Designing a Hybrid Video System

What would it be like to have a video system of the quality you want, that could retain recorded video for as long as you needed to? A “hybrid” video system — one that supports both analog and digital video — is often the best way to get there; however, many security practitioners start off on the wrong foot when considering a hybrid system, by delving into the technology aspects first. The right way to start out is to have two things in hand: a clear picture of the risks that you need to address, and a good assessment of the functional value of your existing video system and its components.

How well does your existing system help you recognize a situation, identify its threat elements, make a coordinated and effective response and document the events through recordings of sufficient quality? That’s the functional value of your system. Does the system fail to capture every incident? Are faces recognizable when needed in live and recorded video? Are the camera frame rates sufficient to catch all the action that should be captured? Does the system have any other shortcomings?

Scope of Improvements
Fixing the aspects where existing systems falls short often requires more than a technology upgrade. Strategic repositioning of cameras and improvements to lighting are also usually needed — these affect the functional value of the system.

A camera’s field of view, lighting intensity levels, maximum light-to-dark ratio, scene reflectance, daylight-to-darkness transitions and the camera’s spectral response should all be taken into account. While it is true that advanced camera technology can overcome lighting limitations, remember that security officers and other responders depend on plain eyesight when on patrol or responding to an incident.

Another element that is often out-of-date is the monitoring center or security operations center (SOC). New video display technology generally warrants modifying and sometimes completely redesigning the SOC, as well as upgrading policies and procedures to take advantage of new technology capabilities.

Beyond Security ROI
Many organizations, especially retail and manufacturing companies, are using network video for non-security purposes, such as training, supervising, marketing research and quality control. Networked video systems provide a means to share video data, and the ROI from such new applications can go a long way to justifying and even funding video upgrades. All such application avenues should be explored first, prior to selecting technology.

Examine New Technology Last
Examining new technology is not likely to reveal all of the shortcomings of a current video system, and it certainly will not provide a list of risks that need to be addressed. These things should already be in mind when reviewing technology capabilities. New video technology should also enable improvements in security operations; however, practitioners who haven’t fully thought out the risk and existing system elements ahead of time are caught up with those considerations, and don’t usually realize all of the operational improvements that can be gained.

Migration vs. Full Replacement
Video systems older than 10 years usually warrant full replacement for the cameras, display monitors and recording equipment. Newer systems are likely to have components that are not at their end-of-life and that do provide the needed functional value. The most commonly asked question when designing a hybrid system is: “What equipment stays and what goes?” This should be expanded to consider a step-by-step approach: “What equipment stays and what goes, on what schedule?”

Migrating one step at a time to the desired end-state for a hybrid system can reduce operational risk, synchronize purchases with budgetary cycles, and synchronize deployment of IP-based video technology with IT projects and schedules. Additionally, new situation management applications (formerly called command and control) offer ways to significantly improve security operations. Thus, security planning and related personnel training are often part of the overall picture as well. These are reasons why migration planning is a key element of implementing a hybrid system.

Analog Cameras
Where the quality of video from an analog camera suits the purpose of the camera, there is no reason to replace the camera unless it is nearing the end of its expected life. Quality of video refers to the resolution (number of pixels vertically and horizontally), frame rate, image contrast and color; however, if a camera is intended for identification purposes (possibly in court), for example, and the quality of the image is not actually sufficient for facial identification, then the camera should be replaced with one that will fulfill its intended purpose and perhaps be redeployed elsewhere.

Analog camera signals can be brought into an IP system using video encoders that are available from a number of camera and video system manufacturers. This is often most conveniently done in the equipment rack that holds the video recording system, using rack-mounted video encoders.

Security can benefit from cameras at door intercoms, and the advent of IP-based intercom systems simplifies their deployment. For example, the AlphaCom Evolution products by Stentofon support hybrid intercom systems with both hard-wired intercoms and network-enabled intercoms ( Standard VOIP protocols encode the audio, and TCP/IP is used throughout to provide compatibility with existing routers and VLAN equipment. The intercom controllers also include a network camera port, to facilitate providing security with both “eyes and ears.”

