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.
Video surveillance has quickly risen to the top of a preferred list of security technologies available. Overt cameras act to deter would-be criminals while detecting the presence of people and forensically documenting what they do.
Let’s take a look at some of great innovations currently in play, as well as those yet to come. We’ll discuss the new 4K and 8K Ultra HD standards and look at advances in imaging technology that are creating discernible image resolutions in low to zero lighting. In addition, we’ll cover the placement of intelligence and data storage at the network’s edge and look at some of the incentives for using “cloud” storage and its long-term implications.
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Clearing Up Cloud Conceptions
Of all the advancements in IP video to discuss, probably the most exciting is the cloud, yet it’s still one of the biggest mysteries to most professionals in the security industry.
For the video surveillance client, it allows access to stored images offsite anywhere in the world through the Internet. It also reduces the upfront costs associated with the procurement of DVRs, NVRs, NAS (network-attached storage) devices and other means of data storage.
“Cloud video management is a natural progression for CCTV,” says Mike Davis, president of eLine Technology of Westminster, Colo. “Advancements in technology have made smaller and faster processors; pair this with edge storage devices and you have created a system that is powerful and easy to manage. Build the system to fit your needs. View and manage video through the web. These are the advantages that cloud surveillance offers our customers.”
Today, the consensus among savvy security professionals, like Davis, is that IP video, combined with cloud-based data retention, is where it’s at. The term “cloud” came into use many years ago as a means of identifying an “unknown.” It usually, if not always, pointed to a third-party infrastructure of some kind, the details of which were largely unknown to security professionals. An intimate knowledge of this third-party offering wasn’t always needed. In blueprints and schematic diagrams, a “cloud” is drawn wherever third-party responsibility begins and that of the contractor ends ― usually at the point of demarcation.
There are several types of cloud-based services available and it’s important to understand them. It will assure that the right cloud-based service is selected, thus assuring the best results while minimizing monthly fees.
According to CDW’s 2013 reference guide on cloud computing: “A cloud can be public, whereby many different organizations share computing resources. A cloud can also be private, in which cloud resources are dedicated to a single organization and run either in its datacenter or that of a service provider. A final option is a hybrid cloud, which is a combination of shared and dedicated cloud resources. Increasingly, organizations are exploring hybrid cloud options to enjoy the best of both worlds.”
Progression of Image Compression
Video compression and the standards that go with them are important to campus security professionals for several reasons. First, the development of video compression standards assures interoperability where video data is recorded and later displayed on dissimilar systems. Secondly, an effective, tighter compression algorithm, such as H.264, including the recently-developed H.265, reduces redundant data, thus assuring uniform and rapid transmission over a network connection. And thirdly, better compression ensures that more video data can be stored on hard drives and storage discs than has previously been available.
Since 2003, the industry has experienced great success with the H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) compression algorithm and as the new H.265 looms largely in our future the older H.264 continues to see widespread use among video surveillance equipment manufacturers.
“A very mature technology, AVC [H.264] has been saving bandwidth and storage through the valued integration with software solution providers and their provided video management systems,” says Steve Surfaro, Axis Communications industry liaison. He adds that H.265, also referred to as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), “offers variable blocks that can handle up to 64 x 64 pixels, changing the size according to texture, while the previous generation H.264 standard relied on a macro-block size of a maximum of 16 x 16 pixels. This larger block size allows HEVC to achieve higher compression or higher resolution and improve parallel processing efficiency compared to H.264.”
H.265, which was instituted by the Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG – ITU-T SG16 Q.6), offers a 30-40% reduction in bit rate at the same image resolution as H.264. And yet, as previously mentioned, H.264 continues to receive widespread use.
“The new H.265 is a stronger encoding algorithm that produces less bandwidth for the same video images using H.264. At the same time there are good reasons why H.265 has been slow to take off,” says Erick Ceresato, product marketing manager with Genetec.
The concern is that camera and VMS vendors have not completely adopted H.265 throughout their product lines, so there will be limitations. While the use of H.265 will reduce bandwidth utilization, it also leads to more complex decoding requiring greater CPU/GPU power, which can cause additional expense to update computing hardware, Ceresato says.
“Since most H.264 compression and decompression routines use hardware chips in order to keep up with the high resolutions, it’s very expensive to jump to a new technology,” says Digital Watchdog CTO Ian Johnston. “The expression that comes to mind is, ‘Where there’s a wallet there’s a way.’ Right now there’s just no [financial] incentive for the consumer industry to make the jump to H.265. Cable modems and Internet service providers can keep up using H.264, especially with the content providers literally using trucks to get the mammoth amount of data to the edge.”
As is true in most cases for the video market, advancements often come on the heels of major innovations at the consumer electronics level, such as bigger, faster PCs. The use of H.265 is a given, but the camera industry is probably a year or two away from full implementation.
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.
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