A Canon IP video camera is enclosed inside a protective dome and mounted on a light pole above Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. 

Because of the enormous complexity of network or IP cameras, selecting such technology involves a multitude of considerations, and sometime it can feel just like that – a multitude of decisions. Such considerations include, but are not limited to, the evaluation of image quality, compression formats, licensing fees, ease of installation and programming, levels of scalability and technical support. Collectively, they do help you choose a network camera that fits your needs, so SDM is breaking some of the considerations down with the help of a few industry experts to help you better use them to your advantage and find out which ones matter the most to you.

When choosing an IP camera, it’s important to match the camera specs to installation requirements. Advanced network cameras, such as the Axis Communications P3344-VE network camera, can offer a variety of out-of-the-box, quick installation features designed for a range of video applications.


Superior camera performance comes from a combination of the quality of the sensor capturing the image and the on-board processing ability of the camera to improve that image. So says John Centofanti, regional sales man-ager with Panasonic System Solutions Company, Secaucus, N.J. Progressive scan CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors deliver clear images and less motion blur when subjects are moving. Primary color (RGB) filters provide better color reproduction. Image variables include dynamic range (the span of gradations from the lightest to the darkest areas in an image), resolution, low-light sensitivity, the ability to compensate for dark areas in an image, and the ability to capture moving objects, Centofanti says. Image processing enables a camera to capture an image in the same way as the human eye — adjusting to offset highly contrasted lighting conditions or other variables. Adaptive digital noise reduction can minimize image streaking when viewing moving images, and an automatic image stabilizer can prevent blurring from high winds or vibration. An automatic back focus feature can adjust the positioning of the CCD sensor to provide accurate focus when a day/night camera shifts from color to black-and-white mode for greater light sensitivity, he adds.

In the world of IP cameras, there exists no precise way to measure video quality, notes Fredrik Nilsson, general manager for Axis Communications North America, in Chelmsford, Mass. But there are some general yardsticks of image quality, he adds.

The first is the Lux rating, which rates how the camera performs in low light. Another is the resolution. In addi-tion, a general rule of thumb used to be that the higher the megapixels, the better the camera, Nilsson says. But HDTV has allowed a more exact determination of image quality. HDTV not only guarantees the higher resolution in the megapixel range, but also ensures a frame rate of 30 frames a second, and compliance with color fidelity quality, which is not necessarily ensured with a megapixel definition.

A third approach is to test cameras in a side-by-side comparison, because there are so many variables, including compression, than can impact image quality, he says.

Centofanti is among observers who agree with that approach. Viewing images side by side allows integrators and end users to place the cameras in an actual application environment where each camera’s true performance can be evaluated.

Andrew Nassar, who heads the sales department at IC Realtime, observes that image quality is best judged from a frame rate, resolution and compression standpoint. If the compression of the camera can keep the bandwidth consumption low, while still maintaining a high resolution and frame rate setting, the camera is likely a good choice.

Richard Koharik, Cleveland-based Vicon A&E Services manager, says it is best to evaluate cameras based on applications. “Having a go-to camera for indoor, outdoor, vandal-proof and special light issues, such as a strong backlight and very low light, will make for a more satisfied customer and fewer callbacks,” he says.

Don’t overlook the use of an image resolution chart either, which can measure the fineness of detail the camera is able to pick up, says Bob Banerjee, product marketing manager, IP video, for Fairport, N.Y.-based Bosch Security Systems Inc.

“The importance of that is not to be understated,” he says. “Different manufacturers will make a thousand different claims as to why their cameras are different. They will claim superior compression technologies, optics and sensors. But at the end of the day, it’s what you can see that makes it different.”
Chris Koetsier of Honeywell Video Systems in Louisville, Ky. agrees traditional resolution charts can be used, but says they are insufficient when assessing IP cameras, which unlike analog cameras perform compression within the camera. “Therefore it’s important to also measure the bit rate (MB/S), which effects bandwidth and storage, for any given resolution,” he says. “Noisy images, low light, MP images, compression method and set-tings all have a big impact on bandwidth and picture quality. To achieve like-for-like comparisons, get a common reference first. This is best achieved through either a common bit rate setting or resolution setting across all the cameras under test, and effectively measuring the other parameters to see how they compare.”

