Asia was once regarded as the worldˇs manufacturing powerhouse without its own technical know-how and product specialties. The misconception, however, is changing rapidly for the better with increasing experience and expertise. Asian IR camera makers best exemplify this with their ability to research and develop state-of-the-art cameras and compete with world-leading manufacturers.
CCD and CMOS sensors, lens, IR-cut filter mechanism and high signal to noise (S/N) ratio are key technologies and deciding factors in determining how well IR cameras capture crisp images at night.
¨High resolution, sensitivity of CCD sensors and a high S/N ratio are three vital elements in producing clear images,〃 said Paul Roan, General Manager at VDI Security. CCDs can be treated as the most important component in IR cameras as a good CCD can provide cameras with high-resolution imagery as well as sensitivity in dark surroundings. ¨We mainly use SONY CCDs, which are famous for their performance,〃 said Ohin Kwon, Chief Marketing Officer at Huviron.
CCD sensors are not perfect, however. Their limited dynamic range lead to over-saturation
in bright areas, under-exposure in dark areas, poor color reproduction and interlace artifacts. Now, a significant number of IR camera manufacturers in Asia are opting for ultra-wide dynamic range technology to solve these problems.
In comparison, CMOS sensors have great price advantage over CCD ones: The cost of a CCD sensor is about two times that of a CMOS sensor. Therefore, the CMOS option is gaining popularity quickly. Despite this, many Asian manufacturers still choose CCD over CMOS sensors. ¨CCD produces excellent sensitivity and color reproduction that CMOS can hardly reach,〃 said Bo Zhang, Chief Engineer at Sunell Technology. ¨Generally a
good CCD can sense up to 0.001 lux, while a good CMOS can only sense up to 0.5 lux.〃
Because of different wavelengths in visible and IR lights, the focus of the lens needs to be adjusted to capture clear images. ¨We use automatic varifocal lenses (3.8 to 9.5 millimeters) to ensure optimum video image and focus setting so that users get the best view under various surveillance conditions,〃 said Young-Dae Kim, Senior Manager at Samsung Techwin.
On the other hand, there are other camera makers who prefer using an alternative fixed IR lens with special optical coating so that both visible and IR lights fall on the same spot. The advantages of fixed lenses are compact size, simple mechanism, light weight and high durability.
IR-Cut Filter Mechanism
Most IR cameras have built-in, automatic IR-cut filters, allowing for both daytime and nocturnal operations. The switching mechanism, over time, becomes an issue of great importance in terms of durability and switching speed. ¨Magnetic switching mechanism gives us advantages such as smaller size, lower power consumption and longer life span when compared to those with motor drive mechanism,〃 explained Zhang. Motor drive switching, however, has better switching speed, particularly for indoor speed dome cameras. ¨We choose motor drive switching mechanism because IR-cut filters can then be switched very quickly, which is particularly useful for indoor applications,〃 said Roan.
High S/N Ratio
A high S/N ratio also helps with resolution. ¨We believe that good printed circuit board (PCB) layout and fine quality of electronic components are pivotal to raise S/ N ratios,〃 said Tina Liu, Overseas Sales Manager at YES. ¨And we ensure strict quality control on these components to maintain a high S/N ratio.〃
Taiwan, Korea and China are three major IR camera manufacturing hubs, and each has its own unique strengths. ¨Korea has strong R&D capabilities, whereas China is quite competitive in terms of pricing. Taiwan is somewhat in between,〃 said Russel Yang, Assistant Manager of Overseas Department at Camdeor. ¨Taiwan cannot compete with China over price; instead, we have to highlight product uniqueness to get ahead.〃 The same sentiment was shared by Roan of VDI: ¨Our IR cameras function equally well in severe conditions, such as underwater and in chemical plants, and meet various client demands.〃
Taiwanese IR camera manufacturers are also busy working on strengthening their R&D capabilities. Take Camdeor. ¨The effectiveness of IR LEDs has great impact on illumination,〃 said Yang. ¨We have a team to design and produce our own IR LEDs.〃 These LEDs illuminate as far as 400 meters, while competing products still lag far behind.
Korea is well known for its product innovation. Take Samsung Techwin. Its renowned noise reduction technology, Samsung Super Noise Reduction (SSNR), effectively eliminates noise and ¨after images〃 at night. ¨We develop our own technical know-how to meet our customersˇ specific product needs,〃 said Kim. ¨We mostly target high-end markets for we are confident in providing our customers with the highest quality and reliability.〃
Chinese manufacturers are also beginning to change their focus from price competition to product quality. ¨We are getting more serious about product quality control,〃 said Liu. ¨Through thorough testing, quality of our products is guaranteed.〃 Additionally, more instances of tailor-made product design can be seen as more local manufacturers step up to cater to various needs. ¨We always find the most economical yet fully operational package for our customers to achieve the best price-performance ratio.〃
IP AND INTEGRATION ARE THE FUTURE
All Asian IR camera manufacturers are seeing that IP will become mainstream in the near future, and their products have to be ready for that future. Given the potential of networked solutions, everyone is either planning on releasing or has already launched their IP cameras. ¨Our first IP speed dome, with built-in IR LEDs, will be launched in 2008,〃 said Roan.
Integration of multiple functions is another important product focus. Functions such as motion detection or biometric identification can be integrated into existing IR lines. ¨We are quite certain that multifunctional IR cameras will be widely adopted by high-end users soon,〃 said Kwon. ¨Demand for megapixel, IP-enabled IR cameras will definitely increase.〃
With strong technical background, infinite creativity and relatively cheap labor force, Asian IR camera makers are surely making some waves in the international arena, and all of them are well aware of the challenges ahead. Rest assured, they are more than ready to take IR technology and the entire industry to the next level.