Small Form Factor Cameras and Their Place in Security

As technology evolves, electronic devices are becoming smaller and smaller. From computers to cars, and everything in between, smaller form factors rule the day, and certainly, are paving the way of the future. We can see that mainframe computers have now been replaced by laptops, tablets, PDAs and smart phones.

As a result of advanced technology, data storage has also gotten smaller. This holds true for video surveillance applications as well. As chipsets and circuit boards have shrunk in size and grown in processing power, so too have video surveillance products. Where video cassettes were once used, now small storage disks hold terabytes of video data that reside in video recorders and cameras. In some instances, the video is simply stored in the cloud.

This trend does not stop at the camera level. How users manage video is also changing, thanks to the shrinking size of the technological components. Desktop computers that are used for viewing live and recorded video can be the size of a box of cereal, or a tablet computer can be used to monitor video on the go.

Over the last decade, the video surveillance market has grown by as much as 45% according to some reports. The increasing number of cameras worldwide is due, in part, to the demand for more and better security and, as a result, people have become more accustomed to seeing video cameras all around them.  

small form factor camerasNow that video cameras are so prevalent in our lives, aesthetics is playing a more important role. Businesses and organizations want to have small, discreet cameras that feature the same power and functionality as larger mini-dome, box and bullet cameras. Today, customers needing a camera that will blend in with the existing environment can choose from a variety of compact form factors, such as bullet cameras that are as small as a tube of lipstick. Now that is discreet! Even more sophisticated PTZ cameras are no longer the size of basketballs, but more the size of a half-gallon of milk, with some as tiny as a fast food restaurant hamburger. 

While the concept of 24-hour monitoring is far more accepted in today’s society, people don’t necessarily want to be blatantly reminded that they are being captured on camera while waiting on the street corner, the ATM, the grocery store or relaxing in the park. Likewise, retail and banking businesses must have surveillance installed but want to minimize the feeling of “being watched” for their customers. When it comes to video surveillance cameras, smaller really is the bigger trend!

 

Do you use small form factor cameras for your security? Please leave me a comment below about your experience.

 

The Value of Digital Video Recording Products in the Market Today

Many times, we take our security for granted, breaches in security occur every day, 24/7, spanning everywhere around the world. The majority of recorded surveillance video is rarely viewed until an event occurs. Video recorders are generally a second thought, as they record captured images that provide forensic analysis. It is only when an event, incident, or catastrophe occurs that the power and value of video recording equipment is displayed.

Video surveillance market research firms are predicting a spike in the demand for video surveillance equipment over the next several years as swift apprehension of suspects is attributed to video images capturing suspicious behaviors.

digital video recording dvrAnd even as the security industry is undergoing a transition in technology from analog to IP, digital video recording (DVR) systems continue to see a future for two very simple reasons: Familiarity and Reliability. DVRs have been the prevalent recording platform in the industry for more than a decade. There is a very large base of DVR customers, with end users and integrators alike, well trained on these systems. While the majority of Greenfield applications are installing NVRs, DVRs continue to see growth in several market segments such as education, banking, and hospitality. In some circumstances, end users who want or need to add cameras or replace a failed DVR will continue to invest in the platforms they know and trust, especially if there is no need to move to an IP environment.

DVR systems offer great reliability with some of the same strong features seen in the newer NVRs, including mobile apps that can be used with both new and older versions of DVRs. Having the ability to view video anytime from anywhere is a driving factor for users today.

Ease of installation and universal plug-and-play interoperability with any analog camera is another reason that DVRs continue to maintain their popularity. There are several thousand DVR systems that are in use in almost every market segment. DVRs can interoperate with any vendor’s analog cameras, making the installation and equipment choice relatively straightforward for many users. The experience that the installation force has developed with the DVR platform continues to be a major factor in their continued use.

