Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM

Beware of technology overload. Analog, digital, integrated, converged, artificial intelligence, mega-pixels, compression, advanced imaging, TCP/IP ! keeping up with all the technologies and terms is not easy. Confusion seems to be a common complaint in the security industry today, and with recent innovations in CCTV ! cameras, recording, and high-powered software ! can video surveillance even be referred to as video anymore?

A fast-emerging direction for surveillance technology is using video as an intelligent sensor. New software has enabled users to not only view and manage video, but also to make corresponding informed decisions and responses.
Cheaper is not better

Knowledge can be a scarce commodity in the security market, and there is no one place users can go for answers. Integrators ! looking to reduce costs to improve competitive position and bottom line ! often overlook truly efficient and effective options because they hesitate to bring higher-priced solutions to the table for fear of losing a sale. Furthermore, a lack of internal training and knowledge among account representatives and technical staff virtually ensures that end-users will not learn about the more innovative and advanced systems. Vendors and manufacturers tend to be knowledgeable and proactive only when it comes to their own solutions and products ! they rarely steer a user to an alternative solution that may fit the application better.

So how does a user put it all together and come up with the right information from the right perspective to make an informed choice? End-users must take more responsibility themselves to gain the necessary knowledge and expertise either through the use of internal staff or an external consultant. This article will offer a primer to help identify where more knowledge is needed and what questions to ask.
Innovative video technologies

The first step to applying the new capabilities of digital video is to understand the state of the art. Here's a look at the technologies available:
Analog video

It is an industry standard, easy to implement and fairly inexpensive per camera. However, the user is limited to a PAL (Phase Alternating Line) or NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) standard. PAL is the color video and broadcasting standard used mainly in Western Europe and South America and has a screen resolution of 625 lines and a refresh rate of 50 Hz.

NTSC is the standard used mainly in North America and Japan, with a screen resolution of 525 lines and a refresh rate of 60 Hz. The limitations in resolution reduce the amount of information that can be used for some of today's advanced solutions. But for a good number of standard video surveillance applications, these standards remain the solution of choice ! for now.
Digital technology

There seems to be considerable confusion among end-users regarding "digital" video cameras. So-called digital security cameras, for the most part, are still analog ! they take the image from the charge-coupled device (CCD) and digitally process it and then convert it back to an analog output for display. Digital cameras are cost-effective and a good fit for many security programs. They can offer improvements in low-light capabilities and better imaging over standard analog cameras. They are also a good fit for most traditional surveillance applications, but will eventually become obsolete as mega-pixel imaging becomes common.
Network Video

Offering variety in both cost and quality, these systems use compression standards that include MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Motion JPEG and JPEG 2000, to name a few. They offer the most flexible video solution, but bring concerns about bandwidth use and network security, thus raising other questions. This technology is not as widely adopted and integrated as it might be, due to lack of knowledge in the security industry. The three major MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group) standards are MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. M-JPEG is a fourth standard. Here is a closer look:

  • The most common implementations of the MPEG-1 standard provide a video resolution of 352 〜 240 pixels at 30 frames per second (fps). This produces video quality slightly below that of conventional VCR videos.

  • MPEG-2 offers resolutions of 720 〜 480 pixels and high-definition (HD) 1280 〜 720 pixels at 60 fps, with full CD-quality audio. This is sufficient for all the major TV standards, including NTSC, and even HDTV. MPEG-2 is used by DVD-ROMs, and it can compress a two-hour video into a few gigabytes. While decompressing an MPEG-2 data stream requires only modest computing power, encoding video in MPEG-2 format requires significantly more processing power. Bandwidth requirements are also too high for most security applications.

  • MPEG-4, standardized in 1998, is a graphics and video compression algorithm standard that is based on MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 and Apple QuickTime technology. Wavelet-based MPEG-4 files are smaller than JPEG or QuickTime files, so they are designed to transmit video and images over less bandwidth and can combine video with text, graphics and 2-D and 3-D animation layers. Wavelet technology can compress color images at rates of 20:1 up to 300:1 and grayscale images at 20:1 to 50:1. MPEG-4 is a good choice for security applications requiring the less bandwidth usage, but there are variations and modifications, so MPEG-4 is not always compatible.

  • M-JPEG video or motion JPEG captures individual images and compresses them into a standard JPEG format. The image can have up to 30 of these individual JPEG images per second. The frame rate can be adjusted for the amount of available bandwidth ! about 16 fps or above is perceived as full-motion video. M-JPEG allows for high-quality images at an acceptable level of bandwidth.

So how does a user choose between M-JPEG and MPEG-4? There is no easy answer because they both have benefits. While M-JPEG offers high-quality images, it uses more bandwidth; therefore, if the frames-per-second are reduced, motion in the video is reduced. MPEG-4, on the other hand, uses less bandwidth with a lesser-quality image. Users must decide what is most important: available bandwidth or image quality.
Advanced video imaging

It is one of the most important advancements in the security industry. Several companies have broken the barriers presented by PAL and NTSC. Their new mega-pixel camera technology is not only enabling higher resolution and more information, it is also providing sophisticated, advanced processing of the video.

