Video monitor technology must keep pace with technology that’s changing in the rest of the security industry – and it is. Today’s LCD monitors are lighter weight, offer greater durability and increasingly provide higher-resolution capabilities, experts say. But these are just the start of the changes integrators must watch in the world of monitors.
Monitors are continually evolving in the direction of more enhanced performance, says Gary Clinton, vice president of Rockford, Ill.-based Clinton Electronics, a 46-year-old manufacturer of wholesale CCTV products, and one of the largest CCTV monitor suppliers in the world. “The industry is always working on the next generation and has never been satisfied with status quo,” he says. “The security industry is very small compared to the consumer display industry. Fortunately, most of the technology can be applied to both, so we benefit from the multi-billion-dollar consumer industry to keep pushing the envelope for technology at an affordable cost.”
In today’s security industry, the best-selling monitors are liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. This serves a challenge for monitor makers, as most security industry cameras are low resolution with a 4:3 aspect ratio. As a result, monitor manufacturers must use new technology and better video processors to make the low-resolution images from these cameras appear better than a standard-grade LCD monitor, he says.
According to Don Taylor, vice president of marketing and investor relations for Horsham, Pa.-based MACE Security International, the parent of Ft. Lauderdale-based MACE Security Products, the newest features being integrated into video displays include higher-resolution capabilities and digital signal inputs. Many new monitors include a DVI-D digital input for higher resolution, in place of the standard VGA, he says. Other features include touch screen control of devices attached to the monitor.
Greater numbers of IP cameras are being sold today, the most recent being HD-CCTV cameras. As a result, video monitors are changing to be able to display this high-definition video output, Clinton says. “We have been putting digital inputs on our larger displays” to accommodate the HD cameras’ capabilities, he says.
He explains there are no practical displays that can resolve a whole 3, 4 or 5-megapixel image. The highest resolution commonly available is 1920 x 1080 on new LCD panels. “Yes, there are some special panels and displays capable of higher resolutions, but they are very expensive and not readily available in a complete display. The best thing to do for image quality once you get up into the high-resolution cameras is to make sure you’re not down converting it into an analog signal. You should use HDMI or DVI cabling to the display to keep the image as clean as possible.”
Of course, resolution represents only a small part of the image quality. Monitor manufacturers are, in fact, at the mercy of what panel manufacturers offer for resolution. He points to the example of a 17-inch LCD, noting the best and worst 17-inch units offer the same 1280 x 1024 resolution. What makes for the contrast between the two are – among other factors – contrast ratio, brightness, switching speed, viewing angle and backlight construction. Also having an impact are differences in the ways the video image is processed, and the components the manufacturer chooses in constructing the monitor.
“The most significant improvement in today’s CCTV monitors has been video processing and contrast ratios of the panels,” Clinton says.
MACE is preparing to unveil a wide-screen monitor with touch screen that will control a compatible DVR, Taylor says. Touching icons on the screen will control the DVR and PTZ functions of an attached camera, in the process controlling functions normally performed with either front panel controls or a mouse, he adds.
Another useful function is multiple languages on screen displays. “A monitor in inventory can instantly be converted to many commonly-used languages,” Taylor adds.
On-screen controls of monitor display adjustments have not changed dramatically, but they have made more precise the control of brightness, contrast and color saturation, Taylor says.
In addition, functions like picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture have become more popular, he observes.
The advent of video management systems that allow control of the entire video surveillance system from one user interface has also impacted the functional design of monitors. The need for multiple monitors to manage all video management systems has made the footprints of monitors a critical concern, Taylor says. Multiple system management functions should be separated onto a number of monitors. Live viewing, search of archive video, alarm management and system data should be displayed across multiple monitors to ensure no crucial information is overlooked, he adds.
Both Clinton and Taylor argue strongly that using monitors designed for video surveillance is critical to a well-designed system. Too often, installers try to save a few dollars by purchasing monitors from an electronics super discount store, Taylor says. Those monitors are not designed for 24/7 operation, and in many cases do not boast the resolution or contrast required for video surveillance. In addition, the power supply is not designed for constant use. “Why purchase high-resolution video cameras and a DVR able to record D1 resolution – and then purchase a cheap monitor?” he asks.
Clinton is in complete agreement. Most consumer-grade monitors are designed for use in the home only for a few hours a day. In addition, the warrantee is void on most consumer displays if they are used in commercial applications.
Moreover, most consumer displays are now 16:9 aspect ratio. “When Windows came out with Vista, the entire consumer industry switched to 16:9 displays,” he says.
“The CCTV world is still largely a 4:3 aspect ratio world. Display a 4:3 image on a 16:9 display, and the image is stretched, or you have the black bars on the sides.”
In addition, security display manufacturers offer consistency “that the consumer industry doesn’t care about,” Clinton asserts.
“We try to keep our models up to date, yet available for years to come. We will upgrade the panels and electronics as they become available, but keep overall cabinet appearance the same. It is very frustrating to do a job with a monitor, only to find out that model was discontinued when you need a replacement or another one.”
As for other new display manufacturing technologies that may be coming down the line in the security industry, Clinton says it’s all about LCD. There has been talk of new technologies for several years, but LCD technology simply keeps getting better and better, Clinton says.
