You know you have been around too long when people start asking you to write “Milestones” articles. Yet it seems like only yesterday that Axis Communications Co-Founder Martin Gren returned to Sweden from a Tokyo business trip with his idea for a network-connected video camera. Sixteen years later, IP video still possesses the spirit of a new technology thanks to all the fast-paced innovation and perpetual excitement it brings to the security industry.
IP video has grown from a web attraction device, to a niche, not-yet-ready-for-primetime player in the security world, to an enabler of 100,000-plus camera surveillance systems. We have seen technological innovations both big and small that have brought us to where we are today — but since a network camera at its core is an intelligent IP-enabled computing device that also happens to “see” — you must look beyond the camera’s video performance to fully appreciate each milestone.
While image and video quality features of the IP camera are often cited first and foremost, business functionality and system size milestones are equally important. These three timelines make the IP video market what it is today.
Image and Video Quality Milestones
Compared to the world of analog CCTV, where the last true video innovation was the emergence of color in the 1990s, IP video technology has delivered a steady stream of video quality improvements.
While the first IP camera’s performance was extremely modest, today’s security practitioners receive the same video quality in the control room that they have on their flat-screen TVs at home.
- 1996 – World’s first network camera launched by Axis at the N+I event (today called Interop) in Atlanta. By today’s standards, the ‘Neteye’ had underwhelming performance – especially for video surveillance – highlighted by one frame every 17 seconds in normal resolution, and one frame per second in CIF resolution, which is less than 0.1 megapixel.
- 2000 – First full frame rate network video camera, but only in CIF.
- 2003 –First full frame rate network camera in 4CIF with the ability to use progressive scan technology. This gave IP video its first official – albeit small – advantage over analog cameras.
- 2004 –Megapixel hits the network video market for the first time. With analog CCTV forever stuck at 540 Horizontal TV Lines (HTVL), this was the first major image quality advantage for IP, however it came with limited frame rate and limited light sensitivity.
- 2006 – We see the first multi-megapixel IP cameras beginning to ship. More pixels meant more of an advantage over analog, but it also meant larger data packets, which limited frame rate in real world applications. Light sensitivity improved a bit, but most megapixel cameras used M-JPEG compression.
- 2008 –Taking a lead from the consumer entertainment world, H.264 compression is brought to IP surveillance for the first time.
- 2009 – Debut of the world’s first HDTV-compliant IP camera. By following the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) standard, not only could IP video deliver the same 720p/1080i resolution that we enjoy in our living rooms, but the security industry realized the benefits of full frame rate high definition video, a 16:9 aspect ratio for better coverage and guaranteed color fidelity. Finally, IP video quality is better than analog in ALL aspects, and with 30 fps in 1080p resolution, IP cameras deliver 600 times better performance as compared to the first Neteye camera.
- 2010 – The addition of the P-iris lens with precise control software inside the camera to address challenging lighting makes high megapixel cameras much more useful. Megapixel frames rates also become reasonable with up to 12 fps at 5MP. HDTV also spreads from the original fixed box camera to all form factors, including PTZ dome.
- 2011 – Years of IP video imaging expertise combined with the latest in-camera chipsets and lensing lead to the newest color-at-night Lightfinder technology. Color video is now possible down to 0.05 lux (FYI, a full moon on clear night delivers about 0.1 lux).
- 2012 –Wide Dynamic Range with dynamic capture comes to IP video. The advanced image processing leverages next generation in-camera chipsets with Main Profile H.264 to deliver several images with different exposure times up to 120 dB, resulting in video with exceptional clarity and sharpness in the toughest lighting conditions.