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.