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Watching the future

Video surveillance can help you keep an eye on all of your site

Camera formats vary to suit specific applications.
Camera formats vary to suit specific applications.

Video surveillance has been long established in places such as the US and Europe for several decades now and is commonplace in both public spaces and in corporate environments.

Compared to these regions, the Middle East is still an ‘emerging’ market, which means the market for video security in this region is wide open and positively booming.

“When it comes to video surveillance, the highest level of growth is going to be in the Middle East,” says Alistair Hayfield, video surveillance research analyst at IMS Research.

“We predict that the growth rate will exceed 30% for the next five years.” Compare this to a near stagnation of the markets in Europe and the US, and it is clear to see why the Middle East offers such a great opportunity.

Adding to the exciting nature of the market here is the fact that it is the ideal place to showcase the latest and best technologies.

“This is a very technical market. Customers and end users are early adopters. They do not fear adopting new technology, and these are brand-new markets,” confirms Gilles Ortega, regional manager at Axis Communications.

This eagerness to adopt new technology could see the Middle East become a market leader in video surveillance.

“Given the fact the Middle East market is a much newer market, people are willing to make the choice of using IP technology, and going directly to the best and newest technology out there. There is a much faster drive compared to the rest of the world towards IP video solutions,” says Kris de Smedt, video project manager, GE Security.

HIP-IP-HOORAY
When it comes to discussing the latest video technology, there is really just one major game in town.

“Network surveillance is the most significant trend in video surveillance,” says Hayfield. Network or IP (Internet Protocol) video opens up far more possibilities than traditional analogue CCTV systems. Key to IP video is the ability to access cameras remotely from any Internet-enabled device.

Rather than having images located on a circuit accessible only from one certain location (as in closed-circuit television, or CCTV), IP video sends data through standard computer networks, the data feed being visible on any Internet-enabled device – provided, of course, the user is able to supply the necessary security credentials.

Rather than having a guard stuck in a small basement surrounded by multiple monitors, the security feed can be viewed from a standard computer, or even the CEO’s mobile phone.

“Everything is going through IP now,” asserts Ortega. “The interest is to have cameras, access control, fire, alarms and even the BMS integrated in only one system. You do not have to handle five different solutions; it is only one, with access to different modules. Only IP can make this happen.”

IP systems also allow limitless expansion of the system, making it ideal for companies who plan to expand their premises, or businesses requiring large amounts of cameras, such as airports.

Other opportunities opened up by the shift to IP video surveillance include increased image quality delivered by high-definition cameras, and intelligent video, whereby the video system is able to automate large parts of the surveillance operation and even add additional security features.

DEFINING THE MARKET
High-definition (HD) video allows a camera to record a better quality image, which can be useful when analysing the video. “You usually need 40 pixels per foot to have facial recognition, and that is what most people require now,” says Dawn Miller, marketing programmes specialist, IQinVision.

As well as facial recognition, HD also allows more accurate automatic number-plate recognition. Number-plate recognition can be combined with access control, so that a camera can record the numberplate of a vehicle attempting to access a private secure parking area, and the integrated system will only permit a barrier to rise for an approved vehicle.

Using HD cameras can also help reduce overall costs. “What HD does is allow you to have a fuller picture, so there is a greater region you can cover per camera,” says Miller. “Analogue only allows you to do a certain amount, so you need more cameras. You can reduce your costs and installation fees.”

HD video surveillance is growing steadily in the region, thanks again to the technical nature of the market. “At the moment it is only a portion of the total cameras sold worldwide, but it is a growing market, and people are recognising the value of having better resolution images,” says de Smedt.

Khaled Al Saleh, market development manager, GE Security, warns though that companies should be aware of local regulations when it comes to installing HD cameras.

“Cameras cannot be in certain locations such as toilets or swimming pools. You need special permission to locate cameras by pools. These regulations are likely to evolve over time, especially now,” he says. “High-definition makes it more essential to add to those regulations. Privacy is a big concern in the Middle East, so it is something that will probably happen with time.”

However, one of the issues created by higher resolution in cameras is that there is more data that needs to be transmitted along a network, and this also corresponds to increased storage requirments and bandwidth.

As a result, new technologies have been developed to help reduce the load on a network without compromising on image quality.

H.264 is a compression technique that is now being introduced to the market. “H.264 allows higher resolution to provide higher image quality, but with less bandwidth and storage required. The trend is not just to add more resolution, it is also to make sure that the installation, storage and bandwidth follow suit,” says Ortega. Experts estimate that it can offer bandwidth and storage savings of 30% to 50%.

Although many video-surveillance product suppliers are now offering H.264 cameras, some suppliers question the need for the technology. “We are developing H.264 systems. We have sold a decent amount, but we have not really seen the demand,” says Miller. “Everyone offers H.264, but if you go to other vendors, you will hear the same thing. It is a buzzword.”

Video compression in general is something of a controversial trend within the industry. The processing power required for encoding and decoding is substantial, and there is also a certain degree of variability in results between manufacturers. “A number of vendors have even been moved to question how feasible some of the claims are surrounding what is currently possible,” says Hayfield.

Nevertheless, the potential savings offered by H.264 compression could help boost other parts of the video surveillance industry. “H.264 has been used in megapixel cameras which is a significant development, as it makes megapixel cameras a more compelling product,” says Hayfield.

 

CLEVER CAMERAS
Adding to the interest in HD cameras is the ability to include intelligent video, or video content analysis (VCA). Intelligent video takes advantage of the additional resolution offered by HD and computer processing power, and is tipped to be the next major innovation. “Video content analysis is perhaps the most compelling trend in video surveillance,” says Hayfield, estimating that VCA is likely to increase its market penetration from 2% in 2007 to as much as 40% by 2012.

VCA can add features to cameras such as motion tracking, people counting, and sounding alarms when certain areas are entered. Automating parts of the video surveillance system so that users are not required to watch over cameras might seem counter-intuitive, but it actually enables people, often the weakest link in a system, to remain constantly effective.

REMOVING THE NEED FOR PEOPLE
“We are intending to remove the need for people to monitor 16, 32 or 1000 cameras, because we all know that after one hour, someone monitoring 16 cameras will lose up to 90% of what is happening,” says Ortega. Having cameras that only activate when movement is detected can save on recording space, but also helps reduce the dulling effect caused by staring at several screens for long periods.

Automatic people counting is another feature that can provide additional security and indentify possible threats. “It is useful in places like warehouses,” says Ortega.

“You can use the system to count the number of people entering in the morning, and then check to see if the same amount exits in the evening.” Doing so can help alert security staff that there are still people in the warehouse, who could potentially be planning criminal activity.

The boom in technology is also leading to an increase in standardisation. 2008 saw the establishment of the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA).

Both organisations are seeking to create a set of standards which will mean that all IP security devices will be interoperable. At this stage it is unclear as to which (if any) set of standards will become the market leader, with both ONVIF and PSIA having a range of large names supporting them.

However, the eventual effect of the creation of industry standards should create even more growth and development within the video-surveillance market. “By having a single set of standards, manufacturers can spend more on innovation,” says Hayfield.

With the Middle East probably the best place in the world for growth in the video-surveillance market for the next five years or so, it Is certain that the future of the market is going to be here in the region. The future is here already – and the rest of the world will be coming to the Gulf to see how it is done.

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