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Video Encoders Smooth Analog Migration to IP
The Editorial Team 2010/5/7

Video encoders help traditional analog systems migrate to IP-based convergence. With the worldwide market filled with growth potential, A&S takes a look at the latest technology developments.

Video encoders help traditional analog systems migrate to IP-based convergence. With the worldwide market filled with growth potential, A&S takes a look at the latest technology developments.

With the economic downturn slowing the adoption of pure IP-based security, video encoders provide a middle way. Users can maintain existing investments and enjoy functions traditional systems do not have — easier data management, more efficient storage compression and powerful video analytic functions.

While the video encoder market continues to grow, growth may slow as pure IP-based technology becomes better established globally. A Frost & Sullivan report found the market to grow 13 to 14 percent for 2010.

Latest Technology
H.264 compression is now standard for encoders, joining M-JPEG and MPEG-4. "The H.264 main profile compression can reduce the network load up to 30 percent compared with conventional compression technologies," said Gerard Otterspeer, Product Marketing Manager CCTV EMEA, Bosch Security Systems. "With low latency implementation of the main profile technology, the solution can successfully reduce bandwidth requirements."

Encoders can convert anywhere from one to 16 channels. They can simultaneously stream video at either 4CIF, D1 or a mixture of both at full frame rate for all channels.

Video compression and quality vary widely between manufacturers, due to differences in product development and manufacturing. To increase encoding efficiency, different technologies are used. "We deploy the unique activity controlled frame-rate feature that can significantly reduce bit rates and storage requirements, without dropping or losing a signal frame under motion conditions," said Karen McCarrison, Product Manager for IndigoVision.

User-friendliness is important. "Our four- and 10-channel units have fully hot-swappable encoder cards to allow for maintenance or upgrade to any encoder without affecting the video streaming on any of the other channels," said McCarrison. "Power and network redundancy are available."

Installation is made easier with PoE-powered video encoders. "With an expansion card, more transmission options such as dual Ethernet ports as either copper or small form factor-pluggable (SFP) fiber connection are made available," said Corin Moorhead, Product Manager, COE.

For easier system maintenance, a built-in camera health check function can be added to encoders, said Peter de Konink, Product Line Manager Codecs and Analytics, Optelecom-NKF.

An effective solution considers not just system performance but overall ROI as well. "Equipment space and cost can be saved by using rack-mounted video encoders that allows up to 192 channels of analog video to be encoded through 12 rack units in a single 19-inch rack chassis," said Alex Johnson, Senior Director of Sales Enablement for APAC, Video Intelligence Solutions, Verint Systems. Axis Communications' 19-inch server rack contains 14 hot swappable blades with support of up to 84 channels of cameras.

Systems that use less energy also reduce costs. "Each port in our video encoder requires less than 0.9 watts to power up. Low power dissipation means the system generates less heat and higher reliability for the overall system," De Konink said.

Video encoders now do more than convert video signals. "Sony's video encoders can enhance and improve picture quality with its tone correction technology. This technology optimizes the visibility of a scene by increasing brightness in darker areas of the scene and compressing the brighter areas for sharper and clearer images," said Atsushi Iida, Product Manager of Security Solutions, Business and Professional Products Asia Pacific Company, Sony Electronics. XDNR technology, which minimizes motion blur under low illumination, further enhances images.

There is more intelligence at the edge, as more encoders include video analytics. "Running analytics at the edge results in fast and scalable analytics across all sizes of installations," said Johnson.

To enable satisfactory system performance, encoding and analytics are often run on two different processors. For example, IndigoVision's encoding is done on a FPGA chip, while other functions run on an Intel IXP 420 processor. "This helps us to guarantee that video will not drop frames," McCarrison said. While some makers use third-party processors, Panasonic deploys its own proprietary LSI system UniPhier.

