With all the buzz about networking, there still seems to be a great deal of discussion on where, when and why networked systems are most effective. Although opinions differ on the specifics, there’s one point most industry professionals seem to agree on: IP-based video surveillance and security systems are an investment in value and versatility.

By their inherent nature, IP systems deliver the ability to be highly customized in so many ways and at so many different levels of application. But there are shortcomings depending on the size and complexity of the IP system configuration you need to deploy. The problem is that many security professionals have misconceptions about what IP and networked systems actually are based on erroneous terminology and marketing information that has been floating around for years.

The Misconceptions

The most common misconception is that digital video surveillance systems are in fact IP or IP-ready. With a true IP-based system, every device is connected to a network and has an individual IP address. Only network cameras are deployed and users can monitor live or recorded video, audio and data over the Internet or across private data networks such as a LAN or WAN. Additionally, data (video, audio, data) can be stored and retrieved anywhere on the network and the compressed video can be carried anywhere that the IP network extends.

Alternatively, digital video surveillance systems can also record the video in a digital format, either directly from the camera or as an output from an analog matrix switcher, which digitizes the video at the recorder or encoder/codec level. Encoding devices are usually employed for such hybrid systems to convert signals to and from digital and analog format for transmission, processing and recording at the appropriate junctures. Using an NVR produces an IP-based system, but only on the recording side and the viewing side, while using a DVR usually only utilizes the network for viewing.

So what exactly does it mean to say that IP-based video surveillance is an investment in value and versatility? It means the payback can be qualified and measured in terms of worth and benefits. More specifically, these advantages can be attributed to one of three key areas, namely quality/performance, cost and functionality.

Quality and Performance

Quality in an IP-based system can be addressed in terms of both product quality and performance of the overall security solution. Digital imaging and recording devices are not bound by confining standards such as NTSC and the images, storage and analytic properties are far superior to anything available in analog. Digital images can be replayed ad infinitum without any quality loss. And because the video data is digital to begin with, there is no need for conversions and the subsequent quality loss, which is particularly important in deployments with megapixel cameras, as it allows the user to get the full quality from their investment. Additionally, the quality of the overall security system is enhanced with IP because it enables centralized and cost-effective management.

Wide area surveillance is enabled by IP functionality in applications such as townships, allowing multiple sites such as schools, libraries, etc. to tie together on a single recording platform. Users can go to any device on the network; for example, they can call up and control individual cameras from anywhere on the network with fewer limitations and/or steps.

Data mining uses advanced analytics to allow the user to use video for more than just security, making an IP system more of a business tool. Management can be provided with information relating to traffic and workforce management, plus tools for human resources to use in optimizing the investment in the workforce. Other systems like point-of-sale (POS) and biometrics can be integrated into the analytics for a more detailed analysis of ROI in every operating unit.

The performance issue is far more complex, specifically when video is a primary component of your security solution. Systems designers need to walk a fine line balancing available bandwidth and compression to achieve acceptable results. The more devices, the more bandwidth, the greater compression – the lower quality video images. There are several viable means of tackling this, but it depends on so many factors and is best to consult with a systems integration specialist with IP experience – or else you may find yourself with an IP system that does not meet your security objectives.

Cost Considerations

Cost is almost always a significant and determining factor in selecting a system and IP-based video surveillance systems offer many features that can help keep costs reasonable. For instance, edge devices can be placed anywhere on the system and negate the need for a central control room. And by using an integrated operating platform, related security sub-systems including access control, fire and life safety systems, POS systems, etc., can be tied together for a more cohesively controlled system. Additionally, a best of breed approach to designing the system can be taken, which often improves the quality of the system and, in many instances, can actually help reduce the cost.

Additionally, cameras in an IP-based video surveillance system can be powered over Ethernet (PoE). Adding or relocating edge devices such as cameras or a recorder is a simple and less costly procedure and other updates and add-ons are easily available through software packages. Reduced costs on service and maintenance are also a usual side benefit.

Installation costs are reduced with an IP system as the integrator can pull one backbone of Cat-5 or Cat-6 cable through the entire complex, whereas in the past individual system users had to pull their own cable. In addition, there is a savings since it is possible to find any device on the network, taking programming and addressing time out of installation.

Network infrastructure is another issue. It is possible to utilize existing network infrastructure, or even share network bandwidth with conventional IT applications, but it is not recommended. IT networks are usually not the most reliable given the number of clients and users they host – one virus attack and down goes your video. If cost is a driver, you may want to weigh the risk and take it.

But if security is your primary objective, a dedicated network is the way to go for security applications. The size and bandwidth of the network will determine the required investment, but in instances where multiple cameras need to be viewed and/or recorded continuously in real-time, you may have no other option.

Analytics can help reduce network requirements by only activating specific transmission and recording schemes when required, but this may also require control systems software that is overkill for your application. Somewhere, there’s a balance that’s right for your specific needs. Finding it is the trick. Once again, it’s best to call a design professional with IP experience who can walk you through various options.


While it may turn out that a full IP system may not be right for every application, they are quickly becoming a solution that should be considered and discussed with your integrator at the outset. Although IP-based video surveillance systems won’t do everything you want them to do (today at least) – their functionality far outweighs most perceived negatives. Actionable and event-driven intelligence derived from video surveillance images is one of the most far-reaching benefits.

Video analytics allows security personnel to monitor and detect situations more effectively and affordably, respond faster to emergency situations and more comprehensively investigate and analyze situations after the fact. Whether it’s automated alert settings or integrated sub-systems, these and other intelligent analytics can vastly improve the overall performance and efficiency of your security solution.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, networked video surveillance and security systems are scalable so they can continue to grow and evolve as needs change. This is perhaps one of the most compelling reasons why IP based networked security solutions are so attractive. They effectively lower total cost of ownership for security hardware and are long-term assets – and that alone justifies the price of admission. It’s just a matter of when you plan to hop on the ride.