One of the most exciting things about the surveillance industry is the technology changes we see on a regular basis that create the potential for awesome advances in image quality and analysis. Unfortunately, no matter how fast technology moves, it is only when these solutions get to the maturity level that adds value to the end user that they really show their worth.
To get an update on which technologies are at the value-adding stage and what users are demanding from their surveillance solutions, not to mention what challenges are in store for the surveillance industry in general, Hi-Tech Security Solutions invited a few people to join us in a surveillance round-table. We asked our attendees what they thought would be the key issues in surveillance in the coming year or two. What follows is a brief insight into the interesting discussion that followed.
Our attendees were Francois Malan from Camsecure, Gordon Moore from ADI Global, Rob Anderson from Rob Anderson Consulting, Roy Alves from Axis Communications and Ernst le Roux from CCTV in Focus. We started the debate by asking each attendee to tell us what they thought the key trend or technology would be in the surveillance market over the next year.
Trends to watch
Malan notes that there are many trends in the surveillance market at the moment, such as high definition (HD), megapixel, wide-dynamic range and so forth. However, he sees edge storage as something that is going to be important over the coming year, even to the point of counteracting the move to cloud-based storage to an extent. He also expects to see more VMS systems using edge storage to protect corporate networks.
Analytics solutions will also mature and Malan expects to see different aspects taking centre stage, such as usability in LPR (licence plate recognition) and movement detection. “Facial recognition is going to be tried and tested in the upcoming year, as will people-counting. I do not think many other solutions will really make an impact this year.”
From a distributor’s perspective, Moore thinks we are going to see a lot of Asian products starting to make an impact in higher levels of the CCTV market instead of mainly at the lower levels. “On the higher end, I think image quality is definitely going to be the focus, the race for the highest resolution is going to slow down and we are going to focus more on the image quality and storage.”
Anderson agrees with the above, but has also seen that the client base is starting to become a lot better educated than they ever have been. “For the past few years they have being inundated by salesmen selling the latest trick. Now they are starting to become more aware of what they are really getting and what they really need. They are also looking at the whole solution and not simply the latest camera technology.
Alves agrees that edge storage will be important in the coming year, noting that SDXC cards already hold 256 gigabytes (GB), which will make a significance impact – and there is already talk of two terabytes being available within the next 12 to 18 months. “I also think vendors are coming under pricing pressure as manufacturers in the East increase the pressure in terms of quality and price.
“We will also be seeing cameras in the near future that are able to ‘see’ better than the human eye.” We are already seeing that happening in the low-light field. This is a very exciting time for camera technology.”
Le Roux expects to see edge storage have an impact, but he is also seeing clients demanding more from their surveillance solutions. If they lay out the money, they want to see returns.
He also thinks this year is going to be tougher for business than before. Due to the economic conditions, Le Roux has even seen some larger users cutting costs by buying equipment for themselves and then making use of the ‘bakkie brigade’ for installation. More often than not, this leads to problems as these installers do not know enough about large-scale integration projects to deliver the quality desired. This will put more pressure on manufacturers and distributors to step in and provide on-site assistance – something they already do as a free value-added service, but we could see more of them changing their focus and charging for this in future.
He has also seen a leap in the quality of products from the East, but clients still have problems as far as warranties and support are concerned.
Cheap and nasty turns to cheap and quality
Malan says Camsecure has also seen the impact of the entry-level ‘bakkie brigade’ getting into the market and punting the cheaper products from the East, “but we have seen the more mature markets staying away from that.”
While there are still quality issues, these devices are cheaper, which appeals to many people. On a positive note, however, Malan sees this as a way that many people are finding their way into the world of IP surveillance, which is a good move.
Alves agrees, but notes that even with great prices and improved quality, the cameras still fail to deliver when it comes to reliability and support. “In many instances you are pushing HD video out of the unit and you want to stream it across the network, but problems still crop up far too often, such as the device losing its IP address, or it needs to be rebooted every day, or there are bandwidth issues.”
A significant change he expects to see is more customers adopting a standard brand as they do in IT, specifying that all cameras (or even all surveillance kit) on site will come from a specific vendor. “They will accept a price premium for the certainty that they are getting quality, reliability and support they can count on.”
Moore adds that there is definitely a significant increase in Asian products. He says that image quality is easy to copy since they are all using the same chips and processors. “Where we are seeing the challenge for the system integrator is in the menus, the software and the viability of the software side of the products. The other issue is that we do not have anything in place in South Africa to police standards and specifications.”
Common sense standards
The issue of standards is one that the UK light fitting industry has dealt with. Anderson says that the question of unqualified installers and cheap products is as much an issue there as it is on our surveillance market. The way companies deal with this is to only do business with companies that produce an annual due diligence or sustainability report to certify they follow the appropriate procedures. These reports show that the company is sustainable financially, they do not employ slave labour, they are putting out products that have proper guarantees and so on.
“As a consulting practice, we are going to go the route and say no product will be supplied on our sites unless the manufacture has produced a regular sustainability report.” Anderson also adds that to ensure projects are handled correctly and installations are done to the appropriate standards, he also insists that the IT decision maker joins the initial planning meetings to ensure the technical side of things is covered.
