Taiwanese security vendors, mostly small and medium-sized businesses, have long been recognized for their manufacturing capabilities. They are characterized by flexibility, modest quality, strong research and development, and efficient after-sales service. A&S interviewed 11 Taiwanese manufacturers to showcase their unique traits, while offering insight into each company's 2008 development plans.
A team of auto-tracking and video technology engineers founded Brotex Technology in 2005. Main products included CCD and zoom modules as well as dome cameras. The company delivers high resolution and low power consumption CCD board camera to be integrated with IR cameras. "Using Brotex CCD could make IR cameras more stable and extend the product life as the CCD module is compact and has better heat conductivity," said Morris Hsu, Vice General Manager of Brotex.
Key to the company's growth was flexibility in responding to customer needs. The company could work out with customers regarding mechanical, color parameter, and night time sensitivity. In the CCD module business, many cameras makers or overseas distributors buy cheap mechanical housings from China, doing the assembly themselves. While most have the ability to develop IR boards, they cannot make camera modules. "They buy the modules from us and we help them integrate them with their housings," explained Hsu. If there are problems with, say, brackets or lenses, Brotex redesigns or modifies them.
Brotex customers turn to it when they want to outsource their R&D departments. "We can even do manufacturing for them, but they must use our modules," said Hsu. Many big CCD module makers cannot do what Brotex does because they have become so big that they are no longer flexible. "We are willing to share our ideas because we are smaller and more flexible. This is how we have gained a competitive edge."
In 2008, Brotex will look at special firmware and software. "Cameras will have to have some kind of peripheral software, such as one that adjusts IR view angle," pointed out Hsu. Friendly, non-invasive cameras will also be on the drawing board. "We will be making modules that are non-invasive so people feel more comfortable when under surveillance."
To make surveillance cameras less intrusive, Hsu suggested using cameras that detect people entering receptionist areas; when the PA system is triggered to deliver a welcome message, filming begins. On buses, he added, the system could remind the passenger to pay the fare, while, in a car, it sends a reminder to fasten the seat belt. For ATMs, cameras prompt users to enter their password. "In this way," said Hsu, "surveillance cameras appear less unfriendly, but they are still recording."
Established in 1995, EverFocus Electronics Corp.'s main products include video input cameras, video processing and storage equipment, and video communication systems. The company exports to more than 70 countries and has branch offices in the U.S., Germany, China and Japan.
One key strategy that differentiates EverFocus is its focus on branding. "We believe that branding is a long-term commitment," said Russell Huang, Sales Manager of International Sales at EverFocus. "That does not mean simply advertising; it also encompasses quality, back-end support and after-sales service."
Even after the warranty has expired, EverFocus tries its best to provide support. "We do our best to offer the best prices and technical support because we believe that customer service must go beyond warranties," added Huang. Currently, 30 percent of the company's work force is involved in R&D. According to Huang, engineers are responsible for only research and development. This is different from the company's field application engineers (FAEs), who are in charge of pre-sales testing and post-sales technical support.
A team of professional FAEs also works in the marketing department. "This enables them to gain extensive understanding of products, so when customers have problems, they can respond effectively," pointed out Huang.
Branch offices provide immediate service to local customers. They also deliver first-hand knowledge of local markets as well as ideas for new products. In addition, engineers at branch offices are involved in the R&D process to better enable EverFocus to come out with the right products, customized designs and technical support. "Having engineers at branch offices helps us meet local customer requirements in terms of modification and customization," said Huang. "This is why the decision-making process at our company can take longer."
Development plans for 2008 include allocating more resources to nurturing client relationships and implementing clear channel management. "To better serve our customers, we are constantly improving our internal procedure to speed up the lead time of processing an order. In 2008, we will also conduct more road shows and seminars in major markets and potential markets, including Brazil, Russia, India and China."
The company will also do more with regard to IP products and megapixel cameras. "Most CCTV products are IP so we must adjust and be prepared for the age of digitalization," said Huang. The company will expand its DVRs beyond MPEG-4 to include H.264. "We are providing customers with devices to ease their transitions from analog to digital, such as video servers, storage device, NVRs and network cameras."
