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Analog Video: Say It Isn't So

October 1, 2010
KEYWORDS analog / cameras / video
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Analog and megapixel HD cameras coexist at Canada’s Vancouver Community College with the design aimed at bringing in digital video while also respecting the legacy technology.


Let’s face it. The analog security video camera is dead as a doornail. IP is in and it’s IT, with the ability to run on the cherished corporate Ethernet backbone and grab respect from the in-house network geeks. But wait…the vast majority of installed systems use analog cameras. Like a long-time worker, they continue to toil and do their jobs. And encoders as well as some digital video recorders can perform an “extreme makeover” with hybrid installations, making the Frick and Frack of cameras work together. And coax, the old timer’s infrastructure, now seems to have a second life, thanks to the hopeful chant of members of the HDcctv Alliance.


So what’s a dealer or installer to do when it comes to new or upgraded security video installations? Is the industry at a comparable point to the transition from videocassette and time-lapse recorders?


Well, yes and no.


Back in the Stone Age at a 1980s International Security Conference in Las Vegas, when the Liberace Museum was still open and popular, the British-born Dedicated Micros held a funeral for the VCR, complete with a widow, preacher, casket and, if I remember correctly, a drink of sherry. Fast forward a couple of decades and today’s talk is about the so-called death of analog. But, in the words of Mark Twain, the report of its death has been greatly exaggerated.


No doubt, for many installations IP security video is — sooner or later — inevitable and a good thing, too. Image quality from IP cameras has improved over the years. Megapixel and high-definition cameras demand an IP approach. “Analog remains an important part” of the security video equation, says Cheryl Bard, product marketing manager with Bosch Security Systems North America, Fairport, N.Y. “There is a lot of talk about megapixel cameras,” she says, but only about four percent of end users now have them. And bigger is not necessarily better. “HD is not for every single part of a project,” she advises.


It can be a matter of the sensor and the lens. When an end user wants more megapixels in a camera, “the sensor can handle it, but the lens may prove harder to handle,” says Brendan Daly of Eye P Video Systems in Danville, N.H., consultant and systems integrator, who points to loss of resolution over the edges not because of the sensor but the lens.


Mark Wilson of Infinova, Monmouth Junction, N.J., concurs. “A low-quality lens cannot see the detail of a high resolution sensor.”


Daly observes that “people still are using analog, of course. There is no reason to rip out analog. Just add encoders and leave more of the infrastructure in place.” But “now that IP has matured, it is a lot cheaper to build larger systems with network-based components.”


The biggest reason: the use of an enterprise’s infrastructure with lower installation cost due to Cat 5 and 6 Ethernet cabling as compared with coaxial or fiber, as well as the potential of Power over Ethernet. Storage has turned digital with DVRs, NVRs and maybe into the cloud one day.


“In general, the shift to IP continues,” points out Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, Axis Communications, in Chelmsford, Mass., who sees improved image resolution, better color fidelity, greater scalability and lower prices as purchase drivers. “End users now measure their security video against their home big-screen TVs. Big companies know they need to play in the IP arena.”


A more recent choice in between analog and IP video comes from the HDcctv Alliance, a group of vendors who stress high-definition analog through coax cable.


Alliance members believe that HDcctv is “likely to become the next generation in the evolution of video surveillance technology.” For example, HD DVRs are generally designed to accept not only HD camera inputs but also inputs from standard-definition and IP cameras, including megapixel IP cameras. In addition, HDcctv can achieve or re-gain the ability to control speed domes using a joystick.


There is a link between consumer high-definition television and the expectation of security buyers. “Since the HD television craze began several years ago, there has been a craving for improved resolution similar to what they get on their big screen at home,” says Greg Bier, director and chief executive officer with Vitek Industrial Video Products Inc., Valencia, Calif. “Until now, the only option offered in our industry was IP megapixel cameras. Although this solution does deliver sharper images when used at full capacity, it takes up a great deal of bandwidth and has a tendency to lose packets of video, not to mention the slow response or ‘lag’ time that accompanies high-definition cameras of the IP kind.”


Bier adds, “HDcctv over coax now gives us the true security we need in crucial applications without the major learning curve associated with its IP counterpart. Just the way we’ve been installing it for years, we use copper braid coax in a closed circuit. It’s a much more reliable environment. HD-SDI (high-definition serial digital interface) is the technology being used to deliver 30 pps of high-definition video at 1280 x 720 or approximately one megapixel. HD SDI cameras will soon be available in up to 2 megapixels or 1920 x 1080.”


