The Evolution of IP Cameras: The Future of These Devices Is Becoming Clear

IP Cameras Security Image Credit: Shutterstock / Flipser
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Flipser

For years, the physical security industry was hyperfocused on the tipping point of IP cameras and when network devices would surpass their analog counterparts in numbers. Now that the tipping point has come, users have fixated on the possibilities for these network-based surveillance devices, which continue to grow in popularity because of their capabilities and flexibility in application.

It has been 23 years since Axis Communications, headquartered in Lund, Sweden, invented the first network camera boasting internet and web server capabilities—the Axis 200 network camera (first called Neteye). It could transmit video at one frame per 17 seconds in normal resolution or one frame per second (fps) in CIF resolution.

Since then, new features and capabilities have evolved from network cameras, including higher resolutions, low-light functionality, wide-dynamic range, onboard storage, bidirectional audio capability and 4K compliance, said Jon Cropley, senior principal analyst for Video Surveillance, IHS Market, Wellingborough, England.

“Around two-thirds of all cameras sold globally in 2018 were network cameras, with over 100 million shipped,” Cropley said. “This proportion will only increase over the next five years.”

Cropley defines professional video surveillance cameras as those sold through systems integrators, installers and distributors and excludes products purchased in-store as well as through online retail sales channels.

A race to the bottom in price has occurred in tandem with innovation. The global average price of a network camera fell from almost $500 in 2010 to less than $100 in 2018, Cropley said.

Surveillance to the masses

Axis has led the worldwide convergence from analog CCTV to digital video surveillance. The invention of the network camera was followed by other Axis innovations, including an ASIC chip, video encoder, first pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) dome camera with 4K Ultra HD resolution, audio capabilities, palm-sized PTZ camera with wireless input/output connectivity and an ongoing parade of new models through the years.

Initially developing and selling print servers, Axis’ roots were in IT, said Scott Dunn, senior director of business development, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. The first network camera was low resolution, but still revolutionary.

“What was cool was that it made video more accessible by having it on the network. It wasn’t a closed system any longer,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the evolution of network cameras has had a tremendously positive impact on the security installation market, making video readily available for multiple purposes.

Camera Image courtesy of Axis Communications
Image courtesy of Axis Communications

“Video is now accessible to a security team or any stakeholder,” he said. “Rather than drive to a site to look at video, it can be viewed remotely. From this point, we started seeing better quality images, better color and digitization that makes the video extremely valuable for forensics.”

In addition, the evolution to IP has produced a more professional security installation market.

“It caused the industry to become increasingly tech savvy,” Dunn said.

David Lim, product line manager at Genetec Inc., Montreal, said the 9/11 attacks significantly altered the landscape and drove network video mainstream.
“At the time, network video was primarily considered a tool used by the government,” Lim said. “From then on, it became a tool to protect consumers. In addition, video compression technology and the H.264 compression algorithm developed in 2003 shaped the industry, bringing a codec with a decisive advantage to IP cameras: lower bandwidth use and higher quality image.”

Edge computing wields power

After that, everyone wanted surveillance and video footage, so there came a need to store images over time and automate storage and retrieval, which started the march to analytics beginning with motion detection at the edge (i.e., on board the camera).

“Manufacturers started to implement edge analytics in 2005, which was not as successful because the accuracy was not there,” Lim said. “It was a bad experience for users and integrators. It was oversold at the time, and the perception of analytics was pretty negative on the market. At the same time, the IP market was growing. More utilization of the web brought additional capabilities and in 2010, video surveillance as a service emerged with the ability to record/manage in the cloud. New players were entering the market vigorously, and cameras were dropping in price and obtaining better images with wide dynamic range and with motion detection improving thanks to new algorithms self-sustainable in the camera.”

The evolution has been staggering, and a far cry from nearly a quarter-century ago.

“In the beginning, video quality was nothing like it is today,” said Ramy Ayad, senior product manager, Hanwha Techwin America, Teaneck, N.J. “Video compression codecs like MJPEG were used in the 1990s. Then there was a big increase in quality with the introduction of the H.264 codec. Today, we have H.265 giving us incredible HD and 4K images without a substantial increase in bandwidth. Low-light performance has also improved significantly as cameras have become more powerful. One of the biggest evolutions is the ability to do complex analytic processing for both video (line crossing, loitering, appear/disappear) and audio classification (glass breaks, explosion, gunshot detection) directly in the camera.”

From a contractor’s perspective, IP cameras have become easier to install.

“Some of the latest designs offer completely modular setups that allow a contractor to install the housing and run a [power over ethernet] Cat 5/6 line while the camera module is configured separately,” Ayad said. “This has greatly reduced installation time. Some cameras have composite video output or more advanced features like USB to help the installer position the camera without the need for PoE injector or a second set of eyes to look at the video.”
As system-on-a-chip and sensor technologies continue to evolve, we can expect even better low-light performance and higher frame rates for smooth motion capture.

“In-camera analytics are already very powerful, and we know that machine learning and artificial intelligence will only add to those capabilities,” Ayad said. “Cameras are already evolving their ability to recognize objects, colors and types of movement to more precisely identify the world around them. Like any sensor, the data that we can collect is up to us and what is perceived as most valuable for safety and security of businesses. Business intelligence features (people/vehicle counting, heat maps, etc.) will see increased use as a tool improve city and business efficiencies all while maintaining an acceptable level of privacy.”

The evolution of IP cameras has had a monumental effect on security surveillance applications. In concert with other technological developments, cameras have moved from the CCTV category squarely onto the network, for safety, security, operations and new business intelligence.

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com...

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