Industry News
Video Surveillance: Big Brother or Big Benefits?
  Date:2010-5-14   Browse: 1774
Partially due to 9/11 and the continuing ‘war on terrorism’ surveillance video clips on the news, reality police shows and the introduction of low-end consumer surveillance ‘kits’ awareness is growing. We are also far more paranoid today than in the past and we’re all getting tired of being victims. The applications of video surveillance are expanding as people and business wake up to the realities of theft, fraud, violence and other unfavorable situations. But as some believe surveillance to be the ‘hot’ application, innovation is not moving as fast as it needs to, and price erosion is taking place too quickly.
Video surveillance is becoming an acceptable solution and the technologies are advancing to enable a broad range of uses.  Many countries are way ahead of the U.S. in terms of video surveillance installations, however, that may change.  Now with the increase in terrorist threat as well as recognized border and port security deficiencies, the U.S. is significantly interested in increasing the use of video surveillance and related technologies.  Ultimately the age-old ‘big brother’ phobia will be stomped out due to the realities of crime reaching further into our own businesses and homes.  The effects of a global society have and will continue to increase our daily use of video surveillance as a means of protecting ourselves.
What we see now is an increase in installations and upgrades from VCR to digital systems across the board regardless of industry.  However, there are some surprising situations which have, and will, probably continue to inhibit installations to some degree.  For instance, labor organizations continue to fight against monitoring workers for any reason, even if by accident.  Aside from such restrictions, most people are simply interested utilizing the technology for the purpose of capturing theft, vandalism, threat and assault while also monitoring safety and employee productivity.  Among other things, more businesses are waking up to the realities of fraudulent insurance claims and employee rules compliance.  Some popular applications have and continue to include: Commercial buildings, industrial facilities, manufacturing, banks, small/medium business, government facilities, sheriffs departments, stop signals, mass transit, sea ports and borders, airports, hangers, water supply, waste recycle, call centers, control rooms, resorts, hotels, motels, shopping malls, jewelry stores, franchised stores, grocery stores, food distribution, growers & packing companies, liquor stores, truck stops, gas stations, auto dealerships, car & equipment rental, fast-food, restaurants, apartments, condominiums, town homes, home owner associations, construction sites, etc.
In these installations, most consist of at least one video surveillance system, most owners or managers require remote ‘Internet’ access, and in commercial and government related applications, access control is often part of a complete solution.
Interestingly, and predictably, as a market, video surveillance will overshadow burglar alarm installations as the obvious benefits of video surveillance outweigh the negative impacts of not having it.  Today, law enforcement agencies are pushing-back on alarm customers and requiring video evidence.  So consumers are realizing they need to budget for CCTV as theft and violence are out of control as seen by the following statistics:
- Every 31.8 minutes one murder
- Every 1.3 minutes one robbery
- Every 14.6 seconds one burglary
- Every 25 seconds one motor vehicle theft
Statistics such as these will vary from place to place.  As more systems are installed, new and unique applications will emerge.  The benefit of more installations is the commitment by manufactures to improve the technologies.  As a result, CCTV cameras and the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) has finally reached useful video quality and DVRs now come in a variety of shapes, sizes and offer a useful array of features making more unique installations possible.  While there will always be other unique application, the most common include: Corporate board room and private video production, personal ‘on body’ safety, animal behavior studies, robotic device visual control, arcade games, vending machines, amusement park rides, aerial and ground survey vehicles (droids, balloons, etc.), strategic and tactical combat weapons, private aircraft hangers, heavy equipment (manufacturing and rental), industrial and commercial marine and harbors. 
Consider that today most installed video surveillance systems are based on the previous decade’s technology that produced low resolution products.  From an amateur photographer’s perspective, which we all are on occasion, the pictures provided by many installed surveillance systems are more closely related to that which you will get from an instamatic camera instead of a single lens reflex camera.  Now some won’t appreciate the comparison, but many will understand the point.  But for both believers and non-believers, a well-placed low-resolution camera with the right lens and lighting will result in a good picture that will stand-up in court.  However, not all cameras are, or can be, placed in the perfect location.  It’s a combination of technology and expertise that will provide the appropriate solution for each environment.