Bier further explains, “It is important to realize that although this signal travels over coax, it is still a digital signal and is produced by a digital interface within the camera and must be decoded at the head end by an HDcctv recorder. There are currently two standards of HD SDI being developed for the market. One goes by the name of VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) and the other is SMPTE-292M, which is a format standardized by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers. The VESA interface is the first generation of this technology and is capable of transmission up to approximately 450 feet over 95 percent copper RG59U without repeaters — or twice that of its SMPTE counterpart. SMPTE is expected to be lower cost and non-proprietary upon its release.”


Daly, at Eye P Video Systems, believes it has a place. “It may be that part of the security industry may feel it is a mistake in creating a third so-called standard with HDcctv, but I see it has a place at the low end with, say, a 2-megapixel max,” Daly points out. “On top of that, a real benefit aims at the installer who cannot or won’t embrace the new IP technology.”


Analog cameras can do as well, but the HDcctv Alliance approach is “still an analog solution,” says Nilsson, who views the alliance approach as providing fewer choices. “It’s buyer beware. You still have to change out the cameras and DVRs with only the coax being repurposed.” The Axis executive also sees a hosted video trend as yet another reason to take on IP.


More bluntly, HDcctv “is going to be a dead end” for many system integrators, contends Wilson at Infinova.


Video analytics, from motion detection to complex algorithms, depends on IP video to blossom. In the command center, it’s a software world where integration is the password and joysticks are being pushed out by ease-of-use computer mice, dropdown menus and even touch screens.


There is also a complementary trend of integrating video surveillance solutions with access control, intrusion detection technologies, and fire and safety applications, which encourages adoption of digital video.


Wilson believes the choice between analog and digital video is not necessarily a technology issue but a financial one. “It’s a message of coexistence, analog and IP operating side by side. A lot of people are considering digital as convergence picks up.” It’s also a matter of quality of image. Today, forensics is more important, Wilson says. “Higher image quality is more important. You lose all the benefits of IP technology if you leave it behind to stay in the analog world.”


Of coure, for many end users, it is more than challenging to justify a complete swap out to IP video. It is estimated that 80 percent of the installed base of cameras in the United States today is analog. Throw in today’s tough economic climate and stepped migration and hybrid strategies seem a better route for most. In many cases, with hybrid DVRs in place and working just fine with analog and digital cameras, a kind of coexistence can be achieved.


Then there is that security leap to sharing the enterprise network infrastructure: working more closely with a client’s in-house information technology operation.


Times are changing. For example, IT managers are involved in almost 60 percent of decisions to purchase IP-based physical security products, according to a report by IMS Research. Based on a comprehensive survey of North American integrators and installers of IP-based security products, the report found that over three-fourths of the companies surveyed dealt with IT managers more now than they did just one year ago.


Market Analyst Niall Jenkins says, “IT managers are increasingly getting involved in making and influencing the decision to buy IP-based security products. These products often use existing networks and IT managers are working much closer with security executives to facilitate this integration.”


Bosch’s Bard agrees. “The IT department is more involved than ever today.”


With technology advances, megapixel cameras, infrastructure needs and lowering prices all coming together, now is the time that end users are fashioning a migration path. No surprise, however, that there is no fit-for-all path.


A big move can be complex and harrowing. Issues can range from site locations, if an existing system is proprietary, means of communications, quality of images, storage and retrieval — as well as the economics of transition technology such as DVRs and encoders. Along some hybrid paths, security may have to manage two systems while contending with the capital appetite or lack of enterprise resources.


According to Jeff Whitney of Intransa, one of the challenges security departments face is that requirements are continuing to grow while budgets often decline. “Thus, many switch from analog to digital IP-based surveillance (as well as access control and other applications) for new projects and installations, but have been reluctant to rip and replace their existing analog coax cabling.”


He adds, “The benefits of IP are many and well-documented by many users, dealers and manufacturers. But if fear or investment costs make the department reluctant to deploy them, they bring no customer value. The reasons for that reluctance can be multifaceted. They may not want to replace their investment in coax and analog cameras and DVRs. They may be unfamiliar with all of the ins and outs of deploying an IP infrastructure, and not have time to learn. Or worse, they may have had an IP project fail due to lack of understanding or under-sizing it.”


Others also agree that some customers may be better-prepared for dealing with the challenge of managing two separate systems than with the concerns about starting over with a new infrastructure.


