Eye on Video: How consumer electronics affects video surveillance

How security markets are piggybacking on CES innovations


Every January, Las Vegas hosts the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest electronics shows in the world. Five years ago, vendors treated attendees to such innovations as megapixel cameras, next-generation DVD players that used the latest H.264 compression technology, large flat screen TVs and monitors, and new wireless technologies with much improved bandwidth for moving more data over the network. Fast forward to 2008 and look what vendors at the big physical security shows -- ISC West and ASIS -- are now showing: megapixel cameras, H.264 compression, wireless technologies with higher bandwidth and large flat-screen monitors.

In the '70s, it was the military and government that drove technology advancements. In the '80s and '90s, it was the business sector providing the push. Today, the enormous consumer electronics market is the driving force behind new technologies. The shift should not be surprising considering that Consumer Electronics Association reports that consumer electronics have grown into a $700 billion market worldwide. In the $10 billon video surveillance market, vendors are realizing it is smart to piggyback on innovations originally developed for consumers and repurposing them for physical security applications.

The following are just some of the consumer electronics trends that will play out in the physical security video surveillance arena in the coming year.

HDTV: Bigger and Better Images

The switch to all-digital broadcast television by February 2009 will soon relegate big picture tube TVs with a mere 480x720 resolution to a footnote in electronics history. With its vastly improved 1920x1080 resolution, guaranteed 30 frames-per-second frame rate, exceptionally crisp images and vibrant colors, consumer adoption of flat-screen, HDTV technology is progressing at an amazing pace. Fueling the success of HDTV are industry standards ensuring compatibility among home entertainment components, which opens the field to greater competition. This, in turn, drives cost down and makes the technology more affordable for a wider audience.

The success of HDTV will spill over into the video surveillance market in 2009 because the 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for large flat-screen video monitors. In addition, the higher resolution standard delivers the image clarity so critical to real-time surveillance and archived video that be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. In a few years, 1920x1080 might very well become the standard resolution on most video surveillance cameras as well.

H.264 Compression: Less Storage or Higher Frame Rates

The dust is finally starting to settle regarding the issue of competing compression standards. While MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 (in all its multiple versions), and H.263 have each had their proponents, the plethora of incompatible compression standards created confusion among consumers. Competing factions finally joined forces in the '90s to hammer out a single, all-encompassing standard that could deliver superior compression without compromising image quality.

The result was H.264 (also called MPEG-4 Part 10 or AVC for Advance Video Encoding), which was ratified in 2003. Widespread adoption has followed and today numerous consumer electronics products incorporate the H.264 standard - everything from Quick Time players in computers and Blu-Ray discs in home entertainment systems to the ubiquitous iPhone in your pocket. Since H.264 was the product of a joint effort of standards-setting organizations in the telecommunications and IT fields, the technology possesses the necessary pedigree to become the de facto open, licensed standard for video compression.

Last year, several manufacturers in the security market launched products supporting this new compression and are meeting with great success because the technology gives users a choice. They can either use H.264 compression to reduce storage costs and thereby cut overall system costs by 10 percent or more, or they can maintain the same cost while doubling their frame rate or image resolution. In the coming year, expect to see more high-resolution video cameras taking advantage of this superior compression technology.

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