Video test and verify: When spec sheets aren’t enough

As a nation we have become a bit obsessed with numbers. More specifically, we are fixated by those digits that translate to the concept of “bigger is better”.

We’ve seen it over the years with vehicles, as people transitioned from sub-compacts and compacts to SUVs. Why settle for a small car when a bigger one can give you more length, more width and more seats? Of course, people often forget about the downside of “bigger”, which means higher cost and lower gas mileage.

The same phenomena that has swept through the automobile industry has been seen in american dynamics, video security, tyco security productselectronics with people wanting higher resolution TVs, computers with more processing power and phones with better, faster connections.

In the security industry, the “bigger is better” mantra is often used in the camera arena with spec sheets touting cameras with 3, 5 and even 8 megapixels. Although the bulk of installed cameras are still in the 2 megapixel range, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the siren song of more megapixels. If 2 megapixels are good, wouldn’t 8 be better?

Although the car dealer wants dearly to sell you that more expensive, more expansive SUV, you’re not likely to make the decision without getting into the vehicle and giving it a test drive. You may find upon driving it that there are trade offs you’re not willing to make, like seeing the gas gauge move quickly into the E position.

Similarly, anyone looking to replace or add cameras to their surveillance system, or integrators looking to expand or update their product line, should test the cameras as well. Relying solely on the specifications provided on a product spec sheet is like buying the SUV by just reading the sticker on the door and never getting behind the wheel. A camera may have looked great on paper, but until you see how it works in real-life situations, it’s hard to be certain.

This is especially difficult because the industry as it stands now doesn’t have standards for specifications, so there could very well be variances among manufacturers. One company’s measurement of low-light performance or Wide Dynamic Range can be vastly different than another’s. Can you really trust the numbers?

Putting a camera through its paces will allow you to see if it is the right one for a specific situation and more importantly, if it lives up to its hype. Many high-resolution cameras offering more than 3 megapixels, are still equipped with lenses that aren’t rated above 3 megapixels. For example, when bubble covers are added over the lens what is the optical performance of the bubble material? Can it transmit the high resolution?

Just as the SUV can be viewed as a gas guzzler vs. its subcompact cousin, high-res cameras can be taxing on bandwidth and storage capacity. Sending more data through the pipeline means using more bandwidth. The tradeoff could be that your current set up can only accommodate a portion of the cameras you had used previously, and that you’ll also need to spend more on networking hardware and storage. Higher resolution cameras do have their place in the overall surveillance system, but the decision point should be determined by the camera’s location and the subject detail needed in the scene.

As much as we all want the latest and greatest, the biggest and the best, the bottom line is that when it comes to investing in new technology, numbers don’t tell the whole story. With today’s high megapixel cameras, it behooves integrators and security personnel to put them through their paces, seeing how they deliver video in different lighting conditions, various weather scenarios, etc. See how a higher resolution camera performs against a 2 or 3 megapixel camera in the same location. Is the higher resolution camera truly delivering a more effective solution and overcoming the associated tradeoffs?

Ultimately, the proof will be found in the video, not on the spec sheet. If you want to ensure that you make an informed and good decision on a product, make sure real-life testing is an integral part of your decision-making process.



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