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Surveillance: Analog to IP.

Byline: Mark Collett

DIGITAL DUTIES

Digital surveillance cameras provide better resolution, and IP feeds can be combined with shopper data for business intelligence uses.

In a world where literally everything has gone digital - from TVs and books to cameras and even friendships - why are most grocers' surveillance systems still stuck in the analog era?

It's an interesting question. The retail sector has been among the slowest to embrace IP video surveillance technology. IMS Research recently estimated that the retail industry still spends more than 70 percent of its video surveillance dollars on analog equipment. In the grocery business, that number is probably closer to 80 percent.

Many grocers recognize the benefits of IP versus analog, such as vastly better image quality, cost savings from outsourcing surveillance functions, visual verification of alarms and exception reports, easily scalable technology, and the generation of actionable intelligence through video analytics. However, many grocers are still overwhelmingly hesitant to switch.

One issue is that many grocers have analog systems that have not yet reached the end of their projected life expectancies. In these cases, it is common to hold off on implementing IP surveillance until the value of the existing analog system is fully depreciated.

The problem with this approach is that it delays grocers from realizing the full potential of video surveillance and how it can transform store operations. To that end, this first installment in a series of articles will lay out three options for grocers who want to migrate to IP video surveillance. The next two articles will then address new uses for IP video systems that improve return on investment, simplify operations and increase the bottom line.

Option 1: Rip & Replace

Much of grocers' resistance to IP surveillance is the time and cost associated with installing the infrastructure. Going 100 percent IP means that coaxial cables (coax) have to be replaced by Ethernet cables, which can be messy and expensive depending on how a store is configured.

Consider that a typical grocery store has a combination of indoor and outdoor cable runs. Outdoor runs are often in trenches, under parking lots or beneath buildings. In addition, building codes in some areas require that new conduit - a tube that protects wiring - be installed to house the Ethernet cables. Ethernet also is limited to lengths of 328 feet (100 meters). Any runs exceeding that amount require the addition of switches or "repeaters" in order to extend the cables. If any of these factors come into play, the cost of installing Ethernet can be astronomical and disruptive to operations.

In other cases, grocers may already have Ethernet in place, so cabling is less of a concern. For example, stores can "piggyback" IP cameras onto networks for other systems, such as those for voice over IP (VoIP) or digital payment processing systems. It's just important to make sure that bandwidth is sufficient so IP cameras do not over-subscribe the network and cause other mission-critical systems to fail.

The image quality of IP cameras far surpasses that of analog cameras."

That said, a full IP solution has distinct advantages. To start, the image quality of IP cameras far surpasses that of analog cameras. This is similar to watching television at home and comparing the quality of analog channels to those of high definition (HD) channels. The quality of HD video is vastly superior due to the greater number of pixels that IP cameras can capture, as well as built-in imaging technologies that correct for extreme and variable lighting conditions, motion blur, and other issues that affect clarity.

Installing, configuring and maintaining IP cameras is also easier than with analog. Many IP cameras can be configured remotely using an online interface, which simplifies changes and troubleshooting. Some IP cameras can even be powered by the Ethernet cable itself so they can be in installed in areas without a traditional power supply. Scalability is another consideration, as IP systems can easily handle adding cameras in any increment. With analog environments, scalability is dictated by the number of analog inputs on a digital video recorder.

Option 2: Encoders

While IP cameras have a long list of benefits over analog cameras, most grocers do not want to throw out working analog cameras. In these cases, "bridge products" like encoders can digitize video feeds from analog cameras. Some encoders even use image enhancement technologies to improve the picture quality of the original analog signals as they are converted to IP.

Going this route means grocers can capture some benefits of IP-based surveillance systems. Encoders enable video from analog cameras to be fed into network video recorders, which digitally store video and make it easier to search through recorded footage for specific events. They also alleviate the need to install Ethernet cable. This makes them faster to install than full-scale IP systems because the cameras and wiring remain the same.

However, there are limitations, particularly with video quality. Despite the fact that some encoders can marginally improve the quality of analog images, the output will not rival that of an IP camera. Also, because video is completely digitized by the encoder, the analog feeds are no longer accessible. Similar to a full-IP environment, stores using encoders are forced to buy new monitors and control systems as existing analog equipment will no longer work. This means spending more dollars on new equipment and training employees on a new digital interface, but without the benefits of HD-quality video.

Option 3: Hybrid Solutions

Hybrid solutions are a new category of video surveillance technology and have come to market just this past year. They are unique in that the hybrid cameras themselves use coax to transmit both analog and high-definition IP signals simultaneously. This dual-transmission over coax means that the benefits are ultimately identical to that of a completely IP-based system, but with a simplified installation and migration process.

Hybrid solutions should be considered when installing Ethernet would otherwise make an IP surveillance system too costly, such as in cases of buried wires or building codes that require new conduit. In addition, hybrid solutions allow grocers to control the pace at which they migrate to an IP-only system. Grocers can use the IP video feeds to get HD quality video and to generate useful data through analytics. At the same time, analog feeds can continue to be used in-store, so no immediate changes to the control room equipment need to be made.

Hybrid solutions are often confused with media converters, but the technology and benefits are vastly different. While hybrid technology allows both analog video and HD IP video to run on coax simultaneously, a media converter only transmits HD IP video through coax. This means that users are forced to upgrade all equipment to IP once the media converters are in place, while hybrid systems allow for a staged migration by continuing the use analog control room equipment and public view displays.

Ultimately, grocers need to examine all the options and develop a plan before switching to IP technology. Every situation will vary based on the age of the system, the complexity of the cabling runs, and budgetary constraints. Regardless, the retail industry - and grocers in particular - will continue to increasingly migrate to IP-based surveillance systems as technology costs decline and the systems begin to demonstrate a return on investment.

Coming Up ...

In Part II of this series, Collett will explore how surveillance video can be gathered and analyzed just like any other electronic data and used as a business intelligence tool.

Mark Collett is general manager of Sony Electronics' Security Systems Division. With more than 20 years of security and technology industry experience, he serves on the board of directors for the Security Industry Association (SIA). He can be reached at mark.collett@am.sony.com.
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Title Annotation:internet protocol
Author:Collett, Mark
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Words:1385
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