Long before computers and the digital era, video played an important role in security and surveillance. There were CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) cameras connected by coaxial cables to a desk or room full of television monitors, and possibly also to one or more VCRs, whose tapes had to be changed — or (to the frequent dismay of the cops on television shows) reused several times a day.
Over the past decade, however, digital video, a.k.a. IP (as in Internet Protocol) video, has been replacing traditional analog CCTV for security and surveillance tasks — and also creating new security/surveillance markets and applications, thanks to constantly improving product price/performance, new features. It is seeing greater understanding and acceptance by integrators, installers and facility security managers.
Grade schools and higher education institutions alike are among the many institutions that increasingly rely on digital cameras to ensure the safety of their facilities.
For example, Cisco reports its IP video products are used by places like Amtrak’s maintenance yards in California, Elon University and the Joliet, Illinois police department. Surveillance reseller Security Management Systems, Inc. has provided video security solutions for corporations and healthcare organizations including Time-Warner, Pfizer, Memorial Sloane-Kettering and the Empire State Building.
In addition to classic security monitoring, video surveillance can be used to help make weather-based decisions, like “Call the snow-plowing company? Or decide to close the school, office, etc.?”
Other areas where digital video is replacing analog CCTV include where organizations need more detail, like seeing faces or license plates, matching faces with clothing — perfect for parking lots, banks, hospitals, stores and elsewhere.
Finally, as IP video products improve price/performance and add new features, there’s more reason than ever for organizations of all types and sizes to consider them.
Despite some basic technological differences, analog CCTV and IP Video have the same basic components:
- Monitoring, control and storage.
Deploying Digital Cameras for Surveillance and Security
Cameras for use in security/surveillance are either fixed, or PTZ — remotely controllable Pan/Tilt (changing the viewing direction) and Zoom. In today’s digital cameras, PTZ may be either physical, or, given a wide-enough-angle lens, virtual, selecting the view area from the image similar to how pocket cameras do “digital zoom.” Physical PTZ can cost more and require more power, but can sustain better image quality as you zoom in.
Security/surveillance cameras come in a range of prices and capabilities, from simple indoor fixed-view ones to PTZ cameras with enclosures, suitable for use in a range of environmental/weather conditions including freezing temperatures, rain, wind, dirt, snow and ice.
“‘Dome’ cameras are dominant in any customer-facing location where aesthetics is important, like hospitals, offices or stores,” says Vance Kozik, director of Product Marketing, IP Surveillance, D-Link. On the other hand, “‘Box cameras’ — the rectangular shapes that people usually think of — can make it easier to change to a different lens than what came with the camera. And ‘cube cameras’ — which are really less-deep rectangles — are popular in the consumer space.”
The Network: Fewer, Shorter Wires
Instead of requiring a dedicated coax cable “run” for each CCTV camera running to the monitoring location (the “star” topology), digital IP cameras can share the same data network that data and digitized voice are running on. Even if a separate physical network is used, the cameras can still share a common backbone. Either way, the cameras simply connect to the nearest part of the LAN, like a string of Christmas tree lights.
Where a CCTV camera needs several cables — one each for video, and, if appropriate, audio and control — a digital camera needs only one cable for the data.
With regards to power, depending on their requirements, digital cameras can take their power through the LAN cabling, if your company is using 802.2a (Power over Ethernet). This avoids the cost of electricians, and also avoids concerns of running standard wall-current electrical power wiring; for example, making it easier and safer to deploy cameras outdoors.
In addition, many digital cameras can also use or even include 802.11 wireless LAN capability for small enough environments. “We never recommend wireless in larger installs; e.g., 30 cameras aren’t feasible,” says D-Link’s Kozik.
Monitoring, Control and Storage
IP video can be watched on the same computers and displays that are being used to do computer activity.
You’ll need software, but that isn’t necessarily an additional expense. D-Link, for example, offers its free D-ViewCam Video Management Software, which can centrally manage up to 32 IP cameras. Axis Communications and other vendors also have free video management software for installations with 12 or fewer cameras.
The video streams can be saved to hard drive-based storage like any other digital data, making it easier to manage and access than videotapes.
The Benefits of Digital Instead of Analog
“Analog video is drop-dead simple to install and operate,” acknowledges D-Link’s Kozik. “And it’s fairly low cost. On a camera to camera basis, IP video will never compete just on price.”
Pricing for commercial-oriented digital cameras ranges from $300 to $3,000. The most commonly used ones are in the $300 to $1,000 range, according to Kozik.
However, states Kozik, “The simplicity and pricing of IP keeps getting better.”
There are other factors to consider other than the price to buy and install. Vendors say using digital technology means that IP video gear can do a lot that analog couldn’t (or not easily and affordably), including:
- Image quality and higher resolution, for more usable video. “The advent of 720 and 1080p HD in security cameras has revolutionized the industry,” says James Marcella, director of Technical Services, Axis Communications.
- Resolution is higher. “Analog is based on the NTSC format, with maximum resolution of 720×480,” says D-Link’s Kozik. “With IP, you can go beyond analog video resolution — now, to 720 or 1080p Hi-Def and multimegapixel resolution. From example, 3 megapixels is nine times that of the best analog or VGA camera, and even the lowest HD camera has at least a 1 megapixel sensor. If you switched from analog to IP video cameras without getting more resolution, you wouldn’t see all the benefits.”
- The system can send, save only when the image changes, or act when a sensor is triggered (by smoke, humidity, motion, etc.). These are all factors that reduce bandwidth and storage requirements.
- Processing power in the camera. “Analytics like motion detectors let you scale out digital cameras further — have more cameras — because the camera rather than the recording device is now the workhorse.
- Local storage and action. “Almost all our cameras let you put an SD or MicroSD card in, for standalone use or as backup for capture in case there’s a problem with the network or the central system,” notes D-Link’s Kozik.
- Remote access/viewing, including from smartphones and tablets. Not only by IT/security staff, but also (with permission) police and first responders.
- Integrate with environmental monitoring (smoke, humidity, etc.).
- Initiating email or other messaging. Many cameras can be configured to issue an email or SMS (text message) alert when they detect an event.