Eye on Video: Design, mechanics and installation for surveillance

Over the last five issues, this column covered a broad range of topics centering on intelligent video – from system architecture to audio intelligence and the algorithms that enable various video analytics. While video intelligence and, to a certain degree, audio intelligence have become relatively commonplace in network surveillance, this month’s article focuses on three other important aspects of intelligent video technology that integrators need to consider: design, mechanics and installation.

Intelligent design: form and function

An intelligent design involves form and function in equal measure. The network video solution not only considers the surveillance requirements in terms of features and capabilities, but how the components fit into the environment in which they will be used.

This was not the case in the early days for surveillance systems. In the market’s infancy, surveillance cameras tended to be nondescript. In fact, fixed cameras are known in the industry as “box cameras” – a name that aptly reflects their unassuming shape. This design sufficed for industrial spaces like factories, warehouse and loading docks. But once the market for surveillance systems began making inroads into commercial environments like retail stores, casinos, hotels and business offices, it became increasingly important for security components to blend in with the dĂ©cor of the location. Today, customers expect the shape and size and even the color of the network camera housing to match the overall aesthetics of the property.

Design Challenge #1:
Problem: An upscale fashion boutique with an exclusive address in the heart of Paris had invested heavily in renovating the property and creating an interior ambience that reflected its unique brand image. While shop security was paramount, the manager also wanted surveillance cameras that could provide a visual deterrent without detracting from the highly-designed layout and displays.

Solution: Instead of the usual box-shaped fixed cameras, the shop chose surveillance cameras with a more sleek design. Because the network cameras were powered over Ethernet (PoE), the boutique avoided the unattractive presence of power cables plugging into electrical outlets on the walls. Equally important, the surveillance cameras delivered excellent image quality using progressive scan. Mounted above the payment terminals, the cameras made it evident to patrons that they were being watched, which proved an effective deterrent to shoplifters. Moreover, the high image quality enables corporate executives to monitor and supervise shop layout and shelf displays remotely to ensure consist brand imaging across all stores in the chain.

Design Challenge #2:
Problem: A hotel wanted to improve security at its front desk, but management was concerned that guests would feel intimidated and unwelcomed by the staff if the first impression of their stay was a bank of surveillance cameras pointed in their direction.

Solution: Fixed-dome network cameras equipped with fish-eye lenses provided a more discrete alternative. Mounted unobtrusively on the wall behind the reception desk in the lobby, the cameras provided security staff with a wide view of check-in and check-out activity, but hotel guests could not ascertain where the cameras were actually pointing.

Intelligent mechanics: size, speed and resilience

Intelligent mechanics have transformed the bulky cameras of yesteryear into much smaller, more robust surveillance tools. Pan/tilt/zoom cameras can now rotate 450 degrees in a second, stop at an exact position and immediately begin transmitting crystal-clear images. Or they can rotate as slowly as 0.005 degrees per second, taking two hours to make a complete 360 degree survey of an area. The movement is so smooth and subtle that it appears motionless even if you are standing right next to it.

Compactness has been another area driven by intelligent mechanics. We now have fixed dome cameras that are a mere four inches in diameter and little more than an inch high, including their vandal-resistant enclosures and built-in heaters. Intelligent mechanics have even modified how fixed dome cameras are mounted so that today they can be installed in just a few minutes.

Overall, the judicious application of intelligent mechanics has given customers network cameras with much smaller footprints and greater functionality. These cameras not only provide better image quality, but last longer and cost less to install and maintain.

Mechanics Challenge #1:
Problem: A major metropolitan center wanted to deploy a city-wide video surveillance system to augment the public safety efforts of its police force. Law enforcement wanted to be able to control the cameras remotely so that operators could apprise officers of suspicious activity before being dispatched to the scene.

Solution: The city deployed a series of pan/tilt/zoom network cameras that could be controlled by operators stationed at monitoring facility several miles away. The mechanical precision of the cameras allowed them to not only be redirected from one position to another in less than a second, but also optically zoomed in 35x to enable operators to identify and then slowly track an individual lurking in the vicinity.

Mechanics Challenge #2:
Problem: A city’s transit authority was campaigning to improve rider safety. The authority wanted to install surveillance cameras on all its city buses, but was concerned about having sufficient ceiling clearance to avoid passengers bumping their heads on protruding devices.

Solution: Transit authorities decided to install very-low-profile dome network cameras in each vehicle. Merely an inch in height, the cameras transmitted clear, high-resolution images with minimal impact to passenger head room.

Intelligent installation: automation and reliability

Intelligent installation helps to speed up deployment by automating the steps involved and ensuring more reliable operation of the components. PoE is a case in point. For one large end-user installing thousands of cameras every year, it used to take up to two hours per camera to install when they deployed analog cameras and coax cable. With PoE, you eliminate the need to run a separate power cable to the camera, which in a new facility might reduce installation time to as little as 30 minutes per camera.

Another technology that enables intelligent installation is 802.1X (see Network Security for Cameras, in the February issue of SecurityInfoWatch.com). This port-based authentication method makes it possible to ensure that the device connected to a certain port really should have access to the network. 802.1X is often built into network cameras and video encoders, and is particularly useful when the network cameras are located in public spaces such as receptions, hallways, meeting rooms or even mounted outside a building. Without 802.1X, the risk greatly increases that the port could be hijacked, enabling an unauthorized individual to use that port to breach the corporate network.

Installation Challenge #1:
Problem: Transit officials for a heavily-used subways system were reluctant to add surveillance cameras to their trains because of the anticipated downtime required to deploy the security system. Since their subway cars stood idle only a few hours a night, pulling trains offline to install cameras would delay schedules and therefore impact public transportation system revenues at a time when the city could ill-afford the loss.

Solution: Network cameras equipped with PoE eliminated the need to string separate coax and power cables to each camera, so technicians could easily complete installation during a train’s regularly scheduled idle time. Because the cameras also have built-in active tampering alarms, system operators are immediately alerted when a camera has been covered or moved, which substantially lowers maintenance costs while dramatically increasing passenger safety and security.

Installation Challenge #2:
Problem: A retail chain planned to deploy thousands of cameras across the country. But to protect its bottom line, it needed to limit the time and cost to install each camera.

Solution: The company opted for a small network camera specially designed for quick installation in a dropped ceiling. Equipped with a mouse trap-like mounting mechanism, this camera is inserted into a hole cut in the ceiling tile and locked into place with mouse trap springs and then covered with a magnetic ring. Installation takes about five minutes, eliminating the need for screws or removal of the ceiling tile. In keeping with today’s concern for aesthetics, the magnetic rings, which can be seen from below, come in a variety of colors to complement store dĂ©cor.

Making intelligent choices

While intelligent design, mechanics and installation represent different aspects of intelligence, all three are tightly interconnected. Intelligent design may spur intelligent mechanics to achieve a certain aesthetic, and intelligent mechanics often make cameras easier to install. Keep in mind that though design is important, functionality should ultimately take precedence. A beautifully designed product that lacks key features or robustness will be of no value to a user.

About the author: Fredrik Nilsson is general manager of Axis Communications, a provider of IP-based network video solutions that include network cameras and video encoders for remote monitoring and security surveillance. His "Eye on Video" columns appear in the "columns" section of SecurityInfoWatch.com CCTV section, and in select issues of Security Technology Executive magazine.