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

Standards help put consumers in the driver’s seat

• Video resolution standards: In the IT world, where network video standards originated, the basic resolution is 640x480, which conforms to the VGA (Video Graphic Array) resolution, a de-facto standard specified by IBM. For higher resolutions, there are also HDTV (High Definition TV) standards such as 720p (with a 1280x720 resolution) and 1080i/p (with a 1920x1080 resolution). The HDTV standards as defined by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) also indicate adherence to color fidelity and frame rate.

• Video compression: There are a host of standards for video compression — from simple picture compression like JPEG, to more advanced H.263, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. The latest compression standard applicable for video surveillance is H.264. As the product of a joint standards effort between the IT and telecom worlds, it has the necessary pedigree to outperform its predecessor and gain more widespread adoption. A number of other standards govern the audio compression in video — such as G.726 and G.711 — both coming out of the telecom industry.

As more regions and industries support standards, the more R&D money they invest in product development to meet those standards. This gives rise to great competition for best-of-breed components from which end-users can choose to build their ideal surveillance solutions.

Will the Security Industry Ever Drive its Own Standards?

As mentioned, most of the standards used in the video surveillance industry today originated in the larger IT, telecom and television industries. But now standards developed within the security industry itself are on the horizon, which will complement the existing standards already deployed.

Recently, several organizations have become active in the development of standards for network-connected video surveillance devices. One group is the Security Industry Association (SIA), which is accredited by ANSI as a national SDO. Two other groups — the Open Network Video Industry Forum (ONVIF) and Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) — were launched in 2008 and are focusing on improving compatibility by creating global open standards for the network interface between network video products. They want to define how network cameras, video encoders and video management systems communicate with one another to make it easier to integrate various brands of video equipment into a single solution. Among the IP video standards the groups plan to address are issues surrounding video streaming, device discovery and management, intelligence metadata and event handling, as well as real-time viewing and remote pan/tilt/zoom control. ONVIF is also addressing testing to ensure conformance to the standards — especially important in the early days of a new standard.

Standardizing will give end-users a wider choice of cameras compatible with their network systems, which should spur adoption of network video technology. Greater product demand and higher production volumes for network camera manufacturers will trigger economies of scale that will ultimately lower costs for the end-user. We should begin seeing products based on these new standards initiatives in 2009 and realize a significant impact on the market by 2010.

Stumbling Blocks to Proactivity

With potential benefits so huge, what has stopped the security market until now from taking an active role in the standards arena? The reasons are two-fold. First, developing standards is a huge undertaking and requires active participation from key leaders at several vendors. In very early markets, those leaders are more focused on spending their time building the business than developing standards. Second, some vendors of incumbent analog technology are less likely to spend time and effort on driving standards that will accelerate growth of the IP-based video market and undermine their own customer base by opening the door for end-users to choose other best-of-breed components. By the same reasoning, companies within the network video market seem more eager to collaborate on open standards in order to hasten the market shift to IP.

Fredrik Nilsson is general manager of Axis Communications, a provider of IP-based network video solutions that include network cameras and video encoders for remote monitoring and security surveillance. His exclusive “Eye on Video” series can be found at www.SecurityInfoWatch.com and IPSecurityWatch.com.