Basler's position in the U.S. IP video surveillance market

Jan. 14, 2010 -- In late 2008, German camera maker Basler entered the U.S. market, showcasing the company's IP cameras. The cameras were a bit different than most comparable models; for starters they were relatively tiny compared to many existing models, with one model measuring roughly 1 inch by 2 inches. Additionally, the company's background wasn't purely in video surveillance or consumer products like so many of the top vendors. Instead, Basler's video surveillance offerings came from the company's ability to deliver high-end cameras for industrial applications, a space known as "machine vision."

Basler had been offering products in that market area for the U.S. since the mid-1990s, and they had cameras that could produce streams of 4 megapixel video at 200 frames per second. The market and product line that they introduced in 2008, and which continues today with their release of outdoor IP domes, was a bit different. For one, the machine vision cameras, like the aforementioned 4 megapixel/200fps unit weren't designed to produce streams for storing that video. The video was provided as raw data and was used for constant real-time processing, such as for product line inspections. According to Marko Vogt, sales and business development manager for Basler's surveillance unit in the U.S. and a 10-year veteran of Basler's U.S. operations, their cameras are used for such varied applications as inspections of semi-conductor production, postal mail sorting, medical imaging and even high-speed sorting of french fries as they are being made at food processing plants.

With that background, Vogt and the team with Basler Vision Technologies in the U.S., arrived on the scene, setting up a booth at ASIS in 2008 and starting to brand the company's IP video cameras to the security marketplace. At the beginning of 2009, the group started to build the brand in the U.S., setting up distribution partners and talking to integrators and A&Es. They've recently added a national distributor and are talking to others.

Along the way, they built the Basler security video team, and now employ about 20 persons specifically for that group, handling everything from sales to technical support.

"What we did in 2009 was lay the groundwork for our future growth," explains Vogt. "Now people are seeing us at tradeshows and coming up to us; they now know our brand. It's going well, but it's still a challenge and we have a lot [of work] ahead of us."

Today, with the introduction of the two new IP domes, the company has 10 IP camera models available to the U.S. It's certainly not the biggest product array (companies like Sanyo have introduced that number at a single tradeshow), but Vogt says Basler has been focused on a quality array of products, rather than try to come out with all models at once . In the line-up are eight IP box cameras and the new 1 and 1.3 megapixel outdoor domes, which feature built-in heaters/blowers and are built as day/night cameras focused on low-light performance.

Vogt says the size of the company's product line has been well received by select markets, noting that banks and schools have appreciated the compact, less-obtrusive size of Basler's cameras. And as for the integrators/VARs, the chief selling point has been what Vogt calls a "very low fail rate", something that Vogt attributes to the machine vision mentality, where a failed camera could shut down an entire product line.

"I think the main selling point for our cameras is coming from the machine vision side, where we know how to build good cameras and get good image quality. The core knowledge at Basler is image quality and building quality cameras," says Vogt. "When people really look at image quality, especially at night, that is when we normally win the deal."

Despite the fact that machine vision cameras usually stream raw data, rather than providing compressed image streams (which is how all IP surveillance video is streamed), the company made a point of launching its products with H.264, MPEG4 and MJPEG standard. At the time, few companies were producing H.264 cameras, a stream format that is seeing increased adoption for its ability to reduce output bandwidth while not simultaneously decreasing image quality.

Along the way, Vogt says the company is finding applications for its cameras in non-standard surveillance situations. He notes that they have been adopted for license plate recognition in the traffic surveillance market and even for biometric facial recognition. On the traditional surveillance side, the high image quality has generated interest from casinos looking for IP cameras. They've also gained additional support from VMS companies to support their cameras, most recently adding Exacq to the lineup.

As for the future, Vogt thinks that the overall growth rate slow-down in IP video for 2009, while still positive in overall growth, will bounce back in 2010, and he's counting on the U.S. and overall North American market to appreciate low fail rates and the made-in-Germany stamp.

"We take pride in our cameras," Vogt says. "You can get a lower priced camera but you'll have a higher fail rate, and your cost will then be higher once you replace that camera. I think Americans generally appreciate the products, the quality we have and that we are made in Germany."