Although standard image CCTV cameras â€” both IP and analog â€” are commonly used in all types of video surveillance applications, two issues are constant concerns. Unless a large quantity of individual cameras are deployed with overlapping fields of view, “blind” spots occur when no camera has an image in the target area. The second problem is that box- and dome-style camera housings are readily apparent to anyone who looks for them, and crimes are often committed within the areas that aren’t covered by a camera.
A new breed of camera is now available that can address these two primary issues, and offer great options for the viewing and recording of surveillance images: The 360-degree camera has arrived. With up to five separate images, four of them full pan, tilt and zoom, these devices can be five surveillance cameras in one.
An important distinction to be aware of is that the 360-degree camera has a “cousin” camera that can provide a 360-degree pan-tilt-zoom capability; however, only a portion of the overall perspective of the camera is available at a specific instant. A select few manufacturers produce cameras that provide a complete 360-degree viewable image at one time.
As a new way of looking at things, 360-degree cameras provide an “umbrella” of video coverage, according to Bob Gitre, vice president of Grandeye Inc., Columbia, Md. Complete coverage of a particular area or scene is now available using only one camera, greatly reducing the costs of installation. With additional viewing options and video analytics, 360-degree cameras are a powerful tool for comprehensive video surveillance systems.
What makes these cameras unique is the type of images that are provided to the viewer and/or recording mechanism. When ceiling-mounted, the basic image of the camera is an oval, as pictured at left.
There is little possibility that a person passing within the field-of-view of the camera will not be viewed and recorded. Tom Carnevale, CEO of Sentry 360 Security Inc., Naperville, Ill., says that this “immersive video technology eliminates blind spots” for areas that require high-end video surveillance and recording.
While the oval image provides a 360-degree field-of-view, most products also provide multiple separate images that can be viewed simultaneously, providing up to four flat-screen digital video feeds that can be viewed and recorded separately. With digital pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ), there are no moving parts to wear out or fail.
Standard PTZ cameras are great, provided there is a live person at the joystick aiming the camera at interesting events in real time. However, an unmanned PTZ camera is just a very expensive fixed video surveillance device. The real power of the built-in PTZ viewing in 360-degree cameras is that the video can be reviewed forensically from recorded 360-degree images. The whole 360-degree picture has been recorded, and now every view and angle can be reviewed using pan, tilt, and up to 10X digital zooming.
Understand that this is dramatically different than just enlarging a picture; the millions of pixels available can provide very clear zoomed-in images, with sharp and defined details. The movements and actions of a suspect can be reviewed via PTZ investigation in real time or after the fact.
360-DEGREE CAMERA BASICSWhile there are several manufacturers of these devices (see page 52) each with unique features, there are certain features and functions that are common to all major brands. 360-degree cameras are typically IP-based, using a 2- to 5-megapixel format to provide high-quality images for viewing and analysis. The current video compression format in use is usually MJPEG, which transmits each separate image as a complete picture. Some vendors are supplying their products with Power over Ethernet (PoE), which eliminates a separate power supply for the camera and reduces the amount of cables needed to wire the device.
On the image side, what distinguishes the 360-degree versions from standard CCTV cameras is the oval picture output, which can be viewed live on a PC using Web browser software or recorded. To allow the presentation of flat images, a process called “dewarping” must be performed. As you can imagine, dewarping takes the curved image and electronically reproduces a flat image by using complex algorithms to remap pixels from a curved shape to a rectangular one. This dewarping process is performed within the camera when a separate flat image is being viewed live, or can be performed by specific network video recorder (NVR) or hybrid video recorder units. As these devices often are used in high-end applications, the manufacturers will provide software development kits to major recorder manufacturers to allow full use and integration of the 360-degree and flat screen images.
Most of the manufacturers provide some form of video analytics within their cameras, so specific areas can be designated for video recording and viewing. Alarm inputs also are available, so the opening of a door or activation from an access control panel can zoom in one (or more) of the flat viewing images when specific activities occur.
HOW TO INSTALL 360-DEGREE CAMERASWhile it is obvious that these devices should be ceiling-mounted looking down, there are a number of other considerations when planning to use 360-degree cameras. For good-quality forensic video, “get as close to the action as you can,” Gitre advises. A camera mounted higher than 12 feet from the floor may lose some detail on the far edges of the image.
A true advantage of this technology is that the 360-degree lens is almost flat, so cameras can be mounted so that it is not necessarily obvious to the public that a camera is currently viewing a specific area.
These cameras should be used in conjunction with standard CCTV cameras to provide complete video coverage. Gitre recommends using 360-degree cameras in common public areas, while standard cameras are aimed at “pinch points” such as entry/exit doors and hallways. Because 360-degree cameras are usually ceiling-mounted, facial recognition may be hard to view, as the camera is looking down onto the tops of heads. This is another reason to augment the installation of 360-degree cameras with standard-view IP or analog cameras, mounted at the proper height to clearly record faces.
Versions of these cameras are available for outdoor and ruggedized use. Sentry 360 Security provides its cameras with optional vandal-proof housings, wide temperature ranges, and gooseneck mounts for installing cameras onto the sides of buildings and other structural elements.
