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Network cameras and NVRs at the next level

Network cameras and NVRs at the next level
The concrete improvements in network camera performance, from increased light sensitivity to better onboard analytics, along with NVR developments can be observed in the 2013 Secutech Excellence Awards.

In this round of testing, we are seeing the maturation of network cameras, much like a teenager becoming an adult overnight. During our test phase, several functions improved noticeably and stability increased. These functions included the following:

1. High dynamic range (HDR): From basic view dynamic range or HDR, most network cameras support 1080P or 720P resolution with 70 to 90 decibels of dynamic range. Some chip makers, such as Sony, support up to 120 to 130 decibels of dynamic range for true wide dynamic range (WDR) in the Ipela Engine or Xarina processor. Especially during the live shootout, a spinning colored pinwheel tested different shutter speeds, contrast and color saturation. Light and dark areas were restored to look sharper, greatly increasing image quality for megapixel imaging. This is the first overall improvement for network camera performance.

2. Support for 60 frames per second (fps): Currently, most of the Generation Six network cameras can support 60 fps in Full HD at 1,920 by 1,080 pixels for live output. The imaging efficiency is even better than the previous generation for 30 fps.

3. New intelligent video software (IVS): Compared to the last generation of network generations, the newest models all have front-end analytics. They include tamper detection, intelligent voice detection, tracking, zone monitoring and other features that have come a long way. In basic preset processing and real-time analysis, both support alarm functionality. More providers offer proprietary facial recognition, able to distinguish a face in a frame and work with backend management software to build a database of faces to compare.

4. High-definition digital noise reduction (DNR): From single-frame noise reduction and multiple-frame noise reduction, even images with insufficient illumination can dial down noise in an image for the clearest images, without suffering lag and jagged edges around moving objects.

5. Intelligent bit rate control: While during testing we set the cameras to a constant bit rate (CBR), network cameras also deal with night imaging or environments that have little change. Variable bit rate (VBR) can automatically lower the bit rate, intelligently reducing the amount of storage needed and controlling costs. This improvement for CBR and VBR was seen in all entered network cameras, making them far better than before.

6. Multiple profiles, multiple streams: Apart from bit rate management, network cameras have better support for multiple profiles and streams. For example, LILIN supports four different profiles and each profile can output four different video streams. All cameras entered could handle at least two to four streams of video, showing that support for different file formats and multiple streams is being taken seriously by camera makers.

7. Greater ease of installation: The network cameras of old never failed to give traditional installers fits. The main pet peeve was complexity, as many lacked familiarity with IP setup and IT know-how. But today, that has changed. During testing, auto back focusing has become a standard feature, allowing us to get a camera up and running in under three minutes. In terms of user friendliness, network cameras have made a huge leap forward.

The above are several notable developments and improvements in this year's Secutech Excellence Awards. One thing that is worth noting is that cameras in Europe and the United States must meet UL list Class II requirements for surge protection. This is not limited to simply the product itself, but includes other safety measures, such as double insulation or reinforced insulation. This does not cover grounding or compliance to installation requirements, so it does not affect camera manufacturers directly. However, it is worth noting for sales or distribution, depending on the region.

NVR storage woes
From the beginning of our Awards three years ago, we have found on-going NVR issues for interoperability with third-party cameras and ONVIF compliance. The 10 entered NVRs were connected to 16 cameras from Taiwanese, American, Japanese and Chinese manufacturers, with every NVR found to be sorely lacking in terms of interoperability. To take a different tack by plug-and-play standards, hooking the cameras up to the NVR should be no problem, given we provide the right camera password and both devices support ONVIF. In reality, the cameras were either too new or too old, partly because different versions of ONVIF are not interchangeable. It may seem depressing, but initial testing shows that plug-and-play is still more of a dream than a reality.

For the final live demo, with each network camera being connected one by one to the NVR, we realized that there is a direct relationship between a brand's global reputation and its openness. Any NVR maker serious on capturing worldwide market share must welcome more network cameras with open arms. Integration is a must. In comparison, some NVR makers only look at domestic markets and support their own camera lines or the most popular network cameras in their region. This strategy reflects blind spots in their sales. For users, they can easily distinguish and select a more complete and open solution for future expansions.

NVR setup and use easier than ever
In the past, security installers have found network storage maddening, simply because they required too much IT expertise. Otherwise, the NVR needed many complex steps to be successfully set up, frustrating many installers — especially those used to traditional surveillance systems. But from this round of testing, NVR operation today has became far simpler. The rich and intuitive Linux interface allows installers to control all of the NVR's setup and functionality. Even getting to the more advanced features and entering data has gotten easier to access, which do not require keyboards like before but can be done on the user interface alone. A significant improvement is phased setup by steps, making NVR setup foolproof. If done correctly, an NVR can be up and running in three to five minutes for all camera feeds. As more NVRs support camera connection previews, this makes the installer's job much less painful.

NVRs have gotten better at smart searches and playback. Backup has also become simpler and more convenient. More NVRs feature solid-state disk storage, freeing up processing power for troubleshooting and checking equipment connectivity. Nearly all NVRs display each channel's image flow and frame rate for network management purposes. Although the frame rate for recorded footage depends on the NVR's CPU and the camera's decoder, NVRs still play a significant role in storage.

From this year's Secutech Award entries in network cameras and NVRs, we can see how different components and applications affect the finished product's performance. As we expose flaws, we also urge the industry to uphold quality control standards and implement greater openness for software. This is only fair to all the installers and buyers who demand the best in their network surveillance equipment.

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