IP video: Where's the tipping point?

Analog still fits some, so where it ends is in the user's hands

At the other extreme are the command and control centers that do round-the-clock monitoring and are equipped to the hilt, with walls of cameras tightly integrated into access control and other systems and video recorded on fault-tolerant RAID storage devices using redundant network video recorders (NVRs). No expense is spared. Picture complete redundancy built into the system from top to bottom, along with sophisticated alerting capabilities for NVR failures, camera tampering or other malfunctions. Usually in this type of setup, the image quality can be adjusted for live or recorded video, with higher resolution images for real-time video (30 frames per second at 4CIF or with megapixel IP cameras).

So given these two extremes, where is the tipping point to IP video? The answer depends on the end-user application and market. For some, the tipping point has come and gone. For others, it's not even on the radar. It's meaningless to argue whether IP video is universally superior or inferior to analog cameras and DVRs because customer needs are not universal. The tipping point is not so much a tipping point, but more a swinging pendulum.

So where is IP video becoming the de facto standard? From my observation, some key markets include airports, mass transit, utilities, gaming and education. Three-letter agencies are also quick to adopt IP video for its quality, reliability and flexibility. Other commonalities with IP video systems are that they are typically integrated to access control systems and involve multiple recording and monitoring locations, as well as higher camera counts. While DVRs can accommodate these environments to a certain extent, you'd be hard pressed to find the same world-class video management capabilities in DVR-based systems as you would in systems comprised of NVRs, encoders and IP cameras. Some other things that have also helped to spur IP adoption in these markets are turnkey solutions (where the video management software is pre-installed on carefully pre-configured server hardware for optimum performance); dropping costs of servers and storage; and increasing IP competency and IP networking skills for system integrators and installers. (Don't forget, the Internet boom only started in 1999).

There are two other factors that I think will eventually help swing the IP pendulum for late adopters and those are the release of the ONVIF and PSIA interoperability specifications and the proliferation of compliant edge devices and head-end software. These trends will go a long way toward eliminating incompatibility and strengthening the concept of plug and play, which will in turn increase designers' and installers' confidence in IP video.

And, at the end of the day, for integrators and installers, the tipping point to IP is all about that "C" word-"confidence." Some integrators will source video management software, workstations, servers and storage from a variety of conventional IT distributors. But for most, there is still the sense that anything that reduces risk and gives them a single phone number to call if something goes wrong is the way to go. Going with the proverbial 'one throat to choke' (turnkey) approach-(where for example the NVR software is pre-configured on NVR servers with storage included)-can be easier and can eliminate the possibility of "blame storming" when multiple vendors are involved.

But perhaps the biggest driving factor for integrators/installers to beef up their IP video capabilities might just turn out to be the very thing they don't know. I'll frequently hear integrators/installers in a particular region report that there's not much demand for IP video in their territory, yet I am fully aware, down to the exact cent, how much their competitor down the road is generating, at least with my product lines. Eventually when they become more aware of the opportunities they're missing out on, the IP pendulum will swing. Or, they will find themselves progressively marginalized into low-end projects. True, analog cameras and self-contained recorders like DVRs will be around for many years yet, but will become increasingly commoditized. Even if they haven't yet jumped on the IP video bandwagon, forward-thinking integrators and installers need to adopt a long-term strategy that sets them on a path to gaining real-world IP video experience. One way to do this is to partner with a technology provider that can help build their confidence and support them in the transition.