The Next 15 Years of Video Surveillance

Looking back to predict the future


While some of us fondly remember record players and VCRs, millions of young adults today have only known digital technology. For the 'iEverything' generation, they might be shocked to learn that the first digitally-based, network video camera was invented only 15 years ago.

With the 15th anniversary of the network camera upon us, I was asked to look forward to the next 15 years of video surveillance. Will the market be fully converted to IP? Will the Internet play a much bigger role in surveillance? Will analytics of the future finally match what we see in television and movies today? But before looking into the crystal ball, I found myself reminiscing about the first 15 years of network video and what our predictions were back then.

When we launched the world's first network camera in 1996, I'll admit that it had lousy performance. It did one frame per second (fps) in CIF resolution and took 17 seconds to generate a single D1 snapshot. It was practically useless for normal surveillance purposes. Fortunately, it found initial success in remote monitoring and we saw a future opportunity in a CCTV market that was 100 percent analog, yet bound to go digital just like everything else in society.

Shift away from analog

An easy way to forecast the future of video surveillance is to examine Moore's law, an electronics trend that states performance will double every 18 months for the same cost. We see obvious proof of Moore's law in consumer electronics, especially with personal computers and smartphones, but it doesn't stop there. Today's network cameras can do 30fps in HDTV 1080p resolution compared to one fps in 0.1 MPix 15 years ago-a 600 times performance increase. This means that network cameras have actually outpaced Moore's law and today offer far better benefits than analog.

These benefits of IP video are clear when it comes to image quality, system scalability and ease-of-installation, specifically when installing systems of more than 25 cameras. This tipping point will drop significantly thanks to hosted video.

The shift from analog to IP has accelerated through the recession, as both manufacturers and consumers focus their spending on technology of the future. However, much as consumers might be surprised to learn that Sony was still manufacturing the Walkman up until October 2010, we will still see some analog cameras being sold. But as today's young adults grow into professional security roles, the arguments for analog technology will become far less convincing, not only because network cameras are easier to install and provide better quality images, but because this digital-only generation will expect the continued progress IP can offer.

We've seen the importance of proper standardization in all industries for large-scale technology adoption. Supporting good standards leads to ease-of-use, which is one of the reasons analog video has remained dominant for so long.

Because all the major IP surveillance players have invested in ONVIF support (including my own company), I think it will be the dominant standard on the API for networked video. I also expect PoE, HDTV and SMPTE standardization to continue to have a major impact on video surveillance.

Image quality and HD resolution

Even though network video provides much better image quality, there is still much more to be done. In the last 15 years most of the evolution has been on resolution and frame rate. In the future, Moore's law performance improvements will be used for image processing. I expect that this will enable the average surveillance camera to see more than the human eye, something that can't be said today.

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