Because of their megapixel format and (typically) MJPEG compression, 360-degree cameras will require a healthy amount of network bandwidth to transmit their images to a viewing computer or NVR. Based on the frame rate and compression settings, a typical 360-degree IP camera will produce a video packet stream of from 5 to 12 megabits per second. Placing a few of these cameras onto a shared enterprise network should not be much of an issue to an IT department. If many 360-degree or other megapixel-formatted IP cameras are planned for a specific installation, it’s best to install a separate Ethernet network dedicated to surveillance video transport. This separates the video traffic from the enterprise data, eliminating potential complaints from enterprise users that the “new” video system is slowing down their network response time.
Another issue that is critical for megapixel IP cameras is adequate lighting. Many current megapixel cameras do not function well in low light; each pixel in the imager needs a certain amount of light to read and analyze. The more pixels in a camera, the more light is needed to illuminate each one. So 360-degree cameras should be located in well-lit areas or extra lighting should be installed to provide quality images.
To control the bandwidth from a 360-degree IP camera most manufacturers recommend that the camera be programmed to transmit from 4 to 10 frames per second of MJPEG-compressed images. Gitre says that the important factor is the “frame, not the frame rate.” Unless there is an immediate dramatic event, live video on a monitor or PC screen often goes unwatched by a security guard who may be busy doing something else. The real value of surveillance video is the ability to review and analyze images after the fact. With that in mind, security integrators should configure 360-degree and other IP cameras to provide the best possible image quality, even if it means reducing the frames per second rate to achieve a reasonable amount of bandwidth usage for each camera. In typical applications 360-degree cameras are usually programmed to transmit 4 to 6 images per second.
When selecting a 360-degree camera, it is important to verify that the lens of the camera is matched to the megapixel image size, according to Carnevale. While a specific lens might work fine with a 2-megapixel imager, it won’t provide good images with a 5-megapixel camera.
Another approach to 360-degree video coverage is through use of a lens that can be purchased separately, and installed on any existing CS-mount, 1/3-inch camera for a 360-degree view. The lens is sold by ImmerVision, a company based in Montreal, and works with both traditional analog and IP surveillance equipment from 480 TVL to 1.2 megapixel.
The lens technology used in the ImmerVision family of products is called panomorph, which differs from the traditional “fisheye” lens technology with which camera enthusiasts may be familiar.
“A magnification feature on the periphery keeps the perspective of the image and gives more details,” Alessandro Gasparini, senior vice president of sales and marketing at ImmerVision, told SDM at the ASIS exhibition in Atlanta last month. This means that objects moving away from the camera tend not to shrink in size as they get further away.
Using the ImmerVision lens, users can pan, tilt and zoom within the 360-degree image, and then display the video as one strip, two 180-degree strips, or four quad views, according to ImmerVision.
The lens works with all camera types and devices equipped with ImmerVision Enables software. “We are camera- and DVR-neutral,” Gasparini explains. “We sell a lens.”
The ImmerVision lens is able to be utilized by software embedded in certain DVRs, NVRs and video management systems that perform the dewarping function. In fact, the firm has already partnered with several vendors that offer ImmerVision Enables features in their products, such as Aimetis, Chubb, Cieffe (a March Network company), Petards, Salient Systems, Sentry 360, Silicor, Stanley, and Verex. Some of the qualified cameras that meet the requirements of ImmerVision’s IMV1-1/3 lens are available from Axis, Bosch, IQinVision, Panasonic and Pelco, the company notes.
The company’s software development kit “provides a sophisticated library that allows distortion-free navigation within the 360 degree image and provides digital PTZ viewing functionality,” ImmerVision explains through its literature.
TARGETING THE MARKETIf a client requires a truly complete video surveillance system, 360-degree cameras provide a key element with their inherent total viewing coverage. Many casinos, schools, airports, cruise lines and other sites where there can be large amounts of pedestrian traffic can benefit from 360-degree camera placement. Because of the additional flat-screen images, 360-degree cameras can reduce the total number of cameras needed to cover a specific area, saving installation time and cost. Some people can become uncomfortable when they can readily see CCTV cameras pointed at them. With their discreet look after installation, 360-degree cameras can provide valuable video surveillance without inducing the “I’m being watched” feeling on the part of the patrons of a museum, resort or other public place.
Schools and other public buildings are prime candidates for these all-seeing 360-degree cameras, says Chris Horan, branch manager of New York state for Johnson Controls. Using products from Sentry 360 Security, one camera located at the intersection of two hallways provides coverage of all four intersecting paths. This dramatically reduces the cost of installation when compared with four separate cameras, and the fact that the cameras are IP also yields savings, according to Horan.
The key elements to using 360-degree cameras are the complete coverage and forensic PTZ viewing capabilities. Horan says the primary concern when planning a CCTV installation is “It’s not what you get, but did I capture what I wanted?” The forensic PTZ and 360-degree viewing guarantee that all activity in the viewed area will be recorded and can be closely examined after an incident has occurred. This “removes the responsibility of security officers,” he says, to properly aim and control manual PTZ cameras in real time. Everything gets recorded, and there can be no human error in camera manipulation.
As with all IP-enabled security devices, the features and benefits of 360-degree IP cameras are dramatically improving, while costs are reducing. “The cost of 360-degree cameras are going down to justify the replacement of four to eight cameras to be installed. A single 360-camera is replacing the purchase of the camera plus labor, recording storage and future maintenance charges the end-user has to incur over time,” Carnevale explains.
With a complete field-of-view, built-in video analytics, separate flat screen PTZ views, and interoperability with major NVR manufacturers, security integration companies now have a new, discreet and powerful tool for video surveillance.
SIDEBAR: 360-degree Camera VendorsGrandeye Inc.
Sentry 360 Security Inc.