Over time we will undoubtedly see a transition from DVRs to NVRs. As in many other industries, technological advancements will be a driving factor. But for now, we continue to see applications where DVRs are still the platform of choice for many. How long DVRs will remain viable in the security industry is anybody’s guess. But as long as they continue to provide value to their users, they will continue to have a place in the industry.

 

Do you have a DVR system installed in your organization or company? Please leave me a comment below to discuss its pros and cons over an NVR system. 

Importance of Video Intelligence + Metadata in a Fast Paced World

It seems that the perceived value of video surveillance ebbs and flows based on the events that occur in our everyday lives. Over the past few years, the use of video surveillance has been thrust into the spotlight, bringing praise from law enforcement officials about its effectiveness and raising expectations about the depth of information video can provide.

Beyond the preventive measures the mere presence a surveillance camera can bring, the ability to retrieve information from recorded video quickly is considered one of the most valuable tools in an investigation. And in our society, which expects instant access to information, video surveillance is no exception.

video intelligence metadataImagine former methods of searching for video applied to recent events, where thousands and thousands of frames of video were taken. To find a specific piece of footage searching frame-by-frame-by-frame…well, you can imagine the number of hours that could take. Today’s video intelligence software “watches” every frame of video produced by the camera and records data about each frame of video it’s watching; this is called metadata and it is based on analytics rules predefined by a system administrator. Time, date, motion/linger, direction, etc. are just a few examples of the data that can be stored about each frame.

Consider the following example: A car was allegedly damaged in a parking lot, and now the security supervisor must investigate the incident. The only information known is that the car arrived at 8:00 am and left the lot at 8:00 pm, meaning that 12 hours of recorded video needs to be reviewed. Without the tools offered by modern video systems, such as motion based or video analytics based searches that identify relevant scenes within a few minutes, the hunt for relevant video clips could take hours.

Both motion based or video analytics based searches use this metadata, which guarantees that searches can be performed within seconds. You can compare meta-data in video to a simple Google search, where the system is already creating results as you are typing your keywords into the Google search bar. Because Google uses meta-data about the Internet, search results can be presented in a fraction of a second.

Like Google, this metadata creates a wealth of intelligence that security operators can quickly and easily search and retrieve, obtaining the critical results desired. Combining the speed of state-of-the-art Network Video Recorders (NVRs) and ultra-intuitive user interfaces, this powerful meta-data provides faster, more reliable search results to system operators, and in turn to law enforcement or corporate security looking for answers in the wake of a security event.

Watch this short video covering some of the video analytic features of the victor Management Software for Unified Security and VideoEdge NVR that are critical to event management and especially investigations.

 

Have you seen examples of fast video results making a difference in everyday life? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

  

The New Power Paradigm | Power over Ethernet

Providing power to an access control system has always meant multiple, specialized DC power supplies for controllers and locks, each with their own battery backup requirements. As access control moves towards the edge with small, smart IP controllers at each door, a new option is gaining traction – PoE, or Power over Ethernet.

Power over EthernetBecause PoE provides power and data through a single cable, it is especially suited for new construction, where CAT-5 network cabling can be easily run to each door. While often associated with Voice over IP phones, IP surveillance cameras and wireless access points, PoE is becoming a more commonly accepted method for powering access controllers, readers, and yes, even locks.

As the trend toward intelligent network devices at the edge grows, this lends itself to a higher reliance on PoE. Thus, knowing that this is the way the industry is moving means it’s important to have a good understanding of PoE and how it will work for access control.

Clearly, there are benefits to PoE, not the least of which is that it can save money for most installations by taking advantage of the economical CAT-5 cable. Instead of paying to have power run to each door, integrators can make use of the existing PoE infrastructure, especially in new buildings. Additionally, there can be some savings as installations get away from relying on numerous battery setups, especially for locking systems, and move instead to PoE.

As with any installation, planning is going to be critical. Standard PoE provides 15 watts on each port, so knowing how much power each device uses will dictate your needs. A single door controller, for instance, will work well in a PoE setting, while a controller that provides both card-in and card-out functions, or one that uses biometric readers, is going to require more power.