VCRs, DVRs and NVRs
That VCRs warrant replacement needs no discussion. DVRs require some consideration. The life of hard drives in most DVRs is 4-6 years, and in most cases, DVR video storage capacity is less than desired. Thus, most DVRs are candidates for replacement; however, in some cases DVRs hold video data that must be retained from 1-5 years. For those situations, the DVR system can be retained as an independent system until no longer needed. Alternately, video management system (VMS) software can be used that integrates with the major brands of DVRs., such as Cameleon from ICx Technologies Inc. Newer DVRs that are still in good working order can even be moved out to smaller remote sites, and be monitored centrally. This can work out well for remote sites that have VCR recorders or don’t record video but simply monitor it.

A system with NVRs and analog cameras is already a hybrid system, with the analog camera signals either being accepted directly by the NVR (a hybrid NVR) or being converted to IP data using an IP video encoder. Whether to replace or keep the NVR depends on its age, its functionality and storage capacity, and the retention required for existing recorded video. The same redeployment options exist for NVRs as for newer DVRs as described in the previous paragraph.

Data center style (server-based) video storage is much more flexible than DVR and NVR units, allowing expansion as needed as the size of the video system grows or its performance requirements increase. For example, DVRs and NVRs are limited as to the total number of video frames per second that an individual unit can handle at a given video resolution. That is why the designs for most IP video systems of any size include server-based video storage using VMS software with NVR functionality.

Scalable Storage
An important aspect of future-proofing an upgraded video system is the use of scalable storage. This doesn’t simply mean expandable storage capacity. A storage system must be able to scale in two other important ways: the capacity to accept video data (how many frames-per-second, per camera) and the capacity to serve video data (which can involve both operator actions and video analytics operations). Many existing video systems can be “brought to their knees” by having several operators perform video searches at the same time. That is why it is very important to consider how video will be used operationally, before designing the video storage element of the system.

Data Transport
Until the recent advent of IP video encoders that allow data to go across a network, data transport for analog cameras has been either via coaxial cable (sometimes requiring video amplifiers or line boosters along the way) or fiber optic cable (using proprietary encoders and decoders) from cameras back to the central monitoring point. Both coax and fiber transport result in an analog signal at the end of the line. Coax line boosters and fiber optic encoders and decoders have their own lifecycles and are candidates for replacement at some point. Coax cable can’t be reused for Ethernet networking, but fiber optic cable can.

IT departments are already familiar with using fiber for networks. When considering converting fiber used for analog communications to network use, it is important to check with the IT department. Such conversions should be handled in a way that is consistent with IT network design standards and practice. Additionally, the upgrade may be able to be incorporated into a planned IT project. If the security department has spare fiber optic cable, and IT could make good use of some of it, it may be prudent to discuss a resource swap that benefits both departments.

The timing for replacing analog cameras with network cameras should be based not just on the life of the cameras, but also on factors relating to converting the analog communications infrastructure to Ethernet network. That includes Power over Ethernet (PoE) capability for new network cameras. With many companies currently deploying VOIP solutions — which use PoE — it is important to get the network camera power requirements into the hands of IT, and to schedule deployment of the new cameras for after the VOIP network support is in place.

Remote Systems
Network video systems and high-capacity corporate network backbones can provide an affordable means to bring remote site video back to a central monitoring point. If this hasn’t been done before, consider whether it would provide security or efficiency improvements.

Hybrid Advantages
In addition to the cost savings over a rip-and-replace approach, implementing a hybrid system can be done with a plan that optimizes the way that security improvements are rolled out.

Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. Mr. Bernard has also provided pivotal strategic and technical advice in the security and building automation industries for more than 18 years. He is founder and publisher of The Security Minute 60-second newsletter ( For more information about Ray Bernard and RBCS go to or call 949-831-6788.