Since the introduction of megapixel technology more than 8 years ago and its early hype as the replacement for standard 4:3 NTSC/PAL surveillance cameras, its market presence has increased year over year. It has not yet become the anticipated replacement for standard 4:3 cameras, but that might soon be changing. Use of wide screen 16:9 megapixel and HDTV cameras is increasingly becoming a reality in mainstream surveillance systems, and not just as a niche or one-off solution. The why and how they are changing the landscape of video surveillance lies in the benefits in overall cost and image quality.

Cost Benefits

Cost can be one of the biggest impacts in the rapid adoption of megapixel cameras. But how? At first, megapixel cameras were significantly more expensive than standard 4:3 analog or IP cameras. However, over time the purchase cost has come down. This is due to the basics of economies of scale. 

Another area that impacts cost is improvements in the manufacturing process, supply chain and enhancements or replacements to products. An example of this is the recent line of HDTV cameras from Axis Communications. Savings in manufacturing and product development have allowed Axis to significantly reduce the list price of these cameras.

Yet another factor is the total system or solution cost and the somewhat intangible cost of the risk mitigation potential provided by megapixel cameras. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the video solution and its Return on Investment (ROI), either in tangible savings in dollars or in intangible savings in preventing potentially costly security events, has always been part of the adoption equation.

Technical Benefits

Technical benefits exist as well. First, the image quality is cleaner, with more detail and a wider field of view. The image quality is more detailed over standard analog or IP cameras due to the increased image detail. A standard 4:3 analog or IP camera has a maximum of 400,000 pixels, while a megapixel or HDTV camera has at least 1,000,000 pixels. This results in more pixels per foot within the cameras field of view (FOV). Also, most megapixel and all HDTV cameras produce a 16:9 widescreen image. This widescreen image, coupled with the increased pixels, results in reduction of the total number of cameras required to cover a given area. Based on the desired or significant event that is being monitored, a single megapixel camera could replace anywhere from four to 50 standard 4:3 cameras. The ability to use fewer cameras has the side benefit of requiring less network bandwidth and storage, even when considering that a single megapixel camera utilizes more bandwidth and storage than a single standard 4:3 camera. Also, consider the use of video analytics. The cost savings in the licensing of a single video analytic for a megapixel camera is directly proportional to the number of standard 4:3 cameras that it replaces. Consider the impact on the security operations staff monitoring the cameras. By being able to maximize the number of cameras, i.e. screens being monitored, the efficiency and performance of the security staff is increased without increasing the staffing.

Video forensics is also impacted in multiple ways with the use of megapixel cameras. The time required to isolate an incident within the VMS’ storage system is reduced because there are fewer cameras in use and thus less storage records to be searched. The ability of the security staff to accurately identify an incident, item or person is greatly enhanced by megapixel cameras. A clearer picture provides the security staff the information needed to more quickly and accurately identify an object or person.

Most VMS systems have the ability to digitally zoom in or out of the recorded images regardless if the camera is a megapixel or standard 4:3. The increased pixels of a megapixel camera provide an improved digital zoomed image over a standard 4:3 camera. This feature not only aides the security staff in identification and apprehension or prevention, but in documented evidence for potentially increased convictions.

Total Cost and ROI

The impact on the total cost of a video surveillance system is not only in the purchase price, but in the operation and maintenance costs over the life and use of the system. Megapixel cameras reduce the recurring operational costs in direct and indirect ways. Directly, they reduce the labor costs of the security staff as described here. They can also reduce the monthly utility costs of the video system, as fewer cameras mean less electricity, as do fewer network connections mean fewer network switches and reduced electricity. There is also a savings in air-conditioning, as fewer cameras, network switches and disk drives directly translate into less heat generated, and the less heat generated, the less cooling required and an additional savings can be seen in electricity consumption. Add these up and the end result is a lower TCO. The increase in the ROI is the direct result of the reduction in time, to recognize an event, item or person, the improved efficiency of the security staff and the mitigation or reduction of an organization’s risk, either tangible or intangible.