“Plasma displays are fading away, CRT displays are being phased out, and projection is hanging on only due to its large-size capability,” he says.
Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) should begin to appear within the next few years, but only in small-sized displays, and even there only gradually. The fact is, Clinton says, LCD monitors are here to stay for a while. Makers have addressed most of the concerns about viewing angles, brightness and power consumption to an extent that it would take a revolutionary new technology to replace LCDs, he believes.
The Latest Look
What are the latest trends in how video monitors are configured for display? We put that question to Randy Smith, president of Minneapolis-based Winsted, which has made consoles for control rooms since 1963. According to Smith, demand for CRT monitors has virtually disappeared, “but every once in a while we have someone who needs to incorporate a CRT into their control room system,” he adds. “Lots of gaming people believe they get better resolution, and there are others who just want a CRT, because they don’t want to spend the money to replace a CRT with an LCD.”
Agreeing on LCD’s growing dominance is Mark Tracy, product management and business development director for Middle Atlantic Products, Fairfield, N.J. CRT monitors are being supplanted by LCD monitors, Tracy says, because the latter offer better resolution, superior interfacing with CPUs, less heat generation and greater compactness.
Trends also point to the use of two or three screens per operator in surveillance, with the number of screens rising as the application moves from surveillance to other types of operation and control and settings that are “a little less life critical,” Smith says.
As LCD monitors become less costly, Smith is also seeing the use of fewer, but larger LCD wall displays with higher-quality images. One product sold by Winsted is a product called the M-View.
“The advantage is its expandable, flexible size, which is important both in the console and the monitor wall,” he says. At the same time, console-displayed monitors are also getting larger – as large as 26 inches, Smith adds.
Tracy believes the space effectiveness of flat screens has helped change the way monitor walls are deployed. Very large walls or those requiring a single image to be displayed across multiple screens are typically best served by single-point front or rear projection systems or “cube-style” monitor walls, due to the non-existent or minimal bezels separating screens, he says. “Medium-sized systems or systems with discreet images are now best served by large panel LCD screens mounted to a frame system,” he adds. “Ergonomic line-of-sight rules apply to the mounting of these as well.”
Flat-panel monitors still have to be tilted down if they are mounted above the line of sight, Smith says. But at the line of sight, they don’t have to be mounted at an angle.
The best way to display monitors for optimum viewing and operation has much to do with the line of sight, for 24/7, 365-days-a-year viewing, he adds. Into consideration go such issues as the size of the monitors, the number of operators, the ergonomics and line of sight. “They’re all variables that go into making that decision,” Smith says.
According to Tracy, the basic rules of ergonomics continue to dictate the optimum monitor placement and viewing angles. The distance from the operator is determined primarily by content and resolution, he says. For example, matrixed video or data typically requires finer resolution and/or closer monitor placement.
Angles are also different for single user and multi-user environments, Tracy adds. For example, a single user may require a multiple monitor array consisting of multiple screens arranged both vertically and horizontally, while a user that needs to see a shared video wall usually requires two or more workstation-mounted monitors arranged horizontally in a low-profile configuration, to allow optimum line-of-sight to large displays. In either case, mounts for console-mounted displays must be flexible enough for initial positioning, yet secure enough to maintain those optimum angles over time, he says.
Most larger screens are commonly available in widescreen (16:9) format, allowing for more content to be presented than the old standard (4:3) aspect ratio screens, Tracy says. Smaller screens are transitioning to the 16:9 format, as well. However, it is not uncommon for 4:3 screens to be used at the operator position, while 16:9 screens are employed for video monitoring, he observes.
Public View Monitors & Their Role in Security
A public view monitor is a monitor mounted inside a retail store, which displays a live image from a video camera, says Gary Clinton of Clinton Electronics. A public view system is typically one that includes both a camera and an LCD screen built into one cabinet. “The purpose is to provide a friendly reminder that the store uses video surveillance,” Clinton says. “It creates a sense of security and safety.”
Because only security dealers or integrators sell and install public view monitors, they represent a tremendous selling opportunity, Clinton believes.
Most stores using what Clinton simply calls “public view” are chain stores. Retail settings most likely to have public view monitors are department stores, jewelry stores, grocery stores, cellular phone stores and auto parts stores, according to Clinton. “They do work; they’ve been proven to reduce shrinkage,” he says.
“The concept has been around for 15 years, but the thing that’s helped it take off is the greater prevalence of lightweight LCDs instead of big bulky CRT monitors. No one was thrilled about hanging one of those CRT monitors on a ceiling bracket.”
One of the significant differences between public view monitors and video security monitors is that the former can include a multi-media feature, he adds.
Some companies incorporate a brief, static message, such as “Welcome to the store,” or “This store deploys video security.” Others are reaching towards the future with interactivity involving motion sensors. “We do IP camera versions,” Clinton says. “They can interact with existing store media systems.” For example, stores can play their own marketing messages on the monitors and then have them switch automatically to the public view image when the system senses that someone is directly in front of it.
Many jobs require customization. For instance, Clinton Electronics works with one large auto parts chain wanting nothing more than a basic camera image, while others include five or six features on their systems, “and they’re pushing the envelope as to what it can be used for,” Clinton describes. “There’s a tremendous amount of variety. Almost every big job turns out to be custom.”