SecurityInfoWatch: Do the DVRevolution

February 3, 2007 | Coverage

Security Info Watch

As digital video recording systems has changed, so has the face of the security industry

Paul Rothman

The digital video recorder has revolutionized the entertainment industry – the average consumer has upgraded from antiquated, analog VCR systems to robust DVR systems capable of flying through recorded video at never-before-seen speeds. Now, DVR systems are being offered by all the major satellite and cable providers.

The security industry has seen the same revolution: As digital video surveillance has become more commonplace in the average installation, the need for a DVR system to sort through hours and hours of video became paramount.

Today, DVR systems can offer security end-users a quicker, more reliable way to search through all that video. The DVRs are also moving from standard to mobile environments, enabling users to record video on site, play it back on demand and store it for future use.

The Evolution

Over the past five years, the DVR industry has taken giant leaps forward in the technology's ease of use. According to Bill Durno, product manager for Honeywell, trends in the North American market for digital video recorders have clearly shown an increase in the following areas:

* Increased use of the Internet as a link to access the surveillance system;

* Improvement in video compression techniques resulting in more (often double) the storage time per GB for at least the same quality video;

* More use of audio combined with video;

* Less differentiation between the feature sets of PC-based and embedded DVRs;

* Higher ips (images per second) capture rates address the needs of more applications;

* Hybrid DVRs enabling connection to both analog and digital cameras; and

* Improvements in ease of use – for example, video clips are often saved with a viewer, thus eliminating the need to install viewer software on a computer to view the clip. This makes it much easier to hand over video evidence to the authorities.

In the early days of the DVR, one of the main issues was the source of the video data, and how the video was stored and transitioned to a digital format, says Mark Provinsal, vice president of marketing for Dedicated Micros.

“DVR technology has moved from first generation, standalone DVRs with a range of compression technologies, to third- or fourth-generation recorders standardized on MPEG-4 and even H.264 technology,” adds Steve Langford, director of product management for March Networks. “These recorders are fully networked and can be deployed as part of a video management platform that may also include encoders, networked storage, IP cameras and sophisticated management and application software.”

As with many technologies, as time passes, the price of the average system decreases. “With the evolution of the DVR the consumer has many more choices,” says Bill Lavasque, information technology manager with Crest Electronics. “As with any explosive growth, there is always a good and a bad side. The increase in DVR manufacturers has driven prices down, but has caused many manufacturers to be more concerned with price than quality.”

Security managers have realized other benefits of DVR systems, including:

* The elimination of “tape management” – a large periodic cost for any business that maintained a VCR-based CCTV system. Tape management required a person to ensure that VHS tapes containing video evidence were properly filed for a month so they remained easily retrievable. In addition, DVRs provide more efficient search mechanisms than VCRs – previously, a search for video evidence using a VCR system could take up to 48 hours.

* Increased storage technology, which according to Durno, has evolved from 20 GB per hard drive to 2 TB per hard drive.

* More efficient compression schemes – the transition to MPEG-4 has resulted in substantially more storage time per unit.

* Remote access over digital networks. Initially, DVRs were accessed over phone lines because it was perceived that a phone line provided additional security compared to digital networks, Durno says. Today, it is rare for a user to access video networks over a phone line.

After compression issues were addressed, the next major innovation was permitting the data to be viewed remotely, using a network connection, Provinsal says. “In order to accomplish this, the DVR had to become a server,” he says. “Software had to be developed that allowed users to remotely connect to the unit.”

That remote connectivity has become the backbone of many a security system. It enables security staff to view and sort through video remotely, and to share that video with the appropriate sources. “It is much easier now to share video evidence with the police,” Durno says. “Eliminating the need to install a viewer on a computer became an important feature.”

The hybrid DVR is the bridge between analog and digital. “The newest trend in the market is that the DVR is now a ‘hybrid' device that can accept video from network camera sources,” Provinsal says.

Sanyo, for example, recently introduced a hybrid DVR at ISC-West that offers both analog and IP functionality to integrate with standalone and networked systems. "Many users with legacy analog systems would like to expand or update their systems while introducing networked functionality," says Frank Abram, vice president and general manager of the Security Products Division of Sanyo Fisher Co.

The NVR: A Logical Progression

IP-based video surveillance uses private and public networking to allow access to real-time video – anywhere there is a network connection. A network video recorder (NVR) offers all the features of legacy DVRs, including recording of video and audio, fast image retrieval time, encryption of all digital information, wireless viewing from cell phone or PDA, system control via a map or a camera list, and automatic, event-driven pop-up screens and audio clips. It also offers complete matrix functionality, a software-only solution, virtual redundancy using the network, and the ability to add a single camera simply by adding a software license.

NVRs offer the advantage of scalability. “You can add as many cameras as you like to the network,” says Jeff Kiuchi, marketing program specialist for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America. “NVRs can provide centralized control of multiple cameras connected on the network simultaneously.”

As with traditional DVR systems, many industry suppliers are integrating intelligent video applications into the NVR. “New technologies like video search, biometrics and analytics can connect people and their surveillance information in ways never before imagined,” says Tim Ross, executive vice president of 3VR.

What's next for the NVR? “What will come next is standard, Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) – meaning non-proprietary – servers,” March Networks' Langford says. “The industry will move from the DVR/NVR world to the all-IP world, where there is a relatively small amount of hardware and a much larger amount of software.”