PoE Plus ups the power ante to 30 watts per port, but some devices may not be rated for PoE Plus so, again, it’s important to have that data in hand when planning the installation.

The next generation of PoE — in the form of PoE Ultrawill be at least 50 to 60 watts, up to possibly 90 watts, thus being able to support more locks and even more powerful readers, ensuring PoE will be a viable option well into the future.

Devising a more efficient installation, while also staying competitive on costs, is driving many integrators and their customers to explore PoE.

Want to learn about the benefits of implementing PoE with Access Control?

Learn the basics of PoE, PoE standards, benefits of PoE, PoE within access control and avoiding the pitfalls, and the future of PoE by watching a recording of my PoE opens new doors webinar.




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Here are just a few testimonials we received after the live webinar concluded:

  • Thanks for a really informative webinar. The information on the Midspan power was really helpful. As a matter of fact, I used that knowledge today to figure the needs for a 16 camera installation we just received.” – Paul Abbott, RCDD | Simplexgrinnell
     
  • I found the webinar was extremely well presented and very informative. Please pass on my thanks to Rick who was my tutor when I got my C•CURE 800/8000 certification.
    – Barry Dawson | Tech Systems, Inc

 

How are you using PoE at your business? Please leave me a comment below.

 

Live Video Monitoring or Recording?

Live Video MonitoringAs IP video continues to gain traction in security, the capabilities of the technology are challenging some established guidelines of when to record video and when to monitor live video. Along with the technology, these standards have evolved to encompass a host of different scenarios, satisfying the diverse needs of end users in a variety of applications – from casinos and hospitals to parking garages and sports stadiums, and more.

There is little argument that the decision to monitor live video vs. record for forensic purposes should be based on the value of the assets being protected. In casinos, for example, the high cash value of potential losses makes it an easy pick for live monitoring, whereas your average commercial office building generally relies on recorded video.

Depending on the specific needs of the application, another important factor to consider is the deployment of video analytics, which can add more sophisticated levels of efficiencies and automation.

As such, many employ video recorded on motion, which reduces bandwidth consumption and the high storage costs associated with storing hundreds of hours of continuous recording each week. In some scenarios, however, this could negatively affect your security operations.

Take this example of a large urban hospital. With about 1,600 cameras all set to record on motion, the video management system was logging in excess of one million events per day. The sheer number of alarms overwhelmed security staff, and became a waste of time to attempt to clear them all, rendering the information useless.

While it’s true that a scene with little activity will produce a very small amount of data, there are a lot of variables to take into consideration. Take the difference between a camera view of an empty asphalt parking lot vs. that same parking lot shaded with many surrounding trees. The empty scene, where changes from frame to frame would be minimal, would typically produce a camera stream of as little as 0.5Mbps. In contrast, moving objects, such as leaves blowing in the wind as in the tree-filled scene, as well as low-light or shadowy conditions even during daylight hours, can have significant ramifications on the use of motion detection, increasing the amount of data streamed to up to 10Mbps.

Lighting is a key consideration when employing video motion detection to save on storage costs. Modern mini-dome cameras, with their own onboard IR illuminators, are typically able to counteract low-light conditions. The additional cost for the IR functionality will be more than compensated by the savings in storage and potential equipment wear and tear that can be a consequence of inadequate lighting.

As in the hospital example, trying to manage and record such a significant flow of information, particularly from high-resolution cameras, can have serious ramifications on equipment health. Triggered by factors such as poor lighting or improperly configured equipment, these large and sporadic rushes of data sent to a recording device, known as thrashing, cause it to repeatedly start and stop writing, which can significantly shorten the hard drive’s life span. Over time, this weakens the recorder’s ability to function properly.

For the hospital, an analysis of the facility’s alarm activity showed the best solution would be a hybrid approach – using motion-based recording on a scheduled basis only during certain times of the day and only on certain cameras.

