Eye on Video: How consumer electronics affects video surveillance

How security markets are piggybacking on CES innovations

Wireless Bandwidth: Live Surveillance Feeds to a Cell Phone

Wi-Fi is everywhere: on the local street corner, in the neighborhood coffee shop, at the airport terminal, even on commuter buses and trains. In deploying 802.11 standards, many public venues are providing laptop users with bandwidths upwards of 50Mbits. Even cellular networks are upping their performance from the mere 9.6Kbits they delivered in their infancy to a more commonly available 0.5 to 5 Mbits today. Discussion is now underway among vendors about delivering next-generation (4G) bandwidths in the 10 to 100 Mbits range.

The surveillance industry is already starting to reap the benefits of these advances in wireless technology. For instance, mesh networks - which are based on 802.11 technologies - are making city-center surveillance systems much more flexible and cost-efficient. With the advent of smart phones with large screens and 3G support - such as the Apple iPhone - users can remotely monitor live surveillance video from anywhere inexpensively.

Storage Devices: Plentiful and Cheap

Our appetite for storage space seems insatiable. Every year, our PowerPoint presentations grow bigger and more complex. We continue storing an ever-increasing number of photos, music and video file on our home computers. Manufacturers of hard drives, hearing our call for more space, keep doubling the size of hard drives while driving down the costs. Even flash drives have come down to attractive price points for consumers with a bonus benefit of eliminating disk crashes since there are no moving parts in a flash drive.

Customers are pushing surveillance vendors to quickly catch up. Most video surveillance systems today specify frame rates from 7.5 to 15 frames-per-second, with video retention of a few days or weeks. This design is driven by system limitations and cost rather than customer desire. If customer preference ruled, 30 frames-per-second, HDTV resolution and archiving a couple of months of video recordings would likely be a more common request. With more efficient storage capacity technology on the rise and cost on the decline - helped along with judicious application of H.264 compression standards - enterprise security departments will soon get their wish. Flash drives will add another significant benefit to the mix because they make having small reliable recording solutions in harsh environments a possibility.

Where Consumer and Business Needs Part Ways

Not everything that is good for the consumer works in the world of video surveillance. Today's basic digital cameras, for example, start at 10 megapixels and go up as high as 20. Such high resolution is fine when you are taking one picture or frame-per-second, or even up to 6 frames-per-second for professional cameras. But in the surveillance world, where situations often necessitate recording up to 30 frames-per-second, high-resolution image sensors simply cannot keep pace. Only HDTV resolution cameras (with up to two-megapixel resolution) can guarantee a frame rate of 30 frames-per-second. If you opt for higher resolution, you often have to sacrifice frame rate.

Looking for the Next Major Innovation

Manufacturers continue to pushing the technology envelope in their effort to satisfy our perpetual craving for better, smarter cell phones, computers, TVs, videos, games and other as-yet imagined electronic gadgets. Since video and audio now comprise 90 percent of consumer network traffic, we can expect a lot of innovation in this area, which will inevitably benefit physical security and video surveillance.

So how soon can we expect our wrist watches to receive live video streaming from most Google map locations? While it might be difficult to predict the next major consumer electronics breakthrough, rest assured that we will continue to see those technological advances trickle down to the physical security and video surveillance markets.