Shifting toward becoming a solutionbased provider is another direction. "In 2008, we will emphasize niches, such as mobile and POS applications, and central management software," said Huang. "We will modify our products to target markets like buses, MRTs and trains."
Established in 1987, Hisharp is one of the oldest CCTV manufacturers in Taiwan. Main products include CRT and LCD monitors, CCD cameras, DVRs, and car rear-view surveillance systemsone of its best-selling products. Applications include garbage trucks, police cars, and agricultural and mining vehicles.
Key to Hisharp's success is product diversification. The rise of China has threatened many Taiwanese manufacturers; the only way to compete is to "diversify and provide better functions and special features, said Jerry Chiang, President of Hisharp. "We try to create different products so that our customers will not need to compete with each other."
While short-term profits are not as high, the strategy will ensure that Hisharp stays competitive in the long term. "Hisharp must be extremely flexible. Since I own my own factory and production line, it is easier for us to provide a wider range of products," added Chiang. While CRT monitors were once mainstream products, Hisharp will allocate more money and resources for digitized surveillance systems, such as those used at remote sites and with the Internet. "Surveillance will eventually become completely IP-based. While it is still not certain when analog will be replaced (bandwidth capacity and Internet cost are limiting factors), IP is definitely the trend."
"No matter what happens in the market, having your own core technology is crucial," said Chiang. "This is why we must invest more in R&D." The biggest challenge, however, is finding and retaining the right talent. "We provide regular training and are constantly updating our staff on future directions."
Beginning as a manufacturer of intercom modules, Hsintek now focuses on LCD and CRT monitors for surveillance. Main products include monitors, TFT LCDs, LCD video modules, LCD video test monitors, cameras and DVRs.
According to Ming Zhu Suen, General Manger of Hsintek, there is great confusion regarding PC and surveillance LCDs. "Most people cannot tell the difference between regular and security LCDs. Security requires great improvements in LCDs to enhance images." Hsintek uses de-interlaced, three-dimensional, comb filters as well as flickering and blurring correction to make images sharper. The de-interlaced feature reduces the jigsaw effect, and color contrast is also brighter and more defined with no fuzzy lines between colors. "Signals are also reduced to the minimum," emphasized Suen.
"PC LCD makers are jumping into the market, claiming that they do surveillance, too," said Suen. "They do not, however, want to spend the money to enhance video images; they continue to rely on PC LCDs because they are less expensive. We are trying to educate the market to understand the difference." Hsintek's product line includes 30 LCDs, ranging from 2.5 inches to 26 inches.
Developments in the next year are a renewed focus on customer education and value-added functions, such as a built-in multimedia player. The company will also move into non-security OEM products, such as LCD monitors for displaying commercials and advertisements in elevators and retail stores.
Starting out as a PC peripheral manufacturer, and foreseeing the opportunities lying ahead of video conference, Leadtek stepped into development of video compression technology and video phones. Leadtek has combined its IT expertise with strengths in the commercialization of security electronic products. Since 2002, Leadtek has made network cameras as complimentary products for its video phones, a broadband IP address videophone with a built-in high quality CCD camera and a liquid crystal display that allows users making a video call.
"We have the image-processing technology and networking experience that provide a perfect base for a move into network cameras," explained Jason Huang, Deputy Manager of Leadtek. "We make CMOS and PTZ cameras that can be integrated with our video phones." Users have not only video communication with the other party via the video phone, but also images and control of network cameras.
Leadtek has worked with various PC channels for decades. Traditional security makers want to step into the IP field; that is precisely where Leadtek's background lies. "We have a better understanding of IP products. Since many PC makers are experiencing declining profit margins, they are looking to security products."
"Most pure IP camera makers are OEM and ODM players," said Huang; "few have their own brands. Not only do we have our own brands, we have far more than just IP cameras; we have PC products as well. While our IP cameras are not the most famous, we are a known brand."
2008 will see development of wireless IP cameras and video servers. "While keeping CMOS models as one of our product lines, we will get into PTZ and wireless PTZ. Our main product will be a 10x optical zoom camera."
