By Mike Monocello, editor-in-chief, Business Solutions magazine
Testing By Andrew Wong, project engineer, American Integrated Security Group (AISG)
If you’re a VAR in the retail and restaurant space that passed up on video surveillance because it was too expensive and/or your customers were married to antiquated analog cameras, pay attention. There’s a class of high-definition IP cameras that can provide higher resolution/better picture quality than analog cameras, can be deployed in a way that one camera replaces four to six (or even more) old cameras, and gives merchants access to powerful analytics not only to prevent loss but also to help with marketing. I’m talking about 360-degree hemispheric/fisheye cameras.
An integrator evaluates six 360-degree IP video surveillance cameras ideal for retail applications.
Not familiar? Put most basically, these cameras for the most part look like smoke detectors, with a single fisheye lens in the center. Mounted to the ceiling in the center of a room, one camera can view and record a 360-degree area. With the aid of software, the sphere of video can be digitally de-warped on the fly to look like individual feeds from multiple cameras. Hence, one camera does the work of many analog cameras.
According to a Vivotek white paper, one camera mounted to a 10-foot-high ceiling is capable of covering a 65 ft. by 65 ft. room. That’s 4,200 square feet of coverage with a single camera. Imagine not just the cost savings of deploying cameras and cabling but also the lower administrative costs of a single camera. This class of camera is so unique and powerful, we wanted to compare the various models available in the market today while educating you on the capabilities.
For this review, we partnered with integrator American Integrated Security Group (AISG) to leverage the company’s video surveillance experience. To determine which cameras to test, we gathered intel on all the vendors that manufacture 360-degree cameras, ran it against a panel of experienced security integrators, and confirmed the major players by working with ScanSource’s physical security gurus.
In the end, we wound up with six cameras to test. Axis Communications, Mobotix, GeoVision, Vivotek, and Panasonic provided 360-degree fisheye lens cameras. ACTi provided a camera that uses two lenses to view 180-degrees forward and 180-degrees backward, achieving the 360-degree effect. To test these cameras, we used Wavestore VMS as our software platform due to the software’s ability to de-warp 360-degree camera video. Following are the results of our tests.
Many IP video cameras have followed the lead of cell phone and digital photography cameras by adding memory card slots. Indeed, all of the cameras we reviewed have a memory card slot. Additionally, many IP video cameras also have mini computers on board with integrated DVR and video management capabilities. Cameras from Axis, Mobotix, Panasonic, and Vivotek have such capabilities. The combination of these technologies means video footage can be recorded directly to the onboard storage and accessed and viewed when connected to the camera by typing the camera’s IP address into a Web browser. No need for external storage, DVR, or video management software (and the costs associated with each!). Another benefit of using the edge storage is that bandwidth requirements on the network become nonexistent because there’s no video data traveling to a DVR or storage.
While this technology might sound great, edge storage will either be a non-factor for you and your customers or a huge selling point. A small retailer on a budget could buy the camera, slap in a memory card, and be up and running. While effective and cheap, this is considered a very bare bones security setup. If you have a retailer with higher needs, you’ll quickly graduate to a system made up of the separate components with additional cost.
Additionally, I should mention an intermediate option when it comes to video storage. If storing video on a 64GB SD card won’t cut it, and you don’t want to go the full-blown separate DVR/VMS route, some of the cameras can be configured to record to network shares or network attached storage devices. The Axis, Mobotix, and Vivotek cameras are capable of such a configuration.
Generally speaking, IP cameras today can be powered using PoE (Power over Ethernet) or using good old fashioned DC/AC wiring. According to Andrew Wong, project engineer for AISG, using PoE cameras will reduce the cost and time for a project. “PoE will eliminate the need to hire an electrician to run conduit and create a power source for your devices,” he explains. “Additionally, PoE devices can easily be installed and relocated with a single Ethernet wire pull.” He adds that PoE deployments should include a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) connected to the PoE switch to ensure, in the event of an outage or surge, all devices are protected and kept running. All of the cameras tested support PoE, while the ACTi, GeoVision, Panasonic, and Vivotek cameras also support traditional electrical wiring.
