Checking Out the Latest Surveillance Technologies

Demand for video surveillance is poised to intensify with cloud services, Ultra HD, edge devices, wider dynamic ranges and superior compression.

4K Is A-OK With Consumers and Pros
Consumers and professionals alike have come to expect HD-quality images, not only on the family television but also in their company’s video surveillance systems. According to ultrahdtv.com, approximately 75% of all U.S. households have at least one HDTV and 10 million in all are expected to embrace Ultra HD by 2016.

“Full HD [1080p] is widely adopted now in the consumer electronic world and end users find this the minimal spec. 4K is the next broadcast spec that is being driven into the consumer electronic world and it’s likely that at the end of 2015, 4K will be relatively common in people’s homes. Netflix and YouTube both have a growing selection of 4
K movies and videos to watch,” says Johnston. “8K [Quad 4K] is the next step up. It is quite common now in Japan where many are likely to skip 4K and go directly to 8K in the home.”

Although 4K, 8K and Ultra HD are commonly connected within the minds of those who use them, there are some fundamental differences.

“Technically, 4K has a few more pixels in width, similar to how 2K was always slightly wider than full HD, but in common vernacular they are synonyms today. The resulting Ultra HD display is actually four times the resolution of 1080p HDTV or full HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels and has over 8.2 million pixels, or 8.2 megapixels,” says Surfaro.

Adopted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in 2012, Ultra HD is an umbrella term under which two new video data resolutions reside: 4K and 8K Ultra. To give you an idea of full capability of the new Ultra HD standards, Ultra HD supports a minimum resolution of 3840 x 2160 (2160p), where full HD supports a resolution of 1280 x 720 (HD/720p, 1 megapixel) and 1920 x 1080 (HD/1080p, 2 megapixels).

Prior to CEA’s adoption of Ultra HD, this high-resolution format was commonly known as Super Hi-Vision, which was previously developed and used in Japan by the Japanese Public Broadcasting Network (NHK). Ultra HD continues to center on an aspect ratio of 16:9, just as full HD 1080p, thus complying with the ANSI broadcasting standard for the reproduction of color images ― which includes resolution and frame rate.

The advantage of using 4K Ultra at the camera is it assures there’s a tremendous amount of detail (pixels) in each image. With all this detail, we’re able to obtain a wide-angle overview of the scene while more easily and quickly identifying individuals, license plates, and perform other detailed activities such as behavioral analysis. All this can be accomplished with the use of a single 4K Ultra image.

Using the right software, we also can divide/assign multiple portions of a single 4K Ultra video image into multiple video feeds (frame views) on a huge Ultra HD display or perhaps many individual monitors. In addition, any one of these views can be assigned any level of magnification using electronic zoom. Ultra HD assures that the finest of details are available at nearly any level so we can further drill down into an image.

Ultra HD, however, has its downside by way of an increased need for bandwidth, throughput, larger displays, and a larger pipe through which to send video data. All of these cost the campus more money.

“4K and 8K provide more scene. Pixel density has increased the IP video transport and payload on networks, which requires bigger pipes, broader bandwidth, more switches, and naturally greater storage requirements,” says Ceresato. “More pixels requires heavier decoding – meaning that some computers and workstations could be limited in the number of scenes of views they can actually display.”

All of these factors lead to a need for graphic card acceleration as well as more processing power. In addition, the need for greater amounts of data storage brings us to a general need for more data throughput – all of which equates to a significant increase in monetary investment in infrastructure.

Surveillance technology 2

Cloud-based video surveillance allows clients to access stored images offsite anywhere via the internet. It reduces upfront costs associated with other means of data storage.

Taking Surveillance to the Edge
Living on the edge takes on a new meaning in terms of network technology. In traditional camera systems, video processing, storage, display and distribution are handled from a central point, commonly called the head-end. In a video surveillance system, using modern network technology, that is not always the case. In today’s video surveillance systems, those that make use of IP technology now commonly place camera intelligence, data storage, display and other capabilities at the edges of the network, not always at the head-end.

Moving intelligence to the edge allows the system to better determine priorities based on need while moving video data and event information when and where needed in a more cost-effective manner, as from a bandwidth point of view. A good example is the need to move specific images and data after an event has taken place.

“Popular targets or destinations would be a conventional PC server, Oracle NoSQL database, NAS box, Amazon EC3 cloud storage, etc. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter what or where it is, but what does matter is how big is the data you’re trying to move around, and to make smart choices about bandwidth management,” says Johnston. “The key is that it shouldn’t be constrained to a single repository or a single function and all the devices need to work together to ensure that everything is taken care of, and no single entity fails or is a point of failure.” 

The network administrator can program the system to move important images/data to the head-end or specific workstations later in the day when demand for bandwidth is at a minimum. These video images and event data also can be stored and maintained at the network’s edge for review at a later time while enabling the download of important video data to the cloud for long-term storage and on-demand utilization. Such a download can occur at off-peak times when the network is largely idle.

Placing devices at the edge also produces greater operating reliability and redundancy because it uses a distributed architecture. Using this format, the failure of a single device will not affect the entire video surveillance system. The failure of the hard drive or flash media contained in an edge camera, for example, only affects one camera, not all of the cameras in the system. Compare that to a network-connected DVR or NAS where such a failure would likely affect storage across the entire system.

Bright Prospects for Low-Light Needs
Campus security technology professionals know all too well the challenges they face when installing video cameras in low- to no-light environments for after-dark use, especially where personal identification and license plate capture are involved. Just as challenging are those situations where this same camera is exposed to excessive levels of bright light as during daylight use. In either case, the camera involved will not produce reliable, usable images.
In order to overcome the low-light issue, a dedicated black/white camera or day/night camera can be used. In both cases, after dark the camera operates without an infrared (IR) cut filter, which enables it to use every ounce of available light, from streetlights to starlight.

In the case of the day/night camera, during the day the unit simply switches from black/white to color, which means the IR cut filter is reinstated, thus reducing the negative effects of bright light. In most cameras, however, this may not be enough. Traditional imagers do not always meet the client’s need in both low and bright light, including vehicle headlights.

A typical 2.1-megapixel (MP) day/night camera with a price tag in excess of $1,000 offers a low-light sensitivity of only 0.02 lux in night mode. Another 1.1MP day/night camera offers a light sensitivity rating of only 0.001 lux in night mode. Neither of these cameras will adequately cover both the low- and bright-light situations that many campuses will encounter.

Recently, a new type of video imager was released to the market that offers a low-light sensitivity specification of 0.00001 lux. The same chip set also provides a better wide dynamic range for a much improved outcome in bright light situations, such as daytime viewing and license plate capture after dark.

Another way to combat low-light camera needs is by using IR illuminators, either built into th
e camera or as a separate add-on system. IR illuminators provide invisible light, bouncing it off of a target so the video imager in the camera can better see.

AL COLOMBO is a long-time trade journalist and copywriter in the electronic security market. This article originally appeared in CS sister publication Security Sales & Integration.

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