Internet Protocol (or IP) video technology offers tremendous opportunities for end users and systems integrators. While it has received quite a bit of press, it is still a relatively new technology that generates many questions. First can you explain how IP video technology works? Then can you discuss what the benefits and disadvantages are?
IP video technology requires a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN) to transmit digital video signals. Those signals are transmitted as IP data packets —the same way other data, such as e-mail, is sent from computer to computer in a network environment. This way, digital video is stored in a software application either on a PC or network server, as opposed to a proprietary “box” DVR.
Each IP camera receives its own address setting (like an electronic address) for locating it on the network. And the cameras are essentially plugged into the network much the same as other devices such as network printers or PCs. However, typical camera power supplies and added wiring are still needed for most pan/tilt/zoom cameras and outside enclosures requiring heater or blowers for outside environments.
As far as benefits of IP video technology, IP is optimized when buildings are large — or separated on a single campus — where spare fiber or gigabit networks are cost effectively available. IP also works well when remote buildings have their own local IP application software recording and upload Limited Viewing Images (LVI) to a security assessment desk for alarms and forensic purposes.
Technically, the digital signals from IP cameras are not affected by ground loop interference to which coax cables are susceptible. In some applications, the IT closet's uninterruptible power supply (UPS) permits the cameras and server to continue operating and recording when the power goes out, assuming the lighting is still adequate.
From a dealer/integrator's point of view, the technology is still so new and IT-oriented that it may be considered a disadvantage. And in most applications, this technology will require a close working relationship with the corporate IT department – which for some (or most) remains an uncertain and scary thought.
IP cameras require adequate lighting. The best low-light cameras still remain in the domain of the analog world. However, converters do permit analog cameras to be installed on IP networks.
Also, all IP cameras are not created equal. Each will have a learning curve of settings and custom drivers on the server. Even savvy technicians can take six or more hours to learn and test one specific driver and initial camera setup.
IP technology is evolving at a rapid rate. Soon, IP cameras will have built-in memory allowing for some internal storage of video or image assessment capabilities pushing more features “out to the edge” of the network (edge technology gets closer to the cameras or IT closets and away from the application software). IP video will find its way into middle market installations as application software and products become more prevalent, comfort levels rise and application cost benefits are more clearly realized.
Jerry Robinson, CPP, is the president of Chicago-based ABC Security Corporation, serving the industry for over three decades. ABC Security is a member of SecurityNet, a network of 22 leading independent international system integrators offering clients a single, responsible source for meeting all electronic security needs.