Market Trends: Audio-video monitoring on the rise, with cautious approach

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

YARMOUTH, Maine—There are good reasons for the inclusion of audio applications in video monitoring—just as there are reasons for hesitation on the part of integrators and end users.

While that hesitation (some call it trepidation) is not going to fade significantly in the near future, there seems to be a consensus among industry insiders that predictions of increased utilization of audio surveillance functions are, on the whole, accurate.

Earlier this year Security Systems News reported that 70 percent of network cameras sold globally in 2013 had audio functions, and that research organization IHS predicted more usage of those functions in various monitoring platforms.

Ladd Nelson, director of security engineering and business development at Blue Violet Networks, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., understands the shift in thinking.

“There certainly seems to be more audio requests,” Nelson said. “Now you've got the marriage of video recording with good-technology microphones.”

The latest technology in audio creates lip synchronization that is “spot-on,” Nelson said.

“We usually say that audio accompanied by video is far more operational than (exclusively) security video,” he said.

The benefits of audio integration have always been obvious for law enforcement agencies, Nelson said, but he sees audio as a viable component for security systems at all levels, including mom-and-pop retail shops.

“You can have a high-definition shot and see the transaction, but hearing what the [store clerk and another party] are saying makes a difference,” he said.

Charles Erickson, executive vice president of product management at 3xLogic of Westminster, Colo., a global provider of video systems that integrate audio, also pointed out how law enforcement applications predated commercial use. Audio provides police investigators with information after an alarm goes off but before the officers arrive on the scene, he noted.

Commercial use of audio for security purposes has evolved since the pioneering days, when it was used to detect the frequency of termite invasion, Erickson said. In 2014, audio is undeniably a valuable source of information, as well as a form of deterrence, he said.

“By hanging microphones throughout a building, you hear everything,” Erickson said. “That doesn't work so well with cameras … It's hard to hide from a microphone. I may watch what I say when I know the room is miked up, but people are not accustomed to behaving like that.”

And so, he reasons, they will talk even when they know the microphones are live.

Nelson and Erickson acknowledge the human nature side of the equation, not technology or market forces, when discussing the obstacles to market growth for audio applications.

“There is some trepidation” for increased audio surveillance and monitoring, Erickson said.

“It is still a controversial topic in terms of security,” said Nelson. “Video is less of an issue [in terms of privacy intrusion] than audio.''

Sean Forrest, CEO at Iverify, an integrator based in Chicago with central monitoring stations in Charlotte, N.C., and Minneapolis, cites technological and training issues that limit the growth of audio applications.

“There are challenges to do this, technologically,” said Forrest, referring specifically to getting audio and video in sync. It is also costly and time consuming to train operators at central monitoring stations to apply the linkage of audio and video correctly. “That's why not everyone is doing it,” Forrest said.      

Another reason is cost and man-hours, according to Oliver Philippou, senior market analyst at IHS, Inc. “It is a lot more expensive [to link audio in video monitoring] because it takes up more of the operator's time,” Philippou said. “It's more labor intensive.”

Nevertheless, Philippou said, “It is something we see on the increase. It adds an extra layer of pro-active action to the security of a building … By having the audio capability to say, 'You in the red hood, leave the premises,' you're giving specifics that makes people realize they are being watched.”

Bill Trainor, operations manager at Tel Techs Network, based in Phoenix, is bullish on audio links to video monitoring, but he echoes the caveat expressed by Forrest.

“Most modern cameras are very technical,” noted Trainor, who doubts whether audio applications are on the rise. “Most have two-way audio capacity. But even on the best cameras, audio technology can interfere with video quality. There's less quality if the video is compressing with audio.” Trainor  also has concerns about the cost-effeciveness of implementing audio as a standard feature.

The issues raised by Trainor are echoed by other integrators and manufacturers of video monitoring platforms, but not as deal-breakers. Todd Keller, president and owner of Speco Technologies, thinks audio is a differentiator. Speco has been deploying audio business solutions since 1958 and most of Speco's IP cameras have audio capability. If your company wants an edge, he reasons, why not deploy that resource?

If the technology is there, why not use it says Keller. And if your company wants an edge, why not deploy an under-utilized resource?

“Competition in the security business is fierce,” Keller said. “We have to arm (end users) with something really different.

“We're very excited bout the integration of audio and video as a deterrent.”

Two-way audio, Keller said, can be used near a commercial trash bin behind a convenience store for this simple message: “Warning. You are under surveillance.” Keller and Forrest also cited car dealership parking lots as prime end-user markets business owners can let people know they are being watched as they take a walk through the inventory in the dark after business hours.

“We take the position that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Keller said.

Nelson, of Blue Violet Networks, offered classic scenarios where audio improves the quality of security services. At warehouses or retail business, when a delivery is made, “You have absolute confirmation that the transaction has taken place” with an audio recording. At a border crossing, audio can clarify a fuzzy situation—such as the detection of suspicious behavior or reactions.

“You have contentious moments … when the guard walks around a truck to inspect,” Nelson said. “People get testy. At these flashpoints, audio is critical. You can say for sure whether the guard was courteous and professional, or not.”

Regardless of the potential for audio, it is not just individuals feeling skittish or businesses afraid of scaring customers that prevents more growth in this area, says Bill Trainor. “You can't use audio in court,” he said. “Why would I store hundreds of minutes of audio recording …especially if I can't use it in courts?”

Forrest's answer: “For proactive and reactive situations.”

His proactive scenario: a scheduled guard tour in retail store, with announcements tailored to the needs and desires of the end user, the owner. The reactive scenario: if there is an incident during the guard tour, “We can interact with the customers and intervene in the situation.”

Just as it took time for Americans to approach the comfort level that citizens of other countries have with video monitoring, the time for assimilation of audio monitoring may be approaching, however slowly.

“There will be an acquiescence to audio in public areas, predicted Ladd Nelson. “It's a constant battle, dealing with the right to privacy for workers. I think you'll see more audio [in the future]. With megapixel cameras, the demand for audio may grow. As video improves, audio may need to keep up. It brings more clarity to situations.

“It's exactly the same as watching sporting events on TV. You want to hear what the announcer is saying, rather than watch the game in silence.”