I'm just getting back from the ASIS Seminar & Exhibits in Dallas, TX. That, added to my past year of frustration, gives me an edge on the current trends of the industry. Keep in mind, though, that the trends of the industry and the realities of the industry are still two or three years apart. They are also $2,000 to $20,000 apart. OK, I set the table; now let's lay out the feast.
As usual, I like to build from the field to the head end, so let's start with cameras. Overall, there have been three major issues with cameras for the past 50 years. They are resolution, sensitivity and features.
The current trends in resolution are great, particularly the trend of improving resolution in stages. This means I can get two or three different resolutions from the same camera depending on the situation. The kick, however, is that improvements in resolution are coming from the future products of the industry, not our long-term friends, the analogs. Analog cameras, even the great hybrids, are for the most part on the way out. We are, in my opinion, within short years of losing them almost completely to the IP cameras-the true digital cameras and the new class of electronics.
Analog cameras, regardless of their quality, are always going to be restricted in their detail and quality of image, due to their transmission and storage media. This has been true for 50 years and will be true to the end of our time. IP cameras, on the other hand, continue to jump forward in all fields, especially resolution. The trend is to develop megapixel resolution with limited bandwidth impact on transmission and storage. The advantage, of course, is that we are able to get extreme detail in our images with slight consequence to our system.
One and two-megapixel cameras are currently available, and three-megapixel cameras are on the way. Hold onto your hat, because those numbers will likely double over the next year or two. I can hold to this statement as I look at buying a new, eight-megapixel camera for my photography work. I'd buy the 10-megapixel unit, but I am waiting for the price to come down below $1,000. A few more weeks should do it, eh?
Sensitivity is the next step for trends, and this is being advanced from several directions at once. Of course the IP cameras are doing some great stuff, with camera sensitivity going to .003 lux. The real players right now are the newer day/night cameras with a nighttime sensitivity in the bragging range of .0005 lux. However, you can cruise between manufacturers and find the same technology, same general features, and same good quality, with price ranges of $850 to $6,000 retail. Lions and tigers and bears. It's like looking at government bids.
Will this trend of wide price spreads and improving sensitivities continue? Yes, I think so. The sensitivity may be at a peak for standard analog technology since it's only a step or so away from thermal, but the price spread will continue until reason comes to the market. So don't be afraid to shop around.
Thermal imaging is another player in the sensitivity game. This technology is fast becoming more available, smaller, better defined and affordable. Ten years ago, thermal cameras were for the rich. But now, compare the cost of adding light to areas of absolute darkness (especially if there is no electricity within half a mile or so) with the cost of a good thermal camera on a photo cell with wireless transmission and control. The thermal camera has entered a much more affordable price bracket, with standard viewing ranges of 30 feet to 2,000 feet.
The infrared market has also done a lot in the sensitivity field. Lamps and cameras are standing strong in the face of the future. IR is becoming very popular for short-term camera sensitivity issues. Covert, with many of the new LED arrays, is realistic for those areas that were off limits to us just a few years ago due to costs and/or a lack of technology.