Upgrades that make the grade
It seems like every time a new camera is released we are bombarded with a list of new and improved features that manufacturers proudly present as game changing.
By Colin Bodbyl
The reality is, very few of these features really impress integrators. Manufacturer R&D efforts often seem misguided, or simply directed at improvements that only a select few end-users actually need. To an outsider it may appear that the surveillance industry is running out of opportunities to innovate, but there is actually still a lot of low hanging fruit for manufacturers to improve on that would positively impact demand for their products.
For the past few years there has been a obvious focus on improving two simple features, the first being frame rates. For years integrators have been reducing frame rates to between five and 10 frames per second to manage storage costs. As megapixel cameras became more common, integrators had to again reduce frame rates to manage bandwidth requirements in addition to storage. Yet as high definition cameras up to five megapixels began to exceed end-user demand for resolution, manufacturers moved their focus from resolution to frame rates. Quickly, cameras with the ability to stream up to 60 frames per second flooded trade show floors. Granted, it’s understandable that 60 fps is critical in casinos and certain industrial applications, but it’s not a game-changing feature that is worth investing the R&D budget in anymore.
The second niche feature that has been a focus recently is ultra wide temperature ratings. While temperature ratings are important, very few integrators are concerned about booting up a camera at -40°. There are of course applications where wide temperature ratings are important, but in general, very few integrators are eliminating cameras because they are only rated to -20° or -30°. In the odd case where temperature ratings are of critical importance, integrators will ask manufacturers specifically what their extreme cold models are, but it’s not a feature that should be marketed on a broad scale.
There are features that manufacturers should be investing heavily in. One such feature is low-light performance. Historically, CCTV cameras have not been very good in the dark. Megapixel cameras exacerbated the problem with their high-resolution image sensors that were particularly bad in low light conditions. Advancements in noise reduction have allowed manufacturers to drastically improve on low-light colour performance, but for sites with near zero light there are still very few good options.
Once considered a low quality solution, IR illuminators have now been integrated into some of the best cameras in the industry. While IR illuminators are a cost effective method for improving low light performance they have several key downsides. For one, IR illuminators do not last forever. Just like any light bulb, they will eventually burn out. Neither IR illuminators nor advanced noise reduction are a perfect solution. With plenty of room for innovation, improved low-light performance will always be extremely valuable to integrators.
Another area manufacturers should be investing in is Power over Ethernet (or PoE). PoE has truly revolutionized the way network devices are powered. Everything from telephones to lighting can now be powered through PoE. While other device manufacturers in the networking space invest heavily in PoE, the surveillance industry still has hundreds of IP devices that do not support PoE. PTZs seem to be the biggest challenge. PTZs with built-in infrared can draw up to 60 watts of PoE power, if they support PoE at all. Continued efforts to standardize product lines on PoE and reduce the power consumption of existing PoE devices will pay back for manufacturers in the long run.
While it may appear that the industry is struggling for features to innovate on, the reality is that there is still plenty of room for improvement. Manufacturers must make an effort to invest less in niche features that only a select few will ever need. Instead, they should turn their attention to features that will always be in high demand, now and in the future.
Colin Bodbyl is the director of technology for UCIT Online (www.ucitonline.com).