Processors Drive Video Breakthroughs

Processors Drive Video Breakthroughs

Security solutions are only as good as their components. Processors power cameras, displays and storage devices, enabling them to crunch data and secure scenes.

What's on the inside truly counts for video surveillance.

Two cameras may look exactly the same on the outside, but image sensor resolution and processor speed will distinguish one from the other. For storage, a powerful processor can handle more compression formats, channels and analytics. As technology improves, the performance of security components has progressed as well.

In-Stat expected semiconductor revenue for video surveillance to be "relatively flat" between 2009 and 2013, as lower prices offset shipment growth. Revenue from analog cameras, network cameras, DVRs, NVRs and encoders will reach US$19 billion in 2011, according to its "Worldwide Market for Video Surveillance Equipment" report.

IMS Research had a more conservative take. It estimates the market for finished security equipment was less than $15 billion, including video, access control and intrusion.

The market for network camera components will exceed $300 million by 2012, dominated by encoders and image processors. "The video encoding processor segment remains among the most dynamic opportunity, as it shifts to H.264 from MPEG-4 part 2," said Michelle Abraham, In-Stat analyst, in a prepared statement.

In-Stat found DVR shipments increasing more than cameras, with the highest growth for hybrid DVRs.

Component suppliers are witnessing this growth firsthand. "From an analog channel point of view, hybrid DVRs are growing in popularity, but the vast majority of systems are still standard DVRs," said David Nam, VP of Sales, Techwell. "We can say that we estimated a total market size of around 40 million analog video channels shipped in 2009. This number is derived from a combination of DVR and hybrid DVR systems. The majority were for 4- and 8-channel systems, but we have been and are still seeing strong growth in the 16-channel segment."

Falling prices for video analytics means embedded devices will increase at a "fast pace," In-Stat said.

Market Factors
Processor prices have held steady despite slow market conditions. "We have seen mild price erosion in the analog video decoder market," Nam said. "However, we do not feel it is due to the general global economic downturn. It is clear that these price decreases are a result of normal market competition, as they are generally consistent with year-over-year price declines that we have seen when the economy was strong."

Product manufacturers are willing to pay for effective solutions. "We have not seen a significant impact on processor pricing," Mark Oliver, Director of Product Marketing, Stretch. "The slow market has seen many manufacturers looking to streamline their development efforts while still differentiating their products."

Some component providers launched affordable solutions. "Intel introduced Intel Atom processors to provide customers with a low power, cost-effective alternative," said Karen Ooi, Marketing Manager forDigital Security and Surveillance, Intel Corporation. "The Intel Atom processor is ideal for the entry-level DVR market."

Surveillance Needs
Video surveillance equipment places tougher demands on components. "The security market has a wider range of diverse standards than the consumer space," Oliver said. "While the consumer market specifies a fairly small range of resolutions and frame rates to assure compatibility between devices, the security market has many combinations of frame rate and resolution that can be changed on the fly."

Surveillance specifications are higher, compared to consumer products. "Higher resolution, better image quality, more camera channel support, advanced multilayer graphics and HD display capability are typically required for professional-grade DVRs," Nam said. "High-performance DVR specifications demand a more advanced video MUX and display controller, higher channel density H.264 video codecs, and faster, more powerful host CPUs."

Video components must withstand rugged usage 24/7 and provide high reliability and stability, Ooi said. Surveillance components should also support high resolution for better playback and zooming.

However, surveillance display components are following mainstream trends. "The trend for displays looks like the consumer TV and monitor market," said Jay Kim, Technical Marketing, Macro Image Technology. "Display functions are similar to consumer products, such as DVI or HDMI display and HD DVRs/NVRs."

Camera processing has enabled an increase in edge devices. "With rapid growth in China's video surveillance market, there is an immediate need to meet the needs for sophisticated smart applications," said Dave Yang, CTO of Vimicro, in a prepared statement. The company's network camera processors support analytics, including recognition for faces, license plates and numbers.

A Texas Instruments (TI) network camera reference design comes with video stabilization and face detection for onboard smarts, according to a prepared statement. It includes video quality enhancements such as noise filtering, auto white balance and auto focus.

The TI solution boosts picture quality further with global dynamic range enhancement, bringing out shadowy details without washing out highlighted areas. It compensates for reduced dynamic range common in cheap CMOS sensors, while supporting 5-megapixel resolution. As network cameras face more online risks, the TI solution includes the advanced encryption standard.

Storage Devices
Processor speed is a benchmark for any DVR, NVR and hybrid DVR. Depending on the application, an array of processors — DSPs, ASICs, SoCs and FPGAs — enable faster finished solutions.

"Surveillance product performance no longer depends only on basic frequency, which is influenced by the architecture of processors, as more and more processors adopt multicore architecture with speedy processing nowadays," said Yonghua Jia, Technical Director, Hikvision.

Some suppliers see increased demand for new chip architecture. "With HD resolution and video analytics, we are seeing a trend in customers adopting higher-end multiprocessors to manage the incremental need for computing power," Ooi said.

