Network cameras put focus on versatile security options

While network cameras won't soon replace existing analog and digital cameras, these web-friendly products are becoming
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Friday, November 1, 2002

With products aimed at both the low and high ends of the security market, network camera manufacturers are witnessing steadily increasing interest in this next generation technology.

While the current consensus is that network cameras won't soon replace existing analog and digital cameras, these web-friendly products, with built-in servers and Internet and Ethernet capabilities that surpass the capabilities of their analog counterparts, are becoming attractive to everyone from homeowners and small business people to large, multi-campus organizations.

Tim Martin, vice president for Veo in San Jose, Calif., said the company's Ethernet-ready camera is marketed and priced for small businesses and home network users seeking a remote monitoring option.

"What we're trying to do with this is use it for safety and security and access from anywhere in the world," Martin explained.

Everyone from IT people wanting to monitor wiring closets to homeowners viewing their vacation residences to small businesspeople tracking money exchange at the cash registers or activity in their backrooms is a candidate for a network camera, Martin said.

And with features such as emailed images and, down the road, access via handheld computers and cellphones, network camera-based security can be "compelling for small businesses," Martin said.

More bells and whistles

Frank Abram, vice president at Panasonic, concurred that lower-end models are attractive to the general purpose market, including convenience stores, service stations and other "absentee manager" businesses.

"It gives them (the managers) an opportunity to look in and see what's happening at the facility," he said. But, Abrams noted, this model "isn't a systems-type application."

Higher-end products, which are designed to interface with existing CCTV systems, often feature more bells and whistles, including day-night capabilities, motion detection, higher resolution, color and software-oriented upgrades.

Abrams said companies such as AOL have added IP cameras into their existing CCTV network so guards can view parking lots and even follow people to their cars via the camera.

Like the others, Frank Polidoro, national sales manager for Samsung Opto-Electronics America, said he has witnessed a variety of uses for its network product, ranging from small airports and construction sites to the more unusual use of the Audubon Society, which monitored the flight paths of birds via network cameras during the New York City event commemorating Sept. 11th, when beams of light were projected into the sky.

Audubon, Polid-oro said, was concerned the light would interfere with the birds' flight, so network cameras were employed to provide constant Internet-based monitoring.

Crafting Secure networks
"The applications for network cameras is endless," Polidoro said. "People are definitely thinking outside the box."

And while some personal and small business users are accessing network camera images via the Internet, such as was the case with Audubon, Polidoro and others said the majority of users are using their own secure networks.

Polidoro noted traditional monitoring and guard services also use network cameras to complement their existing activities. By typing in the IP address of the camera, monitoring facilities can access the camera's video.

John Kaloukian, senior marketing manager-security for Sony in Park Ridge, N.J., concurred the security market has been the focus for most products.

However, he added, "security is the slowest-moving market" because of its price-driven nature. Still, he said, "we feel security will be the biggest area, growthwise."

Kaloukian said a knowledge of the security industry has played a large role in its camera features, including alarm triggers and simultaneous access, meaning multiple users can view events using the same camera.

A worldly influence

World events have also influenced the creation of and market for network cameras, Kaloukian noted. "I think all aspects of our lives will be monitored," he said, adding that process has already begun. "Remote monitoring will be a huge part of our lives going forward and (network) cameras will be a part of this."

Jack Gin, president of Extreme CCTV in British Columbia, also acknowledged the changes that are influencing the use of network cameras. "The whole industry is at warp speed and moving toward digital and networking," he said.

Extreme CCTV recently put networking capabilities into its fixed camera with infrared illumination. Gin said the "24/7 capability of networks," which allow users to connect and view at any time, made the ability to view images in total darkness critical.

From a security standpoint, he said, "there is a real need to provide irrefutable evidence in the dark."

Smart network cameras
Rick Davitt, vice president-marketing for IQinvision, Newport Beach, Calif., which provides camera technology to existing security partners, said cost effectiveness will help drive large users to network cameras. He said the current market is driven by several types of buyers: those motivated solely by price, those seeking cutting-edge images and those who seek a stepping stone to a true "smart camera" option.

Although not yet on the market, Davitt said lab and beta tests are under way at IQinvision for a smart network camera that can "send data as much as images."

Among the features such a camera would offer, he said, is the ability to interface with access control systems so the camera would count and reconcile the number of people associated with each prox card swipe or do other "smart" functions such as recognize certain security-critical behaviors such as falling.

Greg Bressler, product manager for Rhode Island-based Videology, said he believes price and familiarity will eventually move the market toward greater acceptance of network cameras.

"As prices come down and existing systems start to fail, network cameras will move their way into the market," he said.

He said a learning curve also exists-not only for the installers, but also for security personnel, who are now dealing with a computer-based product. "As we make cameras easier to install and use," Bressler said, "we bring up the comfort level among the end users."