Bits 'n Bytes

July '99 News & Events

The convergence of digital technology and its influence on CCTV and security.

Frank Abram, General Manager of Panasonic Security Systems Group (US) recently commented on the convergence of digital technology and the resulting influence this was having on CCTV and security. We'll publish his comments in full in the next issue of Hi-Tech Security Systems, but his comments justify inclusion in brief in this issue. The recent successful conclusion of Securex 2000, the continuing impact of globalisation (and the acquisitions, consolidation and suchlike to which local businesses are increasingly exposed), as well as technical convergence across the board, are all good indicators for us as we look forward. And Abram's comments are of interest in that context.

Says Abram, "Though US crime statistics are steadily declining in its major cities, current events - compounded by the media's comprehensive and often relentless coverage - have escalated the public's sense of security, and consequently the desire for more of it. People find comfort knowing that the local shopping centre parking lot is being closely monitored; that their office building and surrounding grounds are under surveillance; and that luggage is now considered a security priority at airports around the world."

Says Abram, "Past events have made John Public weary of what were once everyday routines, and activities that we conducted without a second thought."

"Ironically, the CCTV industry has been experiencing price erosion for the past few years. Equipment prices have steadily dropped across the board as more companies compete for fewer installations - and manufacturing efficiencies reach new heights. Even so, if you can't justify the finances and immediate return of a new CCTV system, conventional wisdom says, "why incur the expense?". I would like to meet someone with conventional wisdom so that I could tell them just how inane this premise is."

"Fortunately, the CCTV and security industries are just starting to reap the benefits from the digital revolution. Over the past twenty years, electronics technology in general has been developing at a rapid pace. Today's products are smarter, smaller and more efficient than ever before. Nowhere is this more evident than in the video, voice and data electronics categories. Consumer and business products alike perform faster and better than we thought possible. It's a revolution in technology unlike any other in our history."

"But with rapid growth and development, there is also confusion - some as the result of bewilderment, some as a result of resistance. In either case, it is imperative that we educate our industry and our customers, so that we can apply these technologies in our every day business. As an industry we must also remain keenly aware that with convergence comes attrition. More people and companies are performing the same task and delivering similar services creating increased competition."

"So the bottom line question is, 'As an industry, are we better off today with all this new technology than we were without it?'. I firmly believe that we are much better off now than we were ever before. However, it's up to us to drive our business and its interests in the best possible direction."

Digital technology the driver

"The driving force behind this technological revolution is, in fact, digital technology. Digital technologies are vastly improving CCTV systems and security capabilities - while expediting the convergence of related systems' technologies."

"First, lets take a look at how digital technology is impacting the CCTV and security industry right now.

"As we work our way through the migration to a digital world, it is important to remember that the majority of CCTV systems across the country utilise analogue devices with a high degree of effectiveness. In addition, the cost of analogue equipment, specifically general purpose analogue cameras, has dropped significantly over recent years. One reason being the availability of CCTV devices featuring digital technology."

"The term digital in and of itself is somewhat confusing and may be the cause of some misconceptions we are often confronted with by users in the field. What exactly does the term digital mean when used to describe CCTV equipment?

"There is a monumental difference between a digital camera and a camera with digital signal processing. A digital camera -- like those commonly found in the broadcast arena -- process digital signals and output a digital signal. This results in exceptionally high quality, but also requires digital compatible devices downstream. To date, there are no such digital cameras available in the CCTV industry. The overall cost is much too prohibitive at this time."

"Since the introduction of the first digital signal processing cameras in the late 1980's, DSP cameras have become more commonplace over recent years. DSP cameras process analogue signals digitally providing a wealth of feature advantages, and then convert the signal to conventional analogue output. This arrangement yields the best of both worlds: high quality features and performance, and reduced costs.

"Other CCTV devices that are often referred to as digital cover a wide range of product categories. They include matrix switchers, multiplexers, quad systems and other processing devices that utilise digital technology to process analogue signals. Move a notch higher on the digital food chain and you'll find computer automation software followed by DVD-RAM recorders."

"It's easy to see why there may be some confusion in the marketplace. To compound the issue, many manufacturers often label products "digital" as part of their marketing strategy. Panasonic is one of them. The intention is not to mislead, but to differentiate. However, it is up to us - collectively - to educate users in the market so that they can make sound purchasing decisions based upon factual information."

"As with any new technology, digital CCTV equipment was initially more expensive than its analogue counterparts. This is no longer the case. Many digital cameras have been scaled down or reduced in price to levels comparable with analogue cameras, proof positive that the transition to digital technology is in full swing. The technology is available, the costs are low and compatibility is not an issue. Now we all need to let our customers in on this information."

"Digital technology is also leading the way in terms of video - voice - data convergence. The demand for integrated systems has been one of the primary forces behind the escalation of digital' s development. Security is no longer viewed as an isolated function, but as an integral component of facility wide operations. As with all automation on the enterprise level, CCTV will be considered a function of MIS in the new millennium."

"To preserve the survival of our industry as we know it, we must learn to integrate or we will become out of date. The capabilities of tomorrow's CCTV systems will be dictated by the digital network's capabilities. A new scale of measurement will consequently govern the capacity and power to process and manipulate video images. As it was once explained to me, the size of the network "pipe" is all that limits the scope of a network's capabilities. The implications for intelligent CCTV systems at this level will break new ground. Therefore, the transition to digital technology and its emphasis on systems integration promises even greater rewards than the equipment itself will provide. Although this may seem to many as a quantum leap in levels of performance, we are only a hop, skip and a jump away from this realisation."

"The integration of access control, fire, burglar alarm systems is another logical transition given the access to these transmission devices. In essence, the convergence of digital technologies is making stand-alone systems a thing of the past. The migration towards enterprise wide facility operations on a network scale will be the conclusive step in the convergence equation."

"That may be a bit futuristic for some to cope with at this point in time - and to some extent I agree. But as I often tell my own sales people, we need to concern ourselves with what we have to sell today and we'll lay the foundation for tomorrow's fully integrated network-based system capabilities. The fact is - we have a great deal of technology to offer the market today. The benefits of digital CCTV are here and now."

Look out for Abram's comments in full, in the next issue of Hi-Tech Security Systems.

Oh, and by the way, Hi-Tech Security Systems was the recent recipient of an ESDA Publication of the Year 2000 award. Thanks to all those who voted for us, we appreciate your confidence in us a publication.

Till next month

Darren Smith

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