Roberto Testani, product manager for Honeywell Video Systems, adds that in low light, the IP camera bit rate always increases. Therefore, he recommends a side-by-side comparison in very low light setting, primarily below 1 LUX. For example, Camera A and Camera B both show decent quality images in low light, Testani says. But Camera A’s bit rate is 5 mbps and Camera B’s bit rate is 3 mbps. “You will take the Camera B because it offers a similar image at a lower bit rate,” Testani says.

Latency is another specification where a side-by-side comparison is useful. “There are two types of latency on a network IP camera,” explains Bruce Tanaka, product manager for Sony Security Systems, Park Ridge, N.J. “One is video latency on the GUI of the display. In general, higher compression causes more video latency. The other one is PTZ control latency. When the user controls pan/tilt/zoom on a network camera, we see this latency. Those are difficult to describe in value as a specification, so the user needs to test it on actual network environ-ment.”

A 42-inch Panasonic plasma screen displays group video at each of three main central guard stations at the Calcasieu Parish Prison in Louisiana.


Other considerations should be taken into account when evaluating different IP cameras. For instance, color quality and noise level are very significant considerations, says Testani. “If you have a lot more noise, you use more [space] on your hard drive because you’re recording noise. The quality of color rendering is very key to having a good quality camera. When doing a side-by-side comparison, you’re looking for the camera to repro-duce as high quality an image as possible, compared with what you see with the human eye. And it has to be tested under different light levels and conditions.”

Other issues, Nilsson says, include wide-dynamic range, normally abbreviated WDR. If the camera is expected to point into a difficult lighting setting, such as a doorway with bright sunlight behind it, the camera should have WDR. “That means the camera is capable of coping with difficult light scenarios,” he says.

Video motion detection, programmable detection zones, face detection to locate human faces, and privacy zones to mask views of private areas such as house windows and entrances or exits represent additional functions that merit consideration in a camera, Centofanti says.

“Many cameras are incorporated into dome housings, and all-in-one domes provide programmable pan-tile-zoom capabilities in a single unit,” he notes.

Another issue may center on the monitor being used, says Jon Hughes, product marketing manager for video with Bradenton, Fla.-based GE Security. “If you’re looking at a high-definition resolution on your monitor, and you’re streaming megapixels, you’ll get a great picture,” he says. “If you get a good camera, upgrade the monitor.”


One advantage of utilizing IP camera solutions is the mix-and-match capability the technology allows, Nilsson says. Storage can be chosen from one vendor, network components from another, video management from a third, and cameras from one, two or even three vendors. “There are benefits on the camera side from choosing only one camera vendor, or alternatively two or three, depending on needs,” he says. “The benefit of choosing just one vendor, for instance, relates to the great functionality built into IP cameras. You can train on that vendor specifically, and know it inside and out.”

But according to Gary Perlin, vice-president of video products at Amityville, NY-based Speco Technologies, while analog cameras can be easily mixed and matched to meet specific job requirements, it’s not as easy with IP cameras.

“You must make sure that they talk the same language or talk to a third party software suite that crosses the platforms of multiple manufacturers,” Perlin says. “Talks are underway in the industry to reach an IP standard, but there’s no clear winner yet.”

Koharik observes that updating camera drivers takes time, and updating drivers from different companies is “cumbersome at best.” He advises seeking a manufacturer that controls the camera drivers and the video man-agement system.

Nassar believes that if the manufacturer offers a complete client recording software and can support all the needs of the application with its IP product line, then it is best to stick with one manufacturer for both the cameras and the software.


Use of multiple compression formats provides more system design flexibility, and various formats are more suited to certain applications, Centofanti says.

“For example, H.264 or MPEG-4 provide real-time streaming, and Motion-JPEG provides frame-by-frame video,” he says. “The new H.264 standard can improve compression by 40 to 50 percent over MPEG-4, depending on the application. Having the ability to use multiple video streams enables one stream to be used for live view-ing and another for storage.