Le Roux adds that implementing standards such as those that are common in the IT world will also help the security managers to do a better job and produce a solution that meets the company’s expectations. “We also need to move out of the traditional practice of appointing physical security experts into security manager roles without ensuring they are up to speed on the relevant technology as well. They do not need to be technical experts, but they need to understand what goes into selecting and installing an IP camera, for example.”
The question on skills
While all the participants agree on the need for more education of the security managers and others involved in the market on the customer’s side, they also note the training opportunities offered to installers and integrators are crucial in ensuring a good implementation.
As Alves notes, the cost of the hardware is only a portion of the cost of a camera. Customers are going to find they have got a far larger bill to pay when their installations are handled in an amateur manner and parts of it have to be redone.
Many of the manufacturers are actively pushing their training and certification courses in an effort to ensure that their installers have the knowledge of the product as well as other skills necessary to ensure the end customer gets a good deal. These courses are part of the manufacturers’ branding attempts as the brand with the most and best-trained technicians have an advantage in a market where skills are in short supply.
Not only are top-notch skills in short supply, the leading companies are in a constant battle to attract and retain personnel. Malan and Le Roux note that the industry is going to have to look at some form of skills development programme in the next couple of years if it wants to avoid paying exorbitant salaries for good technical skills or be branded as a bad service industry.
Distributors are also finding themselves in the middle of the skills shortage, as not only do installers rely on them for advice and technical assistance, but the end customer often comes to the distributor for help when frustrated with its implementation partner.
As mentioned above, Moore notes that many distributors are moving to the provision of added value services. “We are finding that as a distributor we are having to provide more and more on site support. We need to support installers by providing them with the necessary training and knowledge to help them with their customers and on-site installations.”
And the challenge is that as companies start skilling up their technicians and develop them, someone else poaches them and offers them a little more money, adds Alves. And on the other side of the coin, many of the larger, well-staffed integrators are downsizing and reducing their training and marketing budgets, giving more opportunity for ‘bakkie brigade’ services.
Looking at technology
One of the articles running in the CCTV Handbook 2013 is from IMS, which examines the research company’s top trends for the coming year. One of the trends they mention is an increase in image quality rather than simply adding megapixels.
Alves says that since most of the top manufacturers use the sensors from a limited number of companies, megapixels is not where the competition really is. “What is going to count is the processing power on the chipsets behind those sensors that enable the camera to do the necessary things, like noise reduction, management, wide dynamic managing, low light cameras offering colour images in near total darkness and so forth.
“The sensor manufacturers are doing some amazing things. We have seen sensors now that are very low light, in fact, lower light than your human eye, the cameras are seeing things in pitch blackness that you cannot see with the human eye. These technologies are getting very interesting.”
Interestingly enough, as you start going to bigger sensors to do 5 and 8 and 10 megapixels, low-light capabilities are diminished. The pixels are a lot smaller and there is less ability to get light onto that sensor
It seems that defining the role for the camera is more important than ever. While you can obtain high megapixel cameras that provide excellent images, you pay the price in terms of frame rate and low light capabilities. Malan says the HD sweet spot at the moment seems to be in the 720p or 1080 sensor. There are also standards in HD so you know there is colour fidelity, broadcast quality and there is going to be full frame rate when you adopt this technology.
Yet, while HD (and megapixel in the 2 MP range) seems to be accepted, Anderson notes that we need to see more control rooms using HD monitors to make better use of the images available. Additionally, the fact that HD-SDR (or HDcctv) transmits images uncompressed with distances that are touted to reach 300 metres soon, there may yet be room for more HD analogue systems.
While there are other compression options available, H.264 seems to be the standard of choice for most systems, H.265 promises even better performance and should start appearing in the coming year. Of course, changing such a broadly used standard will take time.
We should also expect to see more panorama cameras hitting the market in the coming year, with most people expecting good growth in this market. Already many management companies are including dewarping software in their platforms to cater for these systems (such as local platform developer, Cathexis).
Another critical area for Malan is the VMS (video management system) with many devices linking onto them and being able to rebroadcast at different requested streams. Moreover, the importance of Web interfaces and mobile access will become more important as extensions to high quality streams in control rooms.
“The trick is really to get a good VMS that can down-sample the video to those different devices on request or per user requirement. So you could, for instance, take a high quality stream and make it a lower quality stream, maybe a lower frame rate, and only transmit when there is something happening at the camera in order to utilise your existing bandwidth as efficiently as possible.”
And while intelligence in the camera is definitely going to increase, taking some of the processing strain off the servers and management platforms, Anderson expects to see more intelligence in the storage arena. For example, instead of buying more hard drive space for footage that is not needed in court or for specific reasons, some companies are implementing strategies that sees high quality video recorded for seven days – since you will know if there was an incident you need footage from within seven days.
If the high quality footage is not needed within that timeframe, the video can be stored at a lower frame rate to save space. The details will still be there in sufficient quality for analysis should it be needed, but the company will save on the hard drive capacity it needs.
