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Video security and surveillance systems shrug off their Big Brother image

Forget the 'Big Brother' image. Facilities managers, plant operators and public servants are coming to realise that video surveillance is an effective deterrent and an essential safety technology.

Industries and applications as diverse as power utilities, water plant, rail, traffic control, shipping, commercial buildings and facilities, and industrial plant are all turning to video surveillance technologies as a means of assuring the safety of employees and customers in dangerous areas, as well as securing assets against intentional or accidental damage. In addition, in our increasingly litigious society, effective surveillance and recording can offer a defence against frivolous claims.

Meeting these diverse requirements places stringent requirements on surveillance technology, and this has evolved rapidly in recent years to deliver a new paradigm for live monitoring (either on-site or remotely) and live analysis. Indeed, software analytics are one of the fastest growing applications for increasingly capable CCTV-based surveillance systems. Today's computer based systems can use software models to make a judgement on what is normal behaviour and what is anti-social behaviour, or to provide early warnings as potential hazards become evident, or even to monitor patterns of travel/movement and derive improved systems/schedules for handling peak traffic.

Where this all starts is with a move away from the traditional analogue technologies that have historically characterised surveillance installations, and towards digital camera and network topologies. The traditional picture of video surveillance is built around analogue cameras, feeding their video over coax cables to a multiplexer, which in turn feeds a combination of monitor screens and video recorders. But as David Moss, European sales and marketing manager at GarrettCom Europe points out, there are severe limitations of this technology. "There are weaknesses at all levels of the system. With the exception of the very best analogue cameras, the picture quality is generally not good enough to meet today's requirements for, say, face or number plate recognition.

If you want to monitor the video in real-time, you have to be within reach of the coax feed, which in practical terms means that you need to be on-site sat in front of a screen. And the limitations of the video recording technology mean that any analysis of the data has to be historical analysis - there is no possibility for real-time software analysis.

"Also, there is no flexibility within the installation to meet evolving requirements," continues Moss. "Once you have laid your coax cable from the camera to the multiplexer, moving the camera to a new location is a major logistics exercise, perhaps requiring the digging up of a road or a car park, with all the associated cost and planning issues."

A steady move from analogue to digital surveillance technology would probably not, of itself, be headline news - more a natural evolution mirrored in every other area of technology. But what has accelerated the trend in this case are the twin realisations firstly of the simplification of overall network infrastructures, and secondly of the additional functionality and capability that a move to digital could bring.

Addressing the first point, network support staff in organisations large and small frequently found themselves having to manage multiple networks. Alongside the ubiquitous IP-Ethernet based IT network, there would be the network for the surveillance system, perhaps another for access control, and yet another for industry-specific systems. The potential to rationalise all of these onto a single IP-based network was surely a powerful attraction.

Then there was the functionality argument. A move to IP-based networks opens up the possibility of feeding the video data directly into computer-based analytics systems for powerful automated real-time monitoring and analysis.

"There is more, too," said Moss. "Once you have your video surveillance system as part of the IP-network, you eliminate the requirement for on-site monitoring. You can go live over a network that might already extend over a wide area, and hook the monitors into the network at any convenient location. Or you could monitor the video feed in real-time over the internet, potentially from anywhere in the world."

The attraction of IP-networks as the standard for video surveillance is a function of its massive, established installed base, and the fact that the technology is standardised, low cost and low risk. It is reliable, well understood and well supported. But video traffic is high speed and high bandwidth, and it makes stringent requirements of the IP infrastructure devices that must handle it. The IP switches, for example, that provide connectivity to the cameras and route the data onto the Ethernet network must combine simple connectivity with the ability to handle demanding video traffic.

GarrettCom Europe has responded to the evolving needs of video surveillance for IP-based technologies with new ranges of Ethernet switches which form the critical infrastructure for a modern, high-bandwidth camera network. The latest Ethernet switches provide connectivity for clusters of surveillance cameras and indeed associated security devices - VoIP telephones, Ethernet-enabled sensors, access control devices, etc - and combine this with fibre-optic connectivity to the control network for high-bandwidth transmission of video data.

These best of breed infrastructure components also offer the benefits of IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) software as standard. This is key, with modern high definition cameras transmitting data at rates as high as 5Mbps. This multicast traffic has to be effectively managed, to prevent unnecessary traffic flooding the various communications interfaces and bogging down the entire network. The IGMP protocol provides a means to manage this traffic.

