What’s Happening with the Switch to IP?

missing image fileEach spring, thousands of security professionals and vendors migrate to the Nevada desert for the annual ISC West security show held in Las Vegas. In recent years, video surveillance products have been among the most visible and numerous show-cased products on the exhibition floor. The 2009 show was no exception. An array of network cameras from a seemingly endless number of vendors lined the aisles. With an opportunity to assess the “state of the union,” here’s my assessment of what was clear at the show: more vendors; more resolution; less bandwidth; better video quality; and more analytics providers.

Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., estimated that there are now close to 300 manufacturers that provide network cameras for security and surveillance applications. According to IMS Research, Wellingborough, England, the majority of network camera sales for professional use are attributed to Axis, Sony and Panasonic with the balance of the market being shared among the ever-expanding number of providers.

Most IP camera providers have at least one megapixel camera in their products line. Network cameras are not bound by the resolution defined by analog video standard (NTSC). The most common megapixel resolution is 1280 x 960 providing 1.3 megapixels of resolution.

Clearly, H.264 compression is widely adopted. H.264 provides equivalent video quality versus MPEG-4 with a significant reduction in data rate (up to 50 percent of MPEG-4). The data-rate reduction is particularly attractive in combination with megapixel sensors to help offset the data rate from the larger pixel footprint. In addition, the price gap between H.264 and MPEG-4 based compression cameras has also narrowed considerably, according to Raul Calderon, vice president of Strategic Relations, Arecont Vision, Glendale, Calif.

CCD-based, progressive-scan sensors with wide dynamic range capabilities provide a video quality that meets or exceeds that of analog video for many applications.

Sony’s new fourth-generation cameras are a good example of how vendors continue to extend video quality. Their ExwavePro sensor provides the advantages of progressive scan along with impressive low-light performance.  Sony has improved low-light performance by using a complementary color filter to allow more light to pass through to the sensor pixels. This allows the camera to capture moving objects better while maintaining standard shutter speed in low-light applications. Variable gamma settings allow the camera to compensate for high contrast scenes by suppressing bright areas or boosting dark areas. The new Sony cameras incorporate a function called light funnel which uses a group of four adjacent pixels as a combined light gathering source in low light scenes. This gives the camera a four-times increase in low light sensitivity without going into slow shutter speed modes often used to open the apeture to add more light and that can cause blurring or a fuzzy image.

Axis, Bosch, March Networks and many others provide cameras with built-in video analytics such as advanced motion detection, people counting and virtual “trip-wire” applications. As more camera vendors enter the market, the analytics appear to be a way for vendors to add value and differentiate products.

What’s next?

Network camera market share is generally estimated at about 20 percent of all new camera installations. IP camera vendors hope that competitive costs and IP camera interoperability will shift the balance toward IP, even for smaller systems where analog CCTV cameras and DVRs dominate the market.

Currently there is limited interoperability between network cameras andvideo recorders and video management software. All network surveillance systems are currently proprietary because each network camera’s integration with an NVR or software product is unique. With interoperability, network video can achieve a level of “plug-and-play” that has been the norm in analog CCTV systems.

Several industry efforts are engaged in standardization and interoperability: Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA).

Nilsson said he expects Axis to release ONVIF-compliant cameras by the end of the year. It will be interesting to review the impact of the standardization efforts at next year’s ISC show to see if other vendors follow Axis’ lead and begin to deliver products compliant with current interoperability standards.

Tom Galvin of NetVideo Consulting is a network video specialist. His company’s Web site is www.netvideoconsulting.com.