Effective VMSes are also going to provide users with added intelligence to assist in implementing event-based surveillance, where the cameras raise the alarm when something happens.
Moore adds that VMSes provide the ability integrate an installation made up of cameras from diverse brands and with different capabilities, and manage it from a single console. Something the standards like ONVIF have not been able to accomplish.
As a sidebar, Le Roux notes it is important to note that quality is still the key issue when wanting to use surveillance footage for prosecution or even internal investigations. The ability to accurately identify people and objects requires decent quality. He says that in the Western Cape, his teams found that only about 15% of recorded footage was of any use after an event, and even less was usable in court.
Apps for your surveillance camera?
When considering the increased processing power within cameras, an increase in edge analytics is to be expected to relieve processing stress on central servers. However, Alves notes that we could also see a situation similar to the mobile phone market at the moment where users pay a small amount to download the analytical or performance apps they want to use.
If the camera manufacturers get it right, they could encourage software developers to produce specific apps that are camera manufacturer independent, meaning that they can work on any brand or product, but you pay per use. This will not only expand the intelligence capabilities tremendously, but create a new market for applications. There will naturally be some resistance from VMS vendors as this concept would take away some of their core functionality.
KISS your camera
One final trend worth noting is the move to simplicity. As technology advances, it tends to become complex and unwieldy to use. The same can be said of surveillance cameras and the complexity in setting them up and getting them to perform as one wants.
Manufacturers across the board are working on making things as simple as possible to use their products. Not only will this enable companies to set up their surveillance systems with people who are somewhat less technically skilled, but it will also speed the time and reduce the cost of installation.
“One of the initiatives that we have got going at the moment is to ask the question “Who is installing it?” and based on that we will show the appropriate Web page,” says Alves. “Basically we will be making the products more user friendly for the specific type of person on the other end.”
A tough, exciting year
As always happens in round-tables, the printed report only scratches the surface of what was actually discussed. However, given the overall conversation, this coming year should see some incredible improvements in image quality as well as some stiff competition in price in the lower and mid-level markets. Hopefully we will see both the simplification of the technology to make it easier to install, as well as a bigger push on skills development in the security industry as a whole.
Given the continued economic uncertainty, more companies are likely to opt for more technology with a lower onsite guarding presence, although guards are not going to disappear any time soon. Perhaps the integration project of the year will be integrating technology and human security services effectively.
The edge (on camera) is where we should see some action during the year, both in terms of storage and intelligent analytics. However, we will not see any decline in the need for management platforms. In fact, as more systems are integrated with other components of a complete security installation, expectations are that the PSIM market will eventually find more traction.
While the company was not able to attend the round-table, Mel Labuschagne from Regal Distributors added his comments to some of the issues raised at the round-table via e-mail.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What do you think are the trends/technologies to look out for in 2013?
Mel Labuschagne: The price of IP cameras and VMs platforms will continue to drop in 2013. There will be a continued trend to plug-and-play IP (or easy to use) solutions in not only the low end of the market, but the high end as well. I do not see that manufacturers looking at increasing the megapixel rating of cameras, in the main. The market is satisfied with the 1 to 2 megapixel range which gives up to 1080p resolution, the same as high definition TV. Advanced analytics has become more prevalent and at much better prices which has seen more clients implementing this technology. Although analytics is still quite difficult to implement and is very reliant on accurate set up which can be very time consuming.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What do clients want from their surveillance systems?
Mel Labuschagne: Clients want what they have wanted; the best price/performance (most bang for their buck). One has to look at the different market tiers to identify what is taking place. In the high-end tier of the market, clients are aware of IP surveillance solutions and most are implementing the superior technology. In the mid tier of the market, I would say the market split is around 50/50 where customers are aware of IP surveillance solutions but are loathe to spend the extra money. In the low end of the market, many clients may be aware of IP surveillance solutions but are put off by the price differential. However, numerous manufacturers, including cost-effective producers from the East, are now offering plug and play IP solutions (in the up-to 16 camera system range) where the system offers near analogue ease of use. This benefits both the installer and client in ensuring the proposed system is successfully implemented. The low tier of the market is probably still in a 90% analogue to 10% IP scenario.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Do you see a significant impact on the local market from quality Asian products?
Mel Labuschagne: The Chinese products are having an impact on the traditional suppliers. The largest manufacturer of video surveillance equipment is a Chinese company. They, and other Chinese suppliers, have the majority of the market in the East and are now targeting other regions. One has to simply do a search on the Internet to find marketing releases from these Chinese surveillance equipment providers on large sites implemented with their products where this would have traditionally been done by Western suppliers. This is also the case locally where price/performance and the aggressive sales strategy of the Chinese suppliers is increasing their market share.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: How are customers, integrators, installers, distributors and vendors handling the lack of high-level skills when it comes to IP surveillance installations?
Mel Labuschagne: The IP surveillance market is in the early adopter phase so qualified manpower is still a scarce resource. Astute integrators, distributors and vendors will be looking at the IT sector to attain these skills.
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