“We are not seeing people ripping out their installed base of cameras,” says David Jackson, senior product manager for American Dynamics video solutions at Tyco Security Products, Boca Raton, Fla. With megapixel cameras, “a real challenge is two separate video management systems,” he adds. At this month’s ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits in Dallas, Jackson will roll out what his firm calls the Victor, a unified interface that lets users manage and control Intellex DVRs, VideoEdge NVRs, and associated IP and analog cameras. “It is a platform for the future — unifying other security and business applications such as the HDVR, access control, intrusion, fire and more,” he describes.


Jackson sees the integrator as the key player as video technology evolves. “The integrator must make sure things happen the right way during this transition to the networking side. Ethernet switches, bandwidth, storage — pulling it together is the key for end-user customers. They don’t care about the type of system. They care about watching quality video, whether in real-time or retrieved,” he comments.


Another issue that complicates migration to IP-based digital video is standards. There are at least two organizations addressing that issue: ONVIF and PSIA. Member companies of the ONVIF standard command a significantly larger share of the total video surveillance equipment market than the member companies of the PSIA standard. The difference is more pronounced when considering the network video surveillance equipment market, with ONVIF holding an even greater market share compared with PSIA member companies.


Tom Lassandro of Hikvision USA Inc., City of Industry, Calif., believes that standardization on the digital side is essential for future-proofing — “much like analog, which plugs into anything.” He notes that “more people are moving to IP this year as compared our previous year.” Still he can tick off the advantages of analog. “Less cost. More mature. Compatible among sources. And you can hook them up to anyone’s DVR.” But when moving to digital video, “you really move to information, more information in greater detail.”


At Canada’s Vancouver Community College, there is coexistence among analog and digital. The college installed a combination of 26 1-megapixel HD cameras, four 2-megapixel HD cameras, and three 3-megapixel HD cameras to monitor high-traffic areas, particularly where cash-handling processes occur. It also installed 16 analog video encoders to enhance the performance of its existing analog cameras. The technology comes from Avigilon.


Surinder Aulakh, director of safety and security at the college, says, “We have established a strong security program, including a 14-member security team and an advanced HD surveillance system to protect our students and staff from any potential harm.” Aulakh identified the need to upgrade from its seven-year-old analog-based system to a more advanced and powerful surveillance system for greater protection.


“I was spending more time repairing and maintaining our old system than actually using it,” Aulakh comments. “In addition, I knew it was time to move out of the analog world and into the HD world for greater performance and reliability.” He claims that with his previous analog system, he was only able to capture useable evidence about 10 percent of the time.


Like many educational institutions, Vancouver Community College operates within a fairly tight budget, so finding an HD surveillance system that could leverage its existing infrastructure, but easily scale to meet future needs was a top priority.


“This was an important capital expenditure for us, and we needed to demonstrate that we could use existing cameras and gradually transition over to full HD as budget allows,” Aulakh says.


Video management systems can also bridge the gap between analog and digital video. The Trenton, New Jersey, Housing Authority (THA) previously relied on unarmed officers patrolling various developments to maintain safety and security. THA selected integrator ComTec Systems Inc. of Vineland, N.J. “One of the challenges in our industry is gathering information from locations across an entire city and sending it back to one location. And how do you balance cost and technology effectively, so it works?” asks Michael Vertolli, president of ComTec Systems. It designed a unique wireless network to transmit security video, access and other data to a command and control center. The wireless solution proved to be especially economical, because it did not require putting fiber in the ground and trenching or digging up existing environments.


Using technology from Honeywell, multiple operators can share incidents with other operators using simple drag-and-drop functionality. This increases operator productivity and, most importantly, reduces investigation time. Police can come to the THA command center to view criminal activity, and camera shots can be sent to a patrol car, further aiding investigations.


In many ways, it’s less a matter of analog versus IP digital versus HDcctv. It’s more a matter of system integrators “broadening their selection,” Bard describes. “There are excellent analog products. And there are great products as end users make the transition to IP. It can be a natural progression, depending on applying digital video at the right location and for the right reason.”



What’s Driving Digital Video Surveillance?

• Integration into a complete solution

• IP platforms

• Video analytics

• Digital storage

• Homeland security


Source: Frost & Sullivan



Security System Integrators’ Dealings with IT Managers Compared with 1 Year Ago

49% Slightly more


29% Significantly more


19% No change


3% Slightly less



Source: Frost & Sullivan

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