Video Surveillance Reality Check: Part 1

[Editor's Note: asked four industry notables to blow away the hype, roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and not pull any punches when it comes to where they see the video surveillance industry today. The result was honest, open takes on our business. Their columns will be appearing consecutively on Part 1, our first guest column, appears from Dr. Bob Banerjee, who is the IP video product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems. In subsequent parts, each written by a different guest columnist, we'll link all these stories together and promote the heck out of them on the site (all will appear on the "columns and features" segment of our Video Surveillance section; click the "products" navigation drop down and choose "video surveillance"). We hope we stir up some feelings. The comments area is open, so share your perspectives, too!]

Can you trust anyone for good advice?

In the stable, well-understood and mature world of non IP-video (analog cameras and DVRs), there's no shortage of high-quality advice, from the manufacturer to the specifier/integrator and everyone in-between. In the chaotic world of IP video, up-to-date knowledge of one product set is a luxury few can declare. And up-to-date knowledge of multiple IP video product sets from multiple manufacturers is bordering on pure fantasy.

This puts everyone in the value chain in an awkward position. They depend on a very small number of true experts, or worse, they rely on a non-expert and deploy a solution that won't work. So end users educate themselves and design the solution, often directly engaging the manufacturer. This is a risky distraction for end users whose primary business is not security, and a challenge for manufacturers who scramble to act like an integrator in order to present a viable end-to-end solution. It is clearly also a problem for everyone else in between.

The latest and greatest

We're in love with whatever's new; that's human instinct. Magazines, tradeshows, webinars and roadshows satisfy this desire. But it's not always in the interest of the end user who has a problem to solve and doesn't want to have months of flaming emails with the installer or the manufacturer who sold them something bleeding edge, which was positioned as "Oh sure, we've deployed this in many places but if I tell you where I'll have to kill you". In fact it's so bleeding edge that it's actually not touching the blade at all. Think hard not about what you want but what you're trying to do, and then ask for multiple solutions before specifying what the solution should be.

What do you really want to be able to do? Detect, Classify, Recognize, Identify (DCRI)

What do you need in your situation? Is it a retina scan at 900 feet to prove it's Bob? To see enough facial detail to suggest it is Bob? To know it's a good or a bad guy? To know it's even a man and not some wild animal? Or just to know there's something strange out there?

Understanding what you want to do, rather than how you can leverage the latest technology can often reveal many innovative solutions to a given problem. Not all roads lead to megapixel cameras, nor even IP cameras, but they should be candidates for consideration. Use the concept of DCRI to set your expectations based on real needs.

IP video is yet to eclipse analog

We have forgotten that market forces, and not manufacturers, drive the success of new technology. Part of the market has welcomed IP video, and some have had positive experiences, and some have even turned a profit. Others remain in the wait-and-see camp, and plan to jump in when the time is right. Some say you have to build the skill set now in anticipation of the elusive change-over day when IP video sales eclipse analog. Others say, "What I have today is easy and works and is good enough."
In my opinion this tug-of-war will remain until high definition (HD) cameras become commonplace and ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) and other standards are widely adopted, because these two factors affect image quality and freedom of choice. I predict that ONVIF will change the landscape during 2010 in terms of setting expectations for interoperability.

VCA (Video Content Analysis) and the trough of disillusionment

We're past the peak of the hype curve and now we're in the "backfire" part of the curve. People don't trust VCA. They believe it takes a rocket scientist to install it, and even then they set a camera up for 30 minutes and then drive home praying that there aren't going to be too many false alarms. The good news was there were almost no false alarms during the installation. Then the sun sets, shadows appear, the moon takes over, fluffy little moths land on the illuminator and lens and Charlotte builds a little web right in the middle of the field of view. It rains and during a brief thunderstorm, gusts rattle the camera a little.

As sure as the sun rises the next day, the installer is ordered back to tweak the system and reduces the false alarms from 10 per hour per camera, to a mere one. But there are 60 cameras so that's still one alarm acknowledgement every minute! Finally they deactivate the analytics and sometimes throw the equipment back at the manufacturer in disgust. Everyone has lost face. An important technique to avoid this situation is to test your rules against days or weeks of pre-recorded video to instantly assess the reliability of the system and tweak the rules on the fly and immediately see the impact. Different manufacturers will call this different things; I know it as "forensic search".

Lighting: You can't change the laws of physics

Video needs light and the more sensor pixels you have, the less light there is per pixel and the noisier your image. More is not always better, but the HD video standard to me appears to be a great compromise. It looks great, and I can compare one manufacturer against another because it is a standard.

It is mind-blowing how many cameras are in the dark for half their life, delivering low contrast grainy video with very high bandwidth consumption. And that does not even include the appalling performance of video analytics in the dark. You need light. It's a no-brainer.


Are people really going to rip a standard definition camera off the wall, replace it with a HD or megapixel camera and swap out the coax/fiber with IP network infrastructure? Most projects are retro-fits or expansions. Relatively few are new construction. Encoders and hybrid recorders rule in this space. Add ONVIF to the story and now you also offer choice.

About the author: Dr. Bob Banerjee is the IP video product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems, Inc. He developed Bosch's IP Resource Center found at and can be reached at