With the emergence of IP convergence, Chinese camera manufacturers have shifted to production of network cameras. Although they have not benefited to the same degree as foreign players, more stable network cameras should see them get a leg up.
Strong demand for IP surveillance is propelling sales of network cameras. According to IMS, the global market for network cameras was estimated to be worth US$261.2 million in 2005 and it is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 37.8 percent to reach $1.3 billion in 2010. Moreover, enhancements in video compression technology, network transmission and infrastructure are attracting more and more Chinese players.
Today, several Chinese manufacturers have launched products from entry level to the high-end market. Although network cameras are not yet mainstream, production at local companies ranges from 10 percent to 30 percent of total camera output with investment continuing to flow into development.
Network cameras are less popular in China. The situation, however, is changing. Major government projects, such as Safe City, have specified use of network cameras.
Also, China Telecom' s MegaEyes integrates video images from various locations via a broadband network. High standards have been set for such network cameras.
Most network cameras manufac-turers in China support M-JPEG and/or MPEG-4. The former is used mainly in low-end, non-real-time models, whereas MPEG-4 is typically used in mid to high-end models with optional real-time surveillance. Shenzhen Lianyida Technology has manufactured network cameras for home security and small and mediumsized business for several years. The company also has solid experience in home security analog cameras. Its latest network camera the IP 390E features MPEG-4 compression and IR LEDs with a radiant distance of up to 10 meters for good-quality images at night. The IP 390E also supports real-time recording to SD cards or external USB storage devices for local storage capability as backup.
Yonghui Technology (YHDO) launched an MPEG-4 network camera. With 42 built-in IR LEDs , night view is up to 60 meters; waterproofing is rated IP67. "Our IR waterproofing network camera offers MPEG-4 compression technology, which is suitable for small and mediumsized business or factories," said General Manager Wang Jing.
High-end network cameras provide advanced features like H.264 compression similar to the MPEG-4 used by most Chinese camera manufacturers due to the higher compression rate and clear video images. Bandwidth, however, is always a problem, but technology to optimize encoding algorithms is lowering requirement. Hikvision's R&D team has developed an H.264 network camera that offers better audio and video compression with good video images. Meanwhile , HuangHe Digital Technology's H.264 network camera is specifically designed for network surveillance, including box types, fixed domes, IR network cameras and high-speed domes with intelligent video surveillance.
"Our network cameras all feature H.264 technology that is even more advanced than most foreign network camera makers," said Fu Xijun, Sales Director at HuangHe Digital Technology. "H.264 truly provides higher compression rates; it saves approximately 30 percent of bandwidth and storage space over the same image compression of MPEG-4. H.264 is regarded as the next mainstream compression technology for network video products."
Megapixel Network Cameras
Hikvision, a leading DVR maker in China, is working to develop advanced technologies in audio and video compression algorithms. The company just launched its DS-2CD852F- a two-megapixel camerathat is one of the few China-made network cameras capable of reaching megapixel resolution. This innovative product combines the features of both traditional analog cameras and video servers. The DS-2CD852F supports one-channel video signal and 25 frame per second real-time H.264 hardware compression for both variable bit and frame rates.
The megapixel network camera has one-third-inch CMOS, providing 4x zoom at CIF resolution and 2x zoom at D1 resolution. The DS-2CD852F features H.264 compression to deliver a high compression ratio, flexible processing and stable streaming.
Due to its embedded Linux operating system and latest Texas Instrument's Da Vinci hardware platform, the system operates with high efficiency. Furthermore, firmware is burned in the flash, which makes the product small, reliable and highly stable.
Using TI's Da Vinci DSP, which was designed particularly for video networking transmission, has provided the ultimate in video image quality. After all, clear images are the most important criteria for any camera. With the CMOS chip, resolution reaches 1,600 pixels by 1,200 pixels.
Software is a crucial component of network cameras. In the past, Chinese network camera manufacturers did not put too much investment into development of software. Most sold network cameras with third-party or entry-level DVR software, but this did not satisfy most users. Nowadays, network manufacturers, such as Hikvision, Sunell, HuangHe and Launch, have realized the importance of software. "Sunell's edge is software development," said Yang Chaofeng, Chief Technician of the R&D Department at Sunell. "Network cameras require CMS software because they cannot be used individually without a management platform. Sunell correctly foresaw that CMS would be the key criteria in supporting a comprehensive platform."
Yang pointed out that overseas, customers really care about the software, most particularly in terms of scalability. According to Yang, Sunell set up its own research and development facility to enhance its software. "This is how we are differentiating ourselves."
Others agreed with Yang's assessment. "Most camera manufacturers ignore software as they lack the requisite knowledge and expertise," said Lin Lee, Vice General Manager at Launch Digital. "They have to rely on third-party software and this causes problems." Launch has been cooperating with an academic institution for years to develop its own software R&D team. "I t has come up with software that excels in terms of scalability, user-friendliness and management capabilities."
Yang believes that demand for intelligent cameras is about to take off. The company is looking to come out with a number of different network cameras incorporating this capability. "We are integrating DSP and ASIC into our network cameras to take advantage of the former's flexibility and the latter's stability," said Yang.
According to Fu, intelligent video analysis will become more and more common as algorithms and bandwidth see improvements. "We are definitely going for intelligent video, including license plate recognition, facial recognition, auto tracking and vehicle monitoring."
I believe that Chinese network camera can fit French market needs in terms of quality and design of products. The implementation of MPG-4 and H.264 codecs give excellent networking cameras, and as far as now, compression is very important for such products. Besides, for our customers, we prefer a stable company with "long-term" products. For example, Dahua's OSDs has already been featured in French, which means less work, and immediate sales on French market. Of course, we choose products with specifications fitting our customers' needs. Key points are H.264, D1 resolution at 25fps and PTZ function for speed domes. Software quality also matters. (Remote programming, Active X and Windows XP/Vista compatible software.)
As far as I know, Chinese network solutions are preferred when recording is not needed, with only few cameras. Chinese network cameras can satisfy entry or middle level installations. Chinese brands are not known on French market, they are often considered as entry level products, despite their good specifications. Their strongest point is their good price / quality ratio which increases installers to adopt Chinese network products.