Video Analytics: Ready For Prime Time?

The often-maligned technology is making strides

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of having the analytics in the camera or in a box. By going with the analytics in a box, DVR or NVR away from the edge, all video from all cameras has to be transmitted. That is a tremendous bandwidth hog that can tax almost any network to the breaking point. By handling the heavy lifting of the analytics at the camera, only vital information, sometimes called metadata, is put into the video pipeline.

Another company is now building cameras with multiple digital signal processors (DSPs). These cameras, intended for high-end, outdoor use, can cost about $10,000 each. But they do offer some pretty interesting features. For example, one processor is dedicated to stabilizing the image in a windy environment. Other processors look for different types of motion. This is all great stuff, but for the price, it is pretty much left to protecting government facilities, ports and international borders.

The idea of using multiple processors will become commonplace in the not-too-distant future. Manufacturers will start with a basic camera and then allow end-users to add features as required. The power of the DSPs is growing rapidly, but they are still nowhere powerful enough to provide analytics for three- to five-megapixel images.

Megapixel cameras provide a big challenge to analytic providers. Some camera manufacturers are getting around that by providing multiple video streams — high and low resolutions. An end-user can use the low-resolution stream to find targets and then view images at high resolution. That could be a major advantage.

But the sales of IP and megapixel cameras still have not gone much above 20 percent at best and most of those sales are going into new installations, not upgrades. It is going to take some time before all the legacy systems are updated. So the analytic boxes have life — at least for a few more years.

Software Only

There is another model for analytics that is catching on with some users — the emergence of software-only companies. They do not sell boxes or cameras; instead, their software is designed to work on servers and PCs using common operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. This approach requires the end-user to pay an upfront cost and then make annual software support agreement (SSA) payments.

This is a little different for an industry used to buying hardware, such as cameras and DVRs. It is not necessarily a bad model. The IT people have been using this type of agreement for years to acquire and keep their software up and running.

But security is different from IT. We are not a profit center for an organization. Security people are used to buying something and then not putting much more money into it for five to 10 years. The idea of paying for something every year requires a different mindset.

In the long range, this arrangement will probably represent a major piece of the analytics business, but security people just are not buying into it in a big way right now. It is going to be up to the software manufacturers to show that SSAs provide value.

Analytics for Operations

Another way we may see analytics adopted sooner rather than later goes outside of traditional security requirements. More organizations are seeing the value of analytics for operational purposes. Retailers may put a camera on an end-cap promotion and then use analytics to count how many people walked past the display; how may stopped and looked; how many held an item and then put it back; and how many decided to make a purchase. This helps stores to sell.

Banks are using analytics to see how many people are coming into the lobby and at what time of the day. They want to know how long the lines are getting so they can make sure to have enough tellers present to handle peak times. This is a customer service issue.

In time, you may find an organization’s human resources, legal, sales and operations departments may have as many uses for analytics as the security staff. If so, you may be able to spread the cost over several budgets, making the technology more affordable. While the security director is under pressure to cut the budget, the marketing person might have some money to help sell more products or increase customer satisfaction.

What End-Users are Looking For