Hybrid Solutions: IP and Analog Technologies

Cynthia Freschi

I read this week, with great delight, the headlines regarding the latest market research on the IP video surveillance industry. According to the report, published by market research firm RNCOS, the worldwide IP video surveillance market enjoyed a growth rate of 39.6 percent in 2005 and expects to see a similar growth rate for IP surveillance over the next few years.

While the writing has been on the wall for some time now regarding IP based security systems, the question is: Does this forecast also signal the early demise of analog matrix switchers and cameras the same way analog recorders so quickly disappeared from production after the introduction of digital and network video recorders?

History Repeats Itself

There are a few compelling reasons why analog cameras may follow the same path as analog recorders – but first let’s review a few of the advantages of using IP cameras in a video surveillance and security system. First and foremost is the cost savings realized because IP cameras can be installed on, and powered over, existing Category 5 cable with Power over the Ethernet (PoE). No more cables to run or amplifiers to be installed and best of all, in the event of a power outage the cameras can receive back up power from the server to maintain surveillance operations.

Additionally, the higher megapixel resolution available on digital IP cameras lends itself to improved picture quality and image analysis and can take better advantage of the newer VGA and XGA display devices. On-board intelligence such as high speed PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom), image stabilization, motion detection and night/day sensitivity as well as input/output control for alarm management, motion detection, locking devices and license plate number recognition are just some of the highly functional features available only on IP cameras.

Accessibility to the live or recorded images is another significant advantage to an IP camera surveillance system.

Finally, IP camera surveillance systems are typically not locked in to a single vendor solution but rather can be mixed and matched for a best of breed solution.

However, I believe there are still some issues to be worked out in the rest of the system; namely in the control room – specifically the lack of an available digital matrix switcher or a viable software driven replacement for an analog switcher. This switching issue is especially important in large-scale deployments such as casinos or enterprise level installations because it is the weak link in an otherwise digital environment.

Matrix switchers allow monitoring station personnel to switch from one camera feed to another in order to display the scene on a monitor or to program automated, event-driven pop ups of specific camera views. Operators select the desired video feed and specify where the video is to be displayed. For larger installations, a special-purpose keyboard controls which camera video feed is displayed using an RS-232 connection that sends vendor-specific or proprietary commands to the matrix switch. The requested video stream is then delivered to the monitor over a coaxial connection that supports the analog video signal.

The weak link in this scenario is the fact that the matrix switcher is analog and if the camera feeds coming into the matrix switch are digital, they must first be converted to analog and then converted back to digital for transmission to NVRs, storage devices, onto the network or other similar video management oriented operations. Not only does this introduce the possibility of degradation of the video image, but it can also have an impact on frame rate.

While today’s matrix switchers feature tremendous processing power to control thousands of cameras with comprehensive control and set-up capabilities, in reality they are basically advanced computer systems with expandable card cages that determine camera and monitor capacity.

True IP matrix switching devices however, either hardware or software driven, would allow a 100% IP solution and eliminate the limitations of analog switching such as limited input and output, functionality and quality. Additionally, because it’s a network device, an IP matrix switcher would not be confined to installation in the control room but could be located anywhere the network reaches.

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