The Future of Megapixel Video

The resolution of megapixel cameras provides a wealth of possibilities for applications throughout the security and video surveillance market. With the widespread acceptance of HD video in the home today, customers have high expectations for picture clarity and system functionality that rivals what they see on television every day. And new megapixel video surveillance cameras meet these expectations when properly selected and installed to meet user's specific applications. Megapixel cameras are also accelerating the migration to networked video systems-a performance enhancement that can help justify the implementation of new and expanded systems.

More to megapixel cameras than resolution alone

As megapixel cameras continue to flow into the market, it's important to keep in mind that the higher resolution offered by megapixel cameras is just one of many ways to provide better video images. Megapixel camera resolution should not be viewed in a vacuum but in the context of the camera's overall capabilities-their evaluation must be in the context of how these capabilities translate into benefits specific to the needs at hand. In the rush to achieve HD quality imaging, we shouldn't overlook the importance of complementary feature sets that contribute to application success including the following: wide dynamic range; back light compensation; noise reduction; and digital image stabilization. Enhanced features resulting from new image processing technologies make megapixel cameras better on all these multiple fronts.

Megapixel versus HDCCTV

Network cameras come in a range of resolutions, from 1.3 megapixels to 10 megapixels and these cameras are connected to a networked video system via Internet protocol (IP). These cameras are edge devices on a network and provide digital images that travel along the network the same as any other data.

HDCCTV systems use the same resolution standard as HDTV in the consumer market. These cameras connect to a head-end using standardized plug-in devices and provide uncompressed video. The advantages of HDCCTV are notably ease of installation and the ability to configure systems without employing often complex networking technologies. Some people see HDCCTV as a higher-definition successor to traditional analog video surveillance technologies. But with the ease of installation comes a downside, which is less flexibility in system design and equipment choice. It's arguable that HDCCTV technology came late to the game, staking claim after networked systems gained traction, which is one reason for their low rate of acceptance in the market to date. But it's also quite evident that HDCCTV cameras will find a niche for mostly smaller or single-site systems.

How many megapixels are enough?

The performance attributes of today's megapixel cameras continue to improve as new products are introduced. However, high-resolution megapixel streaming images can be taxing on network infrastructure and use of multiple super-high-resolution cameras can quickly overwhelm bandwidth and network capacities.

Effectively incorporating megapixel video into an IP system requires a delicate balance between the need for higher megapixel performance and the capacity of other system components to handle the extra data load that comes with higher resolution video. It makes little sense to choose the highest available megapixel camera resolution if the network can't handle the data flow-especially if the megapixel cameras' capabilities far exceed the needs of the application.

In fact, megapixel resolution is not needed for every application. For years analog systems have provided a specific, defined resolution across the board to successfully meet general surveillance needs. But these precluded applications that, until now, were outside the reach of existing video surveillance system resolution capabilities. The physical number of megapixels should not be the primary selection criterion. The added image detail these large megapixel cameras provide comes at a system-wide cost that must be factored early on into the decision-making process.

It is likely that 1.3 megapixel cameras will become a new de facto standard for general purpose video surveillance applications because they strike an effective balance between performance, cost and network efficiency. The higher resolution provided by a 1.3 megapixel camera comes with little extra burden to network infrastructure, especially if available with H.264 video compression algorithms. Cameras providing 1280x1024 pixel (1.3 megapixel) resolution are already making inroads for general use. There are specialty applications that can benefit from using even higher resolution megapixel cameras, but these applications will be few-and-far between and are not likely to stimulate widespread use. The bulk of megapixel camera sales over the next several years will probably be in the "sweet spot" of 1.3 megapixel devices.

Looking to future trends in megapixel cameras involves projecting not only technology trends but also changing business and security trends. The "best" technology does not always win in the market; sometimes it loses out because of factors such as customer inertia, pricing or because it lost the marketing war.

Megapixel imaging will continue to play an important role in video surveillance and integrators and users alike will reap the benefits from the high resolution images provided.

Frank DeFina is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Samsung Techwin America.