Digital revolution brings technology bridging products
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Few have the funds to make a digital conversion overnight, so new technology helps make the transition easier

As the security industry continues its conversion to digital products and network-based systems, a host of interim products and solutions have sprung up, designed to ease companies into this transition.

With major investments having been made in analog cameras, matrix switchers and coax pipelines for CCTV systems, few companies have the funds or inclination to make a complete digital conversion overnight. Rather, they are looking for bridges between existing analog and emerging digital.

“People who are seeking a bridge,” noted Bill Durno, product manager-digital storage at Silent Witness, “are most often those who have invested in analog and see the time savings of digital, but still want their initial investment to work for them.”

One way this is happening, Durno said, is the conversion from a traditional video recorder set up to do digital recording. The ability to use much of the existing equipment, from analog cameras to multiplexers, combined with improved storage, recording and event management, has pushed companies in the direction of digital recording, he said.

A wealth of features

Also helping the transition, Durno said, is the ever-narrowing gap between the cost of VCRs and DVRs. “It was quite a delta at first,” he said, “but that is quickly diminishing.”

But what is really driving growth, Durno noted, is the feature-rich nature of digital systems. “Most businesses want the ability to do remote access,” he explained. And while it is possible with an analog system, “you couldn’t do it as elegantly under analog as you can with digital.”

Digital systems allow remote access via LAN, WAN and Internet, he said, as well as messaging to cellphones and text with video, “which is a powerful tool for fraud investigators.”

Even doing away with tapes, Durno said, allows companies to maintain control of evidence because they can put the video on a CD for authorities, rather than turning over the lone copy of a videotape.

Another factor driving the conversion to digital systems, said Geof Barker, chairman and chief executive officer at Seattle-based Vigilos, is the lessening skepticism about digital products in general. “The fear of the unknown is going away,” Barker said. “Now they just need a compelling reason to use it.”

But few, he said, have felt compelled enough to “throw everything out,” realizing it’s not just the cost of the new hardware but the cost of doing the installation work as well.

Rather, he said, most are determining what problems they need to solve and what solutions exist to get them there.

Vigilos, through its enterprise security management software, allows legacy systems, with analog components, to become enterprise platforms, Barker said. “We can probably work with just about anything out there,” he said, noting the programming can take from several days to months, depending on the system.

The first step, however, Barker said, is to know what problems you want to solve, such as reducing false alarms, or synching POS with data tracking for audits. “When you put things on a common platform, you can solve these problems,” he said.

For Vigilos, early adopters have included financial institutions, seaports and office buildings - ”big enterprises with a significant number of locations,” Barker said.

Best of both worlds

Brett Beranek, product manager for Genetec, agreed with Barker’s observation that the industry is “less and less afraid of digital” and has gotten more familiar with what digital systems can do for them.

As a result, he said, the security industry is following other industries, such as telecommunications, in the conversion to digital from analog.

By using encoders and software to convert analog signals to digital on both cameras and matrix switchers, Beranek said Genetec’s customers have the benefits of a digital system, while retaining the investment of their existing analog equipment.

At this point, Beranek said, they are able to integrate with hundreds or even thousands of protocols for various cameras and domes, as well as various analog matrix switchers.

In addition, he said, customers aren’t limited to using equipment for a single manufacturer, because “the system can speak to any analog equipment from any manufacturer. You can have various technologies, but they all speak to each other because we translate protocols.”

A recent introduction from Texas Instruments and its French partner, Ateme, also is geared toward the industry’s move to deploy digital video solutions over IP networks.

At this stage, most customers are looking to encode analog camera signals into digital, said Yvonne Cager, worldwide DSP video solutions marketing manager at TI.

Although the Video Security Over IP Development Platform works with IP network cameras as well, “very few customers are going directly to digital because they’d have to put everything else aside,” she said.

She said the TI/Ateme product was the result of manufacturers’ requests for something to ease the transition from analog to digital, while offering high-compression ratios for storage and high-resolution images. Flexibility and price were also critical parts of aiding the transition into digital, she said.

“They can use the existing IP network within a building, as well as from location to location,” she said.

And with different versions at different price levels, there is the ability to serve multiple markets, Cager said, while having a common base line.

Some, however, such as Steve Morton at Boundless Security Systems, believe the hybrid analog-digital solution is just one of the generations within a multi-generational video security scenario.

“Everybody believes digital is better than analog,” Morton said, but added that isn’t necessarily the case. Rather than concentrating on the conversion to digital components, Morton said the focus should be on image quality and how best to capture, store and view it in a network setting.

“There are an awful lot of analog CCTV cameras out there,” he said, “why not use them?”