Mintron was one of the earliest camera manufacturers in Taiwan. Mintron's DSP and CCD cameras are used in diverse fields including industrial control, astronomy, aviation, healthcare, transportation and security. According to General Manager Micky Yang, the company is planning to shift its R&D focus to Japan. First, Mintron will partner with other players to establish a semiconductor design company that will focus on video ICs and CCDs used as controllers in LCDs and camera CCDs for mobile, industrial and medical applications.
A system on chip (SoC) design and dedicated semiconductor foundry in Taiwan will produce the ICs. Mintron will also set up a plant and distribution company in Japan to manufacture and sell CCD cameras made with the high-end ICs. Meanwhile, Mintron Taiwan will be responsible for manufacturing and sales of mid to high-end products, while Mintron China will manufacture and sell more economical models in China.
"Many Taiwanese manufacturers are facing bottlenecks as they buy their chipsets from Sony, Sharp and Panasonic," pointed out Yang. "Unfortunately, Taiwan lacks top IC design talent. That is why we are looking in Japan."
Mintron will launch a special camera for automobiles in 2008. The wide dynamic range of the camera has been improved so the sensor reaches 1:100,000 (most cameras are only 1:500). This means that camera brightness and color contrast are much better. In addition, the camera provides better views when switching from extremely bright to dark conditions.
Temperatures in and around cars can get extremely high. While most cameras have operating temperatures from -10 to 60 degrees Celsius, Mintron mobile cameras work in temperatures from -30 to 85 degrees Celsius. Moreover, traditional cameras cannot be used in cars because of space limitations and high levels of interference. "The wiring should be as simple as possible for mobile applications, and they should be able to transmit audio and video signals," said Yang. Twin-pair connection (maximum of eight cameras) reduces space requirements as well as interference generated by the car. Furthermore, the camera can feature purely digital signals.
According to Yang, cars will feature advanced camera technology to capture and analyze images to send alerts when cars cross medians or get too close to pedestrians. All car information, such as speed, records of acceleration and breaking, direction and headlight condition will also be stored in DVRs.
"All this information, together with images taken by cameras and GPS data will achieve better safety and management. Such an advanced application can be used for cars that require top security, such as vehicles used in money transportation, logistics, homeland security and airports," said Yang.
Founded in 1987, Moxa focuses on data network products such as multiport serial boards, serial device servers, industrial Ethernet switches, video over IP servers and front-end embedded computers. According to Harry Hsiao, Networking Product Manager, the company's experience with industrial Ethernet has given it expertise in not only data production equipment and transmission, and Internet controls, but also video and audio data products. This has made it easier for Moxa to enter the video server and IP camera markets. "With cameras, users can immediately check production lines for malfunctions or unusual occurrences. Video images help technicians determine what type of equipment and human resources to bring before arriving on site," said Hsiao.
Usually, video surveillance is used for crime prevention (theft and violence), said Hsiao. In factories, however, video surveillance is more about keeping production facilities safe. "First, video is used to monitor each substation on the production line; second, it ensures that employees are complying with safety measures. Most people think that accidents are the sole responsibility of the employer; not so, employees must take care as well." Camera images, he added, can be used to determine liability.
What differentiates Moxa from other security manufacturers is its extensive networking background. "Video over IP (VoIP) is all about networking," pointed out Hsiao. "It is good to put everything online, but what do you do to connect 300 plus cameras? What do you do if there is insufficient bandwidth and video can run at only 30 frames per second?"
Based on past experience in networking and industrial design, Moxa is able to develop suitable products for its customers. This is important as industrial envi ronment s can be har sh, the temperatures extreme. Loss of data can be devastating if production lines fail. "Industrial users must have good backup. We have the expertise to build such systems," said Hsiao.
Hsiao discussed an oil field in Saudi Arabia. The outdoor environment with direct exposure to the sun and high temperatures means that video servers must be extreme-weather proof. "Our product can work from -40 degrees to 75 degrees Celsius. It is also interferenceresistant, as well as dust and waterproof. Our video servers are not equipped with fans because of their excellent heat conductivity."In 2008, Moxa will launch IP cameras. "Video servers and IP cameras are just a small part of our solutions. We integrate all data networking products, such as serial devices, switch routers, I/O controls and media converters with our VoIP products to provide complete solutions for the industrial market."