But NVRs aren't for every organization. “A disadvantage of NVRs is that if the network goes down, then your security system is blind and not recording,” Crest Electronics' Lavasque says. “This is a major concern of the medium to small companies that do not have an IT staff to maintain their network.”

Taking DVRs on the Road

After selling the commercial security industry on the technology's value, DVR manufacturers and suppliers have tapped the mobile market. Companies like RAE Systems and ICOP digital are marketing mobile DVR systems mainly for use in law enforcement – although mobile applications can range from school buses and commuter trains to police cruisers.

“We bought 100 units – it was the department's first experiment with in-car video,” says Lt. John Barber of the Mobile , Ala. , Police Department, a customer of ICOP. “We went from nothing to high-tech, in-car digital video.”

The Mobile , Ala. , system, which was installed in January, includes a DVR unit and two cameras in each of the equipped police cruisers. Barber says that having the video on hand is essential to maintaining evidence. “There are a lot of instances where people make frivolous complaints of excessive force, etc.,” Barber says. “Since we started using the video, there is definitive evidence of whatever happened, hopefully clearing the officer of any wrongdoing.”

The mobile DVR systems, Barber says, are also essential to officer safety. All video is stored for 90 days at minimum – if an officer notes an arrest video or a video involving a complaint, the officer marks it and puts the video onto an archive server. The video is also burned to DVD as a failsafe.

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has turned to mobile video surveillance to help ensure the safety of passengers and employees in the public transportation system.

When a decision was made in 2004 to deploy video surveillance on its bus fleet, OCTA opted for a turnkey solution from March Networks. The recorders are equipped with 150 hours of onboard storage, providing the OCTA with sufficient time to download video to a central server for longer-term storage following a reported incident.

Over the next three years, the OCTA plans to equip approximately 500 new buses with mobile DVRs. “We are planning to replace almost all of our buses within the next 10 years, so we decided on timing the deployment of video surveillance to coincide with the delivery of our new vehicles,” says Brian Champion, OCTA manager of operations analysis.

Each 40-foot, New Flyer bus joining the fleet will be equipped with seven cameras, two microphones and two impact sensors. Video can be flagged for automatic downloading by a bus driver pressing a button on the vehicle's instrument panel. Video will also be flagged for downloading by impact sensors in the event of a collision.


Purchasing Guide

What features should a security director be looking for in a DVR?

Here's what the representatives from some of the top DVR vendors say:

Bill Durno, Honeywell: Today's security directors need timely reporting of fraudulent events and network outages to ensure safety. In addition to the ability to permanently archive video, a DVR needs to be cost-effective and provide real-time data and seamless integration with legacy system equipment. Finally, it must be scalable and offer user-friendly operation that makes it easy to look at incident clips.

Steve Langford, March Networks: Security directors today should also be evaluating a manufacturer's roadmap for the development and support of future applications, as well as their level of expertise in the organization's vertical. Organizations are always more likely to get a sympathetic ear when they want new features and functions if the manufacturer does specialize in their vertical because they can understand the requirements.

Tim Ross, 3VR: Security directors should look for products that use search and analytics at the core of the system and throughout key user workflows. With these native capabilities, a system can not only improve security effectiveness, but reduce physical and operational costs.

Mark Provinsal, Dedicated Micros: Security directors should look for a DVR that allows them the most functionality with the greatest ease of use. The DVR should be able to intelligently optimize recording. It should also optimize remote connectivity through transcoding. It should be able to use a remote client software application for central station applications. This functionality allows the administrator to integrate all of the separate units deployed into one seamless interface and permits access to those units from one or multiple locations.

Jeff Kiuchi, Mitsubishi: First and foremost, the security manager should buy a DVR from a trusted name. The DVR should provide the essential elements – long term recording features with the capability of added storage, remote access and an easy mechanism to copy video clips.

The DV6010 Mobile Digital Video Recorder from RAE Systems is a standalone, non-PC embedded system. It features MPEG2 video recording and playback at full-frame rate. Other features include triplex digital video operation (30 fps recording, playback and monitoring); a digital watermark; multiple recording modes; and instant search, backup and review.

Honeywell has introduced the HRXD Series of high-speed 9 and 16 multi-channel digital video recorders, which supports an image-per-second recording rate of 240/200 (NTSC/PAL). The embedded DVRs feature Honeywell's XtraStor compression technology, which is capable of storing large volumes of detailed data using little hard drive space. The HRXD enables users to customize time-lapse, event, pre-event, text input and other recording parameters. The recorders offer networking capabilities for LAN and DSL that enable users to operate and manage the system from a remote location.

Dedicated Micros has introduced the Hybrid Digital Sprite 2 and DV-IP Server digital video recorders. The hybrid units support both IP and analog cameras. The enhanced units offer the same capability as an NVR, but they will also support analog cameras. The Digital Sprite 2 and DV-IP Server units support current IP camera manufacturers including AXIS and JVC.

The i-Pro WJ-ND300A network video recorder from Panasonic is designed for mid to large applications. With many of the same features as its predecessor, the NVR offers higher network performance through an increased CPU speed to 1 GHz, reflecting a 30 percent wider bandwidth, 32-camera real-time recording at MPEG-4, and 16-camera 10 ips recording at MJPEG. The “A” model also supports a 500 GB HDD (2 TB / unit), preset registration up to 256 positions, and camera auto mode. 

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