Smarter in so Many Ways

Today’s IP-based network environment offers a multitude of benefits for the end-user. Ranking high among these benefits are easy access to video anywhere it is needed and the ability to integrate with other IP-based physical security and business operational systems.

Several developing trends in video surveillance camera technology are helping to maximize the benefits of IP-based systems. First, the emergence and wide implementation of HD and megapixel imaging technology has transformed the way systems are deployed and the kinds of information users can obtain from their systems. Next, a remarkable increase in intelligence inside the cameras is enabling better imaging and more data, creating an impact at the systems level. Let’s look at the potential effect of these developments — often working together — to make IP-based systems better.

Better Images Equal Better Data

High-definition (HD) sensors, like those used in megapixel cameras, are providing higher-resolution images that feed more overall data to a networked video system. But resolution is only one factor in image quality; intelligence inside the camera works together with HD image sensors to provide images that are better in multiple ways.

Smarter image processing inside the camera can vastly improve an image before it even leaves the camera. For example, image processing manages the dynamic range of a video image, which is the span of gradations from the lightest to the darkest areas. Intelligence inside the camera uses natural contrast image correction to optimize contrast of each pixel and to faithfully reproduce objects in any area and position. The result is better images despite extreme lighting conditions.

Other image processing technologies can transform dark areas into natural, high-contrast images like those seen by the human eye. Adaptive digital noise reduction takes care of the “noise” in a camera image (extraneous elements that are not part of the picture), which is especially useful for moving objects.

With all this additional information entering the network, the current task for manufacturers and integrators is to develop interoperable system functionalities that solve real security and business problems. This fast-growing segment of our industry can be a bit chaotic with new providers entering the market and with many solutions that seem similar but may be vastly different in capabilities. Users should look to get guidance from a trusted supplier or integrator before making purchase decisions.

Better Compression for Better Bandwidth

Intelligence inside the camera encodes the image to translate it into a digital signal, and compresses that signal to minimize network bandwidth requirements. This is an important consideration for any installation using megapixel cameras, which require more bandwidth.

Smart cameras provide the needed computational power to handle the highly complicated algorithms and high-speed processing needed for H.264 compression, a compression standard used to minimize bandwidth and storage needs. H.264 High Profile provides even better picture quality using lower bandwidth compared to H.264 base profile.

Managing Information on the Network

The continuing enhancement of smart features at the edge of the network (i.e., inside the camera) also helps to minimize a system’s computational load and the amount of data that travels across the network.

Any decision made at the camera level — whether a video analytics alarm, motion alarm or face detection — can determine how much information flows from the camera across the network. Another way to control the amount of data moving across the network is the choice between localized recording of higher-resolution or real-time motion video, which ensures the dependable capture of needed evidence, or transmission of lower resolution or slower-frame video across the network to minimize the impact of video on network resources.

Multiple Streaming Capabilities

This provides the type of video compression, frame speed and image quality the application needs at any given moment, and switches back and forth in accordance with application needs. For example, a camera could use MPEG-4 compression to minimize bandwidth and switch to higher-resolution JPEG mode in case of an alarm triggered by an incident.

Some cameras offer “intelligent resolution” to prevent deterioration of an image during digital zooming; and variable image/resolution technology enables a less-important part of an image (such as the sky) to be coded at a lower resolution to save data file size.
In effect, smarter cameras do more at the edge of the network, which frees up intelligence and data capacity at the server level for other uses and applications.

Intelligent Functions Boost Functionality

Smart functions at the camera level include Video Motion Detection functionality with increasingly sophisticated options. The use of a “privacy zone” function can mask areas, such as house windows and entrances/exits.

Smart cameras are also increasing their use of video analytics, which continue to gain traction for conventional video surveillance applications. Smarter cameras on the edge of the network can identify objects left behind — a homeland security application — or help track customer traffic patterns, crowd counting, etc. These applications have relevance for security as well as other business operations across a variety of vertical markets.

One exciting new technology is face detection and matching. Some newer network cameras can detect faces automatically, even in high-contrast lighting situations and with multiple people in a frame. The use of “face wide dynamic range” functionality ensures a clear image of a face, and a face detection function detects the position of the human face. Higher resolution works with in-camera intelligence to ensure more detailed metadata is available for face matching capabilities.

With face matching — a capability that can be embedded in an NVR or added on as software — camera data is analyzed and compared to an existing database. Upon a positive face match, alarm notification can be sent via text or e-mail, and the image can be displayed.

Face matching can be used for a wide variety of security and other functions — for example, to detect a habitual shoplifter returning to a retail environment among several customers entering a store at once, or to identify a top customer so that they can be greeted by staff.

Working with IP Applications

Smarter cameras and the connectivity of IP systems make it easier to integrate security systems with other IP-based systems in the enterprise. Smart video can be integrated with other applications such as retail systems, human resources, process management and access control systems.

The common use of Internet protocol enables telephone systems, point-of-sale systems and others to interoperate with video surveillance systems in an IT environment. For example, POS (point-of-sale) terminals and video recording technology can work together to enable retail store managers and loss prevention professionals to search and retrieve key loss prevention metrics and to easily access video recordings of transactions of interest.

Also, IP-based phone systems have LCD displays, which can be interfaced with video cameras for remote monitoring of a back office area, door access or cash handling area.

For the video surveillance industry, embedded intelligence opens a host of possibilities centering on system functionalities and interoperability. When you factor in advancements in HD imaging and megapixel technology, there are many more advantages for the user. The technologies work together in ways that are greater than the sum of the parts, and surveillance system integrators and users reap the benefits of the resulting improvements in system functionality and performance.

Bill Taylor is President of Panasonic System Networks Company of America.