In areas where analytics are deployed, the same hybrid approach can also apply very successfully. A large sports stadium that sees more than 50,000 people enter its gates within a 12-18 hour window on game day can also be easily overwhelmed with event alarms from the video management system. Simply by identifying on which cameras it was necessary to continuously record as well as monitor and during what time periods, situations of excessive alarm events can be avoided and managed successfully.

Striking that balance between continuous and motion-based recording takes a little more setup on the front end but can save in the long run on hardware wear and tear – and, ultimately, lower your cost of ownership.

 

How are you utilizing your security equipment to lower your cost of ownership? Please leave me a comment below.

 

PTZ in a Megapixel World

PTZ CameraIt was heard in many security related market discussions over the past 3-4 years that the era of the PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom camera) was over.  Megapixel technology would allow the digital zoom and detail in video that would make the mechanical PTZ obsolete. After all, fixed megapixel cameras are a fraction of the cost of mechanical PTZ, often with greater resolution.  And with enough of them covering the viewing scene, these fixed cameras would resolve the main issue with mechanical PTZ, which is when it looks in one direction, it misses the action elsewhere.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the mechanical stalwart of the analog era, along comes the emergence of high-megapixel fisheye cameras that can dewarp the curved view and digitally PTZ around a 360 degree view. Now, with one camera, a security professional can see the entire field of view in real time and in the recorded video.  Wow, how could a higher cost device that can’t look in all directions at once compete with that?

However, as IP camera manufacturers improve their megapixel fixed camera offering, and as they push dewarped fisheye technology to 5 megapixels, so too do they release HD PTZ cameras with longer mechanical zoom and faster rotational speeds. Is it that old habits die hard, or is there a market for these cameras that can’t be served by the fixed newcomer technology?

The answer lies in the evolution of resolution from analog to IP and the actual customer needs.  Mechanical PTZ cameras rose in popularity at a time when analog resolution was too low to meet much of the need. With mechanical zoom, that resolution shortfall was overcome. And that is what many people think of when they imagine megapixel fixed technology overtaking the mechanical. However, there are several uses that the fixed technology has yet to address, and are driving not only the continued use and investment in PTZ, but innovation as well.

For security professionals that engage in active surveillance and need to see the detail of activity at distances greater than roughly 30 feet, the mechanical PTZ still is the weapon of choice. While the recent economic downturn has reduced the investment in active surveillance, it is still a core activity in the gaming and higher end retail verticals. The dewarped 3 and 5 megapixel fisheye cameras can zoom in for evidentiary detail of theft to about 30 feet from a camera (depending on the height). But a 1080p PTZ with 20x mechanical zoom can achieve this at 350 ft.

If one stands in a control room of a casino or retail Loss Prevention station, and watches the officers track, zoom, and move with targets as they investigate in real time, it is evident that while many of the prior uses for PTZ have been consumed by less expensive technology, PTZ is the only tool that can meet the needs of these video power users.

 

Has technology changed your view on PTZ Camera necessity? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

LCD Monitors bring Change: Technology does not stand still

crt monitors lcd monitorsAs we complete the transition from CRT monitors to LCD monitors, we find that, in some cases, there is not an apples to apples comparison between specifications. The technology incorporated between these two architecture platforms is different and some of the specifications between the two platforms are no longer applicable.

To display an image, a CRT monitor redraws the entire screen with a new frame. This is known as the refresh rate specification of a CRT monitor. The higher the refresh rate (in terms of cycles/second or Hz), the more frequent the refresh rate resulting in a higher quality picture. Typical quoted CRT monitor refresh rates are 60 – 120 Hz.

LCD monitors do not display the picture using this technology. They simply change the color of the pixel on the screen as required. This spec is known as the response time of an LCD monitor. A lower response time implies that the pixels can change color state much faster, resulting in a higher quality picture. An LCD monitor does not publish a refresh rate specification, only a response time specification. Typical specified response times for LCD monitors purchased today are 5 ms, whereas they were more than double this when LCD monitors were first introduced.

