how megapixel is defined, what you see is that a megapixel camera is always HD, but an HD camera is not always megapixel," Bodell said. Bodell is correct according to the common, general definition of HD video, which says that "HD" only requires that the resolution be higher than standard definition video. Beyond that historic definition of HD video, there are two common HD format standards (among many HD formats). There is the 1080p standard, which is 1080x1920 pixels, or the equivalent of 2.1 megapixels. But there is also the 720p standard, which is 1280x720 pixels. That means it's technically not a megapixel, it's just under 1 megapixel (approximately .9 megapixels).

The other thing that Bodell noted is that while the industry often associates HD with H.264 video compression, the standard doesn't exactly specify that. While the industry tends to think that HD means progressive scan, that's also another misconception. HD allows for either interlaced or progressive scanning. The other Bodell noted is that HD doesn't actually specify 30 frames per second (fps). For example, 1080p has a specified range that includes eight frame rate options from 23.976 fps all the way up to 60 fps.

In the end, Bodell said, "HD is really about marketing more than it is about reality."

So, is HD (or megapixel) really taking off? Are megapixel and HD camera formats becoming popular for integrators?

While at ISC West, that question was posed to John Nemerofsky, the vice president of sales and marketing at systems integration firm Niscayah. John said megapixel video surveillance is growing steadily for Niscayah, especially for the clients who understand the how they can obtain a higher return on investment by using a single megapixel camera to replace multiple standard cameras. Interestingly, Nemerofsky also said that IP video in general was a blossoming business area for Niscayah. Already some 20 percent of Niscayah's new security projects feature IP video.

Despite such strong growth in IP video adoption among their customers, Nemerofsky was asked whether the "rumors of the death of analog video have been highly exaggerated?" He said, "yes." In fact, the company recently completed a 16,000-camera analog project.

But with 20 percent of their new projects featuring IP video, it's likely the next project of that size will not be all analog. At least some IP video is going to be involved in the next project of that scope, and based on what was being shown in the booths on the ISC West show floor, at least one of those IP video cameras is statistically likely to be an HD or megapixel camera.