Compact, reliable, rugged, hardened for use in demanding plant environments and outdoor use, and with MTBFs in excess of 20 years, GarrettCom Europe's Ethernet switches for video security and surveillance applications meet the all the requirements of the modern surveillance installations. "They offer flexible combinations of copper and fibre Ethernet ports, with appropriate port counts for typical clusters of IP-enabled security products, allowing networks to be developed highly cost-effectively," says Moss. "And for ease of installation of surveillance systems, many GarrettCom Europe Ethernet switches now provide Power over Ethernet (PoE) as standard, supplying power to connected devices over the standard data cables, and so eliminating the need for costly cabling back to a central power source."

Of course none of this would count for anything without the availability of high quality IP-enabled surveillance cameras. The capabilities of modern IP cameras are epitomised by JVC's latest ranges of low power PoE PTZ cameras and Megapixel box cameras. These V.NETWORKS cameras contain JVC's latest image processing circuitry, delivering sharp images with high contrast and good colour saturation, and are fully packed with the latest innovations, offering open architecture with plug and play simplicity, greatly improving installation and configuration times for system integrators.

JVC introduced Megapixel technology with the VN-X35U IP camera; this incorporates a 1.3 Megapixel progressive scan CCD to capture high-quality, high-precision images. The Quad VGA images allow you to use the VN-X35U like a PTZ camera; using the digital zoom, you can magnify any area of the image and the magnified area can be moved freely to maintain the same zoom ratio. It also features a motion detection function that outputs an alarm, with two inputs and two outputs, whenever movement is detected within a pre-specified area of the image.

The VN-X35U is the perfect complement to JVC's hybrid 9-channel VR-N900U or 16-channel VR-N1600U network video recorders, with embedded Milestone XProtect software, which provide an all-digital IP security solution for small to enterprise level security systems. Camera features like Easy Wide-D (active gamma function) and advanced automatic gain control improve dynamic range and provide details in poorly lit situations, while JVC's efficient compression technologies conserve bandwidth without sacrificing image quality.

JVC business development manager Iain Cundy comments: "System integrators can of course make the move to IP-based video networks gradually, starting with IP-encoders that allow analogue cameras to be connected into digital networks. This hybrid approach means that existing infrastructure can be upgraded gradually without having throw out all the capital investment from day one. But the picture quality and functionality of today's IP-enabled surveillance cameras really does drive a whole new paradigm in surveillance capability."

Having made the move to an all-IP-based installation, users immediately benefit from vastly increased installation flexibility and scalability. Even so, there will be occasions when the physical cable is a problem. One of the latest developments from JVC is a new range of wireless CCTV cameras, with an integrated wireless link optimised for high quality, low latency video. Developed in partnership with Wavesight, the cameras are capable of transmitting high quality video over distances of up to 20km.

Wavesight technical consultant George McDonald highlights how modern wireless technologies really free up installers to establish the best possible surveillance installations. "If you look at a city-wide installation, for example, the need to route a network cable to the camera can entail severe civil engineering disruption and major associated cost. Leased lines can also be a major cost. Modern surveillance technologies are all about flexibility, and a fixed infrastructure that is not easily re-deployable flies against that."

Wireless networks, then, have many potential advantages. The camera location is flexible, and the data communications infrastructure can be easily installed and readily redeployed as required. The network is also easily extendible, with minimal civil engineering cost and inconvenience. And the costs of leased lines can be reduced or eliminated.

Wavesight's point-to-point or multi-point, secure outdoor communications solutions provide a wireless link between the camera and the Ethernet switch, enabling cameras to be wirelessly connected into the IP network. Ruggedised for outdoor, 24/7 operation, and operating over the low power unlicenced 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, the wireless bridge solutions provide signalling rates up to 108Mbps for high quality video, with WEP/AES data encryption for secure communications. Each link can connect up to four cameras, and the technology makes it easy to provide surveillance in even the most challenging, hard to reach areas.

"When you combine the capabilities of modern IP-based cameras with the power of IP-based network solutions and the flexibility of wireless communications, then you make a very powerful case for digital over analogue," says McDonald. "Further, add in the software management facilities available to IP-based networks, and you have the potential for self-healing, redundant surveillance networks that slash the cost of support and maintenance."

GarrettCom Europe, JVC and Wavesight can point to proven solutions all over the world, where IP-based technologies are delivering unprecedented performance, functionality and flexibility. Offering a step-change in operational benefits over traditional analogue installations, IP-technology looks set to completely redefine the benchmarks in video surveillance installations.

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