Eye Candy: The Rise of HDTV

How the consumer video standard has revolutionized the look of surveillance, and the reasons why it will continue

In January 2009, the security market launched the first HDTV-compliant surveillance camera. That crossover of HDTV standards from the consumer world to the security realm forever changed the industry’s outlook on surveillance; thus, 2009 is where our real “story of HD” began.

Details of HDTV

The two most common HDTV standards in the television world are SMPTE 296M and SMPTE 274M.

SMPTE 296M or HDTV 720p uses 720 scan lines and a refresh rate of 30 progressive scans per second. The standard defines the resolution as 1280x720 pixels in a 16:9 format with high color fidelity.

SMPTE 274M or HDTV 1080 uses interlaced (1080i) or progressive (1080p) scan lines and a refresh rate of 30 Hertz or 60 Hertz, which corresponds to 30 or 60 frames per second, in North America. The standard defines the resolution as 1920x1080 pixels in a 16:9 format with high color fidelity.

The HDTV standard is based on square pixels — similar to those used on computer screens; therefore, HDTV video from network video cameras can be shown on either HDTV screens or standard computer monitors. With progressive scan HDTV video, conversion or de-interlacing techniques do not need to be applied for the video to be processed by a computer or displayed on a computer screen.

Today, the majority of HDTV-compliant IP surveillance cameras sold in North America are 720p. Despite the initial race to own the cameras with the most megapixels, savvy security practitioners have learned that more pixels does not always mean better when it comes to usable video.


Driving HDTV Adoption in Surveillance

While the consumer market shift to HDTV is close to 100 percent, the security industry still has a long way to go. Market research estimates that 35 percent of the surveillance cameras sold in 2012 were IP cameras, and of those IP cameras, about 50 percent were HDTV-compliant. If you do the math, you can see that only 15-20 percent of the surveillance cameras sold last year were HDTV cameras. Industry experts predict that shift is going to accelerate in the coming year due to a number of factors:

1. There are a lot more HDTV camera choices. While the first HDTV cameras were only fixed box cameras, now security practitioners can chose from fixed, fixed dome, pan/tilt/zoom and even miniature covert all-digital HDTV cameras.

2. There’s an HDTV price point for everyone. The first HDTV cameras listed for $1,499 MSRP. Today, they can be purchased for less than $250.

3. HDTV cameras come with more options. The first HDTV cameras were pretty bare bones. The ability to achieve compliance to the HDTV standard and deliver the same video quality as seen in the living room was in itself a big accomplishment. Today’s HDTV-compliant cameras come with a number of image-enhancing features, like wide dynamic range (WDR) and extreme light sensitivity with full color fidelity at night.

4. Turning HDTV on its head. The standard format of HDTV compliance is a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. This matches the dimensions of today’s HDTV flat screen monitors and is perfect for monitoring perimeters, open lobbies and typical outdoor surveillance applications; however, the horizontal format left much to be desired when monitoring retail aisles, long hallways, tunnels or alleys because pixels on the sides were wasted on walls and shelving. Today, there are HDTV cameras that can operate in a portrait 9:16 format, which gives security better vertical coverage of narrow, long and high-stacked locations.


From Better Resolution to Smarter Surveillance

While high megapixel cameras will certainly be viable for special niche applications, industry experts expect HDTV to be the dominant choice in surveillance applications in the coming years. Therefore, while manufacturers will continue to push the envelope in terms of better performance and image usability, a more concerted effort will be focused on increasing the video intelligence of the camera to support more proactive surveillance.