A Practical Guide to Understanding IP Video
How IP-based video surveillance works is open to interpretation as far as some video surveillance and security companies are concerned — not because they are trying to confuse the issues, but because there is no genuine consensus on what the term “IP-based” or related ones such as “networked” or “web-based” means.
Originally video surveillance was done based on analog technology — closed circuit television (CCTV) and recording on video tapes. This was fine for recording what was going on, but it didn’t broadcast actual live information, so it wasn’t practical for monitoring stores, for instance, from a remote location. It simply provided what happened after the fact. The picture quality wasn’t great and it relied on human reliability as well — someone had to remember to change the tapes regularly, etc.
Digital revolutionizes video surveillance
With the Internet revolution and the ever-increasing presence of Local Area Networks, technology took great strides in video surveillance in the 1990’s. Analog camera tubes were replaced with CCD (Charged Coupled Devices) and digital cameras became affordable for most people.
This combination meant that video surveillance could do two things: go live over the Internet or a closed network for surveillance and provide clearer, crisper images that could be tracked and manipulated easily. For law enforcement, digital surveillance meant it was much easier to zoom in on images, track particular scenes and enhance features.
The basics of IP-based surveillance
A digital camera “views” the scene in front of it, broadcasts the video images as a digitized signal over a LAN line (Local Area Network) where it’s then transmitted to a computer or server. The server in turn manages all of this information. Depending upon the software used to manage the digital images, it can record, display or retransmit the images to anywhere in the world.
The software package can easily be upgraded to allow for analyzing data, selecting specific “flagged” items to watch for and a host of other functions, making it a truly customizable security tool. True IP-based digital surveillance uses CCD cameras that use signal processing that send packetized video streams over the LAN through a Cat 5 or 6 cable rather than a coax cable network, utilizing greater bandwidth and standard TCP/IP communication.
It also provides more intelligent data mining and information retrieval. If security is an issue, full digital surveillance also offers the added advantage of data encryption opportunities to protect against image tampering — something not possible with analog recording.
The “middle of the road” of video surveillance is upgrading video surveillance by utilizing a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). A DVR system is not really fully IP-based, but is step toward the more advanced IP technology. In actuality, a DVR system uses the same camera and structures for cabling as the older CCTV analog systems, but the old VCRs have been replaced with DVR for storage of the data. The data is converted to digital so that it can be stored on hard disks, but the quality of the images captured remains analog since this is how it originated.
When shopping for a system, be sure to ask if the system is digital based on the recording (DVR) or on the camera, since many manufacturers consider a system digital by virtue of the DVR storage system even if the camera recording the images is still analog.
Going all the way
Some people will move to the hybrid models of a CCTV/DVR system when they first move beyond an analog system because it seems like the next practical evolutionary step in video surveillance. However, shifting to this method largely ignores how IP-based video surveillance works.
With CCTV/DVR surveillance you have actually simply delayed the inevitable by adding on a relatively new technology (hard disk, digital storage) to an old technology (analog video over coaxial transmission lines). Rather than moving forward into something new, you have prolonged the demise of the old.
Advantages of IP-based video surveillance
The leap into completely IP-based technology is the best bang for your buck both monetarily and in terms of security by far. Digital surveillance can be done over a LAN network, of course, but TCP/IP transmittal of surveillance makes sense for remote monitoring of multiple locations and for remote recording of data onto back-up servers and hard disks for long-term storage.
With IP-based video surveillance, you can connect your surveillance camera or cameras to any network or wireless adapter, and you are extremely flexible in your placement of the camera itself. A typical PC-attached video camera, while providing digital picture image quality, still has to be within approximately ten feet of the computer itself. Operation of an IP-based video system is easy — once you’ve set up an IP address, you’re up and running and it’s extremely stable and reliable. Because this is the technology of the future, it is also upgradeable. You won’t be outgrowing an IP-based video surveillance system any time soon because new developments are based on improving this market. Therefore, you will be able to add on and improve this system for years to come while older, CCTV+DVR hybrids will dead-end and become obsolete.
A better way to understand the differences between analog and IP-based video surveillance may be to compare the two and how they work:
Analog or CCTV+DVR video surveillance
- Easy to use — operates like a VCR
- Changing cassettes and rewinding regularly means human error frequently interferes with effectiveness
- Image quality is poor
- Storage tapes wear out over time
- Broadcasting images live isn’t practical
- Storage is bulky
- Uses analog recording, recording in low-grade picture quality and inability to search and track easily
- Adding DVR systems must be done in ‘blocks’ of 16 channels
IP-based video surveillance
- IP-based recording means instant transmittal of images anywhere in the world
- Can monitor multiple cameras from one remote location
- No decrease in recording quality over time or with repeated replays
- Digital picture quality far superior to analog
- IP-base recording is highly compressed for easier storage and can be transported over a variety of media
- Digital images can be encrypted for security purposes
- Updates and add-ons are relatively inexpensive through software packages and Internet computer networking
- Adjustable frame rates
- Remote or shared viewing may be done over the Internet or a wireless connection
- Standard IP video compression techniques are used
- IP surveillance cameras may be added individually or in groups according to your needs
If you are contemplating increased or upgrading video surveillance for your company, understanding how IP-based video surveillance works will make your decision easier. It is the future of video surveillance and, although in the short term may be a bit more expensive, is obviously an investment in superior quality and flexibility.
Ideal markets for video surveillance
Help prevent and manage school violence, reduce risks and liability, reduce destruction of property, and improve public relations. Improving school security through the use of video surveillance and recording is proactive, practical, and cost-effective. We understand the concerns that students, parents, teachers, administrators and campus law enforcement face. Through the use of our video management system solutions we help protect your students, staff and school assets.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations’ (JCAHO) Standard is entitled “Environment of Care (EC).” The goal of EC is to provide a safe, accessible, supportive, effective, and efficient environment for clients, staff, and visitors. Securing your health care facility while also helping provide for the safety of your patients, staff and visitors is accomplished with the help of Vidcom’s video management systems.
Companies of all size from small home offices to large multinational corporations with branch offices and factories all over the world can use video management solutions to protect their employees, property and other corporate assets. VMS client-server solutions scale from a small single camera solution to large fully scalable and distributed corporate or campus systems with thousands of cameras.
Inventory shrink and costly losses from employee theft, fraudulent returns and other incidents is an ongoing concern for retailers. These losses directly affect the bottom line. Rapid identification and response to these events through integrated video surveillance and recording is required to address these and other retail security needs.
Financial institutions of all sizes can optimize physical security, fraud and loss management, and operational performance through the use of video management systems. Your financial institution can display and record digital video and integrate it with your financial and security systems to log alarms and events to provide video verification of transactional data.
First response and public safety teams including law enforcement, fire, medical and other emergency services can all rely on video management system solutions. Using portable wireless devices (CEL phone, Blackberry, PDA, laptop, etc.) first responders can proactively view live video to manage a crisis situation.