Last month in this column I had the opportunity to talk about “smart” surveillance and how under this umbrella of smartness, video surveillance is evolving from a reactive to a proactive practice that can process and identify suspicious behavior and objects as well as intelligently alert proper authorities to people and events, which require an active response.

As an extension of that column, I’d like to talk about another definition of “smart” technology. I am referring, of course, to clever and sometimes even brilliant security and surveillance products that fulfill the market’s need for multiple-purposed functionality on a single device, which is another ripple effect of digital technology. But to get to this point, let’s take a step back and look at how these product innovations have evolved.

In A Word, Convergence

In a word, it’s convergence (which has distinctly different meanings for security and IT management). Or maybe the word is unification. Whatever your choice, digital technology has made possible the convergence of the various sub-sets of security and surveillance technology and along with it has come the development of products and concepts that integrate multiple functions into a single entity. From the earliest examples such as cameras with built-in motion detection capability, to the most recent and sophisticated software and hardware-based integrated system examples (i.e. systems that can be programmed to link processes within an application and if an event occurs matching a set of pre-defined circumstances, the system will archive the transaction data along with the multiple video feeds for each event as well as sending an alert), convergence seems to have generated a trend for the development of more thoughtful and smarter products.

Video management and control is a flourishing area of new products and concepts that provide added convenience and efficiency to a security system, while also reducing implementation and operational costs. In particular, the “push” technology found in many of these systems is a very clever piece of engineering. Based on parameters established by the user, video of events or incidents is pushed to the operators’ monitoring stations or remote locations where the live action is immediately brought to the attention of the operator. Benefits of the technology include faster action and follow up, the potential for reduced operational costs and improved situational awareness.

Also on the radar is the server-based recording/archiving technology, which allows parallel processing of several streams of video. Archive servers using RAID storage often support this technology, and these systems can accommodate large amounts of data including video, audio, alarm, POS and HVAC. Their effectiveness is proven in several ways, including the capability to retrieve data immediately after insertion and even prior to the completion of the insertion.

Similarly, NVRs (network video recorders) are fully featured and include integrated functions such as motion detection and filtered search; digital zoom on live or recorded video; alarm and synchronized audio and video. And DVRs (digital video recorders) don’t lag far behind with built-in features such as multiplexers, USB flash disks, USB hard disks, and USB CD-RW and DVD-RW for archiving and backup as well as video management software, remote configuration of settings and PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) positioning and monitoring. Improved understanding of IP-based surveillance and security has also helped to ensure that recorders and storage devices meet the demands for data integrity and smooth video streaming.

The Gadgets are Getting Smarter

Several hardware-only appliances that are also comprised of integrated functions and cameras are probably one of the most unified function product examples of all. Just from our Web site listing of manufacturer partners, we can select from cameras that have built-in hard disk drives; pan/tilt/zoom, day/night and weatherproof capabilities; scene change detection; auto tracking; network interfaces, SD memory card slots for backup recording, high speed dome cameras complete with auto tracking and motion detection, to name only a few. These embedded features are more commonly known as IVS (intelligent video surveillance) and are a direct result of digital technology. Their main advantage is that by analyzing images at the camera before they are compressed, server workload at the backend can be significantly reduced, false alarms can be minimized and the backend can theoretically accommodate more cameras.

A brief mention of image quality is also required when discussing any type of smart video surveillance technology. At the very least, higher quality video from DSP (digital signal processing) and WDR (wide dynamic range) technology results in better compression quality, which in turn means less storage and bandwidth requirements for video transmission at given quality levels. As well, higher quality video delivers more accurate analytic results.

Integrated functionality is additionally found in access control products where the management of who goes where and when can readily be enhanced by adding application-related features. Examples include biometric recognition technology such as fingerprint or iris recognition systems, which supplement traditional card systems as well as intercom functions and video doorphones. These latter devices allow direct communication with visitors in addition to the primary function of access control, or during a heightened security alert, regular access control can be suspended and/or supplemented with visual verification.