The rise of IP heralded the age of networked surveillance. At the edge are network cameras, stalwart sentinels ready to capture images. ASMAG.com talked to several Asian vendors about their solutions and how they fit into surveillance for the future.
As more users discover the benefits of IP, network camera usage has grown, accelerating the migration from analog systems. The ability to stream video through the Internet, rather than stringing analog cables, has made digital surveillance a welcome solution. This product niche has ushered in a group of surveillance providers ready to enter the digital age. Several analog makers are also repositioning themselves, as they strive to stay relevant in a networked security world.
Asia has emerged as a major player in digital surveillance, thanks to its strong production capabilities and robust IT sector. One of the top Asian players in network cameras is VIVOTEK of Taiwan. Its new award-winning PTZ network camera features Sony progressive scan CCD, 2.6x optical zoom lens and Power over Ethernet (PoE), said Owen Chen, Chairman of VIVOTEK. The camera's dual-stream support allows users to view video through a Web browser or 3G mobile device simultaneously, with different resolutions and qualities in MJPEG or MPEG-4.
GeoVision's IP cameras also pack a hefty punch. "Based on years of in-house experience on PC-based video surveillance systems, we are now developing and designing IP cameras for hybrid surveillance integration," said George Tai, CEO of GeoVision. The company's 1.3 megapixel camera uses a Sony progressive CCD image sensor for crisp images and also supports MJPEG and MPEG-4 formats. It is integrated to GeoVision's video analytics and video management software, making it part of a total surveillance solution.
Camdeor Technology applies its experience and integrates IR functions with network cameras. "We focus on what we have and provide value-added products to the market," said Russel Yang, Assistant Manager of the Overseas Department, Camdeor. "Furthermore, we bring IP cameras to outdoor applications with our IP 66 design, giving customers more options."
Camdeor's expertise with IR and lenses gives it an edge, while incorporating H.264 for the greatest compression benefit. "Most IP players focus on developing software applications and use third-party optical and housing designs," Yang said. "The cost of IR cameras and components is getting lower — if users buy an IP camera and pay a few dollars more, they will have IR capabilities. We believe everyone will buy IP IR cameras to see in both day and night."
Other cameras combining IP with IR's all-seeing benefits include ones from Three Brain Technology, using two switchable CCDs to eliminate IR cut filters and color coating, said Young Lee, Chief Marketing Officer for Three Brain Technology.
Beside from making IR IP cameras for outdoor applications, Zavio also targets smaller applications with its wireless IP camera. "The camera is aimed at the residential and small business markets, where customers tend to be more price-sensitive and range requirements are roughly 5 meters in the dark," said Shau-Chau You, Product Manager for Zavio. It uses white light LEDs instead of IR LEDs for less color distortion under natural and incandescent light, without an expensive ICR switcher required for IR LEDs. The camera also enables remote surveillance with its 3GPP support.
Top Regions and Applications
The deployment of network cameras requires a stable Internet connection capable of transmitting images in real time. As a result, network cameras end up in areas with developed Internet networks. Europe and North America were key export regions for most Asian vendors, courtesy of their mature IP infrastructure.
"Ethernet bandwidth influences the size of the IP market greatly, so more advanced countries like America or Singapore specify IP cameras for public construction," Yang said. "For countries in the Middle East, they are still using dial-up, which results in slow IP camera performance. In these countries, the biggest buyers for IP are usually governments or global companies."
Governments can establish dedicated networks for security, ideal for applications to monitor large areas remotely. "The main use of network cameras is for public monitoring," Yang said. "For government or in banks, they have money and the network infrastructure. Government applications for network cameras include jails and traffic monitoring."
For Zavio, 90 percent of its business is overseas, including OEM, to the United States and Europe. "These regions are our main market, but we are not limited to them," You said. "The Middle East and other regions are also seeing strong demand."
This is not the case for VIVOTEK. "Europe also has a strong demand because it is more receptive to surveillance," Chen said. VIVOTEK also has strong growth in other parts of the globe, but Europe has accepted VIVOTEK-branded products more readily and has a more developed Internet infrastructure. This makes it an ideal market for the company's network cameras.
GeoVision sees more demand for IP solutions in western Europe, along with North America and Latin America, Tai said. "The GeoVision IP surveillance platform allows for intelligent integration with e-maps, PoS systems, EAS systems, license plate recognition systems and access control systems."
Regardless of region or application, demand for network cameras is growing, giving Asian vendors a new product niche to expand.
With strong technology and worldwide demand, network camera vendors see excellent growth potential. However, before they claim success, several issues must be overcome, from technical difficulties to market awareness.
"The next trend will be megapixel cameras based on H.264," You said.
"Current megapixel cameras based on MPEG-4 platforms are impractical, as they deliver low frame rates and require huge amounts of network bandwidth and storage."
Increasingly sophisticated hardware is part of GeoVision's long-term goals and an R&D challenge to overcome. "GeoVision will continue to develop higher megapixel IP cameras and advanced video analytics software," Tai said. "In the meantime, we will watch how the IP camera TCO (total cost of ownership) may affect growth and market acceptance."
VIVOTEK found that existing processing components, like DSPs, did not serve its needs. In 2003 it began to develop its own SoC and launched the first one in 2005. "This helps us control component costs and provide better support to customers, as we aim to be a total solution provider," Chen said.
VIVOTEK strives to offer more high-end products, planning to incorporate megapixel, newer compression formats and video analytics in the future. "Our direction is to serve the high end professional market," Chen said.
Ultimately, finding good partners is crucial for Camdeor. "Integration is the biggest challenge, as we must select the right customer," Yang said. This means clients who are committed to quality and less interested in haggling over a "price negotiation."
"They need a good engineering team, as an IP camera is not plug and play," he said. "There are firewalls. For remote monitoring, there are multiple firewalls if there are multiple sites. It's not a hardware issue, but a software setup issue."
This is evident in differing video standards worldwide, such as for watching live footage on mobile devices. "The main countries are the same, as they must pass the same protocols, but the interface is slightly different," Yang said. "A very well-educated user will understand these differences."
As demand for network cameras continues, manufacturers must tackle technical issues while educating users about new technology. With their continued efforts, the outlook for IP cameras has never been brighter.