The future of video is open platform, distributed systems

Sunday, August 1, 2004

The video surveillance industry is experiencing dramatic change brought on by the introduction of revolutionary technologies. While most people recognize the move from analog to digital, this is only a brief moment in the evolution of video surveillance. Now that video data is digital, we can use networks and an open IT infrastructure to distribute and manage video in important, new ways.

All of this began with the shift from analog to digital, when we replaced the VCR with the DVR. The DVR enabled important strides in video surveillance, providing better search capabilities and more efficient storage. Yet these advances, while useful, are really incremental in nature.

The next phase of video surveillance, utilizing open IT systems and networks, is revolutionary. When a critical event happens, these “distributed” video systems can provide video to the decision maker no matter where they are physically located.

In an open platform, distributed system, video can be stored both locally and offsite in a variety of formats and qualities depending on the purpose. For instance, video can be simultaneously saved locally at 20 frames per second for seven days, centrally at 10 fps for 30 days and remotely at 3 fps for 90 days or more.

The Internet changed the way people think and work and those same principles are now at work in security. Imagine a retailer linking video from thousands of sites around the country and analyzing it from the corporate headquarters. The positives on security, loss prevention and personnel costs is staggering, but this also makes video an important tool for HR, sales and marketing.

Resisting change

It is clear which way the industry is moving, but some in the security industry are resisting change. Rather than moving to open IT-based systems, they simply add workarounds to extend life to their proprietary technologies. The best example today is the DVR.

DVRs were designed to easily plug right into the old VCR slot, but DVR manufacturers are adding rudimentary networking, remote access and analytical capabilities. Manufacturers are touting DVRs as platforms for video surveillance, but the proprietary nature of the DVR can make it a poor choice for the new breed of distributed security applications.

Poor distribution
Since VCRs and DVRs were designed for applications where the video is typically consumed onsite, their architecture does not allow for much remote access to the video.

There are a number of video codecs, and each has specific advantages. For instance, Motion JPEG is a standard for distributing over the Internet, while MPEG-2 is the better choice for displaying high-resolution video on a display in a command center. MPEG-4 provides the best performance to PDAs and other low bandwidth connections.

DVRs can produce one compression stream, which is often proprietary, while a distributed system can use the appropriate codec for each portion of the overall system. A system using industry standard video codecs can take advantage of new compression streams as they are developed, such as H.264.

Build on a solid foundation

The development of analytics, to identify certain behavior, and biometrics, such as facial recognition, are important trends in surveillance. An open platform enables you to add a combination of analytics, and upgrade as new products emerge.

The future of the security industry is intertwined with IT. Certainly DVRs will remain useful for small, single-site installations. The future, however, is with open architecture systems. Suppliers would do well to choose open systems for their advantages today as well as their ability to adapt for tomorrow.

Bill Stuntz is president and chief executive officer of BroadWare Technologies. He can be reached at