Industry has multiple options at hand for video transmission
Saturday, November 1, 2003

The advent of high-quality, high-speed video doesn’t come cheap and some say you get what you pay for.

Knowing what’s possible is one thing, but willingness to invest in it is another.

So say observers of the video and data transmission market, which has witnessed the advent of high-quality, high-speed video and all that it means to the security industry.

“The biggest issue now is that people want more than they are willing to pay for,” said Pete Lockhart, vice president-technology for Glenview, Ill.-based distributor Anixter.

“High-quality technology isn’t cheap technology,” he said.

And Darren Nicholson, GE Interlogix’s vice president-marketing for its Video Systems Group, agreed. “What you get is what you pay for,” he said, adding “the least expensive way (of transmitting video) has the worst resolution and that’s through IP.”

Clarity of video is key in security settings, where end users need to be able to identify the person and what they are doing.

Both bandwidth and compression rates are cited as the primary limiters as the industry continues its progression to digital from analog signals.

The issue with digital, pointed out Alan Lipton, chief technology officer and director of research and development for ObjectVideo, is that “physical security gets badly compressed images…and IT people hate it because it takes up bandwidth.”

The challenge has been this placement of compressed video on existing IP/TCP networks, said Allan Griebenow, president and chief executive officer of Axcess in Carrollton, Texas.

“We need to figure out ways to put it on the network without affecting mission-critical functions,” he said.

With the evolution of security via the network, he said, “more and more attention is being paid to bandwidth.” And Griebenow said he believes the industry will continue to rapidly evolve toward network use “because end-to-end it offers a greater detection solution.”

Griebenow said this move to digital from analog often requires working with existing coaxial cable systems.

Similarly, Anixter’s Lockhart said “our mission is to get to UTP or balanced cabling systems that have been used for years.”

Yet other views advocate moving away from some of the existing infrastructures to fiber or even wireless communications.

Nicholson said of the five ways to transmit video - fiber, microwave/wireless, video over twisted pair, video over cable and video over IP - fiber provides the optimum solution.

More signals transmitted over longer distances and with fewer quality issues make fiber the choice for many enterprise applications, he said.

And while many older buildings aren’t equipped with fiber, newer buildings and most campuses do have it, he said.

Still, Nicholson said applications exist for all of the modes of transmission. “Standard coax is good for the (convenience) store,” while twisted pair for some larger applications may be a good alternative to coax, he added. Wireless has proven useful in instances where running cable or fiber isn’t easily achieved, such as traffic monitoring.

Wireless, said Lockhart, has also become the transmission method for many first responders to disasters or major events, where there is a need to view live video so they are prepared when they arrive on the scene.

What it comes down to, Nicholson said, “is a value statement” and being able to achieve the desired effect in the long term while justifying the costs in the short term.

Fiber, he noted, does require more skilled installation. “It isn’t something where you send the regular technician out. You usually have to hire a fiber specialist.”

At video transmission company DVTel, Paul Smith, the chief operating officer, said his company’s predisposition is to Ethernet-based video transmission and making use of existing infrastructure.

The focus isn’t on the pipeline itself, he said, but rather on encoding the signal at a source near the camera. Digitizing and compressing the video camera signals, using MPEG-4 technology, take place in a video encoder box.

Smith said the boxes can handle from two to four cameras each, with plans in the works for an eight-camera box. The method of transmitting signals becomes less of an issue, he said. “Once we’ve gone to the work of converting the signal, a lot of transmission options become available,” including CAT-5, wireless, fiber, cable, twisted pair and phone lines.

The possibility even exists, he said, for mixing media within one installation.

Smith said products such as DVTel’s “are seen as another tool in an integrator’s tool chest to solve the problems they have economically.”

Another option that addresses the bandwidth and compression issues, said ObjectVideo’s Lipton, “is not to transmit it (data) at all.”

Lipton said the advent of smart cameras and related software means data doesn’t have to take up bandwidth because end users are receiving a relevant snapshot rather than streaming video.

The issue then becomes “dealing with the information, rather than the data,” he said.

Lockhart also sees a move toward better use of data as cameras become smarter and transmission smoother.

“Companies are paying through the nose to track video information and they’re throwing away 90 percent of it,” he said. Lockhart said video data mining, which makes better use of the information that is collected, will require “interface with existing IT and IP structures.”

And the products used all need to become standards-based, he added, as the industry continues to move toward more standardization.

Frank LaPlante, vice president-marketing at Anixter, said the drive toward open systems within the security industry is similar to what happened within the computing sector years ago.

The goal, he said, is toward making transmission-related products and systems “compatible with what they (end users) have now and what they’ll have in the future.”