IP for Sale
There have been some ‘stunning’ improvements made to IP cameras recently, according to security professionals. This makes them ideal for a wide range of new applications, translating to more sales opportunities for your company.
End users’ desire for high-definition and megapixel technologies has driven the vast majority of advancements in the video surveillance industry — yet because the security industry has been adopting IP cameras more slowly than expected, end users may not necessarily be aware of the newest advancements. For example, wide dynamic range and other sensor technologies are improving the low-light performance of IP cameras. Another example is enhanced analytics that tie IP cameras into business solutions. Such advancements offer a greater opportunity for expanding IP surveillance into applications where it traditionally hasn’t been used.
“HD is the big push, particularly over the last year, and it comes mainly from the TVs we all have in our homes,” says Willem Ryan, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems, based in Fairport, N.Y. Based on consumers’ increasing expectations of high-quality video — which consumers now expect even from the most basic smartphone or point-and-shoot camera — the IP camera market is growing significantly, Ryan says. “It’s so accessible that IP isn’t scary anymore. It’s commonplace today, even for children,” he says.
So while there has been almost explosive market-wide adoption of IP technologies in the consumer electronics space, the security industry continues to lag behind that growth, points out Scott Schafer, executive vice president of Glendale, Calif.-based Arecont Vision.
“The security market is an interesting one. The technological advances are quite stunning, yet the acceptance is lower than it should be,” Schafer acknowledges. “There seems to be a comfort level with old tried-and-true. Not a lot of people are conversant in server, IP and storage technologies.” That mindset, Schafer believes, may be the main reason the widespread adoption of IP cameras hasn’t yet materialized.
The Time Has Come?
As Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis Communications in Chelmsford, Mass., explains, technological advances in IP cameras can be split into two groups: capture and storage/transmission. The larger video file sizes generated by higher resolution cameras create greater challenges for bandwidth and storage. So while it’s easier to talk about technologies under these two umbrellas, they’re too intertwined to consider separately in real-world applications.
Most experts agree that the maturation of IP cameras will accelerate over the next 12 months as new technologies allow for greater functionality. This is more significant than the technology itself, according to Lindsay Ryerson, product management leader for Honeywell Systems, Louisville, Ky.
“It’s not so much the technological innovation, but we’re gaining a lot more functionality in IP cameras to better address customers’ applications,” he says.
Oddly enough, for all the knocks against analog, much of the new IP camera technologies — such as wide dynamic range and dynamic noise reduction — are being “ported over” from that side of the security video equation, Ryerson says. “Analog has had a chance to mature more, but IP is still in a technology maturation curve,” he says. “IP is getting more robust, and manufacturers are going to be bringing more as time permits.”
As IP matures, the market will see more potential areas for implementation.
“IP is definitely taking greater overall market share and market proportion — and as volume increases, costs go down, making prices much more competitive,” Ryerson says. “The previously significant premium is now much more manageable.”
So could 2012 finally be “The Year of IP”? Only time will tell. What’s for sure is that manufacturers are incorporating technologies into their products that will make that moniker more likely.
Let There Be Light!
One of the biggest complaints about high-resolution IP cameras has been poor performance in variable lighting conditions, especially low-light situations. Recognizing this, manufacturers have spent a lot of time and effort to combat this.
“There’s always been this trade-off where you sacrifice lighting quality as you move toward megapixel,” says Steve Gorski, general manager of New York-based Mobotix.
This is nothing new; it’s a truth that’s long been accepted in the IP camera world. And there’s a scientific explanation behind it. “Simply put, more pixels won’t capture more light,” Ryerson says. “It’s physics: as you increase the number of pixels, you increase the density on a picture. Therefore, you capture less light with each exposure.”
Unfortunately, a lack of understanding on the part of the installer or integrator leads to poor installation choices, says Mark Collett, general manager, Security Systems Division, for Park Ridge, N.J-based Sony Electronics. “Too often, cameras are placed in what’s not the best location for the best video — like facing a high-lit background — and that creates a lot of problems for many cameras,” he says.
Wide dynamic range (WDR) technology, previously seen only in analog cameras, is one way manufacturers are shrinking the low-light performance gap for IP cameras. WDR allows an IP camera to take multiple exposures, called time slices, of a scene with different durations. For example, Ryerson says, a camera may be taking one exposure at 1/60 of a second and one at 1/10 of a second. The camera will use the 1/10 exposure in more light and the 1/60 exposure in low light. These will be patched together to create greater equilibrium within a scene, providing greater exposure in darker situations. “If you were using just one exposure, the image would either be overexposed in light or underexposed in dark,” he says.
Until now, high-resolution sensors for IP cameras didn’t perform very well in low-light situations. However, improvements in sensor technology are making many of the above technologies and functionality possible. “CMOS sensors have developed rapidly, and they’re coming of age,” says Cheryl Bard of Bosch. “Larger sensors allow even more light to enter pixels, which improves low-light performance.”
Unlike in the past, these newer, larger sensors can be friendly to most budgets, Ryan says. “The cost of HD and megapixel sensors has come down quickly, so the jump in price is not that much,” he explains. “At the same time, you’re getting significant improvement in detail, low-light performance and more.”