The first objective is to educate and convert those with non-digital low resolution VCRs and cameras to the latest upgradeable digital high-resolution systems.  Namely, the DVR.  It’s not only for improved resolution, but for hardware and software feature expandability.  For those customers who have already implemented digital systems, the question is whether these systems can be upgraded with minimal cost to the current new standard of 720x480 NTSC (and 720x576 PAL).  While not all customers will see a major difference in resolution, the increase from the previous decade’s resolution from 320x480 to 640x480 was a huge increase in quality.  Todays 720x480, also referred to as ‘Full D1’, is a small yet significant increase for both display and recording.
As digital processing performance and quality has improved, recording space and overall system performance requirements have, at a minimum, doubled.  Even better, the good news is that hard drives and other components related to DVRs are basically affordable.
Beyond the perceived benefits of ‘digital’ systems, more sophisticated DVRs offer a growing number of service capabilities to aid in a wider range of deployments.  Some of the now typical applications include remote monitoring.  The non-typical, or unique, applications include the ability for the DVR to ‘push’ communications and video back to a central monitoring station and even provide distributed authentication, vital statistics monitoring, critical notification, near real-time backup to local or remote network attached storage and more.
The technology used to provide the transport for these communication services from and to the DVR is IP (Internet Protocol) and its related counterparts TCP (transmission control protocol), UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and IP Multicast.  Enabling the basic communications is trivial.  The DVRs NIC (Network Interface Card) is connected to a hub or switch and with the correct IP address anyone on the local area network can attach to the DVR unless otherwise partitioned in a switch.  In most applications, the owner/manager desires to access video from any remote location.  In this case a physical connection is made from the DVRs NIC to a router which plugs into the circuit oriented services supplied by a service provider.  The options for this WAN (Wide Area Network) connection will typically include xDSL, ISDN, T1/E1 or Frame Relay.  In larger customer networks T3/E3, ATM and circuit-switched technologies may used for IP communications between the DVR and related managing services.  In even larger and more secure network configurations decisions are made with respect to advanced firewall and VPN (Virtual Private Network) configurations, DMZs (Demilitarized Zones), broadcast domains, QoS (Quality of Service) and other factors.
While today’s DVRs are typically capable of IP communications, there are a number of IP-based DVRs, or IDVRs, designed to work specifically with IP cameras.  The deployment of IDVRs has been slow due to the limited number of available features and in some case the requirement of additional custom programming to enable features locked in high-end PTZs, or distributed monitoring and reporting to a central site.  Some manufactures now offer hybrid DVRs enabling both CCTV and IP cameras to work on the same server.  This is an excellent option and allows the migration from older to emerging technologies and leverages a wealth of features available on sophisticated DVRs.
The logical path for video surveillance is not restricted to video cameras, PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom) capabilities and networking.  With the interest in terrorist threat, the convergence of video, data and audio communications is inevitable.  Today access control is commonly deployed along with video surveillance and has come a long way making it possible to correlate more data for a given ‘known’ person and enabling physical I/O (device input/output) actions to take place based on a set of rules.  For example, unlocking a door or activating alarms while monitoring a person’s movement within a building.  The combination of the two technologies can effectively act the same as having a security guard looking over your shoulder.  However, while this solution provides some degree of usefulness, object identification and tracking, radio frequency ID (RFID) ‘active tags’ cellular communications, global position, linkage to input/output device resources, auto discovery and comparative analysis with learning databases will truly propel the usefulness of commercially available surveillance systems. 
The next generation of integrated video surveillance systems will provide the ability to find an object within the frame of a picture, compare it against an existing database of objects, move a PTZ to follow the object then communicate with another PTZ to zoom-in for a frontal picture which is then captured and sent to the local security patrol or police.  At the heart of the next generation system will be an algorithm that looks at changing or unchanging bit-patterns and compares these against an existing learning database that will communicate with other video, audio and data resources.  If ‘active tags’ are placed on objects, tracking is facilitated through a series of short or long-range receivers reporting to a monitoring application.  As time progresses, the details for a particular object in the database will become more accurate and more useful.  This combination of tools will enable a method of finding an object within a live and recorded video frame and assist in automatically classify, identify, verify, track and respond to that object.
The notion of the next generation surveillance system will certainly stir anxiety among the ‘big brother’ phobics, yet the goal of such systems is to make criminals and terrorists accountable for their actions.
Manufactures, distributors and integrators of surveillance and security safety systems have a unique responsibility to provide life saving and life changing solutions to the public.  It’s our own personal conviction and professional dedication that transforms technologies into solutions that work.  While consumers may not be initially interested in the next generation of surveillance, the first step is to implement a robust DVR and cameras supporting high resolution. After that, network connectivity and central monitoring will open the doors to new service possibilities.
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