Over the past six or seven years we have seen innovation after innovation come into the CCTV marketplace. In general, these new tools and toys have improved transmission methods and storage methods, enhanced camera color and sensitivity—basically, they’ve shown us better ways of doing the same old, same old.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been at the forefront of the industry cheering many of the changes and cautioning about most. But now, in the fifth year of the new millennium—a time when we were supposed to still be digging ourselves out of anarchy from the downfall of the computer and its two-number abbreviation of the date—we are finally seeing some really cool stuff.
Take a Look Around
The first of the new charmers is the 360-degree camera. I can’t say this type of viewing is new. The first time I saw it was at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World, some 20 years ago. The difference between what I saw there and what is being offered to our industry today, however, is fourfold.
- The older technology required the use of eight or more film cameras aimed at all points of the compass and filming simultaneously. The new technology offers the same, full-circle view via a single camera with a specially designed cone-lens.
- The older film technology required hundreds of hours of exhaustive editing to ensure that each frame of each film was matched with the others perfectly. Then each of the films was projected onto its own screen, either around a room or in a panoramic view. A computer big enough to fill a 12-by-12-foot room maintained the timing of the entire process. The effect was awesome.
Today’s 360-degree camera is the computer. No trying to tie a series of recorded images together in a perfect symphony. These cameras use a single, cone-shaped image of the world around them. In the raw, the picture reminds me of a perspective map of the world. However, after a bit of lightning-fast technology is applied to the image, it is reproduced on our screen in a large variety of methods.
We can invert the image so that the camera can be mounted on the roof of a car or the ceiling of a room. We can view the image as a panoramic: one really wide view of the world surrounding us, stretched out and laid flat at our feet. We can break the image into as many smaller, manageable pieces as is determined necessary for our application. We can create, from a single image, individual screens of sections of the whole picture. In essence, we can treat this one camera as if it were 10 or 12 cameras.
- The older technology, no matter how good it was, left the viewer with a feeling of vertigo. Today’s new camera, through the marvels of IP and computer technology, puts the image into perfect perspective. It tricks the eye of the mind into believing that we really can see in a full circle without distortion. No fish eye or perspective imaging here.
- With the old technology, the 360-degree image could only be viewed after recording. The newer digital technology allows us to see full-circle in real time.
The most exciting thing about this new technology is that it opens up application after application with a reasonable cost. One camera in the center of an intersection, hanging from a pole or set up in the ceiling and you’re covering all directions simultaneously. One camera on the top of a police car and suddenly you are able to see the whole perspective of the action. One camera placed in the center of a large table and you are covering a conference call between 12 people, seeing each in their own screen while they speak, or seeing the room with everyone in it. These new cameras will help reshape how we think about our applications.
A Stitch in Time
The next piece of technology that has tickled my trigger is screen stitching. Ten or 12 short years ago, I purchased my first digital camera. It was a Kodak, and it was great. It could take seven low-resolution images, and it cost $1,200.
Six years and four upgrades later, I was able, through the magic and innovation of computer software, to “stitch” two to five images together. It was a process of having two or more images of the same scene that were taken separately, but from the same perspective. As long as you had an overlap of 50 percent or more, the computer could match the two images together and produce one clear panoramic printout. It only took my very fast computer an average of five minutes to tie the two images together. God forbid that I have three or more to tie together ... I swear I could see smoke coming from the magic box in front of me.
As exciting as this technology was, it was nothing compared to the new technology that allows you to stitch live, independent video scenes into a single image. Now, instead of having to flip from monitor to monitor and camera to camera, with the push of a button I can project several independent images onto a single, large screen and watch the action in an area move as a single unit in perfect perspective.
The best part is that it will work with analog or digital inputs, allowing us to immediately apply this technology in any of our existing circumstances. Imagine being able to watch your entire perimeter without ever having to trigger a different camera’s view. Imagine being able to watch a car drive around your whole building—from camera view to camera view—without your intervention.
Now, let’s add a bit of sophisticated video tracking and we can highlight any object in the image to be followed digitally or zoomed in on in a separate view off to the side. What a hoot! The only two downfalls with this technology are
- you must be using a specific digital controlling system to have it available to you, and
- it only works with live feed.
The good news is
- as with all new technology, there will probably be several competitive, independent stitching products on the market within the year, and
- it is projected that this technology will be able to work with pre-recorded images by the end of the year.
Follow the Leader
Another of the latest and greatest to come along is auto-tracking dome technology. This stuff isn’t really new; it was originally developed by Primary Image of the UK back in the early ’90s. Auto tracking is, however, suddenly more available as manufacturers compete for new and better tools.
An auto-tracking system uses digital motion detection built into the camera, dome or PTZ to recognize the biggest mass that is moving in the image. It then moves the camera to stay with the moving object. Up, down, left or right, the camera stays with the action automatically. When the object moves out of range of the original camera and into the sight of another, it can pass the responsibility of tracking to the second camera.
The beauty of this advancement is that the technology resides in the dome and so can be added to any existing system. The downfall is that there is little or no intelligence in the technology yet, so it cannot track more complex targets, such as a specific individual in a moving crowd. I give it one year before we are matching it with more simulated intelligence, allowing for huge versatility.
Is there more coming out in the field of CCTV? Absolutely. We’re just winding up for what I feel will be the birth of a whole new barrage of technology and creative solutions to our CCTV needs.
Charlie Pierce is president of LeapFrog Training & Consulting, a company dedicated to training the professionals of the CCTV industry. Visit LeapFrog online at www.LTCTrainingCntr.com.