The Resolution to Your Confusion

With so many high-resolution options, which one is right for you?


The National Football League has changed the security industry. No, this is not a metaphor for how the offensive line protects its quarterback, nor is this a set-up to write about extraordinary security measures taken at the Super Bowl or at the newest stadiums across the country. This has to do with image quality.

By most accounts, the NFL was a pioneer in broadcasting its games in high-definition, causing a surge in flatscreen sales from its fans across the country. In fact, according to HDsportsguide.com, the last standard-definition broadcast NFL game was in Week 17 of the 2007 season. Fans, team owners and sports programmers agreed: Life is better in high-def.

Today, high-definition video is everywhere - from the big screen to YouTube. It has even made its way into security command centers at schools, hospitals and police stations. IMS Research recently predicted that high-resolution cameras will make up 50 percent of the IP market by 2014 - but based on sales trends and customer demand, many on the manufacturer and integrator side think it will be sooner than that, perhaps even in 2011.

As more and more security departments upgrade systems from analog to IP, the opportunity to have "HD" surveillance video resonates well with the average security director who is, like everyone else, also a home entertainment consumer. But with the sudden rise in high-definition products (and subsequent vendor marketing), it is easy to become confused when deciding what cameras to buy for specific security applications.

What exactly is HD?

Would you believe the term "HD" was actually born in the analog days? In the analog world, "HD" was used to describe cameras with 540 TV lines - a step above 480TVL. When a security camera is said to have HD-performance, end-users may assume that they will experience the same quality video as broadcast TV or Blu-ray movies. But be wary of marketing hype - the term HD does not mean anything for the security director regarding video quality.

The Truth Lies in HDTV

While the term HD means nothing to image quality, the term HDTV means everything. HDTV is a broadcasting standard governed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. When a video stream is HDTV, there will be four distinct factors that make up image quality: 16:9 aspect ratio, full frame rate video (30 fps), guaranteed color fidelity and 720p or 1080p/i resolution.

Each factor provides a significant advantage for security. Wider aspect ratio (16:9) ensures that the video is not wasted on the sky or the ground, but instead focused on the landscape viewing area where the action happens. Full frame rate gives a realistic depiction of the scene and provides every-frame detail instead of the choppy video that many security staffers are accustomed to at low frame rates. Guaranteed color fidelity ensures that colors on the screen are a true representation of the scene, without any washing out or artificial enhancements. This could be the difference between incorrectly identifying a perpetrator wearing a pink jacket when they were actually wearing red. And resolution is obvious, as more pixels mean more detail.

If even one of these four factors is not met, then the video is not HDTV-compliant. This standard is what governs the entertainment industry's video performance and the same quality is found today in many surveillance control rooms.

Where Does Megapixel Fit In?

Megapixel is an easy term to remember, because it only refers to one specific piece of the image: the number of million pixels in the image. Megapixel is a term more aptly used in the still photography industry, because it does not mean anything for frame rate, aspect ratio or colors in the scene. Because of this, a camera that has higher megapixel performance does not necessarily mean it will provide better overall video quality than a camera with lower resolution running in HDTV.

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