New technologies also provide an opportunity for IP cameras to toggle between dual sensors — color for day, monochromatic for night — depending on lighting conditions, Schafer says. Not only is this good for image quality, he says, but because a camera can still provide quality images in low-light situations, end users can cut down on their power consumption. In other words, they don’t have to leave the light on to accommodate their IP cameras.
Many manufacturers also have incorporated new technologies specific to their company into products to address lighting issues. For example, Bosch uses sodium vapor light compensation to overcome color changes caused by street lights, while Canon’s smart shade control adjusts gain on a portion of a high-contrast scene rather than the whole image.
Depending on the application, thermal imaging IP cameras could provide another solution, says Fredrik Nilsson of Axis. “Thermal IP cameras have been available for about a year and a half,” he says. “They used to be only government and military, but we’re seeing some more widespread use.”
In the end, though, it’s all about the light, which may be the greatest factor in determining image quality, Nilsson says. “Light sensitivity is always a challenge. At the end of the day, if you can’t use video because of light or resolution problems, the ROI of your system is zero,” he says.
The Brains Behind the Operation
If new IP camera technologies are separated into either capture or storage/transmission buckets, then video analytics have one foot firmly planted in each. On one hand, analytics facilitate the capture of video that provides a high level of detail for both real-time tracking and forensic purposes. On the other, it can also ease bandwidth and storage requirements.
“The more cameras you have, the more challenging it is to monitor them effectively. You never know when something is going to happen,” says Chuck Westfall, advisor, CIG Professional Engineering and Solutions Division, for Canon USA in Great Neck, N.Y. “Today, IP cameras feature a full set of analytics, including moved, abandoned and removed object. You can also use sound alert analytics — the absence of sound or too much — and that extends IP cameras’ flexibility substantially.”
An added benefit of analytics is the ability to tie the technology into business solutions, such as customer counting or analyzing traffic flow. When customers recognize the potential business case for video analytics, they’re much more likely to listen, says Gorski of Mobotix.
Bosch’s Ryan says that after a period of skepticism from some in the industry, analytics are becoming more popular because, simply put, additional chipsets are finally allowing analytics to deliver on promises that have been made in the past. “There’s been a pushback because early on, analytics was oversold, but newer processors provide the extra horsepower for analytics to perform optimally without affecting other things, such as throttling down frame rates,” he says.
The bottom line of most video surveillance systems — IP or otherwise — is to provide enough detail to positively identify a person or object within a scene. That may explain why facial detection is an area in which IP camera analytics have been improving very rapidly.
“IP cameras now have the intelligence to use analytics more effectively and provide both facial detection and region-of-interest within a scene. Historically, it’s been area-of-interest only,” says Steve Carney, senior product manager for IP cameras and devices for Westford, Mass.-based Tyco Security Products. “Faces are so important that you can make faces a region-of-interest. This is where the technology needs to get smarter.”
Another application of this kind of analytic is the ability to ease bandwidth and storage requirements. New and/or improved functionality allows IP cameras to provide images with lower data file sizes by decreasing the image quality for a less important area in a video frame (such as the sky) while retaining a higher image quality for areas designated as critical, says Robert Kramer, product manager, security products, Panasonic Security Systems Networks of America, based in Secaucus, N.J. “This approach uses less bandwidth while still providing a high picture quality for selected areas,” Kramer says. “With less data storage, requirements are lower, as are system costs related to video archiving. In short, new network camera capabilities can reduce the total cost of ownership of a networked video system.”
Other analytics that have recently become available in IP cameras include dynamic noise reduction, which has long been available for analog cameras. Post-image capture, DNR removes (or averages out) sparkles and black dots within the scene. This not only provides a cleaner picture and improved low-light image quality, but also reduces bandwidth because as noise increases, bit rate also increases.
Storage & Compression
With IP cameras, installers and integrators have to clearly understand a customer’s IP environment, including network capacity and whether the security system will go on an existing network or if a new network will be created. These answers, Carney says, will drive different decisions. For example, if security will be on its own network, focus on storage. But if it’s going on a shared network, that’s a different story altogether.
By now, practically everyone has heard of video compression technologies and algorithms, most notably H.264 and motion JPEG. While these remain the most popular solutions for compressing video — and reducing bandwidth and storage demands — there are some new solutions and functionality worth keeping on your radar.
As the name suggests, scalable video codecs (SVC) provide more scalable compression options. The ability for SVC to transmit multiple resolutions within the same video stream can significantly lower network bandwidth requirements, Schafer says.
“A single IP camera can pull regions of interest, for example a door, and send just that segment in higher resolution while sending the entire scene as well,” he says.
The improved ability to send multiple video streams from an IP camera across the network is another tactic for lowering bandwidth while retaining image quality. It can even allow you to take advantage of the best of both worlds by streaming H.264 (the most effective compression technology on the market) and MJPEG (which can be scaled up or down for resolution) simultaneously, Westfall says.
