Digital poised to take over the CCTV market

SSN Staff  - 
Monday, April 1, 2002

Lower cost, a greater selection and a series of transitional products have spurred the interest, say some.
Whether the transition comes as quickly as a couple of years, or is stretched out over a longer period, manufacturers concur the move to digital systems for recording and storing CCTV data is under way.

Several factors, including lower cost, increased capability, greater selection and a series of transitional products that bridge the gap between analog VCRs and digital recorders, have spurred the interest, say members of the CCTV component industry.

The recent ISC West trade show, many attendees reported, was awash in digital systems. Rick Bieniak, director of advanced technology for Silent Witness, said the number of digital recorder manufacturers was nearly double that of a year ago, with more than 100 companies offering them.

"The barrier to entry is low," Bieniak explained, "allowing a lot of small shops to get into the market." Bieniak warned, however, that with so many players come a host of claims about image compression and storage capabilities, not all of them legitimate.

Darren Nicholson, director of marketing for Kalatel in Costa Mesa, Calif., said the talk at the show was definitely about the growing digital marketplace. "Everyone was asking about digital solutions at ISC," he said. Yet, Nicholson noted, "two years ago no one wanted to think about it. They were timid about the technology."

Those who deal in digital equipment as part of a CCTV security system say the benefits are clear. Replacing videotapes, VCRs and even the people who must handle the tapes and service the machines is a time and cost savings. And the resulting images, they claim, are clearer and more easily accessible.

Roger Shuman, marketing communications manager for Integral Technologies, Indianapolis, likened the decision to stay with an analog-based system to those people who prefer typewriters over computer systems.

"What you'll find," he said, "is that some people will put it off (the switch to digital). But I'm not sure why you'd want to stay with analog."

Proponents of digital technology tout its functionality and added features. Where users once relied on a recorder, a multiplexer and a switcher, those functions can now be found in a single unit. Even the motion detection function of a camera can be built into the digital recording system.

Shuman noted features such as event-based recording, set in place by detected motion or an alarm, reduces the need for 24/7 recording. Hard disk space, which was seen as a problem for digital systems, "is a non-issue," he said, because of event-driven recording and "bigger and cheaper" hard drives.

Leslie Stevens, director of sales and marketing for RemoteVideo, Irvine, Calif., called the move to remote surveillance systems, driven by a combined digital video recorder and multiplexer, "one of the fastest growing segments in the industry."

The technology, released in the past few years and updated recently, allows end users such as government agencies, banks and retailers, to log on to a web site and view camera activity. Clips of questionable activity can be stored by time, date and location either at a remote data center or on a digital unit connected to the individual camera.

Stevens said while systems such as this are being embraced, some barriers do exist, such as a reluctance to switch from an existing analog system or concerns about network security. In the latter case, she said, users can go with a DVR, or digital video recorder, that doesn't rely on a LAN connection.

Most agree, however, that these and other barriers to making the transition to digital, such as price or fear of rapidly changing technology, are dwindling, though observers differ on how quickly.

Frank Abram, general manager, Panasonic Security Systems Group, Secaucus, N.J., said the limited access to high-speed networks is still a problem for the rapid implementation of digital systems.

"The problem with networking CCTV is a bandwidth problem," he said. Abram predicted it would be at least five years before the transition takes place in earnest.

In the meantime, he said, the challenge that remains "is convincing the factory there's still an analog market out there. The concentration on digital has detracted from the development of camera and VCR products and switching products."

VCR technology, he noted, still has lower-end applications driven by "storage, convenience, familiarity and cost."

Cheryl Bard, product marketing manager for Philips CSI, Lancaster, Pa., concurs with Abram that it could be five years before digital is embraced industrywide. "Everybody is rushing to develop digital," she said.

"There's a lot of R&D, but are the sales there and are customers ready?"
She said the biggest transition has come in the move from analog VCRs to digital recorders. "But they still use the same cameras and monitors," she added.

Other concerns that need to be addressed before the transition is complete, Nicholson said, are backwards compatibility and upgradability. New technology needs to integrate with existing components, such as cameras, as well as other systems such as access control.

Bieniak agreed "people are looking for a system solution."

"They're focusing less on components and more on systems," he said, exploring such questions as "how well do things play together; is it seamless and easy to install?"

The ability to service and install the systems properly is another issue. Bieniak said digital requires "network-savvy technicians" rather than electricians.

Nicholson noted some integrators, especially those handling access control systems, have already entered the IT realm. Still, he said, "the dealer/integrator needs to make an investment in understanding the (digital) system and training their people."