How to migrate from analog to IP cameras

[Editor's note: John Honovich publishes this and other information on network video at IPVideoMarket.info.]

Migrating from analog to IP can be tricky, mainly because most everyone has existing infrastructure in place. You rarely can simply throw out that infrastructure and start anew - the economics usually do not support it. Because of that, you need to figure out what to keep, what to replace and what to modify.


The issues involved are too complex to provide a simple boilerplate yes or no. This report examines the most critical elements in making the transition from analog cameras to IP cameras so that you can better appreciate the issues involved for your circumstances. Nonetheless, you will have to spend significant time learning and evaluating as the issues involved are significant.


Here is a summary of those key elements:



  • Determine if your DVR supports IP cameras

  • Determine what IP camera manufacturers your DVR support

  • If needed, assess options for NVRs or IP Video Management Software

  • Determine if IP cameras can eliminate long distance analog cabling

  • Determine if higher resolution cameras can help you

  • Assess the increased bandwidth impact on your networks

  • Determine if you can afford increased storage for megapixel cameras


DVR Supports IP Cameras


First check whether your DVR supports IP cameras.  Most DVRs that cost more than $3,000 USD usually supports some form of IP cameras today. However, most of the more 'budget' type DVRs do not.


You should determine this first because it is the key element in determining how complex adding in IP cameras will be.  If your DVR does not support IP cameras, you have a few options, none of which I think are very attractive: (1) you could monitor the IP cameras directly with no recorder, (2) you could set up a separate NVR to record the IP cameras or (3) you could decode the IP camera's video stream to record them on your existing DVRs.  Most professional security organizations want a single video management system to record and access all cameras which means that you either work with what you have or replace it.


What IP Cameras Your DVR Supports


If you DVR supports IP cameras, you definitely need to find out what manufacturers and models of IP cameras they support.  Many DVR suppliers only support 1 or a small number of IP camera manufacturers.


This can be really confusing and surprising coming from the analog camera world. With analog cameras, no one worried about whether a DVR could support a fixed camera because once you supported 1 analog camera, you supported them all.  However, with IP cameras, you have to check every time for not only manufacturer support but for specific model support (i.e., a DVR manufacturer may support the Axis 207 but not the Axis 221).


Determining what IP cameras a DVR supports is very important because different manufacturs specialize in different types of products.  If your DVR only supports 1 or 2 camera manufacturers, this could cause significant problems. For instance, there are specialists in high end, standard definition cameras (Axis); budget standard definition cameras (ACTi); inexpensive multi-megapixel cameras (Arecont Vision); high end multi-megapixel cameras (IQinvision), etc.  You need to determine what types of IP cameras you need and whether those are supported by your DVR.


These first two points will help you understand the degree of difficulty of adding in IP cameras.


NVRs or IP Video Management Software


At this stage many will reach a point where you need to consider replacing your DVR system.  The emerging alternative are designed to support dozens of IP cameras. If you get to this point, this will be a challenge in and of itself.  There are dozens of companies that offer NVRs or IP Video Management software.


Furthermore, if you head in this direction you will need to determine how to support your existing analog cameras.  Because IP Video Management Software only supports IP video streams, you will need to purchase encoders to convert the analog video stream from your camera into an IP video stream that the IP Video Management software can handle.  Encoders are fairly expensive ($300 - $600 USD per camera) so it may be worthwhile but it is not without its costs.


This covers the fundamental product options and choices.  To determine if the migration is worth it, focus on the next two items.


Eliminate Long Distance Analog Cabling


All cameras need to be connected to a video recorder.  How they are connected can vary greatly.  The most common means for analog cameras is to use a dedicated coaxial cable to connect the camera to the DVR.  Indoors and over short distances, this is usually quite simple to do. However, if you need to go long distances, outdoors or through areas where it is hard to run a new dedicated cable, analog cameras can become problematic.


If you have multiple buildings or outdoor areas to protect, you may not be currently using surveillance cameras or if you are you had to resort to expensive proprietary transmission systems.  This is the most valuable and powerful use of IP camears.  With IP cameras, you have the potential of reusing existing networks in your facilities. You also can use low cost IP wireless equipment to add cameras in distant or outdoor locations.


To the extent that this situation applies to you, your motivation to move to IP cameras should be stronger.  It can either reduce costs by thousands of dollars compared to existing implementation or enable you to add new cameras in places that would have been previously cost prohibitive.


Use of Higher Resolution Images


IP cameras offer the potential to capture and record much higher resolution images than analog cameras.  While the maximum resolution of most IP cameras is the same as most analog cameras, one type of IP camera, the megapixel camera, can offer far greater resolution.


You should determine how and where you can make most use out of megapixel cameras.  Key determinants are (1) the greater the area you want to cover and (2)the higher your need to see details.  For example, a parking lot or cashier's station. By contrast, if you are observing a small office room and just need to know when someone was inside, a traditional standard definition analog camera will do fine.


Megapixel cameras come with two huge impacts that you must consider when migrating from analog cameras: bandwidth and storage.


Assess the Bandwidth Impact


When migrating from analog to IP, if you keep the resolution you record at the same, the impact on bandwidth (your computer network) should be minimal.  For instance, most commercial users record at 5 frames per second at CIF (320 x 240 pixels).  At these levels, bandwidth consumption is quite low (under .5 Mb/s) relative to today's networks (100 Mb/s ++).  Even with a few dozen cameras, this should not make a significant impact on even lower end switches.


However, if you want high resolution or framerates, then you need to start carefully assessing the impact.  With these conditions, each camera can consume 5Mb/s to 45 Mb/s, which starts adding up.  While you can purchases networking equipment that can handle 1000Mb/s or more, you should not assume that this is already in place and that you can just plug this in.


You certainly should test the bandwidth load before deployment. You may need to consider one of the following two options:



  1. Use a separate IP network for the cameras.

  2. Upgrade your existing networking equipment to make sure that it can support the load.


Both are certainly expensive and can have a significant operational and political impact with your IT's organization.  Though this can be accomplished, do not take it for granted as the cost and complexity can be significant.


Assess the Storage Impact


In a similar manner, increasing the video quality, certainly impacts storage needs.  If you use DVRs, you are likely used to buying storage bundled with the DVR (e.g., a DVR with 250 GB or 500GBs of storage for 16 cameras). With IP cameras and, especially with megapixel, you can easily be looking at 1TB per camera, which is a very significant increase. This could increase the cost of your system by tens of thousands of dollars.


You will need to better determine how significant this will be and your willingness to spend more for storage. Some organizations will find it to be no big deal but others may be shocked.


Conclusion


Hopefully this helps identifies key points so you can better assess your situation.

About the author: John Honovich, PSP, is an independent researcher and consultant focused on the world of networked video surveillance. He is author of IPVideoMarket.info and has previously worked in product development and management positions at security technology companies such as 3VR and Sensormatic.

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