“Cameras can also provide variable bit rate and constant bit rate streams. Variable bit rate streams adjust the amount of bandwidth consumed, based on the amount of motion and complexity of a scene, thus maintaining im-age rate and quality. Constant bit rate streams send out a predictable amount of data, but may alter the quality of image rate of the stream, rather than increase the bandwidth or storage.”

Scott Burkhardt, marketing programs specialist, VCS Marketing, with Canon USA Inc., echoes the belief that multiple compression formats are a big advantage. "When it comes to image quality, Motion JPEG will consis-tently provide a better image than MPEG-4 formats because Motion JPEG is full-frames and MPEG-4 are not."

To Nilsson’s thinking, H.264 is hands down a better compression rate for most installations. That’s especially true for systems with higher frame rates, he says, because the associated storage costs are so high that the signifi-cant savings provided by H.264 are needed.


According to Nilsson, there are no licensing fees for cameras themselves, but there are such fees for the com-pression standards. “You have to make sure to determine whether the vendor you’re buying the camera from has paid that fee for you,” he says.

“If not, you must pay the consortium responsible for developing the standards.”
Licensing fees are approximately a dollar per station viewing the camera, in the case of MPEG-4 and H.264. JPEG has no licensing fee, Nilsson says.

Nassar reports there are licensing fees when using some video management software applications, which take the form of a per-camera fee and usually range from $100 to $500 per camera. But not all companies charge for a camera license, he says. For instance, hardware-based manufacturers tend not to charge for licenses. “This must be considered in designing and laying out the budget of the system at hand,” he says.

Perlin notes most IP cameras come with a free NVR software that allows for viewing up to 16 cameras on a PC. Exceeding this limit will normally result in license fees, which can be up to $100 per cameras. Third-party suites do not sell equipment and offer advanced functionality in their NVR at a price. The fees are usually on a sliding scale and decrease as more camera licenses are purchased, he adds.


One of the biggest benefits of IP cameras is their scalability, Nilsson says. Systems can be scaled from one to thousands of cameras in one-camera steps.

According to Koharik, the bigger question is whether the video management system is scalable. That’s because many “camera-only manufacturers” offer “free” video management software that is limited in scale. “Integrators should look to the mainstream providers that offer and support truly scalable systems,” Koharik says.


Ease of installation is a major priority when choosing IP cameras, Koharik says. Such considerations as whether an installer would need special tools, if connections are easy to make, if the camera can mount securely and meet building regulations and if it is robust enough for the environment in which it will live all must be evalu-ated. “A camera that takes additional time and tools to install hurts the bottom line,” he says.

For these reasons, security dealers should seek cameras that mount using standard electrical box measurements and pipe sizes, he adds.

Nilsson advises seeking several features. The first is the inclusion of Power over Internet (PoE), which trans-mits both the power to the camera and the video, eliminating need to pull cable to the camera, he says. Also look for both Remote Focus and Remote Field of View. With the former, there is no need for an installer to climb a ladder and, while adjusting the lens, communicate with control room personnel. Instead, the employee in the con-trol room can remotely move the lens around until the right focus is found. Similarly, Remote Field of View means adjusting the field of view remotely.


The availability of back-end support is crucial in camera selection. The kinds of technical support IP camera manufacturers offer can be found on those companies’ websites, Nilsson says. Some of the issues to examine in-clude whether or not the vendor provides free phone tech support, which is preferable to email support only, he says.

Another is whether the camera manufacturer offers prompt camera replacement if a camera proves faulty once delivered. In addition, Nilsson recommends scouring the manufacturer web sites for warranty information, as well as insight into the extent of any repair programs that may kick in after the warranty lapses.

For his part, Koharik recommends forging a face-to-face relationship with a manufacturer. Most major manu-facturers offer field support, and can give a cost in advance based on the size of the system, he says. “Technology changes so quickly now, making a personal relationship with the manufacturer [chosen] is critical.”