One company offers a 360-degree-view network camera with 1600 〜 1184 pixels. A fisheye lens and advanced perspective-correcting software create a video image the company calls "immersive" ! i.e., the user is put inside the image and allowed to see everything around them. The user can also silently pan, tilt and digitally zoom within the live or recorded image. The user can select predetermined multiple views within the image as if multiple cameras were there, thus allowing many different users to pan, tilt and zoom simultaneously, and to view independently from one another. Such technology is perfect for lobbies, museums, schools, hospitals, prisons, retail, data centers or any place where total coverage is needed.

Another company's HD 1280〜720 pixel full-motion video mega-pixel camera enables a widescreen image to allow for greater coverage from a single camera. Sophisticated software is incorporated to allow the user to set up multiple views within the image. Users can also pan, tilt and digitally zoom within a fixed field. Increasing the dynamic range of the camera allows quality images to be maintained even in difficult lighting and shadow conditions. The technology gives the user control over the image, thus making it suitable for a range of applications ! commercial, industrial, manufacturing, gaming, government, corrections, retail, and any application where high resolution and flexible fixed field-of-view imaging are required.

Mega-pixel technology also enhances the abilities of some of the advanced software solutions listed below.
DVRs and NVRs

With more than 300 digital video recorder (DVR) manufacturers and an increasing number of players in the network video recorder (NVR) market, end-users can find themselves being led down some rough paths. Users should ask themselves:

  • How long has the vendor been in business and how financially viable are they?

  • What features and functionalities has a risk assessment determined are needed in the security program?

  • What unlike systems does the vendor integrate with and what integration levels do they offer? Are they fully integrated or do they just provide for basic operation?

  • How many installations and integrators does the vendor support in the geographic area?

  • What is the budget?

After using these questions to narrow the field, the end-user can then host vendors in a live demonstration or "bakeoff" to select the right solution for the application. The educational benefits from seeing both DVRs and NVRs side-by-side and of evaluating answers to the same set of questions can prove invaluable.
Network video recorders

Over the past few years, NVR vendors have tried to gain a competitive edge over their traditional DVR counterparts. The companies primarily use encoders and decoders for inputs and outputs within the system. NVRs are essentially software solutions, making the hardware like servers, storage, encoders and decoders a commodity and leaving the hardware choices to the end-user.

A network video management system from one company, for example, is a fully-digital, IP-based video surveillance system that brings together a CCTV matrix switch, a multiplexer and a DVR with unlimited storage capacity in one system. As a software-based enterprise-level video, audio and data management system, it offers in a single graphical user interface (GUI), monitoring, recording and analysis functionality for providing timely, accurate information to the operator.

A software-based system can be installed on almost any standard server depending on capability. Many NVRs enable users to access, view and control surveillance cameras from anywhere on the LAN, WAN, intranet or Internet. The software can support video from analog, digital and network cameras from a variety of manufacturers, including advanced imaging mega-pixel cameras. The system also eliminates the need for a hardware matrix, multiplexer, switches and control panels. It is a great fit for multi-site surveillance as it enables centralized control of unlimited remote installations and offers offline storage of recording ! with full redundancy ! to secure locations.
Digital video recorders

DVRs are usually port-configured, meaning the user purchases the DVR by the number of ports needed or that the vendor supports. This helps to differentiate them from the NVR software solutions. DVRs incorporate some very advanced applications such as being able to define video motion by the size, direction and/or speed of an object, and recording incidents based on such events. Some create software matrixes and many are using network storage. There is a DVR to fit almost any security application today and many of them are evolving by incorporating network video into the solution.
System intelligence

It is now possible to create a surveillance system that not only has the ability to capture an incident or situation, but one that can also help prevent a crime or incident from happening.

Surveillance operators have the ability to respond and stop incidents before they happen. Statistical analysis, situational analysis, artificial intelligence, or whatever the vendor is calling it, is going to have a major impact. Eventually, almost every security program will benefit from these applications.

For example, one company's artificial intelligence suites work with most existing security infrastructures and allow a user to define rules to detect, classify and track potential security situations. While looking at environmental conditions such as normal traffic patterns and trees blowing in the wind, the system does not send alerts. The system does trigger an event or alarm based on out-of-the-ordinary conditions, thus reducing the potential for false alarms and providing real, usable information. It can also analyze archived video, allowing users to identify patterns and trends such as unusual human behavior, suspicious vehicles, lights turning off and on and other observable activity. By "learning" from history, the system can automatically generate alarms in the future, thereby preventing a potential security situation. This ability to learn and respond makes the software a powerful tool for security programs.

Another supplier not only captures video but also analyzes it for user-defined parameters, recognizes these events in real-time, and then responds with actions determined by the user. The company incorporates the abilities of a DVR and advanced analytic and control functionality into a single easy-to-use, administrative platform at a price comparable to many enterprise-level DVRs.

Intelligent video providers can bring intelligent analysis and solutions to abandoned baggage, loitering, analyzing traffic patterns and flow, controlling direction of flow, people counting, and many others that will enhance overall security performance.
The future is now

Video surveillance has become more flexible, offering more imaging power and a new level of intelligence. Smart cameras and advanced surveillance systems powered by versatile software are putting a tremendous wealth of information into a fantastic array of uses. CCTV as an intelligent sensor is really only the beginning.

James Gompers is founder of Gompers Technologies Design Group Inc. and Gompers Technologies Testing and Research Group Inc. He has more than 20 years of expertise in the security industry as a consultant from the end-user perspective. This is another in a series of articles he is writing for Access Control & Security Systems. E-mail him at

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