Delivering on the promise of IP

Why high definition security cameras hit the sweet spot to drive value today


Many will look at 2010 as the year in which the security industry finally began to deliver on the promise of IP the way end users have long expected. And the answer hasn't come in the form of anything too unfamiliar. In fact, the answer is fairly clear, both literally and figuratively: High-definition (HD) cameras. At long last, HD is delivering the value long promised by IP.

As we begin 2011, let's take a step back and look at where we've been. When IP first emerged, the industry was abuzz with how IP cameras were going to immediately revolutionize the industry. The reality was, however, that IP was still expensive, took up a significant amount of bandwidth and there were a limited number of cameras available.

Many end users argue that IP cameras haven't been better than analog, citing high costs and complex installation and support requirements among the commonly-faced challenges. The industry has tried various remedies to address these issues, including looking to more megapixel cameras to meet surveillance needs. This still doesn't, however, provide the type of all-encompassing solution that users seek.

Consider why: While adding more megapixels can increase image quality, this typically only applies to situations in which the lighting is good. So, one might look at a megapixel camera and be satisfied, but that all changes once the lights go out. Adding megapixels also increases the cost of the technology, as well as network requirements -- which drive up costs, too. Add bandwidth and storage issues to the mix, and you're back to where you started.

Hitting the Sweet Spot with HD
That's where HD comes in. Now, we're seeing more HD technologies emerge that hit the sweet spot between standard definition analog cameras and high-end megapixel cameras. HD cameras are providing what many end users are looking for--namely, better picture quality, color saturation and low-light performance at a lower cost of ownership. Costs are typically comparable to analog, and users get three times the resolution level of standard definition. Users also can zoom in after the fact, which is a paramount requirement for most security surveillance settings today, and the cameras themselves do not impact storage capacity any more than analog technology.

The key to making HD video work for an end user is developing a solid platform first, followed by establishing the imaging technology. Most end users want better picture quality so they can capture crisp images of incidents and limit any uncertainty. Megapixel cameras can provide the resolution, but they lack the crisp color and clean image provided by HD technology.

IT directors in particular are embracing these types of cameras because their cost is only marginally more than conventional video graphics array (VGA) systems, and also because of standards and the ability to house HD video technologies on a network. Of course, standards discussions continue to permeate the marketplace, and the HD space is no exception. As the industry moves toward recognized standards, we will see more of a plug-and-play world.

Today's HD cameras are built on open platforms because of this new reality, so integration with other cameras and recording systems is easier and consequently driving adoption. End users don't have to change their platforms to get the benefit of a powerful camera. And housing HD video technologies on the network improves overall performance because bandwidth requirements remain largely the same as those required for analog, while picture quality becomes three or four times better.

Addressing Real Surveillance Challenges
Imagine a bell curve of cameras ideal for different end user needs. HD falls in the middle. Standard definition analog cameras rest at one end, and at the other far end of the curve, you'll find high-end megapixel cameras -- the kind that let you see all the way across a football stadium, for example.

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