Video Surveillance: The Pros and Cons of UL 2802

The new standard for security camera image quality can be a valuable tool if used in the way intended

The new UL 2802 safety standard is titled, “Performance Testing of Camera Image Quality.” According to Underwriter’s Laboratories, this is the first of five related standards that will evaluate an entire digital video system: transmission, storage, video analytics and displays.

Last year, UL placed a white paper about UL 2802 on its Facebook page that provides a description of each test, and includes example images for some of the tests.

There are a few serious concerns about the potential negative effects of the standard for security video end users, systems integrators, and design and specifying consultants. The concerns — which I believe are valid — center on misuse of the standard to create false impressions about camera products.

How extensive the problems will be depend on how manufacturers, security industry media, distributors and sales reps can accurately convey what the standard is and what it is not.


What the Standard Is

UL 2802 is a way for manufacturers to obtain independently certified laboratory test ratings for a standard set of factors that impact video image quality: image resolution; distortion; relative illumination; dynamic range; maximum frame rate; gray level; sensitivity; bad pixel count; and veiling glare. Thus, the standard provides something valuable that is long overdue — a way to make apples-to-apples comparisons across a selection of products using basic technical information about a subset of the factors that affect camera image quality.

In many industries, manufacturer data sheets are not considered sufficiently reliable to be taken at face value. The hope is that UL 2802 test results will be an improvement on data sheet information, at least insofar as its scope of camera testing is concerned.

Testing is the backbone of UL’s business, and so it should be no surprise that they could develop a smart and technically sound approach to rating the testable aspects of camera image quality. UL knows that the test results will vary depending on what camera configuration is used; thus, the standard states that changes to any of the camera’s critical components (which includes lens, operating system and software) may require reconducting the performance tests for each camera configuration. The test lab must record the camera settings for each test.

However, the standard cannot serve as the sole basis for camera product comparison and evaluation. There are many critical aspects of camera performance that the standard does not cover, which is understandable, as many of these performance factors cannot be feasibly tested in a laboratory.

That does not in any way lessen the value of UL 2802’s test ratings. The performance factors that the standard covers are critical to image quality. That’s why the standard is an important advance in the area of camera testing and evaluation. It provides an indisputable starting point for identifying candidate cameras for a security video surveillance application. But it is only a starting point — and that’s why there can be problems.


Why There are Problems

A close review of promotional UL documents, and statements from security industry companies, shows that no real emphasis is placed on the fact that the standard is just a starting point. That fact is glossed over, partly from sheer enthusiasm over what the standard is, and partly from lack of knowledge of the standard itself.

However, the standard document itself takes pains to acknowledge the limitations of its testing. According to Section 1 — titled “Scope” — “The suitability of the camera for a specific use case is not determined by this standard. The resulting test scores are intended to provide objective information that will be useful when determining camera use applications (i.e. a camera that performs well in sensitivity and grey level tests may be a good choice for low light use cases).”

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