Intelligent network-based video surveillance technology infuses the power of video into a company's security infrastructure and delivers value not just to the security department, but potentially – through open architecture connectivity – to almost every part of a business and even to the bottom line.
The economic benefits are as clear as the numbers on a ledger sheet, although these benefits are sometimes not clearly communicated to company management. This article will describe the basics of IP video surveillance – the technology and its security benefits – with an emphasis on its costs and its value to transform security.
Video Yesterday And Today
Even the second generation of analog video – still widely used around the world – merely substituted networked digital video recorders (DVRs) for the old-time VCRs, thus enabling limited remote monitoring, but not addressing many of the other disadvantages of analog systems.
By contrast, the third generation – incorporating IP video – is digital end-to-end. Yesterday's analog cameras are replaced by the latest intelligent digital cameras that offer attributes including multiple megapixels of resolution. These cameras are the “edge devices” on a digital network that takes advantage of all the standards and functionality of the same advanced networking technologies that drive the giant IT industry. Cable costs are lowered by the use of Cat-5 unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable instead of coax. With networked video, there is remote access anywhere, anytime. Non-proprietary hardware is easily accommodated, and computer technologies such as distributed recording servers and networked storage increase capabilities far beyond those of yesterday's VCRs and multiplexers.
And it's all digital from end-to-end – the cameras, the network, the recording and the delivery to clients. No video quality is lost in any transitions back and forth from digital to analog, and image quality is no longer limited to the analog NTSC/PAL standard (1/3 megapixel). IP cameras can support 1,2,3 .... 8 megapixels. The ingenuity of the latest wave of megapixel/high resolution cameras is truly amazing.
Features include better detection, better coverage and digital pan-tilt-zoom with little loss of detail. Digital images make better evidence in court and are more likely to be clear enough to win the case.
Technology Expands Capabilities
Recent research and development has empowered the user to choose from an existing array of intelligent cameras and edge devices, including content analytics-enabled cameras (that can not only “see” the action but “interpret” it using computer algorithms to analyze “what it means”). Analytics-enabled cameras can supplement the content analytics software that reside at the application server.
Their capabilities include detection of specific movements and behaviors, such as:
- Motion detection (the size/shape, speed and direction of a moving object)
- Non-motion detection, such as stalled vehicles or an abandoned object
- Behavior analysis, such as tailgating at entry points or loitering
- Accurate optical character recognition (OCR) for applications such as license plate recognition.
Intelligent IP video systems allow security professionals to pick and choose the best-of-breed hardware technologies from multiple vendors – they are not locked in to a single supplier. Off-the-shelf hardware such as servers, computers, monitors and storage are all compatible with an IP-based system, as are standards-based components such as network switches, cabling and WiFi gear. IT professionals can work on the system, which simplifies maintenance and ensures an available supply of knowledgeable technicians.
With an IP system, distributed recording servers can reduce bandwidth requirements and enhance system performance. Distributed servers also provide built-in redundancy – and local and NAS/SAN storage – to ensure reliability, scalability and reduced storage costs.
The combination of Internet Protocol with the latest video client devices – whether a desktop, hand-held device, the Internet/wide area network or a command center video wall – truly makes remote access available anywhere, anytime.
Best-of-breed integration and open architecture also enable the incorporation of external software/devices such as enterprise systems, access control, point-of-sale and transaction systems, contact closure, Active Directory support, ASCII general events, OPC Data Protocol support and APIs/SDKs for software partners.
The magic of scalability lets a system start out small and then grow over time as a customer's needs expand. With IP technology-based video systems, there is no limit to the number of sites and cameras per system. Distributed processing and the capability to operate on multiple networks and network segments serve to eliminate limitations on scalability. The system size is now limited by the number of human operators needed to process tremendous amounts of data, making it almost imperative to include video intelligence (analytics) into a large system.
The Value To Security
Just think about the power that video analytics provides to the end-user related to filtering security events. Gone are the days of watching multiple monitors trying not to miss an important event. Intelligent video systems show the operator only what he needs to see, by providing him video only when something happens. Such systems can be configured according to rules-based identification of alerts, with the user defining the parameters. Digital integration with other systems such as physical security systems allows users to call up video to verify an alarm, for example. More cameras provide more information, but intelligent video makes the information manageable for the operator. Consequently, fewer operators can provide better security.