From a storage perspective, advances in SD card performance are making edge recording increasingly more popular, says Cheryl Bard of Bosch. “The first IP cameras didn’t come with SD or on-board storage, but now we’re pushing limits in allowing them to store up to 2 terabytes on one SD card for recording and storing locally,” she says.
This greater storage capability can be especially helpful in alleviating bandwidth demands and can serve as a backup to centralized storage, Ryan says. “With auto replenishment, when the network goes down or the camera is detached from the network, it automatically begins recording locally, and will send the ‘lost time’ to the centralized storage as soon as the camera’s back on the network,” he says.
All these new technologies are certainly interesting and can provide a greater opportunity for expanding IP into areas where it hasn’t traditionally been used. The million-dollar question is: How can installers and integrators use these enhancements to sell more IP cameras?
The short answer, Gorski says, is to show them the difference. “It goes back to analog versus digital, and the resolution has far surpassed analog,” he says. “At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t choose us, I’ll be disappointed, but I always tell them, ‘Just don’t go with analog.’”
Kramer says it’s incumbent upon installers and integrators help customers understand that new IP cameras provide more functionality than ever at more attractive prices — increasing system performance and flexibility, which provides a lower total cost of ownership.
“To sell more IP cameras, dealers and integrators should become more familiar with new camera capabilities and then be vigilant and attentive in matching those capabilities to customer needs,” he says.
The process has to start with both the installer/integrator and end user identifying and understanding just what it is that needs to be captured. This should naturally lead to choosing appropriate cameras and implementations for each situation, Ryerson says.
“What is the customer trying to capture? Do they want to recognize that an object is a person? Do they want to be able to tell that it’s a male? Do they need to recognize facial hair? The more detail you need, the more you tend to choose HD versus VGA,” he says.
Focusing on potential uses beyond security applications — even beyond IP — is another important step, Gorski says. “Look for good ROI. With megapixel technology, you can cut down on camera counts and provide much more value overall: better images, greater functionality, multiple uses and more,” he says.
Inevitably, though, the conversation will come around to price, and while it seems like this is a battle IP will never win, that doesn’t have to be the case.
“End users too often focus on the cost of cameras, and IP is obviously greater than analog,” Nilsson says. “But if you consider all the components and other potential uses, IP actually provides a lower cost of acquisition.” This factor makes it incumbent upon installers and integrators to become trusted technology partners, and that has to extend beyond cameras to include other technologies, Nilsson says. “Most likely, your customers aren’t part of the industry, so they expect you to be that resource and show them the latest trends and technologies,” he says.
Failure to do so could prove fatal to the working relationship between a dealer or integrator and his customer, Schafer says. “You have to consider the replacement factor. I’ve seen integrators tossed out because they haven’t showed the customer what’s in the market,” he says. “If you don’t introduce it, someone else will. And when you’re put in a position to apologize to a customer, that customer will replace you. It happens too often.”
|Check out These IP Improvements: Now, Sell Them|
-Wide dynamic range (WDR) allows an IP camera to take multiple exposures, called time slices, of a scene with different durations. These are patched together to create greater equilibrium within a scene, providing greater exposure in darker situations.
-Larger sensors allow more light to enter pixels, which improves low-light performance. Unlike in the past, these newer, larger sensors can be friendly to most budgets.
-Thermal IP cameras now are being used for some commercial applications; the cost is coming down.
-Today’s IP cameras feature a full set of analytics, including moved, abandoned and removed object. There is also sound alert analytics — the absence of sound or too much.
-Scalable video codecs (SVC) have the ability to transmit multiple resolutions within the same video stream, which can significantly lower network bandwidth requirements.
-Advances in SD card performance are making “edge recording” more popular.
|Standardizing the Field|
As anyone who’s ever designed or installed a video system knows, flexibility in choosing components is a major plus. In concept, proprietary hardware and software may seem like a benefit, but in reality they create more complexity than necessary, believes Bosch Security’s Willem Ryan.
“Proprietary technology is usually more labor-intensive and really slows development between software and hardware manufacturers,” he says.
Led by ONVIF and PSIA, the industry is moving towards standardization that will allow installers and integrators to build a system using IP hardware and software from a variety of manufacturers.
“Standards like ONVIF have changed the game by making everything plug-and-play,” Ryan says. “Standardization allows a tight, easy integration and deployment. We’re seeing a lot of products with a mix and match of equipment.”
Additionally, says Panasonic’s Robert Kramer, ONVIF makes it easier to deliver some of the value-added services consumers have come to expect.
“Cameras supporting the ONVIF standard to ensure interoperability with other system components can also supply images to iPads and tablet computers,” he describes.
Sony’s Mark Collett points out that IP cameras could benefit from industry standards in many more areas, wide dynamic range being just one.
“Right now, specs for wide dynamic range capability are defined by each manufacturer as they see fit; there are no industry standards,” he says. “For example, what does wide dynamic range mean? What’s the processing power? What are the DB levels? What’s the shutter speed?”
So while ONVIF and PSIA are working towards IP interoperability standards, until these questions are answered, the industry still has a long way to go before everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to specs and capabilities, Collett says.