IP Camera Applications

New technologies and opportunities await end-users

It would be prudent on your part to ask for live demonstrations when you are considering cameras that would go into a wide-scale deployment. Perhaps a side-by-side test is in order. Whichever camera manufacturer you choose, it is important to make certain that their cameras are supported by your NVR platform. Remember, these are not analog cameras that you can just plug into any DVR you choose.

H.264 is a buzzword in the camera market. Various camera manufacturers claim that their cameras use this latest compression engine, but what makes it so alluring? MJPEG technology was one of the earliest forms of compression, and is still in use in many installations. This compression enabled us to achieve good image quality, but the cost was often high. The bandwidth consumption of cameras using MJPEG compression were considerable, and this led to many holding off on a network-based deployment. With high bandwidth use comes high storage needs, and this was yet another barrier to entry into the network surveillance market.

Enter MPEG-4 compression, which offered compression which reduced bandwidth and storage consumption by up to 60 percent. This was a step in the right direction, and as network technology itself improved, many people thought it might be time to start seriously considering a network-based system. For others, the costs involved were still too high.

H.264 is a compression technology which improves on the bandwidth consumption even further. A properly configured camera using H.264 compression can reduce bandwidth and storage consumption a further 50 percent above and beyond MPEG-4. This has the ability to bring a system within reach of many end-users who might not have considered a network system in the past.

Megapixel Cameras

Megapixel cameras offer many customers what they consider to be the holy grail of video. The ability to zoom in on video after the fact can be a key component in conducting investigations and providing useful evidence to law enforcement. Up until relatively recently, megapixel cameras offered high quality video — far beyond that which could have ever been expected from a traditional CCTV camera — but the costs were often prohibitive. Megapixel cameras could require up to 15 times the storage and bandwidth in comparison to a traditional 4cif resolution camera.

As the H.264 compression format moves through the IP camera industry, megapixel camera manufacturers were among the first to widely adopt this compression. When an end-user realizes that a megapixel camera is now a realistic option — requiring as much bandwidth as perhaps only two or three standard resolution cameras — it may be worth it to consider megapixel cameras in certain areas of a facility.

A single megapixel camera can offer 12- to 15-times higher resolution over a standard NTSC image. This does not mean that end-users should attempt to replace 12 to 15 cameras with a single 5-megapixel camera, but in a location that once had only one or two cameras monitoring an open area such as a parking lot or baggage claim area, perhaps a medium-range megapixel camera might be better used. Megapixel cameras often offer better situational awareness, and the ability to better identify a perpetrator.

Leveraging Analytics

Along with all of this technology, we hear about customers who use video analytics for various applications, from perimeter security to situational awareness — but what else can analytics offer? While analytics are definitely versatile and practical in many applications, there are many pitfalls. Camera placement is key, and the labor to set up and program analytics for just a single camera can often be several times that of a standard camera. How then, can we justify using this technology?

Consider for a moment the possibility that a network system, incorporating video analytics, could be configured to allow use of video for something beyond security. Think about a retail application that has cameras to reduce shrink. A video analytic could be used to perform a people-count in the cash register area. If the number of persons there exceeds a certain threshold, the system could send an e-mail or text message alert to a manager to put more cashiers in the front of the store, and increase efficiency. Analytics can be used to perform real-world research on the conditions in an environment like a retail store, to see on how many occasions in the past 30 days the number of persons in the checkout line exceeded a certain number.