Founded in 2000, Pixord is a global manufacturer of network cameras, video servers and storage solutions. Recently acquired by Taiwan-based IC design house Elan Electronics, Pixord was one of the earliest manufacturers of video and audio over IP products in the world. Influences have been far-reaching, according to Kevin Wu, President and CEO of Pixord. Elan Electronicsa public companyinjected extra financial resources, enabling Pixord to go beyond its financial limitations. "Elan's investment enabled us to plan and develop with more options. We have also attracted more talent," said Wu.
Pixord has also gained pricing advantage. "Since we have our own chipsets and ICs, product development will accelerate, enhancing customer confidence," noted Wu. "Ultimately, this will generate more revenue." Wu cited strong integration as a unique strength. "We provide a consistent platform. From chipsets and ICs, and IP products (cameras and video servers) to providing SDKs and APIs to software makers, our customers do not have to worry about integration," said Wu. Pixord customers also have great confidence in its complete, sustainable solutions. "Since we have our own ICs, we can provide third-party software customers with our SDKs. With consistent SDKs, they need not worry about future integration even if the hardware changes."
In 2008, Pixord will concentrate on media converters. These, said Wu, transfer signals from copper cables to fiber. Media converters (VDSL is the core technology) enable traditional CCD cameras (with cables) to move to IP and digital data. "Before, you had to uninstall the cable and reinstall the network lines," said Wu. "With media converters, however, you can use the original cable lines by attaching a media converter to either end of the line; the cable can be used as an Internet line to transfer IP and digital data. Different converter models can be used for cable, telephone, POE, and twisted pair," he explained.
Previously, observed Wu, media converters were used in telecommunication, not security. As security shifts from analog to digital, however, everyone is using different linescable, IP, POE and wireless. "Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Cabling has been around for almost half a century, though, so if you need to reinstall the whole thing, it will cost a lot. That is why we started making converters for security applications." Cost of equipment, installation and maintenance can be reduced as well. For most lines, transmission distance is up to 300 meters. With converters, it can reach as far as 1.5 kilometers. Media converters transfer power as well.
The company also plans to come out with 500-megapixel CMOS cameras in 2008. "With CMOS cameras, we achieve the same effect as CCDs but at a lower cost," said Wu.
Founded in 2004, RapidOS is a supplier of both Linux-based and Windows-based DVR products, including internal DVR cards and external USB DVR boxes as well as standalone DVRs and cameras. Chevy Yang, Vice President of RapidOS, believes that every generation has to represent innovation. "When we first started making PC-based products, 16-channel DVRs and audio were still not common. Despite this, we incorporated both features." Until today, RapidOS remains one of the pioneers to provide a full line of Linux-based products with hardware compression. "Our internal DVR card supports up to 16 channels 480fps while most others support only up to four channels 120fps."
Starting as a manufacturer of PC-based Linux-DVRs, RapidOS has accumulated a wealth of experience and know-how to develop standalone Linux-based DVR. The company will be launching a high-end standalone product in November this year which also supports 16-chan, 480 fps and real-time recording, in addition to its existing series of standalone DVRs from 4 channels 30fps to 16 channels 240fps . "While many other manufacturers get their DVR boards from Korean suppliers, we have designed and developed our own so that we may do ODM for other branded companies," stressed Yang.
A central management software enables the user to connect with up to 500 DVRs (8,000 cameras in total) from one CCC (Central Control Center) server. The software allows users to centrally control and monitor each camera at a remote site. It highlights an unusual situation by alerting the guards with pop-up messages hence to save management and maintenance cost. "Such a central management software is perfect for large-scaled projects where thousands of cameras are installed." Most significantly, it is a central control software that supports mixed platform of Linux and Windows, PC based and standalone as well as network cameras.
According to Yang, Linux-based DVRs are more reliable and more cost-efficient than Windows-based ones; the former are used on projects by mid to high-end users who want standalone products, pointed out Yang. However, since the majority of people are used to Windows, she added, RapidOS must spend more on educating the market on the notion that Linux operation can be as easy as Windows.
