The case for embedded digital management

August 2003 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Like many specialist markets the security industry bristles with technical terms that may confuse the user. The surveillance industry is no exception especially since in recent years the various manufacturers have extolled the pros and cons of different types of systems. The debate has centred on the relative benefits of digital versus analog systems and more recently on PC-based systems versus embedded systems.

In the surveillance field the long term analog versus digital debate is considered to be over. Most manufacturers are no longer spending R&D budget on analog products and it is generally accepted that digital video systems offer considerable advantages over the old-style analog systems. For example, digital systems offer extended recording times, higher frame rates, better quality images and ease of use in terms of instantaneous event search by date and time.

However, whilst one debate may be over, another is still very current - should you choose a PC-based or an embedded system.

Essentially a PC-based system runs on a Windows-based PC platform just like Word or Excel. An embedded system uses its own operating system or firmware.

There have been many claims regarding these two types of systems. In the recent past the DVR market was flooded with a wide range of PC-based DVRs. At the time, embedded recorders were not readily available and as a result tended to be high on price. This situation arose because the development cycle of PC-based products was far quicker than embedded, based on the large amount of open scaleable technology available to all manufacturers. This did not necessarily make the PC-based system the appropriate solution but pretty much the only choice.

Today, both PC-based systems and embedded systems are more or less on a par pricewise. Some might argue that PC-based systems have more functionality and flexibility but in fact embedded systems offer the same bells and whistles on a stable and user friendly platform.

Reliability - the critical factor

In surveillance the main priority should be reliability and here embedded technology seems to have the edge. The core reason is that the embedded operating software is dedicated to managing video, whereas PC-based operating systems handle multiple processes simultaneously.

There can be no doubt that the era of standalone devices is fading, and with the influx of innovative products like Web phones, Internet TV and PDAs that connect to a single enterprise, clients are demanding network-aware systems as well as standards that let them plug-in and access their systems anytime and anywhere. There have been considerable advancements in the embedded technology field, and this has strengthened the cause for this technology.

Another key factor of any surveillance system is its networking ability. Ideally you need to allow for scalability and integration which in turn facilitates many features that were previously found only in PC-based systems, and are now available in embedded systems.

IT skills and user friendliness

The advent of digital technology with IT capabilities means that those who control the system need to be equipped with the necessary ability to operate such systems. An embedded system should be created with the control room operator in mind. This allows for easier operation and is user-friendly, leaving more time for the operator to fulfil his job description with greater ease and functionality. Management on the other hand has the full flexibility of a graphical user interface.

For more information contact Chris Koetsier Honeywell Southern Africa, 011 608 2251.

Agree with the author? The PC-based vs embedded systems debate seems to be long from over. If you would like to comment on the above article, send a letter to the editor to

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