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CCTV, IP, and IT

CCTV, IP, and IT 

Three types of CCTV cameras are currently in use: Legacy analog equipment, high-definition analog over coax (usually called Analog HD), and IP cameras.

Legacy analog cameras can still be purchased online, but have been discontinued by most manufacturers and distributors. These low-resolution cameras of the 80s and early 90s simply don’t meet modern requirements.

Analog HD cameras are still manufactured. While many in the industry consider them legacy products, demand keeps product lines alive. Demand is driven by the fact that many organizations have already incurred the expense of coax cable installation, and analog HD cameras are slightly less expensive than comparable IP cameras. As a result, upgrading an existing analog system with HD cameras can be significantly less expensive. Analog HD cameras are connected to a Digital Video Recorder (DVR), some of which are backward compatible with older analog equipment, simplifying the upgrade process.

IP cameras are state of the art, and favoured for new installations. Like other IP devices, they can use static or DHCP-assigned IP addresses. IPV6 support is emerging. From an IT perspective, IP cameras require stable network connectivity and sufficient bandwidth. Dedicated and shared network topologies are both common.

For small installations, some manufacturers offer Network Video Recorder (NVR) products with a built-in power over ethernet (PoE) switch. A Cat5e or Cat6 cable is run directly between the NVR and each camera. The NVR powers the cameras, and many provide automatic configuration features for ease of installation. The NVR also has a network interface for connection to the corporate network. In a typical small deployment, the cameras are on a private network controlled by the NVR. A monitor, keyboard, and mouse may also be connected. Various types of remote access is provided via the corporate network. While some customers prefer to mix and match camera types and focal lengths, these installations usually consist of components from the same manufacturer. Four, six, and eight camera kits including an NVR are readily available.

Larger installations may dedicate networks to CCTV, but organisations with existing horizontal and vertical networking investments may choose a VLAN instead. While it is possible to place an IP camera on an existing network, VLANs are preferable for security and performance. Central Management System (CMS) software is also very popular. Unlike NVRs, which include vendor-specific features, several firms specialize in CMS software that supports a broad range of cameras.

IP cameras vary significantly in terms of functionality. Some simply provide standard ONVIF-compliant video streams. Others include in-camera features such as motion detection, line cross detection, email notifications, and video storage on a Micro-SD card.

For example, a $200 Hikvision camera with an Micro-SD card installed and connected to a basic 10/100 PoE switch can act as a stand-alone home or office surveillance system and send emails with still images when motion is detected. However, managing and receiving alerts from more than a few of these cameras becomes laborious. Like other brands, Hikvision sells NVRs. Unlike their competition, they also offer free Windows and OSX software for those who wish to implement their own NVR on their own hardware.

CMS vendors, such as Milestone Systems, offer enhanced features and benefits. In addition to taking advantage of in-camera features such as motion detection, they implement additional functionality. Milestone’s XProtect software editions range from a free version to a high-end large enterprise licence that can be deployed across multiple servers to provide centralized management of distributed sites.

XProtect is more complicated than vendor-specific software, but this complexity is necessary in larger deployments. For example, an installer may wish to take advantage of one vendor’s in-camera motion detection, but use XProtect’s software implementation with another brand. XProtect also offers integration with other systems. For example, an IP-capable infrared motion detector could trigger XProtect, which in turn could move a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera to a preset location to capture video of the event.

Another CMS vendor, Sighthound, focuses on the home and small business market. Sighthound (also the product name) uses artificial intelligence to distinguish between humans and other moving objects. This requires significantly more computing resources. In practice, a middle-of-the-road Windows PC can handle six or eight cameras, enough for a home or small office.

Video motion detection, especially outdoors, is never perfect. Trees and bushes that sway in the wind, strong shadows during the day, and car headlights at night create significant changes in the camera image. Traditional motion detection configuration involves selecting parts of the image to use, and tweaking time and sensitivity settings. Sighthound, on the other hand, doesn’t provide sensitivity adjustments. Users create rules to reflect what they wish to detect, and what to do when the event occurs. Sophisticated settings include requiring the object to be entering, leaving, in, or on top of a specified area.

I tested both products and, with patience, was able to eliminate many, but not all, false positives. Headlights slowly sweeping across a driveway will trigger virtually any traditional motion detection system, including Hikvision cameras and XProtect. Sighthound is more immune to this issue, but shadows cast by trees and bushes are sometimes mistaken for people.

Neither product produced false alarms indoors. Homeowners and small businesses might prefer Sighthound to monitor for humans in specific areas, or for tasks such as detecting people entering or exiting. Industrial-strength XProtect’s motion detection can be focused on specific areas, the product is very reliable, and it scales well.

CMS software in general offers increased value beyond simple video surveillance. These include using automatic licence plate readers to control access to garages and high-security facilities, facial recognition to detect known or unknown individuals, and various types of counting and traffic flow applications. For example, it is possible for a grocery store to leverage their CCTV investment to count shoppers and analyze their movement throughout the store. This data can be used for many purposes including product placement. Many see this as the future of CCTV development.

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