So which technology is better? One can make arguments for both technologies but, in general, the marketplace has already chosen and LCD monitors are the only monitors that are currently available. Some of the major reasons LCD monitors have displaced CRT monitors are:

  • Use less space
  • More energy efficient
  • Less eye strain due to reduced flicker
  • Higher resolution monitors available
  • More environmentally friendly – “green”

The one application where CRTs may have had an advantage over LCDs is in PC gaming applications. Because of the high speed required with PC games, CRTs may have had an initial advantage in these applications because the response time of the initial LCD monitors was not quick enough. As the LCD technology has progressed to achieve response times of 5 ms or less this disadvantage has all but been eliminated.

You can bet that there will be future enhancements to the LCD monitor technology going forward (increased resolutions, LED backlighting) which will make some of the topics discussed here obsolete. As the title states “Technology does not stand still.”

What changes to monitor technology do you see impacting the security industry? Please leave a comment below.

 

Megapixel Cameras: A lesson in Arithmetic

Few people would disagree that today’s society is hyper-focused on technology. The continuous evolution of mobile devices, and the introduction of higher resolution mobile phone cameras with higher processing power has helped to foster a consumer market accustomed to purchasing a new mobile device every two years.

describe the imageThe security industry is no different. Surveillance cameras are continuously evolving to offer higher megapixel resolution than previously thought possible. In fact, there are currently surveillance cameras on the market today that offer 20 megapixels of resolution, a feat thought impossible only a few years ago.

As a result, systems integrators and end users are often times eager to install and deploy in their facilities the latest and greatest technology now available in the market. They want the best quality video image coupled with several weeks of video storage time.

However, each increase in megapixel resolution, or the addition of surveillance cameras, onto a system directly impacts the network design and configuration and have a direct impact on the recording and storage capabilities. This affects how many days you can keep recorded video, as well as directly influences bandwidth and how fast the data can be written onto a disk.

Because of this, security professionals need to keep a few things in mind when designing a surveillance system that involves megapixel cameras and requires multiple days of video storage.

First, it’s important to weigh the benefits of a higher megapixel camera over the requirements for the server and storage system. A system designed with megapixel cameras can provide the benefits of a surveillance project with fewer cameras overall, because one camera, in some cases, can now do the work of two. The consequences on the storage and server side, however, are also important considerations. As the result of adding higher megapixel technology, the storage solution deployed might not be adequate, requiring more hard disk space, which can dramatically drive up the overall cost of the system.

In addition the number of cameras attached to a server is impacted. Servers are rated at the max bandwidth (data rate) that can be managed. The higher the megapixel, the higher the bandwidth, the fewer cameras that can be connected to a single server thus increasing the number of recorders required. Selecting a recorder with a higher bandwidth capability provides the ability for growth with future megapixel cameras.

Secondly, don’t forget to define the result you are trying to achieve with a higher megapixel camera. It is easy to get caught up in all the excitement surrounding the better picture quality of a higher megapixel camera. If the original project specifications require only a 2-megapixel camera and you are now exploring a 5-megapixel camera, make sure you fully evaluate the reasons you are moving to a higher megapixel camera and weigh the benefits over the cost of the entire system.

An appealing functionality of megapixel cameras is the ability to dynamically allocate the bandwidth in the field of view. Cameras can be set with face detection (not facial recognition – just recognizing it’s a face in the camera field of view) and allocate more bandwidth/resolution to the face area than the walls or the sky. This can help maintain a lower bandwidth out of the camera without compromising on the ability to identify a face.

Designing a surveillance system that involves megapixel cameras becomes a lesson in arithmetic. Recognizing this, the industry has several resources available that enable security professionals to calculate the appropriate storage required based on the megapixels of a camera.

If you are implementing a megapixel based system, check out the American Dynamics NVR Storage Requirement Calculator.