"Somehow, security clients are smaller and more conservative; they are often unwilling to switch from Windows to Linux as the transfer cost is too high. That is why we developed Windows and Linux in parallel and try to convince customers to add our Linux product lines to expand their business to a higher-end level." said Yang.A competitive strength is RapidOS' ability to integrate its products with other systems, including GPS, 3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project), license plate recognition, intelligent video software and traffic counting. The company's APIs, SDKs and technical support help clients connect their products with access control and alarm systems.. "Once the customer gives us the specifications, we make everything ourselves, from the hardware design and driver coding to the software," said Yang.
The company is considering moving part of its production to China to lower manufacturing costs and speed up local delivery to the Chinese market. According to Yang, the Chinese market requires only the hardware compression for real time preview and recording. "We are the only Taiwanese manufacturer in the Chinese market that makes Linux-based products with full, hardware compression for 4ch/120fps, 8ch/240fps, 16ch/480fps Linux-based DVRs."
Sunvision Scientific, established as Sun Scale in 1988, was engaged primarily in manufacturing high-precision load cells. In 2002, founder Eric Chang established Sunvision Scientific. Chang had realized that the quality of video images released were often poor, meaning that they could not be used as evidence. "I wondered if I could make something that could do a better job." The company started conducting research into active tracking surveillance systems in 2002, but it was not until Secutech 2006 that the company launched its product.
The active tracking surveillance system is a patented dual-camera design (one wide angle camera for broad area view, and one telescopic camera for local detailed images). "Wide angle provides a broad view of what is going on; telescopic gives you the details," explained Chang. The camera also possesses automatic high-speed tracking of moving targets with optical zoom. While the wide-angle camera records mostly in normal conditions, once a moving object (motion) appears, the close-range telescopic camera starts filming. "We designed the product to make up for what was missing in traditional cameras. In traditional wide-angle cameras, you get a wide view, but one that is not far enough. Four meters is usually the maximum," clarified Chang.
In addition, the telescopic camera also takes images from a mirror installed inside. A reflection and movable mirror mechanism is inserted inside the camera module so that the telescopic lens camera is fixed and can take images from the mirror instead of the traditional PTZ platform . "A telescopic lens camera at least weighs 600 gram while a mirror is only a few gram. So the mirror mechanism will more durable than the PTZ platform"
One challenge Sunvision Scientific encountered is the longer lead time that it takes for customers to learn about its products. "While many people are interested in our productthey think that the product and technology are goodtesting may take three to six months," said Chang. "Only when system integrators feel comfortable with the products will they start selling and promoting them."
In 2008, Sunvision Scientific will launch its second-generation, standalone, active-tracking surveillance system. The company will also enhance value-added features by working with intelligent video software companies to embed IVS into the camera. "Our customers will be able to take preventive measures rather than respond with after-event investigations," said Chang.
Taiwan Video System
First an IT company, then a security player, Taiwan Video System (TVS) products include CCTV, POS and IPC monitors as well as POS systems and cameras. Four years ago, TVS moved production to China. "It was a strategic move made in consultation with our OEM partners," explained Jeff Chen, CEO of TVS. "Most of them had expanded in the Chinese market. They hoped we could fulfill their orders locally. In addition, many of our upstream component suppliers had also moved to China. Given that we also want to establish our own brand and channels in China, we believed that the move made great sense."
It has taken TVS four years to set up the basic infrastructure from product supply, logistics and service to product improvement and compliance with local regulations. "Many people wondered whether the decision would be correct," said Chen. "We think that the future lies in China. It is the second largest market next to the U.S., and it is the fastestgrowing economy in the world."
In 2008, TVS will focus not only on existing overseas OEM business, but also brand development in China. While CRT and LCD monitors are core products, TVS is also working on cameras and DVRs so that it can cover both input and output devices, including image-processing and storage devices.
"Before , we focused on mass production; now, we must provide value-added products," stated Chen. In 2008, TVS is extending its product line from LCD monitors to other value-added applications, such as auto-tracking software, large LCD screens and TV wall controller programs.
In 2008, TVS plans to launch its all-in-one LCD DVR. "We are integrating a four-channel LCD monitor, DVR and multimedia player." The product will also provide an alarm interface. With multimedia player, it will be able to show advertisements at user sites. "The DVR can simultaneously record and monitor while broadcasting advertisements."