More thoughts on HD video surveillance
While at ISC West last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, I wrote about how HD was the theme-du-jour for the tradeshow in terms of video surveillance. A year ago, H.264 had been the darling of the industry (and still is), and before that it was IP video that was the darling child at booth's exhibiting surveillance products.
One of the things that I realized as I spoke with vendors is that besides there being some really nice HD cameras on the market (Panasonic, Sanyo, Axis, Sony and a host of companies were showcasing cameras that provided really amazing HD video feeds), there was a lot of confusion. I addressed much of that in the article, but even after I wrote that article, I spoke with other vendors and solution providers about that trend. So, a week after ISC West, I want to take this "weekly recap" column to address more about HD video surveillance.
First, I had a good conversation with Paul Bodell of camera maker IQinVision, who always has a knack for breaking down video "marketing" to the numbers and standards behind it. This is a company of techies and engineers, where numbers and specs are at least as important as marketing (very few other marketing directors can break out calculators and start doing pixel counts on the fly in their booth), so when I asked Paul his thoughts on HD vs. Megapixel and the impact on the industry, I knew we'd have a good dialogue.
"If you look at how the standards and how megapixel is defined, what you see is that a megapixel camera is always HD, but an HD camera is not always megapixel," Bodell told me. Hold the presses, because that's an entirely different thought than I'd been told in the show. Bodell's right, though – all HD video really means is that the resolution is higher than standard definition video. That's the loosest, most broad definition. That said, we have to keep in mind that there are two common HD format standards (among many HD formats). There is the 1080p standard, which is 1080x1920 pixels, or the equivalent of 2.1 megapixels. But there is also the 720p standard, which is 1280x720 pixels. That means it's technically not a megapixel, it's just under 1 megapixel (approximately .9 megapixels).
The other thing that Paul discussed is that while we often associate HD with H.264 video compression, the standard doesn't exactly specify that. While they industry tends to think that HD means progressive scan, that's also another misconception. HD allows for either interlaced or progressive scanning. The other thing I learned is that HD doesn't actually specify 30 frames per second (fps). For example, 1080p has a specified range that includes eight frame rate options from 23.976 fps all the way up to 60 fps.
In the end, Bodell told me that "HD is really about marketing more than it is about reality."
OK, that's sobering insight into what a "standard" really means today. So, is HD (or megapixel) really taking off? Are megapixel and HD camera formats becoming popular for integrators?
I asked that question of John Nemerofsky, the vice president of sales and marketing at systems integration firm Niscayah. John told me that megapixel actually is taking off for them, especially for clients who understand the how they can obtain a higher return on investment by using a single megapixel camera to replace multiple standard cameras. Interestingly, he also told me that IP video is really taking off overall for Niscayah. Some 20 percent of Niscayah's new security projects feature IP video. Despite such strong growth in IP video adoption among their customers, I asked John whether the "rumors of the death of analog video have been highly exaggerated" and he said yes. In fact, the company recently completed a 16,000-camera analog project. I was floored -- that's a lot of analog cameras in one modern-day project. Still, I'd venture to guess that may be the last of the major all-analog projects they'd see (though I've been known to be wrong a few times, so this could be one prediction I have wrong). With 20 percent of their new projects featuring IP video, surely the next end user needing something that big isn't going to be all analog. At least some IP video is going to be involved in the next project of that scope, and based on what I saw on the ISC West show floor, at least one of those IP video set-ups is statistically likely to be an HD or megapixel camera.