The ability to call the manufacturer direct for support, both in initial programming of the system and network and in future expansion of the system, gives both the integrator and end user an extra level of peace of mind, Nas-sar says.

Get Into Training

In evaluating IP camera manufacturers’ training programs, look for a solid vendor training program that includes both basic training and advanced classes, Nilsson says. “Also, make sure the training re-sults in certifications, and also that it’s a hands-on training, giving you the opportunity to play with the equipment,” he adds.

Many manufacturers offer pre-sales designs and general Webinars to discuss their IP cameras, Per-lin adds. “Check the web sites for announcements of upcoming training,” he says. “You should work with a manufacturer that has ample tech support people to hold your hand when getting started in this field.”

Hughes advises throwing business to companies that offer recorded online training modules that al-low dealers and integrators to access them when convenient. “It’s also important to know there is train-ing not just for the camera itself, but for the software managing the system and the storage involved,” Hughes says.

Help for the Novice

Not all security dealers have experience with network cameras.  So we asked manufacturers to supply useful tips for the novice network-cameras installer. 


Examine total cost.  Costs of IP cameras often look similar on paper.  But total cost of the different cameras, including purchase costs, installation costs and maintenance costs, should be considered, Nilsson says.  “Look at the warranty, the replacement and the technical support,” he adds.  “And make sure it [provides] a good image quality, because if you don’t get that, nothing else matters.”


Avoid buying only on price.  Anyone inexperienced in buying network cameras should avoid temptation of buying based on price, Centofanti says.  Clear, sharp video images are critical to obtaining solid evidence of a crime or other application.  Low-cost cameras often lack the quality, dependability or functionality customers need.  Moreover, “even a higher-priced camera can provide lower total cost of ownership,” he says.

         Testani puts it another way.  “If I were to find a camera with all these bells and whistles for $99, I would stay away from it,” he says, adding that the complexity of IP cameras justifies higher costs.


Undertake research.  An online training class or an in-house demonstration will give the novice integrator/installer a better understanding of how these systems are set up and maintained, Nassar says.  “Do your research and ask questions,” he advises.

         Burkhardt recommends attending major security industry trade shows to visit the different exhibitors and actually see the quality of their network video cameras.  “Companies can cite camera specs, but it’s more important to see the video with your own eyes,” he says.


Weigh breadth of IP offeringsA key criteria in selecting a vendor should be the breadth of IP offering, Koetsier says.  Is the vendor under consideration geared to support your transition from analog to digital?  In addition to COTS solutions, does it offer hybrid solutions and boxed NVRs or “NVR on Training Wheels,” providing a stepping stone without limiting you on future field upgrades?


Trials on your turf.  Try to get IP cameras into your office and play with them, Banerjee recommends.  “You will learn a lot about them the hard way before you go onsite.  Network cameras are not yet plug-and-play, unlike analog cameras.” 


Remember the standards.  “Consider cameras that are compliant with either standard,” Banerjee urges.  “That offers you protection in the future.”


Use your analog experienceAssuming integrators have a strong understanding of analog systems, they should use that experience when specifying IP cameras, Perlin says.  “The same principles of lighting and field of view apply,” he notes.


Positioning cameras.  It’s important to locate cameras so they can achieve their intended purpose, Centofanti says.  “For example, installers must position cameras close enough and with proper lighting conditions to see details of a person’s face,” he reports.  “The camera should also be suitable to the specific task and provide functionality, such as wide dynamic range or low-light sensitivity, to perform a given application.”


Set up test systems.  Before heading to any job site to handle an installation, integrators should set up test systems in their shop, with multiple cameras and a router to get the feel of the equipment, Perlin says.  “You don’t want to be learning it at the customer’s facility,” he adds.


Befriend IP managers.  Make sure someone familiar with network structure and possessing the passwords for any routers that might be installed will be at the job site.  Notes Perlin: “The IP manager will become your best friend if you bring him a beverage containing obscene amounts of caffeine.”


When you can’t acquire experience, hire experience.  “If a dealer doesn’t have IP or network camera experience, the best thing would be to hire someone with that experience,” Hughes says.