What can be done with CCTV ...and what cannot be done
What can be done with CCTV ...and what cannot be done

Oct 1, 2000 12:00 PM

It should be easy to write about what can and cannot be done with CCTV. However, as it turns out, it is not such an easy subject, and it must be treated carefully and viewed from the physical, application, and legal perspectives. It is also a very time-sensitive subject. About the time that we say something cannot be done, someone proves us wrong. Consequently, 50 days from the time I write this piece, you will read it and some of it could be proven wrong already. However, for the sake of living on the edge, let's talk about what can and cannot be done with CCTV.

Things we can do We can look directly at people standing in front of bright backgrounds and see the full detail of the front of the person. It may seem insignificant, but it wasn't possible three years ago without the use of special lighting or modified camera angles. Thanks to digital technology, we can finally imitate the human eye's ability to see into dark and bright simultaneously. There are several techniques being practiced currently, and the buyer must beware, but it is possible and affordable. I recommend an "on-site" demo or test before making significant investment. No electronic technique works well in all situations ... yet.

We can see into total darkness and even through sparse blockage such as dense smoke. With the advancement of thermo-technology, we can now afford to look into total darkness and see who or what is there and what is going on. We have several applications where thermo is working in conjunction with standard video. There are two chip cameras on the market that automatically switch between standard CCD viewing in the daytime and thermo at night. As for straight thermo cameras, these are being used primarily by the police and fire departments.

We can view images at distances from the camera of five miles or more. Thanks to digital enhancements and lens improvements, distance is becoming less and less of a problem. We are well past the fear of light loss through long telephoto or zoom lenses. Between the increased sensitivity of the CCD camera, digital enhancement of sensitivity, and the better ability of the lens to pass light, we can go extreme distances with relative ease. The cost is still fairly high in the larger lenses and more sensitive cameras, but the image results tend to negate the problem. Now, if we could just get past the fact that the earth is round (really) and that there is a lot of dust and crap floating around, we could see forever.

We can automatically determine the identity of individuals without any human intervention. Thanks again to the advancements of digital technology, facial recognition is a reality. We can identify individuals wearing masks or disguises through infrared bone scan techniques. Although in the introduction mode still, facial and infrared bone-scan techniques are fast becoming a solid interface to electronic access control systems. Security is enhanced to the extent of physical identification verified along with a pass card and PIN code. In the UK, the police are in the process of (or very near) inputting the images of various criminals that have been prosecuted over the past few years for the purpose of recognizing them as they cruise the various city streets.

We can detect and determine motion to the degree of direction, size, and even style or type. Within the next few months, technology will be introduced that will allow the camera to determine the difference between a walking dog and a crawling man. It doesn't seem like much unless you consider false alarms caused by floating leaves or passing clouds and headlights. Digital video motion detection has advanced as fast and as far as any of the electronic monitoring devices in the security industry. Up until the past couple of years, if we needed to monitor a large, open outside area, we would have been restricted to using outdoor microwave, photo beams, leaky coax, or some other form of motion detection. Alarms were in the dark and each needed to be physically responded to. With digital video motion detection, large, open areas are a snap to cover, a snap to change (according to needs), and a snap to program.

We can detect and determine "no motion." It sounds odd, but in the end, if you have an application where individuals might drop by to deposit a bomb, "no motion" detection might just be what the doctor ordered. The camera takes an image of the area of protection and then alarms when something new appears and stays in the protected area, according to the parameters that you have pre-programmed. It is a very useful device at airports, storage facilities, and/or any other temporary or permanent site where the concern is as much for what is left behind as is taken away.

We can detect and determine the presence of potential criminals within our establishments ... without looking. Because of the ability to find and study individual pixel points within an image, new technology is being introduced that actually compares the movements of average people with those people who act suspicious within a specific environment. Catch the crook without looking - it's here and it's being tested and proven. The day is almost upon us when video cameras in a retail situation will cause an alarm if the customer doesn't move along at an anticipated rate or pattern. Brrrrrrrrr, a chill just ran down my spine.

We can manage, disseminate, control, program, store, and review tens of thousands of cameras within a single system ... simultaneously ... completely interactive ... completely integrated ...completely automated. Digital management and storage systems are everywhere. Be very careful. It is extremely easy to buy a bill of goods. It is also extremely easy to buy by price instead of your head. These systems tend to be costly. The old adage that you get what you pay for is both true and false. Just because it costs less doesn't mean that it isn't a good system. It doesn't mean that it is a good system either, however. Low price in this circumstance usually indicates that comparisons are not being made on an apples to apples basis. Additionally, it becomes easy to get caught up in the amount of mass media that you can manage. From this perspective, the worry is that more and more cameras are being added to our designs for the sake of adding cameras.

