Trends in the industry - an interview with John Loftus

August 2001 Surveillance

The security industry is in the midst of change, both from a technology and business perspective. Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to John Loftus, MD of Reditron to hear his comments and forecast for the security industry. In this, the first of a two-part interview, Loftus discusses the CCTV industry.

John Loftus
John Loftus

HSS: Many have envisaged that analog technology is fast becoming obsolete. Do you agree with this in the local context? Does analog still have a place in the market?

JL: Our sales of analog control equipment (multiplexers and the like) continue to grow. Obviously whilst some of this is fuelled by market growth as a whole, a large proportion is fuelled by price constraints. A 16-channel multiplexer coupled to a time lapse recorder still retails at some 40-50% of the price of the cheapest PC-based recording system. The advantages of digital recorders over the analog option are well known - easy retrieval of recorded data, network capabilities, multiple options with regard to storage and no tape libraries to manage. What is true is that most of the major manufacturers have ceased further development on multiplexers tending rather to concentrate their efforts on developing their digital products. However, until the digital option is price competitive with the current analog options, I foresee steady sales for multiplexers and time-lapse recorders.

Digital systems have in fact increased the size of the market. Whereas analog options are normally run as standalone options in most companies, digital systems are normally integrated into the company's network and form part of the total management package for many companies. As with any product range, the more options there are available to clients, the general tendency will be to increase the size of the market purely as a result of the increased number of options. Each one has different features and advantages over the other. Some are PC-based systems and some are truly embedded systems. However, I foresee the lifespan of the PC-based system as being relatively short - no more than another two to three years, whereafter the embedded systems will start to dominate the market.

HSS: What are some of the determining factors that one needs to take into account when going digital?

JL: Obviously every application will have different requirements. The simplest method of going digital is to upgrade existing analog sites with digital recorders. In most cases one can retain the existing multiplexer and add a single channel digital recorder. This saves on cost and retains the most expensive element of the original system, being the multiplexer. Some of these single channel recorders have SCSI outputs for additional archiving and even network cards for remote viewing of recorded data on LAN/WAN applications.

The next step up the digital chain is to the standalone PC-based digital recorder/multiplexer with varying recording rates from 12 up to 40 fps across all channels. There are many of these systems available with a multitude of options from each one. Some offer live viewing whilst recording at various rates, others offer viewing at the same rate as the images are being recorded etc.

Embedded digital systems are systems that are specifically engineered for the recording and retrieval of video streams by major manufacturers in the security and video industries.

Even further up the scale there are embedded systems capable of recording all cameras at 25 fps. These are extremely expensive currently and have yet to become volume items.

Major pitfalls to watch out for when buying digital systems include - not being too price sensitive, understanding the difference between rates of viewing and recording rates, the difference between conditional refresh and full frame recording, the systems' ability to remotely archive recorded images, storage capacities and methods of increasing storage capacity, upgrade capabilities of the system and how will the system be supported and by whom. It is recommended that clients draw up two lists - a 'need to have' list and a 'want to have' list. Once all the 'need to haves' have been identified it becomes a simple process of elimination to determine what system will be best suited for that application.

HSS: Because many systems are becoming PC-based, do you see the role of the security manager changing at all? What sort of influence will the IT manager have on surveillance?

JL: The integration of security into IT systems is a growing trend. IT managers are traditionally very protective over their networks and any additions to those networks obviously requires both their input and their sanction. Network utilisation is often a critical factor in determining the type of system chosen. Most network solutions currently comprise of cameras connected via coaxial cable to a digital recorder/transmitter which is then connected to the network. The video compression is therefore a function of the recorder/transmitter and that recorded or live video can then be viewed by other users on the network. The Baxall solution is unique. Baxall now offer a camera which connects directly to the network using a standard IP protocol. Each camera also has three analog video inputs. This means that each digital network camera can compress and transmit video from four sources (being the camera itself plus three others) down a network. Reditron is currently helping to design systems for some very large sites in South Africa using the same technology. The involvement of each project's IT department is crucial to the success of the project.

HSS: When choosing a camera, what are some of the factors that one must take into account?

JL: There are many factors that have to be taken into account: technical specifications, the application and its requirements, as well as any physical constraints the site may impose. Choosing the right camera to make an informed decision to meet the requirements for the job whilst remaining within projected budget is a challenge. The first choice to be made is often whether to go monochrome or colour. Colour has its identification advantages (man wearing red jersey and blue jeans), but disadvantages when used at night or in low light situations. The next consideration would probably be whether to use covert or overt cameras and this would depend on the client's requirements. Following that decision one would then make a decision between static cameras and high speed domes or cameras on pan-tilt-zoom units. Once these parameters have been determined the balance of the factors to be taken into account will probably be determined by budgetary constraints.

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