The first IP network-based megapixel (MP) cameras were a disruptive technology, yet they were often more expensive on a unit basis than their familiar analog counterparts. Early adopters dealt with higher cost, integration limits, reliability issues, and basic feature sets. The benefits of the technology, however, meant that as these issues were worked out, megapixel cameras became the accepted norm, largely pushing aside new development in older analog technology.
Testing vs Specification Sheets
Image quality varies from vendor to vendor, and sometimes from within a single vendor’s own camera lines. While different vendors may tout similar capabilities such as MP ratings, bandwidth consumption, low light, and WDR (wide dynamic range) technology, only an actual side-by-side comparison will demonstrate significant differences. Such a test in an actual or closely simulated environment will help ensure that the selected camera meets the project objectives.
For example, which camera picks up a person’s face or a vehicle’s license plate the best? Which one delivers the color that most closely matches that actual object or scene? Which one works best in varying lighting conditions during the day or night?
Single Sensor, PTZ, or Multi-Sensor
Megapixel cameras are offered in many configurations, including single-sensor fixed view, PTZs, or multi-sensors.
A single sensor megapixel camera delivers superior image quality with more detail over a larger area than does a typical analog or standard IP camera (see resolution chart, below). This means that fewer cameras can be used to cover a similar area for a new project. When replacing existing cameras, new coverage zones should be calculated to maximize the benefit of the higher resolution.
PTZs have long been used to reduce the number of single-sensor cameras to cover a specific area. The design of a PTZ leads to only a single area being the focus of attention at any one point in time, leaving the rest of the are without coverage.
Multi-sensor megapixel cameras, first introduced by Arecont Vision in 2006, are now commonly used replacements for legacy PTZ technology, and available from many vendors. While switching PTZs from analog to megapixel improved their image quality, the optics package – no matter how good – can still only cover one area at a time.
Multi-sensor panoramic cameras have grown in popularity because they offer non-stop high- resolution area coverage indoors or out. When zoomed into a particular area, the rest of the scene is still monitored, streamed, and recorded, with no loss of situational awareness.
Four megapixel sensors offering either 180o or 360o panoramic views are standard in the best models. Multi-sensors further reduce costs, not just in requiring fewer cameras (as in image below), but also because the best models integrate with leading VMS/NVR systems for more choices, and require only a single IP address, single PoE cable, and a single VMS license camera.
Panoramic multi-sensor cameras views are typically preset at the factory, so that once mounted or hung, only the focus needs to be adjusted, making installation quite easy. Check the available resolutions and physical size of the panoramic camera to make sure it meets your requirements for quality and aesthetics.
Panoramic vs Adjustable-View Multi-Sensors
Another new technology emerged in 2014 when Arecont Vision introduced the industry’s first adjustable-view or omnidirectional multi-sensors. Other vendors have now begun introducing their own initial models. Like their panoramic brethren, the best omnidirectional cameras typically offer four megapixel sensors, requiring only single PoE cable, IP address, and VMS/NVR license.
The main difference from a panoramic camera is that in an omnidirectional version, all 4 sensors can be thought of as separate cameras in a single enclosure. A wide range of views can be selected – an assembly line view perhaps, a corner view with three sides covered plus the area below, a traffic circle, an entire large room or facility, or much more. And each sensor can be adjusted for specific coverage requirements. Always check that the sensors can be adjusted to the range you require; some early models may be restricted in coverage and options due to their design. Other camera designs are much larger than they need to be; selecting a smaller model will typically allow it to blend into the environment better.
The lowest cost omnidirectional cameras are completely manual for setup, allowing the user to move each sensor to the correct position and then focusing individually.
Midrange models can be remotely focused once the sensor has been positioned, simplifying the process.
The newest omnidirectional models can be completely setup up remotely. At time of writing, Arecont Vision was the only vendor offering this option, but other vendors will certainly be working to copy the design.
The installer simply hangs or mounts the camera, then dismounts the ladder or lift and moves the sensors to the correct position and focuses as required, all from the safety of the ground using a computer. This allows different views to be selected when needed, such as in a stadium for a concert one night and professional sports the next, or for other desired viewing adjustments without requiring physically touching the camera. It reduces time required to make changes, simplifies the process, and reduces the potential risk of damage to the camera and of injury to the employee or integrator personnel making the adjustment from atop a ladder or lift.
The biggest concern regarding megapixel cameras today is around cybersecurity. This issue was not on most security professional’s list of issues only a short time ago.
This has changed as a result of many high-profile media reports of security exploits that maliciously repurpose cameras, NVRs, and supporting infrastructure for use in cyberattacks or in propagating viruses and malware. Others may call home to a foreign country, providing unknown amounts of video and data.
Some megapixel cameras, like the Arecont Vision Mega™ brand, are by their internal architecture unable to be repurposed for use in cyberattacks. Other vendors are developing technology to protect their own cameras from cyberattack, either as victims or propagators.
Following industry standards, implementing security recommendations, and educating users are all cornerstones to cybersecurity while the industry develops new technologies to better combat the threat to cameras and supporting infrastructure.
Security professionals can immediately address many of the issues in the short term by following IT best practices.
Every environment and risk level is different for surveillance systems, and the devices that compose them.
In closing, megapixel cameras were a disruptive technology when introduced for manufacturers, installers, users, and the industry overall. Beneficial and exciting new technologies and features will continue to make their way into network camera technologies and video surveillance systems, and further increase their value and possible applications. Keeping the topics discussed article in mind when designing your project and purchasing cameras will help deliver successful surveillance projects, and deliver years of value.
The author, Jeff Whitney, is Vice President of Marketing at Arecont Vision, and is a member of the Security Industry Association’s Cybersecurity Advisory Board.