We can transmit several hundred, real time, full-color, high-resolution, images simultaneously via a couple of pieces of glass. Add two-way data and voice to the same fiber and you're cooking with gas. Managing multiple-site, multi-media, bi-directional security systems from a single master point in real-time configurations is here thanks to the advancements of fiber-optic technology. Ranging from several hundred yards to 30 miles, the new fiber systems can manage entire systems, simultaneously, without fail or fault from outside interferences such as RF, weather, or cable break. What can be done with fiber optics in the security world today is mind boggling and deserves a close look. Everyone is looking to the internet to solve the problems of distance and mass management problems. However, the Internet is still a few years away and fiber optic systems are here today and here to stay.

We can interface color and black/white cameras into the same system with perfect synchronization. Again, it may not seem like much, but it is a huge step forward. No longer are we dependent upon signals that are of the same bandwidth to ensure proper switching and/or recording. We are able, because of digital management and switching techniques, to have the best of both worlds for the first time. Synchronization of cameras is no longer a concern when using the right equipment.

We can automatically track moving objects and pass such tracking from one camera to another without lifting a finger. This ability, by itself, opens up many doors for automation. No longer does the guard need to manipulate views with the joystick. Now the security personnel can concentrate on dispatching help, monitoring the situation, and/or do nothing. Auto-dome technology, tied closely with "black box" interface systems allows just about any system to become automated. Auto-tracking is a combination of digital video motion detection, pre-position pan/tilt technology, and common sense. Due to the increased number of cameras within the average system, we are no longer in the position of being able to physically monitor, respond, and/or manipulate our systems, as in the old days. A camera that can detect intrusion and automatically stay with the object of concern is a godsend.

We can electronically block out sensitive points within an image. We needn't worry about guards or unscrupled personnel using the security CCTV system for inappropriate reasons. Windows, doors, houses, buildings or even something as small as a mouse can now be electronically blocked out of the video image. Regardless of angle, size, zoom, or even panning ... the image, once blocked, stays blocked.

We can use standard telephone wire, speaker wire, twisted pair, or regular two-wire to transmit a good quality, color or black/white video signal long distances. Two-wire transmission technology has become extremely viable and cost-effective. The beauty of it is that, in many cases, two-wire systems do not carry the inherent problems of coaxial cable. The second advantage is that two-wire is easier to work with than coaxial.

Things we cannot do We cannot see through walls, solid doors, mountains, steel, or any other solid mass. With X-ray and other such techniques, I am confident that we could, but as it stands in the security world, right now, we cannot. The day will come when we discover how to see past those atoms and molecules and present a solid image from the other side of the wall, but for now, it is still out of our grasp.

We cannot record real-time, full-resolution video on a digital disk for more than 300 minutes of continuous time. This is a statement that will need to be revised very soon. But, the fact is that our digital storage bases are still extremely limited. Buyer beware, digital is here, but it is not necessarily the answer to all VHS applications.

We cannot transmit real time, high-resolution images via the Internet. Again a very dangerous statement to make, since it is only a matter of time before this becomes a reality. However, for the time being, we are only able to transmit a few, lower-resolution, images per second, versus real time (25 [PAL] or 30 [NTSC] images per second). Yes, we can transmit high quality, video images on the Internet. We cannot do this in real time ... investigate and don't be afraid to wait a while for better technology. Remember computers? If you tried to keep abreast of the fastest, biggest, most powerful computer system that you could have, you would have bought a new computer every three to six months for the past five years. The same holds true for Internet transmission of video imagery. If you need high resolution, real time, and controls, hang tight for a bit longer.

We cannot see into total extreme or total darkness using standard security cameras. Although the sensitivity (minimum amount of light necessary to create a usable image) of many cameras is at an all-time low, we are still not able to see into extreme or total darkness using standard technology.

We cannot sell, advertise, install, or use any camera or camera equipment that has built-in audio capability that is advertised as covert. It is a funny way to step around the laws protecting individuals from invasion of privacy issues. However, the fact is, a camera can have a built-in microphone, but it cannot be advertised as a covert setup, or it is illegal.

Application list is growing There are more things that we can and cannot do with CCTV from a physical, theoretical, or legal perspective. I have concentrated here on the current issues and most recent advancements that you may or may not be aware of. From an overall perspective, we use CCTV for a thousand different applications that have nothing to do with security ... and the list is growing.

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