Video Trends & Technologies: Megapixel Drives the Market

I am frequently asked by our customers, staff and reseller partners: “Which technology is driving advanced video surveillance solutions?” If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have most likely replied, “It’s IP networked systems, of course,” but that answer needs to be footnoted these days, as it is not the network itself that’s changing the landscape of video surveillance — it is the IP devices that we are hanging on these networks. Among the most notable and influential of these are megapixel cameras.

A few years ago, megapixel cameras were widely considered niche products for specialized applications — as they were bandwidth-hungry devices that typically required dedicated networks and lots of server space for storage. The adoption of H.264 compression truly changed users’ perceptions of megapixel cameras; in fact, H.264 compression is up to ten times more efficient than motion JPEG when calculating bandwidth and storage requirements, which makes megapixel cameras a highly efficient means of capturing high resolution images.

Further exploiting the bandwidth efficiency of H.264 compression, Samsung’s engineering team has developed a new algorithm that keeps bandwidth at 2.5MB on a 2 megapixel camera, where many 2 megapixel cameras typically demand as much as 8MB of bandwidth. But even with such quantum leaps in bandwidth efficiency and overall imaging performance, the education process to convince resellers and end-users on the benefits of megapixel imaging has taken some time to change old perceptions.

Fortunately, the industry has turned that corner as megapixel cameras continue to deliver proof of performance for numerous applications around the globe.

More Features, Shapes and Sizes

In addition to megapixel cameras becoming much more network friendly, they have also benefitted from numerous feature enhancements in recent years. Megapixel cameras are now available in many different form factors for various uses within a video surveillance system, making them more practical for mainstream applications vs. conventional IP cameras.

From a feature standpoint, megapixel cameras are now available with a host of features that not only enhance their performance, but also deliver more functionality. Notable features now available in megapixel cameras include:

  • Super Dynamic Range (SDR) to capture usable images even in scenes with highly contrasted lighting;
  • Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) to ensure high quality image reproduction even in low light and/or difficult conditions;
  • Dual H.264 and MJPEG compression to simultaneously view live and recorded images; and
  • Digital pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) operation, which provides the ability to view specific details within a scene without the use of any moving parts in the cameras.

And then there are a whole complement of features like day/night operation, tamper detection, privacy masking, on-board recording with SD cards and alarm triggers for motion detection or network disconnect. Just like traditional analog and IP cameras, megapixel cameras are now available with different feature sets that make them better suited for specific uses within a system.

Additionally, the number of form factors for megapixel cameras have literally exploded over the past few years. They are available in every shape and size imaginable, including box style cameras, bullet cameras, dome cameras, vandal-resistant cameras and panoramic cameras — with new single sensor panoramic cameras being the current rage. These compact and cost-efficient devices provide the unique ability to replace multiple conventional cameras, which can add up to significant savings.

Unlike conventional fish-eye lens cameras that can distort images to the point they are not usable, the wide area coverage provided by new single sensor panoramic cameras can display highly usable images in a variety of viewing modes including single panorama (one 360° image), double panorama (two 180° images), quad (four 90° images), or a single rectangle (one 180° image). Users can also select specific regions within each of these configurations for close-up viewing. More impressive is that these single sensor megapixel cameras deliver HD quality while streaming video at 20fs.

With all of these features and form factors now available, system designers can specify different cameras to fulfill different defined surveillance objectives. Gone are the days where users had limited choices how and where they could deploy high resolution megapixel imaging solutions.

Megapixel Cameras Drive System Performance

Given their performance, there is little doubt that megapixel cameras are presently one of the technology drivers for new video surveillance systems. Their HD resolution and wide area coverage capabilities are strong influencers for users to migrate to networked systems. The ability to capture and read license plates, currency and chip denominations, and individuals’ faces can now be easily achieved within the context of larger imaging areas. Add video analytics, and these capabilities can be triggered automatically with high-resolution recording and alert notification to further increase overall situational awareness and security.

In addition to improving performance, megapixel cameras also provide lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and superior return on investment (ROI). Rather than deploy multiple standard-resolution cameras to cover a single area such as an open area parking lot, a single megapixel camera can typically get the job done without compromise. The reduction in the number of cameras means lower equipment purchase and installation costs. The lack of moving parts in most megapixel cameras also reduces the possibility of mechanical failure, which means lower maintenance costs. And fewer cameras require fewer eyeballs to monitor them, which can also lead to reduced overhead.

I anticipate that the market will be seeing many new megapixel cameras coming to market in even more configurations with increased larger pixel counts, enhanced bandwidth optimization and more advanced and comprehensive feature sets. And that they will continue to drive the migration to networked systems with improved video system performance through 2014.

Frank De Fina is Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Samsung Techwin America. Request more info about the company at www.securityinfowatch.com/10215711.

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