Today's Technology - An Insider's View

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Video surveillance permeates our lives today; it is part of a changing world. We recently sat down with Jeff Whitney, vice president of marketing for megapixel camera manufacturer Arecont Vision to get an industry insider’s view on where the video surveillance market is today, how we got here, where we can expect it go in the near future, and what his own company is doing to keep up.

Q. What’s behind the rapid growth of IP technology in video surveillance?

A. There are many factors driving the evolution of video surveillance to IP.

A security department in the past would typically deploy a surveillance system with operating software integrated on a VCR or DVR connected to analog cameras. All were from the same vendor, and the same manufacturer might also deliver the access control system. The user may have liked some features of the surveillance system, but not those of the access control – or vice versa.

Enter IP technology.

Open interoperability standards such as ONVIF are key to the benefits of IP. The security department is now able to deploy a surveillance system with the best megapixel cameras, the best VMS software, and the best servers and storage. IP infrastructure also allows the integration of other technologies such as video analytics, access control, identity management, and physical security information management, all with the best choices in their category. No proprietary system can match that.

Despite the huge growth in IP surveillance systems, the market is still young, and there remains a large install base of legacy analog technology deployed.

Q. You mentioned the cost savings of IP technology. What impacts have the state of the economy, security budgets, and modern security challenges had on the video surveillance market?

A. IP network technology continues to be the choice for an ever-larger number of new surveillance systems. In large part, this is driven by the desire to cut costs, deliver improved video, and ensure the delivery of a best-in-class solution.

From a cost reduction perspective, it begins with Cat- 5 IP network cable being less expensive to buy than coax, and less expensive to install. The IT organization is often more involved in the video surveillance system today than in the past. IP networking has long been a common architecture in IT environments and further drives video surveillance infrastructure onto IP. That, in turn, ensures professional network management, standards and further reduction of costs by the involvement of the IT organization.

While costs and budget impact are always important, no amount of financial savings makes a winning solution unless the video delivered meets the needs of the organization. Megapixel cameras have continued to evolve from when Arecont Vision was the first to introduce 2MP network cameras in 2004. The industry’s best professional IP megapixel surveillance cameras now offer improved image sensors, quality optics packages, reduced camera size, and new features and capabilities.

With these enhanced capabilities, the reduction of cameras is a common benefit while improving overall coverage and situational awareness. Fewer cameras mean lower VMS license fees since a single megapixel camera can eliminate multiple analog cameras while delivering significantly increased coverage and image quality.

The legacy practice of using PTZs to cover areas with a single camera was the norm in 2006 when the industry’s first multi-sensor megapixel panoramic camera was introduced. Now in our 5th generation, other vendors offer multi-sensors today.

In the case of PTZs, multi-sensors eliminate the moving parts that can wear out or need repeated adjustment, reducing not just initial hardware costs but time and money for maintenance.

Q. Let’s follow up on multi-sensor cameras. This is the hottest growth segment today in video surveillance. Why are multi-sensors taking off?

A. After being the only manufacturer seeking the industry’s attention for multi-sensor cameras for a long time, it’s a pleasant change to have others now offering their own early products. A single 180o, 270o, or 360o multi-sensor panoramic camera can cover the entire viewing range of a PTZ, and always be monitoring and recording the entire field of view. A PTZ, in general, is looking the wrong way about 80 percent of the time to capture an entire incident on video, since it is either on a programmed pattern or manually operated. When a PTZ is not looking at a specific area, it isn’t capturing what is happening in that region which defeats the purpose of the surveillance system.

Another reason that the market is growing so quickly is that customers are increasingly using multi-sensor cameras to cover large open spaces. Spaces like loading docks and manufacturing areas, restaurants and bars, corridor intersections, lobbies, parking structures, parks and walkways, airport terminals and train stations, and more. The camera can be easily mounted on walls, ceilings, corners, poles, and emergency call boxes and connected by a single PoE IP cable. This reduces required camera counts, cuts costs, improves coverage, and delivers superior high definition video.

'The most advanced of these multi-sensor cameras are not restricted to specific views but can be adjusted to cover multiple angles within a 360o area omnidirectionally. That means that on a four-sensor camera, three lenses could be pointed to cover a corner of a building or street intersection with 270o of coverage, and the fourth pointing straight down to eliminate blind spots. The best cameras also feature lens choices so that wide-angle, telephoto or standard view lenses could be used for each sensor.

Q. Recently we have seen quite a few stories about cyberattacks impacting network infrastructure that includes IP cameras and IoT technology. What is the industry doing about this and manufacturers like Arecont Vision in particular?

A. All network devices can be subject to cyberattacks at some level. The whole world is growing in connectivity, including with the Internet of Things reaching into appliances, cars, industrial machinery, and just about any type of electronics.

As a member of the Security Industry Association’s Cybersecurity Advisory Board, I can assure you that many of our manufacturer members are actively seeking to reduce the threat for their customers. The answer is a combination of integrator and security user education, following best practices, and deploying cyber-hardened products. The board is currently focused on publishing best practices recommendations and educating our members and the industry overall in the evolving threat environment and in how best to protect their organizations and themselves.

No product should be connected to the Internet unless it has basic cybersecurity protections built in, like user IDs and passwords or biometrics. Arecont Vision cameras have for some time supported 16 ASCII character passwords.

Any connected device can be the victim of a Denial of Service (DoS) cyberattack when overwhelming Internet traffic is directed to it. That can shut down a camera, or prevent it from sending video. When user IDs and passwords are obtained with malicious intent, that device can be accessed. Due to Arecont Vision’s unique design architecture, however, only that individual camera can be impacted, and it cannot be used to launch an attack on other network devices.

At the core of every camera that we build at our manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles is a custom-designed Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) integrated circuit. The FPGA eliminates the need for a commodity ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) chip. We run machine code and a proprietary OS instead of using common operating systems like Linux that can and have been hacked. We also eliminated Telnet, which is a command and TCP/IP protocol that can be used to access devices remotely. That was done because Telnet is a potential security risk that could be used to launch a DoS or other cyberattacks.

Q. How important is future-proofing in video surveillance? What is Arecont Vision doing to provide extended use of your cameras into the future?

A. Future-proofing is absolutely at the core of the best IP technology solutions. For example, do changing conditions mean that you need a new video management system or analytics software package? With an IP system, ONVIF supporting camera will work with the new software. Arecont Vision goes a step beyond ONVIF. We support the standard, but also use our MegaLab facility to further integrate with the newest features of our VMS technology partners before the standards groups catch up.

The same FPGA chip that protects our cameras against cyberattacks also allows us to update one or multiple Arecont Vision cameras with new features and capabilities developed by our R&D team or to take advantage of improvements by our VMS partners. That means that we don’t have to ask the customer to buy new cameras when they want the latest features going back at least a generation.