Simplifying camera selection and implementation

Many factors must be taken into consideration when designing and installing a surveillance system. Setting up a camera, an installer needs to know how much activity will be taking place and when it will be taking place within the camera's focus to determine what the subsequent storage requirements will be.

To help both end-users and installers in this process, many camera manufacturers now offer a range of video surveillance calculators free of charge on their websites. These calculators enable technicians to input all the relevant data including camera model, resolution and compression format, to see how much bandwidth the feed will take up.

"Our philosophy on our tools in general is we are looking to give our partners tools to allow them to accurately specify our products and accessories so that when they do an installation with our products, they are doing it with the right products so that they get the job done right the first time," said James Marcella, director of technical services for Axis Communications. "We also, through our tools, offer guidelines on how to implement our products into a total solution or a system since Axis is really just manufacturing one component of a total solution."

The Axis Design Tool, which is available both online at the company's website and on DVD, is a bandwidth and storage calculator for Axis cameras. Marcella said the tool allows users to select any of the company's cameras that are currently available and then set different parameters for them like frames-per-second to view and record video, compression format (H.264, MJPEG, MPEG-4) and scene requirements (how much motion will be taking place within the camera's field-of-view).

"This calculator is a very powerful tool that allows you to select which cameras you are using, determine how much frame rate you are going to be viewing and recording at, and what type of compression to use and it's basically going to spit out a report to you that says 'hey, you need this much bandwidth to deliver this solution and you are going to use this much storage space,'" he said

Marcella added that the design tool has been in use for about the last three years and indicated that they have thus far received positive feedback about its capabilities.

"The feedback that we have received from our partners has been that (the design tool) is conservative for the most part. Most people find that what we say you are going to need for storage and bandwidth is a little bit higher than they actually need in real life and we feel that is a smarter approach than doing the reverse. In some respects, it is ok to over-engineer a project, it is never ok to under-engineer a project," he said. "We have also gotten feedback that the image scenario piece is a great addition because most tools we have seen and heard of don't give you that capability."

One of the biggest differentiators, according to Marcella, between Axis' design tool and some other videos calculators is that because it is an Axis tool, when the company launches a new camera, that information is automatically added to the design tool. In addition to the design tool, Axis also provides installers with several other calculators including a housing configurator (identifies proper housing and other accessories for Axis cameras), Camera Reach Tool (allows users to pick the right cameras for the job by determining if it meets certain scene capture or facial recognition requirements), lens calculator, product selector (compares products from the Axis portfolio), and AXIS Guide (a version of the product selector for use on the iPhone).

Another camera maker that offers a variety of video calculators is IQinVision. According to Paul Bodell, the company's chief marketing officer, IQinVision's IQdesign tools have been around for some time, but were recently revamped.

The company's tools include a storage calculator (calculate storage based on camera resolution, settings and recording options), pixels-per-foot calculator, (determines resolution and type of camera needed based on pixels-per-foot specifications), frames-per-second calculator, (allows installers and consultants to configure frames-per-second requirements based on a list of questions answered by the end-user), green calculator (analyses the power consumption and carbon emissions of cameras), and image capture calculator (determines how resolution and frames-per-second can produce the desired number of images for an event).

"We try not to get into technical minutia that does not really matter for the purposes of calculation and (the calculators) are not really geared towards pushing a technology, but listening to the customers' requirements and using these calculators based on some simple questions that the integrator can ask the end-users," Bodell said.

Bodell added that they have about 500 integrators who have registered and are using the calculators with great success. He also said that IQinVision is planning on introducing more calculators in the future, such as an enhanced lens calculator.

"This is part of our overall effort to really step up our design tools, as well as our architectural and engineering programs to... raise the bar on the type of calculators customers have to use and take away the techno babble out there that generally confuses end-users, architects and even integrators," he said.

The calculators are available anytime online at no charge.

Video calculators are available from other leading camera manufacturers as well, including Pelco.

Similar to some of the aforementioned tools, Pelco offers several calculators including a digital storage estimator, resistor calculator, field-of-view calculator, voltage calculator, wire gauge calculator, and the Pelco Camera Tool (allows dealers and integrators to identify a camera's field-of-view, how video analytics functions will operate at a location and how far a camera or analytical tool can view objects in a scene).

One company that is working on a revolutionary type of video calculator is IP solutions provider Infinova. According to Mark S. Wilson, the company's vice president of marketing, rather than using a general rule-of-thumb approach to predict storage requirements, Infinova's Bandwidth and Storage Estimator (I-BASE), uses an advanced statistical analysis to determine those needs over a period of time.

"What I think is needed for integrators today is to try and get an estimate of what the bandwidth would be over a period of time," he said.

Using a Monte Carlo analysis, Infinova's calculator will enable users to account for variations in the level of activity that will take place in a camera's field-of-view. I-BASE will also allow customers to look at different groups of cameras using various compression formats and compare their frame rates and bandwidth requirements.

"I think it will give (integrators) a better estimate of how cameras will perform in more realistic motion scenarios," Wilson said of the tool. "I think it will just give the security manager more information to pass on to the IT manager to make that teamwork a little bit more effective,"

I-BASE is currently undergoing beta testing and Wilson hopes to have the calculator available for use by the fourth quarter of 2010.