HDcctv Alliance: High-def isn't just for IP

In the world of video surveillance, the words “high definition” have typically been associated with IP cameras, where manufacturers used megapixel camera sensors to offer the same level of clarity that new consumer HD digital televisions offered. Now, a group of technologists and vendors wants to change that perception that you have to go IP to get HD, and they’re doing so by launching an initiative called “HDcctv”.

HDcctv, promoted by a group called the HDcctv Alliance, wants to show that analog camera technology isn’t being left behind and that dealers and end users don’t have to swap their surveillance networks from coax to Cat-5e or Cat-6 just to get better images of bad guys in action.

The group announced their initiative this morning, and HDcctv Alliance Chairman Todd Rockoff, Ph.D. (formerly with surveillance products manufacturer EverFocus as vice president of global sales) called it “a zero-training, plug-and-play resolution upgrade for the installed base."

What Rockoff and the alliance are going up against, he says, is a perception in the industry that in order to make the switch to high definition video surveillance, you have to know networking, you have to use NVRs and IP video cameras, and you have to change out all the equipment. With the technology push from his group, says Rockoff, "moving from current resolutions to 720p or 1080p is as easy as switching cameras and then the DVRs."

In terms of the technology behind the HDcctv Alliance's efforts, it does mean swapping out cameras and the recorders (and also your matrixes and monitors to get the full effect). The HD cameras that the alliance wants to promote would use the same front-end as any HD IP camera, meaning the same types of lenses and initial processors and image capture chips. Then comes the difference; the HDcctv camera passes the uncompressed video in a format known at BT.1120 to a digital serializer. On the receiving end, after the data is sent over standard coaxial cables, a serial digital interface (SDI) with a BT.1120 codec in a DVR receives that signal and then converts it for storage on the DVR's hard drive. One of the real advances that has allowed for high-definition CCTV, he says, has been the development of HD capture cards for digital video recorders.

The video, explains Rockoff, could be recorded at high definition, but it's also likely, he says, that users would want to watch the high-def video for their CCTV monitoring stations when they have a live incident. Certainly, he says, there are clear advantages to being able to see a surveillance image in high resolution for monitoring purposes.

In terms of costs, Rockoff's group proposes that the costs of high-definition cameras and HD DVRs would be roughly the same as IP cameras and NVRs, since the technical cores of these devices aren't altogether different.

If there's one thing that the HDcctv Alliance is questioning in the world of video surveillance, it's that the current push into IP video is a natural step and one that our industry must take.

"I don’t see the transition to IP cameras as being inevitable," says Rockoff. "IP video can start at the DVR."

Rockoff's point is that the true advantage of IP video isn't simply that it's moved from the camera to an NVR over Ethernet or IP-based standards rather than coaxial. The advantage of IP, he says, is really having video surveillance be available over the network for remote access, viewing and management. Even in standard IP surveillance systems, users, he says, aren't typically accessing video feeds directly from the IP cameras. Instead, they're logging into the NVRs or the IP video management software and accessing feeds and recorded video from that point, in the same way that remote access to DVRs works.

If there is one place where high-definition CCTV technology has a definite advantage over IP video it is in the realm of compression and latency. Because the data isn't being compressed for the transmission part of the system (individuals could set up compression or reduce frame rates at the DVR level, however, to save storage space), and because the data isn't packetized, but is sent serially, users wouldn't have latency issues that are commonly experienced in IP video, especially when it comes to control of PTZ domes. Other advantages that the alliance gives for an HDcctv system is that HD means there is more data for analytics technologies to use and that surveillance operators wouldn't have to learn a new interface for controlling cameras and monitors.

In terms of the industry and how willing it would be to adopt this technology, it's notable that the HDcctv Alliance already has some key industry players on board. EverFocus, Rockoff's former employer, is part of the group, and you already have chip-makers Stretch (codec chips) and Gennum (HD-SDI chips) on board. Ovii, a surveillance camera company from Taiwan, is also on board. Rockoff says he expects to see more adoption of this. In fact at a recent security technology show in Tokyo, Rockoff said he saw roughly 10 companies offering high definition video surveillance over coaxial cable. And with that kind of technology adoption already starting to happen, he says it's the perfect time for the HDcctv Alliance to come in, set high definition CCTV standards for equipment makers, and coordinate marketing and education of this technology area.

In terms of standards, the group has already been active. Although today, June 16, 2009, is the group's official unveiling, he says the organization has already been doing work behind the scenes. On that end, a standards committee of the HDcctv Alliance has already developed a ".9" version of their technical standards. Now, says Rockoff, he wants to encourage membership in the alliance by inviting the companies that manufacture video surveillance technologies.

Asked why it was the summer of 2009 before we saw a high-definition trend in non-IP surveillance systems, especially since consumer HD equipment was already widely available, Rockoff says that the answer really was in the world of image capture. Early high-resolution, "megapixel" chips simply required too much light to be applicable in real-world video surveillance. It's just now, he says, that you're finding HD quality and resolution image capture chips that are sensitive enough to make this happen. He credits these semi-conductor advances, which have offered ever lower lux ratings, as making the technology relevant for surveillance projects. "When you get below the .5 lux range," says Rockoff," all of a sudden you can play in most security situations."

To learn more about the HDcctv Alliance, visit their website highdefcctv.org, and for membership, visit highdefcctv.org/membership.