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.

 

Day Night Camera | Protecting Assets & Investments 24/7

day night cameraIt seems like surveillance cameras are everywhere we look these days. They are in the public park, at the mall, in the grocery store parking lot, and outside our office buildings. The presence of cameras has become more acceptable in our society, with many people recognizing the value and safety they bring.

Of course, the first thing many people think of when they hear the words surveillance cameras is that they exist as tools to protect people from the bad guy. While that is one of the most important benefits security provides, it is not the complete picture. For many businesses and municipalities the use of surveillance cameras has evolved to extend beyond personal safety to also include the protection of property and assets.

This transition has become necessary in recent years as companies and government agencies alike are faced with tighter budgets and the need to protect current investments in people and infrastructure. A perfect example of this is the County of Maui, Hawaii and their desire to not only safeguard its citizens and employees, but in particular the county’s million-dollar fleet of vehicles, from police cruisers to maintenance vehicles to vehicles driven by its building inspectors.

Originally, the county implemented a surveillance system to protect its critical infrastructure, including Five County Administration Buildings and the Water Department facilities. Later it expanded the surveillance program to reach other areas of the county, such as outside vehicle parking lots and the exterior of facilities housing maintenance equipment. The County turned to surveillance cameras to monitor their property and assets to be able to clearly identify anyone caught on video stealing a vehicle, tires or syphoning gas, which has happened in the past.

Without a doubt, protecting vehicles in a parking lot can be one of the most challenging tasks at hand in the security industry. Not only does the surveillance system being used need to reliably function in the bright sunlight, but it also needs offer superior low-light performance for the nighttime or highly cloudy days.

The market has seen the further development of IP-based day night cameras in recent years as security manufacturers have leveraged sensor, encoding, and processing power from the automotive and other industries. The result is the introduction of cameras that provide consistent image quality in a variety of outdoor environments for continuous 24/7 surveillance.

For the County of Maui, a careful review process and trial run of multiple surveillance cameras led them to select the Illustra 610 day night camera from American Dynamics. In the end, it came down to finding a solution that offered a reliable, low-light performance at an effective price.  

As end users extend the use of their surveillance cameras from beyond protecting people to protecting property, IP day night cameras are becoming a fiscally responsible solution of choice. 

Read more about the County of Maui’s deployment of IP day night cameras in the government solutions area of the Tyco Security Products website.

 

What other applications are you using a day night camera for within your environment? 

Security: There is an app for that

mobile security appsIf there is a smart phone in your pocket, purse or briefcase, then chances are you are also someone who has downloaded an app—or 10 or 20, or probably even more.

As mobile networks have advanced since their inception in the 1980s, so too have the capabilities of the devices we use. It’s pretty much standard practice today to have a built-in camera, GPS capability and voice activation in our smart phones. Apple, creators of the iPhone, offers more than 650,000 apps, which have been downloaded more than 30 billion times. And Android, the other leader in this field, is close behind.

In the security world, creating apps to go with the smart phones that travel with us wherever we go helps to extend the capabilities of existing security products, whether it’s a video management system or the software tied to an access control product. But the key goal in creating these apps isn’t to replicate what security professionals or even homeowners are doing on their desktops, but rather apps should be about creating a value-added user experience.

In some instances, that may mean using these apps, developed with security in mind, for non-security purposes. A retailer, for instance, who already has security cameras in place and is able to monitor them via a smart phone app, could also use this same video for monitoring inventory as it moves in and out of the stockroom, or for evaluating staffing levels at certain times of the day. Manufacturers could use those same security-developed apps for supervising product flow in the factory, or movement of those items within the warehouse.

Of course, anytime security is involved, there is a concern about protecting the information. Fortunately, those who are developing apps for the security field are ensuring that the proper authentication processes are in place.

So where are we likely to see the app world heading in the next few years, especially when it comes to security? Consider the concept of near field communications (NFC) —a standard whereby smart phones in close proximity can carry out transactions or exchange data. Developers are also exploring the use of a single app to bring multiple, independent systems together on a single platform, such as connecting video monitoring, event management and access control. This is an example of a great value-added for the end user, which is what apps should be all about.

 

What non security related tasks are you performing with a security-developed app? Leave us a comment below with your examples.

 

Considerations for Video Analytics in Retail

There was a time, just a few years ago, when many people thought video analytics for the retail market would give them all the information they could possibly need by simply plugging in a camera and pressing record. The promises did not live up to the hype and video analytics never saw the rapid adoption by the retail market that was anticipated at the time. Today, however, expectations have been reset and video analytics systems have become more sophisticated and technologically advanced. Though it is still not a plug-and-play world, video analytics can significantly empower retailers when they invest in the proper video infrastructure and take the time to understand how they want use the analytics.

