What makes IP cams tick
Editor / Provider: Tevin Wang, a&s International | Updated: 3/21/2013 | Article type: Tech Corner
According to IMS Research's (part of IHS) 2012 forecasts, the global market for IP-based video surveillance equipment is expected to surpass US$5.4 billion this year (overall video equipment market at roughly $13.6 billion). As competition continues to intensify, a&s looks into how mainstream megapixel cameras differ and differentiate in terms of features, promotion, and after-sale warranties and services.
Today's mainstream IP cameras are 2-megapixel (MP) ones. “Even if a camera captures images in higher resolution than 2-MP, major displays support full HD only and the whole image cannot be shown in one display,” said Alex Iida, Senior Manager of Visual Security Solutions for APAC, Sony Electronics.
As more pixels do not necessarily translate to clearer and more usable footage, features that need to be highlighted and compared lie elsewhere. “In fact, the higher the resolution, the significantly less the sensitivity is. This is one of the most important considerations in security applications, especially in low-light environments,” Iida elaborated. “Capturing images with higher resolution means data sizes will be larger, which cause problems in network bandwidth and storage, and result in higher expenses in integration and implementation.”
Sensitivity & Bandwidth
Image sensors are the deciding factor between good and excellent megapixel cameras, as light sensitivity becomes tricky with more pixels crammed onto the same piece of silicon. Sony has dedicated significant R&D efforts to this area. “The aspect ratio of our image sensors in the 2-MP cameras we have developed and adopted is 16:9 native. Compared to conventional 4:3 or 5:4 image sensors, 16:9 ones enable a larger pixel size for each pixel.” Thanks to this bigger pixel size, even with full HD resolution at 2-MP, sensitivity improvement is clearly visible.
As a pioneer of network cameras, VIVOTEK has also invested significantly in optimizing image quality, with respect to brightness, contrast, gamma and sharpness. “We have many parameters for image tuning and testing,” said Steve Ma, Executive VP at VIVOTEK. “Another difference would be bandwidth control. For more efficient bandwidth allocations, we advise our clients and integrators on ideal camera settings, such as SVC, CBR, cropping and local storage.” SVC provides more effective bandwidth and processor resource management by simultaneously dividing video data into multiple layers at different resolutions, picture sizes and frame rates, to meet the requirements of different client devices and network conditions. CBR offers flexible bit rate control in terms of maintaining stable bandwidth and allows users to simultaneously set an upper-bound mode for live viewing and choose an average mode for recording.
Multistreaming means a number of video streams with different types of compression, such as H.264 and M-JPEG. These streams facilitate bandwidth-efficient viewing and recording. Streaming capability is highly dependent on the camera's processor and brand. Some make the most out of this feature as a key differentiator, while others do not believe it is a game changer.
Most manufacturers offer at least two streams, with some supporting three or even four independent streams. “Currently in our high line portfolio, we have three image sensors representing 720p and 1,080p resolutions. The sensor defines the maximum resolution for four streams and the type of streams that can be generated in HD streams; SD or HD streams, as a copy of the first stream; i-frame only streaming for recording; and MJPEG streams,” said Ad Biemans, Product Marketing Manager for Video Systems in EMEA, Bosch Security Systems.
Avigilon has a proprietary HD-stream management feature. “The feature enables users to manage video signals through the transmission and storage phases, without losing any of the visual quality of the signals,” said Rick Ramsay, Senior PM. “With this feature, only the requested portions of captured images are sent to operator workstations, optimizing the amount of bandwidth required. In addition to reducing client bandwidth usage, the feature also greatly reduces the processing load on the remote client, offering a unique way of working with multiple streams of H.264-compressed video to overcome many trade-offs. When a single stream is zoomed in for more detail, that stream will be automatically sent in full resolution while other streams are kept in low resolution for an overview version of the image.”
Vertical segments such as commercial buildings, education, retail, transportation, city surveillance, traffic monitoring, airports and banking have specific demands for image clarity. “We have a range of cameras that are designed to be used in the most demanding conditions. One example is a vandal-proof corner-mount camera which is specified for prisons, hospitals and elevators,” Biemans said. Another example would be its ALPR line for vehicle surveillance and intelligent transportation applications.
Others like Axis Communications and Brickcom design and manufacture cameras for desert-like environments. “In desert areas — which make up about one-third of the earth's land surface — there are mining sites, oil and gas fields, pipeline installations as well as cities that need surveillance cameras that can withstand extreme heat and harsh conditions such as sandstorms,” said Erik Frannlid, Director of Product Management at Axis Communications. “It is critical for cameras with moving parts to have a high enough operating temperature to ensure optimal and reliable performance. The reason is that a camera with direct exposure to sunlight can be heated to a temperature of at least 15 degrees Celsius over the surrounding temperature, so an air temperature of 45 degrees may mean that the camera has to operate at 60 degrees. Our climate control system can handle rapid temperature changes to eliminate condensation.”
Similarly, Brickcom has launched cameras exclusively for places such as Russia, the Middle East, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, for their volatile weather conditions. These cameras are IP67-rated with built-in fan and heater to cope with outdoor environments, said Max Fan, Sales Director for Brickcom.
With the rapid growth of cities, Hikvision is eyeing the opportunity of traffic monitoring. “With detailed recognition and fast image capture speed, our solutions bring smarter surveillance and relief to traffic monitoring,” said Adler Wu, PM at Hikvision Digital Technology. “The improved resolution allows authorities to not only assess situations more quickly, but to allow them to respond in a timely manner.”
Regardless of the countless opportunities that megapixel cameras bring, manufacturers are advised to look at creative service models and solution offerings, to stay in business amid difficult trading conditions. Although reliability has always been key, it is financially and operationally sound to think outside the box to cater to the needs of customers of different verticals, regions or even cultural practices.
Making a Sale
The HD benefits are clear. What is not clear is how users should approach this new technology and what they should expect from it. As seeing is believing, live demonstrations are gaining popularity.
Brickcom started out as a network gear provider and prefers using toy trains to display full HD images via wireless transmission in real time. “We also designed an interactive demo of 2-MP cameras to highlight the plug-and-play, easy-to-use and auto-focus features,” Fan said.
With the omnipresence of the Internet, Secubest puts detailed product information and live demonstrations of its 2-MP cameras online. “Customers can experience live HD footage, along with the durability and design of our cameras through online demos anytime,” said Eva Chu, GM of Sales and Marketing at Secubest.
Sensing the proliferation of social-media marketing, LILIN has readjusted its marketing and promotional strategies to better cater to local taste and unique requirements, with the help of its seven subsidiaries worldwide, said Steve Hu, PM at Merit LILIN.
Securing the Investment
Customers do not want to purchase disposable cameras that need to be replaced or require maintenance constantly. Camera maintenance can be a huge expense, which is why end users pay attention not only to specs, features and algorithms, but also to warranties and after-sale support. Most manufacturers provide two- or three-year warranties. If other types of warranty are requested, some solution providers offer extension programs.
To further differentiate itself, IQinVision offers an all-inclusive five-year warranty on the majority of its products. “The only products which come with our shorter, three-year warranty are those with auto back focus or motorized zoom and focus lenses,” said Alex Doorduyn, Director of Product Marketing. When certain models are no longer manufactured, “we charge for repairs but still offer free telephone support for cameras outside of warranty.” IQinVision believes that customers should not allow manufacturers with poor-quality products and manufacturing processes to dictate the life span of a technology, especially in such a vital industry like security.