Let’s talk about IP cameras. I like to think IP cameras nowadays are kind of like cars. Can you picture fuel economy as being very similar to bit rates? You’ve got your big honking Hummer which reminds me of MJPEG IP cameras – which are pretty to look at, if you can afford all the costs associated with them on the backside. You’ve got your hybrid cars which remind me of H.264 IP cams. They’re a little more expensive up front but you save a heck of a lot over the long term. Additionally, you have your sports cars – Megapixel without a doubt. Then you have your MPEG4 IP cameras – which are pretty much like the majority of cars on the road today. Some are better than others…and some are flashier. But by and large that’s what’s out there.
They will all get you where you want to go in life…and with video recording. But make no mistake – when it comes to video surveillance, choosing one IP camera manufacturer, model or technology over another can have a profound effect on your TCO (total cost of ownership). So take the time to investigate which IP cameras are the best for your specific environment. Ask your integrator for recommendations. Ask the manufacturer of your VMS which ones they prefer and why. Try to get out to ISC West or ASIS to see them in all their glory. (Make sure you find out where the shows are before you pick which show to attend). Once you have an idea of which IP cameras you are seriously interested in, get that manufacturer’s rep out to see you and get him to demo his cameras on your VMS. Kick the tires. Take the cameras for a test drive and measure their network impact.
Like a car, once you buy your IP cameras, you’re pretty much locked in for several years – so make sure you make the right choice, not just for this year but for several years down the road – pun intended.
When looking for an IP camera I like to keep the following in mind:
H.264 vs. MPEG4 vs. MJPEG – Compression is where it’s at. H.264 gets you the same video quality as the other compressions at lower bit rates – which translates into less bandwidth and less storage = lower TCO. Resolutions Supported – Only buy a camera that supports what you need. You don’t need megapixel resolution if you have a good lens and you’re looking at a fairly focused scene. Lens Support – Garbage In = Garbage Out. To get a good picture you need a good lens. Make sure you can get a variety of lenses for your cameras for different types of scenes. PoE – Power over Ethernet. If you’re replacing an existing analog camera with IP this is less of an issue since you’ll have already run power out to the camera’s location. But for a new camera location, PoE is where it’s at. “1 cable to rule them all” and you don’t necessarily need a PoE switch. Just get a PoE injector and you’re good to go. PTZ Latency – This one is tougher. It’s all about personal feel and the network in between the workstation and the IP PTZ camera. This is a “kick the tires” differentiator and you really need to try the PTZ camera on your own network to get the best idea of how the camera will feel when you own it. Network conditions really do matter. Audio Support – Audio In/Out capabilities matter and affect cost. Please check your local audio recording laws and statues. You have been warned. Event/Non-Event Skip – Here’s a little known eye-catching differentiator. All IP cameras can change their resolution or frame rate based upon an event – whether it’s from an internal VMD or a TTL/Relay contact closure, or from API integration into an Access Control System or VMS. Did you know that for some IP cameras there can be a few seconds of dropped video while this changeover to the new resolution or frame rate occurs? Think about it. Seconds of dropped video could occur just when you need it most – right when the event occurs. Incredible but true. If you’re recording the same resolution and frame rate 24/7, it won’t be an issue. But if your recording specifications are dynamic, this is a huge deal breaker.
Now, these are not all of the differentiators out there when it comes to buying IP cameras. These are the ones that come to my mind when someone asks me what to look out for in IP cameras. Do you have other differentiators that didn’t make my list? I’d be interested in hearing which ones are important to you – because in the context of my automobile metaphor, it’s not the fancy features of the car that matter, it’s what they can do for you.