Analog CCTV has served the security market well for decades, but let’s call it what it is: Analog cameras are dumb boxes that can see. The continuing and inevitable shift to IP video presents many more features and functionalities not only for security practitioners, but also newer power users of video surveillance — like business owners, marketing and operation departments, and facilities managers.
That’s because IP cameras are computers with lenses.
Since network video products are computer-like devices, they follow much the same innovation path as our PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Most notably they follow Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who stated that the number of components on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. This theory was updated by another Intel executive, David House, who claimed the circuitry doubling rate is actually 18 months — meaning processing power doubles while cost and device size remain constant or even decrease.
The exciting part for IP video is that processing power growth in IP cameras and video encoders has actually exceeded Moore’s Law since the IP camera was invented in 1996. This “planned innovation” of Moore’s Law has helped IP video hit significant milestones and lay the groundwork for smarter surveillance today and tomorrow by leveraging the edge.
Defining the Edge
“The edge” is defined differently by different markets and even different people. The networking world’s definition of the edge (e.g. edge routers, edge switches) might be different than a business’ IT manager (e.g. laptops, work stations, smartphones). In the video surveillance world, edge devices are typically those that gather and/or transmit video data to the system’s core — otherwise known as the head-end (VMS system, hybrid DVR, server, etc.).
These devices that sit on the “edge” of the network are IP cameras, video encoders and network attached storage (NAS) devices.
Most surveillance professionals equate “the core” as a video storage function; however, video analytic processing, video management and general data processing are also done at the core. Yet as IP cameras and encoders become more powerful, these functions are being pushed to the edge.
The Edge’s Influence on Video Usability
As processing power of IP video devices increased, the most obvious benefit was that manufacturers were able to deliver improved video quality that ultimately (far) surpassed analog to the HDTV and megapixel video of today. As video resolutions increased, the data created remained usable because of more efficient bandwidth consumption and lower storage requirements at an ever-decreasing cost — thanks again to Moore’s Law.
But the influence of edge processing power doesn’t stop at resolution. As resolution higher than 5 megapixel is limited by the lens; and because other parameters such as low-light performance and Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) are ultimately more important for surveillance, R&D engineers have recently focused on leveraging edge techniques to create breakthrough image usability technologies. Many manufacturers stopped focusing solely on delivering more and more pixels, but instead answered, “How can we make today’s pixels clearer?”
Improved chip technology combined with advanced algorithms inside IP cameras led to finer image focus with technologies like P-iris control, much improved WDR performance to combat challenging lighting conditions, and even enable IP cameras to see color video at night — something analog users could never dream of.
Compression at the Edge
None of these image enhancements would have been usable today, if it wasn’t for the use of efficient compression that enables high-quality video to traverse the network in reasonable packet sizes. These advances in compression standards, along with edge improved processing power for real time compression, have evolved to significantly reduce image file size without adversely affecting visual quality.