When an incident happens, intelligent video provides powerful investigative tools to allow an operator, for example, to quickly access video or recorded events and get a clear, high-resolution picture. Advanced megapixel cameras expand capabilities, whether it is digital pan-tilt-zoom of live or recorded images, or optical PTZ and PTZ patrolling (with motion detectors or patrol presets). A graphical timeline can indicate when there was an event or no event, and “slices” of time can be reviewed to see clearly exactly what happened.
Making these tools even more valuable is the ability to send the video where it is needed. Distributed access and shared event management empower higher system-wide efficiency by way of synergistic operation. This is a critical consideration in large-scale systems. Hand-held video clients allow guards to monitor events while on the beat. Event-driven push video gets the information to those who need it – whether it is automatic (rules based, on event) or peer-to-peer between operators. Blank screen monitoring means that users only see video when there is an alert. Operators share event handling at various locations; all operators have access to the same alerts list and can review, add remarks and information or export clips for evidence.
Costs And The Bottom Line
Cost savings also grow out of the increasing system efficiency using intelligent video analytics, which filter events and enable fewer operators to provide enhanced security. Better detection enables immediate response. Finally, lower maintenance and equipment costs contribute to an overall lower cost of ownership.
However, the potential value of IP video systems extends far beyond the cost saving. In fact, today's video surveillance systems have a potential to have an enterprise-wide impact. Many companies are only beginning to appreciate the transformative power of having real-time video of their business operations available when and where it is needed. Think of the applications for marketing and merchandising, where smart video can provide insights into customers' buying patterns. Think about process control benefits of having an on-demand bird's-eye view of a manufacturing operation or of a customer service environment. Think about the possibilities of observing maintenance issues at remote locations without having to send a technician. Think about the insurance benefits of having immediate video documentation if someone makes a liability or workman's comp claim. These are all ways that digital video can provide benefits that extend way beyond the security control room.
A perfect example of the range of such applications is in the retail environment, where video-integrated loss prevention has already proved its contribution to the bottom line. But there may be other opportunities, such as a chance to sell vendors video access to a location so that they can monitor customer service behavior. There may be an opportunity to use video content analytics to monitor how many people are in line at the check-out station (queue alerting). How “sticky” is a retail display? Who is crowding around certain displays and how can that trend redirect or improve the layout of the store? A watchful video system can let management know there needs to be a cleanup on Aisle 3 before someone slips and falls. If someone does slip and fall, there is video evidence of whether it was really an accident or if it was staged to justify a fraudulent insurance claim.
The Future Is Now
In an integrated system, the combined data from all of the systems (safety, security, surveillance) can be accessed instantly based on time, motion or event, and as such, can be more efficiently analyzed and acted upon. At its most basic, an alarm that indicates a door has been opened is much more valuable information if it is accompanied by live video images showing the activity that caused the alarm. More sophisticated systems, such as those found in casinos, integrate business and operational processes (i.e., point-of-sale terminals) with security systems (i.e., video surveillance, biometrics, access control, etc.) to minimize risk and ensure operations integrity.
So the ultimate usefulness of the latest IP-based digital video systems is to put useful information in the hands of those who need it. Bringing the systems together onto a single platform represents a monumental step toward optimizing the investment in physical security. The next and most logical step is to implement open-platform software control suites. In addition to providing the multi-application IP system control and management functionality, these products offer powerful supplemental features such as video content analytics to enhance the value of data.
Today's large video systems can provide a deluge of data, but it takes intelligence to make sense of it all. Specifically, it takes intelligent, scalable, easy-to-use video control and an open-architecture, non-proprietary, video-centric PSIM software platform to transform boundless video data into usable information.
When technology ties the expansive capabilities of digital video together into a user-friendly, human-intuitive interface, then the immense value of the technology can be unleashed for today's businesses. No wonder everyone is migrating to intelligent IP surveillance.