The advent of 4K camera technology presents both new opportunities and challenges for organizations looking to get the most of out their video surveillance assets.
In the field of interactive surveillance, that loud noise you’re hearing is the buzz around 4K – next generation ultra-high definition (UHD) camera technology. The latest evolution in broadcast and media resolutions, 4K is replacing 1080p as the highest-resolution video signal available.
Setting the 4K Scene
When we’re talking about 4K technology and what it means, we’re essentially talking about more pixels – 8 megapixels, to be exact. The larger the megapixel total, the higher the image resolution. With 3840 x 2160 resolution, 4K cameras provide much clearer and crisper pictures with more vibrant and colorful images.
So what do these additional megapixels do for us from a security perspective? First, in terms of observation security – monitoring the exterior of the customer’s building – 4K allows us to get more pixels on a security target from a distance. The more pixels, the more easily our analytics can detect activity. The key to video surveillance analytics is what’s on the edge of the field of view. If we have more pixels at the edge of the camera’s field of focus, then our analytics have a better chance of generating more alarms.
The more detail, the better.
4K Surveillance Applications
Interior cameras, meanwhile, are utilized mostly by customers, not by the surveillance provider. Customers are looking at employee activity going on in view of the camera, in order to detect things like cash disappearing from a register, locating tools and equipment that have been moved around, or to examine vehicle damage on the lot. This type of forensic analysis is much easier with the digital zoom function on 4K cameras, which will be able to tell if car #1 actually hit car #2, or just came close. Digital zoom gets less clear as you get closer, but with 4K you lose much less clarity. You can even zoom in on a person’s hand with far less degradation of the image.
4K Implementation: Challenge and Opportunity
A significant challenge related to implementing a 4K camera surveillance installation is building the infrastructure backbone. This involves both storage capacity on network video recorders (NVRs) and network bandwidth to support 4K video streaming. From a storage standpoint, 4K recording requires three times the storage capacity of a 2-megapixel camera. At the same time, streaming a 4K camera requires considerably more bandwidth. If the security provider is using the customer’s network for its security solution, 4K cameras could consume available bandwidth needed for other customer network functions. They will need to work closely with these customers to provide a solution that does not interfere with the customers’ day-to-day operations.
Without a doubt, the largest opportunity resulting from a 4K camera deployment is fewer missed incidents thanks to better analytics related to greater image resolution. Another significant advantage, which has nothing to do with security, is the customer “wow” factor. When customers look at a dingy security camera picture, they may tend to think that the system is not all that effective. But when we show a customer a 4K picture, the tendency is for them to feel more secure because the image is so much clearer and detailed. As in any business, having a happy customer makes our job of providing security that much easier.
4K Operational Tips
- Size your NVR sufficiently from a storage standpoint to account for the number of 4K cameras to be installed.
- To take full advantage of 4K technology, install 4K monitors on the backend of the system. Otherwise, with a degraded monitor, the image is the equivalent of a 2-megapixel camera. Looking at a high-resolution image on a low-resolution monitor throttles the video feed down to match the monitor.
- Make sure the network the 4K system is running on has sufficient bandwidth to handle the video streams. In addition, straighten out all connectivity issues to ensure clean connections throughout the system.
- Expect sharply higher 4K costs, not only for the cameras themselves but also for the increased bandwidth and video storage capacity. As the market becomes more saturated with 4K products, our expectation is that the cost will continue to come down.
- Because of the higher costs associated with 4K cameras and the upgraded infrastructure, security providers need to be very detailed and systematic about where the cameras are utilized. This includes being highly analytical about each field of view, to determine if it lends itself to 4K or 2 megapixels. For short distance throws, and standard interior views, our suggestion is to stick with 2-megapixel cameras. The result will be a blended installation that will evolve over time until 4K becomes the industry standard.
- Be prepared for possible service and technical support headaches. 4K technology, after all new, requiring an all-new manufacturing build-out. For example, in order to run analytics on a 4K image, the analytics manufacturer has to put in new processors that can handle a higher load. Like any new technology on new manufacturing runs, we expect that bad cameras will be built that will have to be replaced until the manufacturing line becomes more mature and the quality improves.
- In the video surveillance industry, 4K camera technology has to be integrated into a larger system that includes alarm systems and recording software. From an integration perspective, the industry is just now starting to move in the direction of 4K.
- Our advice to security tech executives is to proactively start assessing 4K technology, if you haven’t already started doing so. You will need to develop a clear plan for taking this to market and begin to realize the host of benefits 4K technology and cameras deliver once implemented in the field.