 

What questions do you have regarding Megapixel cameras and storage required? Please leave your question in the comments area below.

 

Making metadata work for you

Imagine walking into a library in search of a particular book, but not having access to a card catalog — actual or virtual — to search for that specific volume.  You could spend hours looking for the manuscript.

But if you have access to a card catalog, you can search by author, title or subject and then, via the Dewey Decimal System tag associated with that book, find it in a matter of minutes.

metadata in security systemsMetadata, which is often defined as data about data, or data about content, is what allows you to find that specific information. The book has been categorized on many levels, from more general author and title information to the number of pages, the publisher and the date it was published.

Video recordings also have the advantage of exploiting metadata. When video is recorded, there is a general file — a video that was recorded at XYZ Corp. That’s the data.  Breaking that down further through the metadata embedded in the image files can help those who are looking to retrieve specific video moments within that larger file.

The video is associated with a text-based database, making it searchable by words such as date, time or activity: Find the “blue car” “exiting” the “parking lot” in the video from “November 8.”

All the information that is part of the metadata can be applied to a video analytics system, making it easier, faster, and more accurate to search existing video or, more importantly, set up the analytics so it can respond proactively.

By specifying certain activities related to the metadata — always show when a vehicle enters the parking lot after business hours, or send an alert when someone opens a fire exit — the user experience is enhanced. No one has to spend time looking at live video, nor do they have to scan through hours of recorded images to find a key incident.

Through the use of metadata, whether employing cameras, DVRs or NVRs, searches are faster than ever as the systems pull from a database of information and can pinpoint the specific event. No longer is there the question of if you have downloaded enough of the video, or if you have missed part of the action.

Just like cataloging in the library, the proper use of metadata in a video surveillance and analytics system will allow easier searching by proper criteria, as well as distinguish dissimilar items and provide accurate location information. And that should give you more time to go to the library and pick up that new best-seller.

 

What are some of the unique things that you search for in your video footage, using your video management system? Let us know by leaving us a comment below.

 

Appliances: A new take on an old term

Whether it’s a washing machine, a food processor or a coffee maker, an appliance is intended to perform a pre-defined task — cleaning clothes, chopping vegetables, making your morning cup of Joe.

AppliancesLikewise, appliances in the high-tech security world are those devices that are dedicated to executing specific operations without being bogged down by dealing with non-essential tasks. After all, you wouldn’t want your washer to also brew the coffee or prepare a smoothie.

Still, in the video management world, the primary option presented to customers is to buy a computer or a server, which can and does perform many functions, and install video management software on it. This computer, which likely uses a Windows operating system, is also churning through all the activities related to running, updating and managing that OS, taking functionality away from its primary focus — video management — and channeling it into other operations. Additionally, it is vulnerable to the myriad viruses and bugs that come with a standard operating system.

But in an appliance-based scenario, there is no external operating system. So while you can’t play Angry Birds or check your Facebook status on your new NVR, you’re also more secure and likely to achieve higher performance levels from this task-focused machine. That can be a boon to the customer who now can invest in fewer NVRs to accomplish the necessary surveillance and recording jobs.

Creating an appliance can be done with new or existing hardware, and neither needs to be the latest model since there are no operating system requirements. Other advantages to going the appliance route is not having to worry about OS upgrades or the burden of becoming an OS-certified technician as the operating system middleman is eliminated. Everything needed to run the system becomes embedded in the off-the-shelf computer/server.

And for the IT department, which is increasingly meshing with the security sector, working with appliances is familiar territory.  They already are comfortable with appliances such as routers and switches, so adding a security appliance to the mix isn’t out of their comfort zone.

We can all imagine the quality that would result from the washer-coffeemaker combo.  For that same reason, using dedicated appliances in the security field is an effective tool to streamlining video management and ensuring that the process is as efficient as possible.

 

Are there other ways you have streamlined your video management processes? Let us know by leaving a comment below.