Susan Brady: H.264 is considered the next generation in video compression standards. Would you explain why this is and the specifics of H.264 that make it a better standard than what already exists?
Harvey Waters, president and CEO, USA Security Ltd., Inc: Not since the introduction of MPEG-2 video compression in 1995 has there been a new standard as promising as the H.264 codec. H.264 is the newest international video coding standard and is now in its final stages of development by the joint ITU-T and ISO/IEC standards organization. This new standard is widely regarded as an inflection point or the next generation for the industry because it surpasses the best previous standards by 2x (or more) in compression while delivering a substantial improvement in video quality.
The main objective of the H.264 was to develop a high performance video encoding standard; by adopting a back-to-basics approach with simple and straightforward design, using well-known building blocks. The ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) initiated the work on H.264 in 1997.
Toward the end of 2001, after witnessing the superiority of the video quality and the efficiencies of the H.264 hardware compression over the MPEG-4 software compression, ISO/IEC MPEG joined ITU-TVCEG by forming a joint video team (JVT) to create a single video-coding standard that is now known as H.264 codec.
The advantages of H.264 over MPEG-4 as it relates to the security industry are:
• greater stability and reliability.
• DSP (digital signal processor) technology.
• 50% smaller file size.
• improved video quality.
• 30 frames per second, per camera channel.
• “MAXUM Series” 64 cameras, 1920 frames per second record.
• High pixel quality with low bit rates.
• Lower bandwidth requirement, thus greater transfer rate.
Oliver Vellacott, CEO of IndigoVision: H.264 is the latest official video compression standard, which follows on from the highly successful MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video standards and offers improvements in both video quality and compression. The most significant benefit for IP video systems is the ability to deliver the same high-quality, low latency, digital video with savings of between 25% and 50% on bandwidth and storage requirements. Or to put it another way, deliver significantly higher video quality for the same bandwidth.
H.264 is a video codec (compressor and decompressor) standard. A video codec is designed to compress and uncompress digital video in order to reduce the amount of bandwidth required to transmit and store the video. This is needed as the raw data rate of uncompressed CCIR601 active digital video (720x480 pixel 4:2:2 video at 30fps) is in excess of 158Mbps – over 300 times the capacity of a 512kbps ADSL connection and only just over one hour recording on an 80GB hard disk.
Simply scaling the video, to SIF resolution (352x240 pixel 4:2:0 video at 30fps), and compressing with standard utilities such as WinZip or gzip could achieve 10:1 compression. However, at least 300:1 compression is needed to stream live video over an ADSL connection and to achieve 300 hours recording to an 80GB hard disk. This level of compression can be achieved with H.264.
Brady: What type of products is H.264 being used in? Is there a cost difference between products with H.264 and those with another image compression standard?
Waters: Virtually all industries that have the need to compress video images are scrambling to take advantage of the H.264 codec. The motion picture industry, the broadcast industry (Cable companies, Dish Network, Direct TV), Microsoft, Apple and alike companies are all applying their resources to take advantage of the new H.264 technology.
There is a twist for the software engineers adapting their respective software applications to take advantage of the H.264 codec. With software compression, just like it sounds, they are using software to do the compression and the same software to do the decompression. Therefore, the resources of the computer are always being taxed and over taxed at a high level.
With H.264 hardware compression, the compression takes place on the DSP (digital signal processor) chip. Thus utilizing hardware to do the compression verses software. With the decompression being done utilizing application software. In most security applications 95% plus of what the DVR is doing is compressing the video. The only time decompressing is done is when playing back a video clip. Take special note, with the H.264 codec the computers’ resources are operating typically at 2 to 10% of their capabilities which accounts for the performance, stability and reliability.
Is there a price difference between H.264 hardware compression and one of the software compressed formats? Anytime a new technology is introduced it is reasonable to expect a 15 to 20% increase in cost. However, I would argue that the long run cost of the new technology is significantly less due to the increased performance, reliability and longevity that hardware compression provides.
H.264 hardware compression technology is great for any application. Since H.264 is far superior to software compression technology in every aspect it doesn’t make sense to continue to use the outdated technology. The benefits of the technology are powerful, yet easy to understand. H.264 hardware compression will provide the customer with real time video that has a sharper image quality than MPEG-4. H.264 will also give a customer more recording time out of a hard drive relative to the older compression methods due to a smaller file size. That smaller file size also has another significant advantage. Today, more and more end users are requesting a system that can be accessed remotely. The H.264 compression technology is perfect for remote viewing applications. The small file size and superior image quality allows for the video to be transmitted across the Internet or LAN that doesn’t suffer from the same “choppiness” that the software compression formats are prone to. Lastly, the DSP chips provide a reliability not seen before with the older compression formats. The use of the DSP chips essentially offloads the bulk of the workload from the main system resources creating a system that is stable and reliable. This offloading of the workload also gives the system an incredibly fast operating speed and opens the door to a new range of software performance capabilities.
Vellacott: IndigoVision’s new 9000 series is typical of the products that are using H.264 for CCTV applications. The 9000 range includes updated versions of products currently available in the MPEG-4 based 8000 range: transmitters, IP domes and networked video recorders (NVRs). “Control Center,” IndigoVision’s video and alarm management software has also been updated for the 9000 range. This means a complete end-to-end IP video solution based on the latest H.264 compression technology can be deployed.
IndigoVision is selling the new 9000 products alongside the existing 8000 range, providing a wider choice of solutions to the end user. Importantly, the new 9000 range is fully compatible with the current 8000 products, ensuring that any existing IndigoVision installations can be upgraded with products from either range. There is a typical 30% premium on the 9000 H.264 products compared to the 8000 MPEG-4 products.
Brady: What are some typical applications where products with this standard should be used and how should dealers explain its benefits to end users?
Waters: H.264 is the new standard of video compression. Over the next two years the security industry will advance their DVR application software to best take advantage of the new technology. If a security dealer has the best interest of the end user in mind and where quality is important, the only and best answer is H.264.
Vellacott: The main application for these new H.264-based IP video products is in CCTV systems that want the same high quality, low latency video that has become standard with high-end MPEG-4 systems, but with reduced bandwidth and storage requirements. Similarly, when deploying IP video systems on LAN infrastructures where bandwidth is limited, H.264 systems can potentially provide higher quality video than MPEG-4 systems.
Even though unit cost is higher, significant savings can be made with NVR storage, often one of the most expensive parts of the system, by using H.264-based solutions.
H.264 offers significant benefits to the user and system designer. However, the extra complexity of the implementation comes at extra cost. So H.264 will not replace MPEG-4 overnight but sit alongside it providing a wider choice of solutions to the end user.