Network cameras make headway thanks to quality and price

Some predict that in only a few years down the road there will be minimal price difference between digital network cameras
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Monday, December 1, 2003

Although still a relatively small part of the overall security camera marketplace, few in the industry will deny that network camera use is on the verge of exploding.

With prices falling, technology improving and security and IT departments increasingly more willing to share knowledge and bandwidth, the path seems clear for greater implementation of network cameras.

Prices have fallen about 80 percent since Axis Communications launched its first network camera in 1996, noted Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, while quality has gotten significantly better. “We see how quickly the product has evolved,” he said.

And three to five years down the road, said John Dubenko, business team leader for emerging products at American Dynamics, there will be little price differential between digital network cameras and analog ones.

Still, Nilsson noted, citing company analysis from 2002, network cameras only account for about three percent of sales, with units in the tens of thousands vs. CCTV cameras that sold 2 million units in the same time period.

But all that is changing, he said, and rather rapidly. By 2007, Nilsson said, industry experts predict network cameras will account for 60 percent of the market.

In fact, noted Brian Fishler, VCS/NVS specialist at Canon, network cameras “will become the No. 1 hardware product asked for.”

Why the surge in interest?

Cost effectiveness is one of the leading factors, said those interviewed by Security Systems News.

Especially for clients who have the existing infrastructure in terms of a network and adequate bandwidth, the use of network cameras can mean a much lower overall cost of installation.

“There is always unused wire that can be used for video applications,” said Scott Watson, vice president-video imaging systems division for JVC. “And since one of the greater costs of security is cable, that whole cost can be offset because the cable is existing,” he said.

“The business world is connected,” added Watson. “There is a great familiarity with IP…so why not take this technology and apply it to security?”

Indeed, said Rick Davitt, vice president-marketing at IQinVision, “those in the security sector are just following a path already mapped out by the computer industry - a move toward all things digital.”

Specifically, said Frank Abram, vice president at Panasonic Security Systems, “the continued integration of software-driven devices, such as matrix switchers and recording systems, made the progression to IP/Ethernet networking almost inevitable. Once a system crosses over into a digitally processed environment,” Abram added, “there are so many different ways that systems can be enhanced, controlled and monitored that are simply not possible in an analog domain.”

Improved technology has helped to address some of the initial concerns voiced when network cameras came on the market - bandwidth and resolution.

American Dynamics’ Dubenko said although there is a general expectation in the marketplace that digital is better, it wasn’t until newer generations of products came on the market that this was really true.

“With the technology we have to today,” said Nilsson, “we can address image issues.” Image compression, he said, is the same as for any DVR and image quality rivals that of analog cameras. “And the next generation will surpass that,” he added.

Features such as progressive scan, which addresses motion issues, and resolution that is four times the quality of analog, have made many of the arguments against network cameras obsolete, said Davitt.

The bandwidth issue is lessening as well, said Joe Cook, network camera sales manager for Toshiba, who noted businesses are gearing up for the needs of their IT infrastructure. There is also the option through certain applications, Cook said, to record data 24/7 at a server off site.

Another way companies are addressing the bandwidth problem, said Canon’s Fishler, is through the use of parallel networks.

Features such as motion detection and programmability have put more intelligence in the camera, said Nilsson, as well as saved on bandwidth usage.

Watson at JVC agreed the quality has gotten better and the acceptance level has risen correspondingly.

“I think you’ll see IP cameras more and more accepted and more and more used because of their capacity,” he said. “There’s so much more that can be done,” he said, such as having a smart camera that stores the data or determines what should be recorded.

A recent entrant into the network camera market, Toshiba’s Cook said clients are expecting features in network cameras on par with those found in other models, such as motion detection, privacy mask, audio input and a media card slot for recording at the camera.

One of Canon’s latest entries into the market, said Fishler, boasts 26x zoom, an IR illuminator and an IR cut filter for no-light applications.

The company has also introduced its VK64 network video recording software that allows video from up to 64 cameras to be stored on a single server, as well as accommodates the addition of three more storage servers to monitor up to 192 cameras. Fishler said the growing scope of security projects, with people interested in 16, 32 or more network cameras, is moving the industry in this direction.

The network cameras used in security settings, said Panasonic’s Abram, are a far cry from the webcam devices with which they are sometimes confused. IP cameras for security applications, he said, may encompass integrated dome camera systems and vandal-proof products.

The bottom line is that as the feature sets improves, so too will the use for these cameras. But most foresee continued integration of network cameras for various security applications.

“It’s not a big factor today, but it will be in the next couple of years,” commented JVC’s Watson, who predicted DVRs and newer application video data recorders will eventually disappear. “But the camera will always be there. The camera is key,” he said.