The unique design of video analytics can limit the use of CPU power, De Konink said. Detection of motion, nonmotion or multiple zones is basic. Rule-based analytics such as people counting, suspicious activity detection and face detection are also available. "We offer analytics ranging from anti-camera shake to applications pecific analytics, such as water vessel detection," Moorhead said. "The ability to link multiple rules is also provided."

Integration and Standards
There are currently no standards governing the development of video encoders. Several specification bodies such as ONVIF and PSIA are working to make integration easier. "Our products are ONVIF conformant and are able to exchange live video, audio, metadata and control information to any conformant VMS," Otterspeer said.

Apart from standard bodies, manufacturers can also partner with related providers to make their solutions compatible. "We have solution partner program named the PSDN program. Through this activity, we have about 230 VMS partners around the world. As soon as our new encoder is released, those partners will support the encoder," said Shusuke Aoki, Product Marketing Manager, System Solution Company, Panasonic System Networks.

Media formats are becoming more uniform, allowing products to work together. "There are new standards arising, like RTMP or Adobe Flash players and HTML 5 with open video," De Konink said. "Streaming video is governed by RTSP, RTCP and RTP."

A well-documented SDK can aid compatibility with third-party VMS. "While most of the major open platform VMS vendors support our encoders, we offer a dedicated website which provides our partners with SDKs, CGI commands, STKs, application guide documents, and other necessary tools required for smooth integration," Iida said.

"Connecting encoders to in-house VMS prevents possible compatibility issues and further ensures system functionality," Johnson said.

Selection Criteria
When upgrading an existing analog system to IP, the main considerations are image quality, reliability, easy installation and data security.

Depending on the physical placement of the cameras and the user's network, encoders are either placed close to the camera or centrally. "Small and easy-to-install one-channel encoders with built-in mounting brackets and modular systems for centralized solutions are desired, complete with redundant network connections and redundant power supplies," Otterspeer said.

Reliability and availability are key considerations. "H.264 offers high video quality at low bit rates," De Konink said. "This implies a minimal initial investment and even more important savings on operational costs due to the proven reliability, life expectancy and camera health check applications for proactive system maintenance."

Rugged designs enable more deployments. "Our equipment is designed for use in the demanding transportation market. By designing our products to function effectively in harsh environments, while maintaining the flexibility provided by optional rack or boxed housing options, we have ensured our products to be deployed in any market with confidence," Moorhead said.

Good ROI is key. "Cost is understandably a key consideration in the decision process when purchasing new equipment. Recognizing this, we have priced our solution competitively by including one-, two- and four-channel variants in the range, with the option of up to 56 channels per rack," Moorhead said.
Important video information needs to be carefully protected. "Both cameras and encoders should be password-protected to protect sensitive data transmission before it reaches the network," Otterspeer said. "Network connections can be established using secured links for the control channels."

The growth of video encoders is inhibited by limited user education about network video and perceptions about analytics at the edge.

"Often the biggest challenge, when migrating an analog system, is convincing an end user to switch ‘front end' command and control to a digital solution," McCarrison said. "This can provide many cost benefits and add value to the system. The compatibility of existing analog PTZ camera protocols must be confirmed to ensure a smooth move to an IP-based solution."

Misunderstandings about video analytics pose a challenge. The best video analytics cannot accurately analyze an unclear image. "To resolve this, systems that provide good quality, crisp and clear images help in the recognition of small details," De Konink said.

Future Outlook
Standardized video encoders are a definite trend. "As IP becomes more popular in the security industry there has been demand for open standards, to improve interoperability between manufacturers," McCarrison said.

A uniform video format for high resolution, such as megapixel images, will have to replace standard definition formats. High definition video will push H.264 even more, but efficient compression is only available for network cameras, as HD video servers do not yet exist.

More devices will run on IPv6 for added network security. "Each device will have its own IP address and be directly connected to the World Wide Web," De Konink said. "This means there will be the need to encrypt the video stream itself."

Intelligence at the edge will become more common. "The implementation of the audio alarm in all of our encoders is an indication of that," Otterspeer said.

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