Video surveillance innovations a mixed bag at ISC West 2015

April 16, 2015
Experts discuss industry trends, new products on this year’s show floor

Every year the security industry descends upon Las Vegas for the annual spectacle that is ISC West and each year there are a bevy of new products launched into the marketplace that manufacturers believe will significantly improve the lives of installers and end users. It could also be said that in most years these innovations share a common theme. Whether it is the race to see who can develop the latest and greatest high-resolution cameras or offer the most seamless user experience, companies are typically jockeying for position within the same categories, but this year seems to be all over the map in terms of where manufacturers are looking to gain an edge on the competition.

That’s not to say, however, that camera companies on this year’s show floor don’t’ share some commonalities in the products they are bringing to market. For example, a handful of companies have introduced new multi-sensor panoramic cameras at the show including Axis Communications, Arecont Vision and Digital Watchdog just to name a few. Also, there seems to be an increased emphasis on the part of many manufacturers to tighten the integration between their software and hardware products. 

In addition to releasing its new Q37 camera, which combines three 4K sensors inside a single dome to create a panoramic view of an area, Axis Communications also officially announced the launch of its Zipstream technology, which can lower bandwidth and storage requirements by as much as 50 percent.

“What the technology does is it isolates important areas and it does not compress them so hard, but the unnecessary areas, which don’t really contain any information, those areas are compressed more,” explained Axis Communications Co-Founder Martin Gren. “We get a higher compression ratio without sacrificing the important details. The beauty of this is - because we’re using the framework of H.264 - it’s actually more dynamically compatible with all of the leading VMS vendors.”

Although there has been a lot of hype and speculation surrounding H.265, Fredrik Nilsson, general manager for Axis Communications in North America, said one thing they learned with the release of H.264 is that most people are not going to be ready to adopt the new compression standard right away even when it becomes widely available.

“We’ve looked at H.265 and, in that case, we need processors in the cameras, we need all of our VMS partners to update their software and last time (with H.264) it was painful and a lot of work for everyone and then you have a very uncertain patent situation,” said Nilsson. “In H.264 you get licenses from what’s called MPEG LAs and that’s a big consortium of companies that use the compression, but with H.265 no one has stepped up to do that yet.”  

Given all of the developments that have taken place with respect to image quality over the last five to six years, Nilsson said people have started to realize how much more they can do today with video which will really serve to drive the market’s growth moving forward.

Another issue that has garnered a lot of headlines throughout the industry is the lack of migration from analog to IP in the small- to mid-sized market due mainly to costs and ease of use concerns. Samsung thinks that it may have found a solution to this problem with its new WiseNet Lite IP cameras and IP Surveillance Kits that they launched at the show on Wednesday.

“We’ve resolved those two issues,” said Tom Cook, vice president of sales for North America at Samsung. “We’ve taken our WiseNet III line that’s been popular for the last two years and we’ve cut out some major pieces of it… but we kept the integrity of the camera and we dropped the price at the same level of analog cameras. We really believe these two product lines that we’re introducing are going to change the scope of the industry to finally push IP over analog.”

Cook said that price point for a four-camera system with a PoE switch built-in and a 1-terabyte NVR is $699 to the dealer.  

Stephen Carney, senior director, video and integrations solutions, Tyco Security Products, said he believes that the industry is currently in the process of taking the next step when it comes to integration, which is vastly improving ease of use for customers.   

“Five or 10 years ago as companies became more open and worked better together, customers began to see the benefits of that – mix-and-match, plug-and-play, etc. If you look at the customer’s world, in that integrated space, they are still moving from system to system to do a lot of their everyday tasks,” said Carney. “If you step outside of security for a minute, you hear a lot about UI and UEX – user interface and user experience. The concept of UEX design is creating the cleanest possible experience with regard to the technology product that you have seamless from beginning to end. The integration world of security doesn’t really provide that today."

Additionally, Carney said that the trend towards higher and higher megapixel cameras is not going to go away anytime soon.

“There is always more to do. Whether it is improving the higher end of the spectrum at 3- and 5-megapixel now in low-light or as you see some of the manufacturers going beyond that and getting into 4K, 7K and beyond,” added Carney. “Then you are getting into a space where you’re not trying to refine that technology, but you really have to redefine it in its usage of network bandwidth and storage and that hasn’t happened yet.”

One company that has a been a pioneer in the megapixel imaging space is Arecont Vision, which has added several new models to its product portfolio at this year’s show including the SurroundVideo G5 panoramic multi-sensor camera.

Jeff Whitney, Arecont Vision’s vice president of marketing, said that 4K cameras, several of which were rolled out at last year’s show, continue to get a lot of attention in the market. However, Whitney warns that people have to be cautious about separating fact from fiction when it comes to 4K and who really has a true 4K offering.

“A lot of people have introduced 4K cameras early and that’s for a couple of reasons. Often they are buying off-the-shelf components, so they are buying different chips… other people programmed for them,” said Whitney. “They are acceptable 4K cameras, but I think you will find that as additional cameras get introduced to the market, they will be a little more superior, typically because the specs will be improved. People are putting out there first-generation products now, but 4K is not for everything. It’s very expensive, just like megapixels cameras were when they first came out.”

After debuting a prototype 4K camera last year, Sony unveiled the model that will actually be hitting the market in the coming weeks at this week’s show. According to Allen Chan, senior product manager, security systems division, Sony, other than the migration from analog to IP, the most significant transition to take place within the surveillance industry in recent memory is the move from standard definition to high definition. Likewise, he said that the industry will gradually move to 4K as a resolution standard as it becomes more commonplace.

“The consumer side is also moving towards higher resolution, so if you’re talking about the broadcast industry, cinematography and all of these other industries, everything is shifting to 4K because of resolution picture qualities. So where does that play? If I’m using twin 4K images, for example, in broadcasting – I’m watching a football game – it is a totally different type of experience when I watch it in that type of resolution. From our standpoint, we needed even more resolution because of forensics issues, so this really where it is going to go.”

Ian Johnston, founder and CEO of Innovative Security Designs (ISD) and CTO of Digital Watchdog, said that 1080p cameras have become a “dime a dozen” in today’s security market and that everyone is trying to differentiate themselves in what is a crowded industry. Digital Watchdog launched its own multi-sensor panoramic camera at the show this week, the MEGApix PANO 8 MP and 48/32-megapixel cameras which are capable of delivering full frame HD video streams at up to 30 frames-per-second.

“Vendors here have done fairly well with panoramic cameras, but there have been some limitations with frame rates. How they are typically sold is that customers are told that they are going to reduce camera counts. You have 32 cameras and now, bingo bango; you have four panoramic cameras and four regular cameras. The problem is that the customers don’t like the fact that their frame rate is so low,” said Johnston. “Now they are saying call up the integrator and get a 1080p camera in here. We need frame rates.”

With everyone trying to steer their companies away from commoditization, Johnston said people throughout the industry are genuinely trying to think outside the box in their technology development plans.

“It’s good for the consumer that they have choices and it is good that they have options that finally meet their expectations from a frame rate perspective as well.”