The state of video surveillance and digital networking

Sunday, June 1, 2003

The terms “digital” and “networking” have taken on several definitions in the video surveillance industry in the past few years. In many cases, they have taken on an identity of their own – to the point where we expect every new product introduction to carry this nomenclature. As a result, there have been literally hundreds of new devices introduced in the past few years that carry the “digital” and “network” stamps. This has caused some confusion throughout the industry as video surveillance manufacturers jockey for market share in what we are calling the “digital and networking era.”

At the risk of seeming anti-climatic, I can safely proclaim that the video surveillance industry has in fact not achieved true digital and networked status. A recent study commissioned at Panasonic revealed that virtually 100 percent of the respondents viewed a “digital networked” CCTV system as any system that incorporates a DVR with a network interface. This is not a digital networked CCTV system. It is an analog CCTV system with a digital recording device and limited network capabilities.

My definition for a digital and/or networked system is as follows: Every component in the system is a node on a digital network; all digital video, audio and control signals are transmitted via a network and all data is stored in a digital format.

I believe we are several years off from achieving this goal. Consequently, we should plan for an extended period where analog and digital video surveillance technologies co-exist before we make the final leap to a true digital /networked environment. This transitional phase is a critical period. If we fail to meet the expectations of the industry during this transition, we risk slowing the migration.

In addition, we must make the leap from a “closed circuit” product to a “network based” product for the video industry to become a truly digital industry. The time is right to take on this challenge and make “networking” become a part of our everyday vernacular. However, we simply do not have the bandwidth available today for widespread networking operations outside of the private sector, but I am confident the necessary infrastructure will become available in the next four to six years.

In the meantime, it is important that we begin the transition phase from traditional system connection to a networked platform. We have undertaken a four-tiered networking initiative based on several key objectives: Make networking available at every level of application – from small systems to enterprise solutions; provide cost-effective networking solutions that integrate existing analog based systems; offer different levels of networking performance to accommodate existing infrastructure limitations and performance requirements; and initiate the deployment of server based networks on different platforms to accommodate individual needs and system parameters.

Our networking initiative has opened up many new fronts on the video surveillance horizon. The first tier provides a cost-effective networking solution specifically designed for small systems applications. It combines low cost IP based cameras with network software running on a Windows platform.

The tier two solution alleviates the logistical and economic pitfalls associated with remote monitoring. This is achieved by employing a series of network interfaces designed to operate with conventional analog systems equipment.

The tier three network initiative incorporates newly developed coder/decoder (CODEC) devices that allow users with conventional analog video surveillance equipment to transmit real-time video images over a network on multiple platforms with the same look, feel and response time of current analog switchers. The fourth tier of our network initiative incorporates powerful network administrator solutions designed for large and mid-sized applications that enables multiple clients to operate on multiple platforms with unprecedented levels of versatility. These advanced server based solutions incorporate Linux and Windows network administration software that delivers viewing, recording and playback functions with a host of programmable features.

We believe this multi-tiered network initiative will change the landscape of video surveillance technology – while dramatically increasing the capabilities and performance of security systems.

The continued success of our industry lies in our ability to embrace these new technologies and apply them effectively. We have the resources we need today to secure our future into tomorrow.

Frank Abram is vice president of Panasonic Security Systems and can be reached at