Panasonic: Product Development Trends and Strategy in 2009

Panasonic: Product Development Trends and Strategy in 2009

Keizo Suzuki, Systems Engineer, Overseas Sales Group, Security and Sound Systems Business Unit, Panasonic System Solutions Company, discussed the company's trendsetting solutions and its 2009 product development strategy at the Global Digital Surveillance Forum (GDSF Asia) in Taipei in April, held concurrently with SecuTech Expo 2009. This is a summary of the talk.

Currently, we are in an economic recession. Some market surveys indicate that the video surveillance market is at a plateau or even in a negative slide. The IP video surveillance market, however, is growing continuously despite the current situation.

Two noticeable advantages of IP surveillance are higher picture quality and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). The picture quality of analog cameras is limited to analog television standards, where scanning lines are 525 in NTSC and 625 in PAL. Network cameras have no such limitations and can supply much more pixels.

The second advance is TCO reduction. TCO refers to the lifecycle cost of an asset, which includes initial, installation, operational and maintenance expenses. In IP surveillance, the initial cost can be higher than that of conventional analog systems; however, the overall, post-purchase cost is lower.

IP Tradeoff and Trends
IP surveillance, on the other hand, has raised some issues regarding the tradeoff among picture quality, data size and frame rate. Because of the transition from VGA to megapixel resolution, data sizes are generally bigger and require more processing power, in turn reducing frame rates. Additionally, with the rise of H.264, bit rates can be lowered but also require more processing power.

The H.264 standard has new encoding tools, previously not used with MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, for higher picture quality at lower bit rates. It also defines several profiles, which refer to sets of capabilities and applications. For example, baseline profile is used for real-time streaming, whereas high profile is for media such as Blu-ray discs.

While the majority of H.264 cameras on the market use baseline profile due to lower processing requirements, adopting high profile is pivotal in striking a good balance between picture quality and compression rate.

High Profile Encoding Tools
In particular, the quantization matrix delivers very good results in picture quality because it optimizes information based on human visual characteristics. Other tools such as CABAC, b-frame and 8x8 pixels DCT are also powerful for compression, but these tools need much higher processing which increases video latency. Therefore, Panasonic applies the quantization matrix in cameras for better picture quality with low latency and applies all of them in a new DVR to realize longer recording.

One question may arise: if high profile requires much higher processing power, why would Panasonic adopt it? The key is "UniPhier," the Panasonic hardware and software platform for digital video products. The company produces both consumer and professional digital video products, including TV sets, video cameras, digital still cameras, cellular phones, car entertainment systems and surveillance cameras, which all require powerful processing for en-/decoding. An integrated platform like UniPhier fasttracks product development.

The i-Pro Lineup
i-Pro is the trademark for Panasonic professional IP surveillance products, different from lower cost, consumer-type webcams. The i-Pro lineup includes several types of cameras, encoders, decoders, NVRs and management software. The latest megapixel models are the WV-NP502, a box type, and WV-NW502, a vandalresistant fixed dome with a varifocal lens.

Our concept for these cameras is H.264 high profile powered by UniPhier, with dedicated features like high picture quality in real time, easy installation and intelligence. These cameras have a full frame rate (30 fps) megapixel transmission at 4 Mbps, as opposed to the competition's 11 fps and 11-Mbps bit rate. At less critical installations, the same quality picture can be transmitted at 2 Mbps with a little frame drop. In the case of VGA, our new megapixel cameras deliver the same quality at half the bit rate of conventional MPEG-4 compression.

Another value-added feature is the multistream design. Our cameras can deliver two H.264 streams and one JPEG stream at independent resolutions and bit rates — You can get one H.264 megapixel stream for the wall monitor, the other H.264 VGA stream for the PC client and the remaining JPEG one for recording.

Wide Dynamic Range
One of our core technologies is the well-known "Super Dynamic." Under this mode, our newly developed CCD can capture a bright area with a short signal/ exposure and a dark area with a long signal/exposure. After capturing, our proprietary DSP combines both pictures and delivers a natural, smoother reproduction of high-contrast images.

The sensitivity of this CCD has also been improved: signal processing, low noise design and adaptive DNR, which are known as our "black-box" technology.

Easy Installation
Another proprietary feature of ours, auto back focus (ABF), makes real-life installations easier than ever, with precise mechanic and electronic designs. Day/night is a common feature for outdoor cameras to get good images in dim light. However, due to certain innate CCD characteristics, the focal point changes between day and night. Our ABF allows cameras to automatically adjust the focus by moving their CCD according to light conditions.

As megapixel cameras are sensitive, it is difficult to get the right focus. An installation typically requires one person for adjusting and another to check. ABF removes the need and reduces installation time and labor cost.

Face Detection
In digital still cameras for consumers, a big trend is to capture faces. We believe that this will also play a big role in security surveillance. By incorporating face detection, our cameras can detect up to eight faces at any given time and transfer their positional information via XML, allowing you to utilize it in your application software.

2009 Development Strategy
The keyword for our product development this year is "all-around." Although video surveillance is migrating toward IP, actual adoption varies from country to country. We, therefore, provide specific products or solutions for both IP-based and analog installations.

High-end markets such as airports, railways and buildings can fully benefit from our solutions' high picture quality and TCO reduction, in addition to scalability and reliability. For mid-range markets, analog products are still preferred. This year, we will renew our standard analog lineup, which includes SD5 cameras, H.264 DVRs and HDMI full-HD LCDs. As for emerging markets, our entry-level products are cost-effective and still of good quality. We have already launched a fixed-focus mini dome camera, WV-CF102, and a simple DVR is coming up shortly.

Panasonic will continue to be a market leader and provide advanced surveillance solutions to meet the growing security needs worldwide.

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