Video Analytics RetailThe biggest key to success is being able to pinpoint exactly what you are looking for out of a video analytics program. This is particularly important because different applications call for different equipment, setup, and data. For example, if the loss prevention department is interested in employee theft or fictitious transactions at the registers, cameras should be placed with a clear line of sight to the register. On the other hand, if management wants to analyze the behavior of how long people are standing in the queue and which end cap displays are most effective; a wide-angle lens covering a larger field of view may be more cost-effective.

Loss prevention and sales/merchandising are the two main applications for video analytics in retail. With loss prevention applications, retailers must define their requirements as specifically as possible; for example, whether they are attempting to eliminate shrinkage from internal theft, external theft, or both. They should also decide if there are specific behaviors, such as loitering, that store personnel want notifications about; or if management is looking to understand transaction inaccuracies in specific cash registers. This isn’t a loss prevention application

Since a video analytics system is set up to collect a lot of data, a natural inclination for retailers is to use some of that data to understand their customers’ behavior. The biggest challenges for retailers with merchandising applications are determining the specific scenarios they want data for, as well as in what form they want the data. Who will be using the data is just as important as what data they want to see.

For example, does the marketing department want quarterly reports of the effectiveness of promotional events or end caps? In this case, they most likely do not want to see video clips, but rather reports from the clips that tell them how often customers visited the end caps compared with the transactional sales of those items during the specific period.

One final consideration for choosing the right video analytics program is to make sure the supplier and installing company have longevity and experience in these complex programs and will be able to support  the needs of the organization. Video analytics companies are in large supply, but not all of them may be around in another five years. Therefore, taking the time to find a supplier that meets the organization’s needs and will be available for a long-term partnership is the final piece of the analytics pie.

Let us know how you are using video analytics in your retail establishment (or want to) by leaving a comment below.

 

Video Management Software: Sized to fit

skechers logoThere are many factors that can make a security project particularly challenging—the size, the timeline, the special needs of the client, just to name a few. When lifestyle and fitness shoe giant Skechers unveiled plans for its new 1.8-million-square-foot distribution warehouse in Rancho Belago, Calif., size was certainly an issue to be dealt with. The new facility was replacing five smaller, existing warehouses and was being built with long-term usage and future expansion in mind.

But the distribution warehouse also bears the designation as a foreign trade zone (FTZ), and that in and of itself required some creative planning from a security standpoint. Without a doubt, operating as a foreign trade zone requires additional security functionality since it is subject to U.S. Customs Service supervision and security requirements. Product in an FTZ requires continuous tracking as it comes and goes, for the purpose of determining delayed or reduced duty payments, as well as for logistical and tax benefits.

With so much activity both inside and outside the warehouse requiring the supervision of security staff, Skechers’ loss prevention team needed a solution that  provided an intuitive, user friendly interface along with the ability to instantly replay recorded video in the event of an incident.

Greg Drivas, Director of Loss Prevention for Skechers USA, and his integrator, Select Systems Technology, selected the American Dynamics’ victor video management system as the backbone of the distribution center’s digital video recording solution. Through victor, Drivas and his staff can view, manage and control recorded video from the five VideoEdge network video recorders that capture video from more than 100 cameras both inside and outside of the facility. victor is also tied in with the building’s access control system, so if someone exits through the wrong door, a video of the mishap is instantly brought up on the screen.

Employing a highly responsive, highly functional video management software platform, at the level victor provides, keeps Skechers in synch with its Compliance Department to meet specific foreign trade zone security requirements. But it also has provided side benefits by allowing Skechers’ management to tap into the video for internal studies on productivity and product movement.

Video management has proven to be a powerful tool to help handle large volumes of live, streaming video. At the same time, it’s imperative for a video management system to still be easy enough to use for even the least technical security officer to set up views and archive video.

Security practitioners have recognized the many security and operational benefits made possible by video management systems. Regardless of whether the project is large-scale, such as Skechers’ 1.8-million square foot facility, or a local grocery store with a handful of cameras, today’s video management systems provide end users with scalable, customizable solutions that are easy to use and can meet current as well as future needs.

Find out more about how Skechers secured its massive new distribution facility and derived operational benefits out of its video surveillance system by reading the complete Sketchers case study.

What features of a VMS do you find most useful, let us know in the comments section below.

 

Security Basics: Making the most of the security you have

Security basics checklistAs security professionals, our goal is to make sure our clients are up-to-date on not only the latest technology, but also have the tools to understand what supporting systems they can use to make everything work.

In a recent webinar, “The key security features you aren’t using but should be to keep your business safe and secure,” Steve Lewis, senior product manager for Software House, focused on getting back to basics, taking participants through the various best practices for making sure safety and security are at their highest levels and operating properly.

If you’re interested in reviewing some security basics, especially in the context of our evolving world and changing security threats, watch Steve’s archived webinar.

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What underutilized security task do you perform that others may overlook? Let us know in the comments area.