Eye on Video: When analog cameras outlive their DVRs

Why you should replace failed DVRs with video encoders

As an IP video guy, every time I go through U.S. Customs at Boston’s Logan Airport I’m struck by all the analog cameras that still hang on the wall behind each officers’ booth. I’ve crossed that checkpoint dozens of times over the past decade and those cameras continue to mock me.

It also makes me realize that this type of longevity brings up an interesting problem for users. While an analog camera typically remains in operation for eight years or more, the DVR it’s attached to usually fails in half that time. In the lifecycle of an analog CCTV system, a customer would have to replace each DVR at least once, but likely more.

That 2-1-plus ratio opens a whole new world of opportunity for network video integrators while providing better value for the customer. If the integrator replaces expired DVRs with more future-proof video encoders, they not only extend the life of the customer’s current analog camera investment, but the technology puts them on a migration path to a full IP-based solution and all its associated benefits.

As the analog cameras themselves begin to fail, they can be replaced with more advanced IP cameras, allowing customers to upgrade their surveillance system in affordable increments.

How big a market are we talking about?

According to the global research firm IHS Inc., by 2014 new sales of IP video will account for 50 percent of the revenue in the video surveillance market. While this indicates that the battle for supremacy is starting to tip in favor of IP technology, it’s important to recognize the flip side of this story. Of the more than 50 million video cameras currently installed around the world today more than 80 percent of them are analog.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that a majority of them are attached to 16-channel DVRs. That means there are more than 2.5 million DVRs currently aging across the globe that could be candidates for replacement. That’s a huge market opportunity for video encoders, and one that would be foolish to ignore.

Why are video encoders better than DVRs?

A DVR is the most expensive, maintenance-heavy, proprietary PC your customer will ever buy. A video encoder, on the other hand, is an open-platform technology that can take a customer’s existing legacy analog cameras and essentially turn them in to IP cameras. Swapping video encoders for end-of-life DVRs affords users some significant advantages:

Scalability: DVRs come in fixed channel increments – 4, 8, 16, etc. Video encoders are available in one-channel versions that can be placed close to the analog camera, or in multi-channel versions with up to 84 channels per chassis. This means that customers can add channels in any increment they need, creating a more cost-efficient mechanism for future expansion of their surveillance system. And once the head-end has been migrated to IP, new network cameras can be added to the system one- or many-at-a-time wherever an Ethernet drop is available.

Performance: DVRs are typically strapped for processing power and therefore performance. So they commonly stream video at 7.5 or 15 frames-per-second (fps) per channel. Video encoders can stream at 30 fps and sometimes even higher. The higher the fps, the smoother the video and the better the image, which leads to much-improved surveillance coverage.

Storage: An average DVR box holds one to four terabytes of video. But since it’s a proprietary, closed platform, it offers customers limited scalability. An encoder-based solution is an open platform that can attach to common off-the-shelf storage, so it’s more cost effective and scalable to virtually unlimited retention capacity.

Intelligence: In an analog system, intelligence needs to be performed by the DVR along with all the other tasks such as compression and storage. With a closed platform, the customer often can only select from the limited intelligence applications available from that specific DVR vendor. Video encoders can support third-party intelligent applications running inside the encoder, which provides flexibility to build a best-of-breed solution and ensures there is enough computing performance for the video channels. Digitizing the signal also allows the customer to select much more intelligent video management software from any leading global provider.

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