Marek Robinson leads video sales for Honeywell Video Systems in the Western U.S. and Canada. In this guest column, he discusses the 'sweet spot' that HD surveillance offers.
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.
That type of megapixel need belongs to a totally different market than the segment HD best serves. HD technology is ideal for those who want to see more detail in a frame of something like a building or a parking lot. HD's ability to zoom in three times the normal amount gives end users that ability. Again, another key benefit is the technology's ability to maintain the same level of performance in low-lighting situations, like the floor of a casino--one of the lowest lighting environments our customers face. End-user environments like casinos, however, present the surveillance challenges that HD technology can best address.
With HD video cameras, casino surveillance departments can easily monitor gaming tables as if they were looking at them in full daylight--something that can't be done with most megapixel cameras. Other environmental elements like high ceilings with high-mounted cameras make tight camera shots a challenge. However, with the zoom and resolution factors of HD technology, surveillance personnel can view specific details like chips and the numbers on dice, without having to spend more money on storage or invest in network redesign. Overall, no two end users are alike, and casinos are the extreme. But this flexibility makes HD technology a good fit for versatile environments.
The development path for HD is also a compelling factor that will continue to improve the technology's capabilities and, in turn, enhance its appeal as a "sweet spot" technology. Driving this development is the way in which the industry is continuing to embrace technology at the edge. Technology at the edge enables faster processors and chipsets, among other things. This enables capabilities such as analytics at the edge and smart cameras, which further reduce cost of ownership, bandwidth and storage requirements.
As with any technology, challenges will accompany benefits as HD continues to evolve. But IP video technology is here, and new ways of leveraging its promise are coming into focus, thanks to HD. There will always be applications that require much higher resolution, but HD is hitting the sweet spot of high picture quality and low light performance that end users need.