The Stretch solution is speedy with simple C/C++ programming. "Software-configurable processors contain programmable fabric," Oliver said. "The fabric is used to massively accelerate the performance of the processor by creating a custom instruction set for each application."

Storage devices require processors capable of crunching several compression formats. "We look for powerful processing ability, with H.264 support and multicodec streams," said Hong Yuan Chu, Engineer, Dali, a provider of finished video products.

H.264's efficient compression taxes processors. "Suppliers who can deliver reliable H.264 solutions will succeed, as we expect H.264 to be a trend for another four years," said C.J. Liang, GM, Grain Media, a provider of SoC solutions.

Compression efficiency is required for larger images. "Video streams with increased resolution are making M-JPEG and MPEG-4 formats increasingly expensive to use," Oliver said.

"H.264 AVC and the more recent SVC are becoming popular," he said. "SVC is generating interest as it delivers the flexibility and scalability needed to retain the clarity of HD video, while offering effective storage management and access to the streams over networks to remote locations."

While intelligence is moving to cameras, onboard functionality is limited. More complex algorithms still reside on back-end storage devices, making intelligent analysis an integral part of processing.

Some product manufacturers specify smart components. "Having the capability to support intelligent video analysis is a critical indicator," Jia said.

Intelligence features prominently in component design. "There is a definite move in the industry toward embedded onboard video analytics, although its adoption has been somewhat sporadic in the marketplace," Oliver said. "As the technology is embraced, it will gain increased market share both in DVR and network camera systems."

Grain Media's solutions are designed for video codec algorithms and megapixel resolution, highlighting the importance of processing power, Liang said.

There are more processors supporting third-party video analytics. "We have ObjectVideo, iOmniscient and Huperlab on Intel architecture today," Ooi said.

Components need flexible integration capabilities to go into finished products. "The Techwell device simplifies the DVR design significantly by integrating many key components for the display and record functions of the DVR on a single IC," Nam said. "This not only simplifies the component bill of materials (BOM), but also reduces the overall cost of components in the BOM."

The Stretch solution contains a fast chip-to-chip bus, allowing processors to be tiled together into arrays for added scalability, Oliver said.

Several processors together improve compatibility issues. "The current approach is to have the video capture silicon directly mounted onto the motherboard to eliminate the likelihood of reliability and capability issues, as well as reduce system height and power consumption," Ooi said.

Power Supply and Beyond
Components need reliable power sources that are efficient. "It is vitally important to choose a processor with low power consumption for security cameras and 4- or 8-channel DVRs with compact design, when there is no ventilation fan for heat dissipation," Jia said. "Low power consumption can reduce the complexity of product design and achieve high stability in product performance."

The TI network camera solution uses PoE and requires only 3 watts for a modest carbon footprint.

Specifications are not the only thing product makers look at. "Apart from the processor, software, technical support and services should be considered," Jia said. "When it comes to a new generation of processors, the continuity and compatibility of the new generation should be highlighted."

The benefits of IP make it a lasting trend. "IP and HD are definitely the future for video surveillance," Jia said.

Manufacturers are less certain about video standards for interoperability. "IP video standards such as ONVIF or PSIA have little influence on component selection," Jia said. "As long as the chips support standard video formats and system development platform, the IP video standards are not must-have, but nice-to-have."

The prevalence of proprietary video formats hinders IP video uptake, resulting in a bevy of standards. "The emergence of several new standards such as ONVIF, PSIA, and HDcctv has created confusion and concern for customers," Nam said.
" Many customers are joining these standard bodies to understand and acquire firsthand knowledge and the ability to provide input in the definition of the specifications, so they are better prepared for the eventual market success or failure of these standards."

For TI, its camera reference design supports PSIA, one of the first IP video standards. However, HDcctv has generated buzz for maximizing existing video systems. It uses HD-SDI to send 720p video through coaxial cabling, allowing users to add HD cameras without rewiring installations.

"Although IP video is a growing trend, the security surveillance market is still dominated by analog cameras and DVRs," Nam said. "It is estimated there are 400 million analog cameras using coaxial cables installed worldwide. With such a monumental investment in the coaxial cable infrastructure, there is a need for technologies that take advantage of existing installed coaxial cables."

Maximizing on existing investments can result in big savings. "Cabling costs contribute to 75 percent of total system installation cost," Ooi said. "With HDcctv providing HD video resolution, coaxial cable cameras could potentially provide strong appeal to customers."

Stretch offers HDcctv compliant solutions as a founding member, but also supports other standards. "Most people we talk to are sitting on the fence watching the ONVIF versus PSIA debate and waiting until there is a clear winner," Oliver said. "We at Stretch are agnostic and will support the requests made of us by the customer base."

With standards promising better third-party integration, video surveillance components will overcome proprietary hurdles. As video gets smarter, more detailed and more efficiently stored, solid processors fuel product innovation.

Share to:
Comments ( 0 )