Why IP video surveillance market growth isn’t just about megapixels

Sept. 4, 2012
Sony’s Mark Collett on why hybrid video innovations hold true potential for the market

Is the market for IP security cameras growing or is it slowing down? The answer to the question depends on how you are positioned in what is a dynamic marketplace. Looking around the industry today, you can hardly miss the mania over megapixels. Is maximizing megapixels the best way to grow the business? Full HD resolution (1920x1080) is just a mere 2.1 megapixels per frame. Even cheap consumer digicams boast 14-plus megapixels. For some reason, the security industry has apparently fallen behind. Catching up here is a real opportunity for growth, right? Wrong.

Cameras are a part of video surveillance systems which typically must balance numerous factors including storage requirements, bandwidth usage and image quality. Going far beyond HD resolution can upset that balance. The real need for customers is improved picture quality across a wide range of conditions. If added pixels alone improved HD picture quality, then the solution would be simple. But increased resolution does nothing to improve images, for example, that are washed out by limits in dynamic range. Such empty megapixels may generate excitement from a marketing standpoint, but they do not generate value. Worse, they end up costing customers through increased bandwidth usage and storage requirements.

So pixel count is just one piece of the picture quality puzzle. Because of the hype in the consumer camera market over megapixels, those of us in the security products industry should be educating the customer about what is key for their applications. Surveillance video is captured and delivered remotely in constantly changing lighting and weather, often in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable. Cameras require extraordinary capabilities to deliver excellent imaging under such circumstances.

Education is key because our customers need to be able to make informed decisions about the tools they need to do the job. If they are driven by hype instead, then their uninformed expectations can easily end in disappointment – and disappointed customers will not grow the market for surveillance cameras.

As it stands, we are missing an important element for educating customers. Even a focus on image quality gets blurry without independent, industry-standard specs for cameras. Currently, there is no agreed on standard for such critical features as dynamic range and low-light sensitivity. Without these standards, customers can get saddled with systems that have impressive sounding specs, but that are unable to do the job effectively and efficiently.

Expanding Opportunities on Coax
Breaking the industry’s fixation on megapixels and educating customers with the help of independent standards are just a few key elements in developing our industry’s opportunities for growth. Another element to consider is how and why the market for IP and analog systems has developed as it has.

Now, 16 years after the advent of network video systems, analog cameras continue to command $800 million in annual revenues, according to research from In-Stat. Who would have guessed that analog would have such longevity? It isn’t that analog users don’t want HD imaging or the other advantages offered by IP-based systems – far from it. They want and need these capabilities. But, until recently, the cost/benefit equation has been tilted by the extensive investment in their existing infrastructure and what it takes to replace it. The re-cabling costs and the investment in retraining staff on a new system are prohibitive. So, how can we best provide service to this important market sector?

One approach is to continue advancing analog capabilities. Customers improve performance as they replace aging and worn out cameras with new ones. Another strategy is to innovate around the re-cabling and retraining hurdles. The emerging hybrid solutions category does just that. It allows analog customers to extend the value of their existing coax infrastructure by enabling simultaneous SD analog and HD IP streams. This side-by-side architecture allows for a phased migration to IP capabilities. Soon, the Hybrid Video Security Alliance (HVSA), a new organization for manufacturers wishing to participate in developing products for this category, will help foster a vibrant marketplace here. Hybrid solutions are a powerful new entry to the security market. It promises to drive the first major reconfiguration of the surveillance video business since the arrival of IP-based systems.

About the author: Mark Collett is the General Manager for Sony Electronics’ Security Systems Division. Additionally, he serves on the board of directors for the Security Industry Association (SIA).