Eye on Video: How standards are changing the face of surveillance

Putting consumers in the driver’s seat

Connecting a laptop to a monitor or projector, plugging a memory stick into a computer or even using a 3G phone overseas has become so commonplace that few people bother to think about the underlying technology that makes that possible. But the reason all those components from different manufacturers work so flawlessly together comes down to a single word: standards. Standards establish uniform engineering or technical criteria that vendors agree to adhere to when manufacturing their products.

The biggest beneficiaries of standards are end-users. Instead of being locked into proprietary solutions, standards allow them to pick and choose best-of-breed components from different manufacturers with confidence that all the pieces will work well together. Freedom of choice tends to increase competition between vendors — ultimately speeding delivery of better products to the market at a lower price as the market expands at an ever-higher rate.

Who Sets Standards?

Specifications only become standards once they have been ratified by a Standards Developing Organization (SDO). Some SDOs are worldwide, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which ratified such networking standards as Ethernet. There are also regional SDOs such as the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and national standards bodies such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

While “standards” has a very specific meaning, the term sometimes gets applied to products that have not been ratified by an SDO. The Internet Protocols (IP version 4 and version 6), for example, were not ratified by an SDO. Rather they were specifications worked out by several companies cooperating in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which produces specifications called Requests for Comments (RFC). These “de-facto standards” — the result of structured work by several companies — usually work as well as standards ratified by SDOs and often become widely accepted and deployed by the market.

Standards for the Video Surveillance Industry

In the analog world, regional organizations have ratified standards for the video signal coming from the analog cameras. One is NTSC, which is used in America. The other is PAL, which is used in Europe. Those standards — ratified in the 1950s — came from the television industry and have made it possible for analog cameras from multiple vendors to be used in a single system. However, since the standards are regional rather than worldwide, vendors still need different versions of their products for different markets, which add to development, manufacturing and logistics costs.

In contrast, most standards ratified for the network video world come from the IT industry and have the benefit of being worldwide standards. Standards relevant to video surveillance fall into three categories: networking, video resolution and video compression.

• Networking standards: Several networking standards facilitate the communication between the components in network video systems, including 802.11a/b/g wireless and Power over Ethernet (PoE). Providing a standardized way to deliver power as well as data communication over the same cable — the IEEE 802.3af standard for PoE — has had a huge impact on the growth of the network camera market (For more information, please see Fredrik Nilsson’s story, “PoE and the New Proposed 802.3at Standard,” available at SecurityInfoWatch.com and in the January issue of STE). There are also standards to ensure secure data transmission over IP networks such as IEEE 802.1X, as well as de-facto standards for managing IP addresses such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). In all, there are more than two dozen important standard protocols that network video devices should comply with in order to be truly interoperable.

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