Setup And Configuration
To the experienced Andrew Wong, setup of the cameras was easy. When pressed, Wong explained that all of the cameras are comparable in terms of setup. “Configuration wise, they are all Web-based, so you just have to know the default IP address and type it into a Web browser,” he explains. “The manufacturers’ PDF documents will tell you the default IP address, username, and password to access the cameras for setup.” He adds that some cameras require the installation of drivers and codecs as well. Some, like Vivotek and Axis, have software that allows you to find their cameras on your network. Finally, Wong says all the cameras are fairly easy to mount. “Some have brackets that you have to mount; then the camera mounts to the bracket,” he says, “while others are mounted straight to the surface.”
A very important aspect of video surveillance is performing site surveys. These allow you to identify the exact needs of your customer and avoid embarrassing mistakes. One mistake you could make is installing a camera in a location that’s either too hot (remember, warm air rises) or too cold. If cold temperatures are a factor, the Panasonic and Vivotek cameras can handle temperatures as low as -40 degrees. It should be noted that the Mobotix camera can handle temperatures as low as -22 degrees. When it comes to heat, the best performer is the Mobotix camera, capable of operating at 140 degrees. ACTi, Panasonic, and Vivotek can handle up to 122 degrees.
Of all the cameras tested, the Axis camera had the most moderate operating temperature parameters of 32 degrees to 113 degrees. The GeoVision camera was similar, with an operating temperature range of 32 degrees to 122 degrees. Both are still fine for most applications, but worth noting.
Some of the cameras tested are ONVIF compliant. According to Wong, “ONVIF [Open Network Video Interface Forum] is an open industry forum promoting and developing global standards for interfaces of IP-based physical security products,” he says. “Companies can design and test based on published standards, ensuring compatibility of devices and ultimately saving time and money. What used to take hours and sometimes two or three different software applications can now be accomplished with the simple push of a button, allowing the installer to auto-discover all of the cameras on the IP network.” In short, ONVIF is a tremendous benefit to you and your customers.
This could be seen in the testing. The Wavestore VMS software AISG used has built-in ONVIF discovery, so the ONVIF cameras were able to be configured quickly. The Panasonic camera is not ONVIF compliant, nor is the Mobotix. At a recent national partner conference, Mobotix CEO Dr. Magnus Ekerot explained that the company created and uses its own MxPEG compression algorithm in place of using the common H.264. Despite not being ONVIF certified, the Panasonic and Mobotix cameras were still able to be set up and configured quickly, so ONVIF non-compliance definitely shouldn’t be considered a deal-breaker.
Cropped images from normal light tests, 360-degree warped view (Click To View Full Size)
Bandwidth And Image Quality
There’s a science to bandwidth allocation and utilization when it comes to video over a network. The details go beyond the scope of this article (and my expertise if I’m being honest). However, a basic truth is that you’d like to provide the highest quality video your customers need at the lowest bandwidth cost.
When it came to image quality, we ran tests under a controlled “normal” lighting situation and a low light situation. Sample frames from all cameras, both normal lighting and low lighting, can be found on our website so you can see for yourself how each camera performs.
In normal lighting situations, the Axis camera performed very well, although at a cost we’ll see when we discuss the results of the bandwidth tests. Also, it should be noted that the Axis camera was one of the 5MP cameras in the test, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that more pixels yielded a better image. Other notable cameras that produced high quality video were the ones from Vivotek and Mobotix.
In our low light tests, all the cameras suffered in some way. This was expected as the cameras tested are not advertised as being capable of seeing in the dark. Still, we wanted to see which performed best when the lights went down. The Axis camera performed best in the low light test. The Mobotix, GeoVision, and Panasonic had near zero visibility without assisted lighting. The Vivotek camera was noisy.
The next part of our test was evaluating how much bandwidth these cameras used to achieve the image quality we just discussed. In normal light situations, the Axis camera was the highest bandwidth-hungry camera tested, coming in at just under 2MB/second. Just behind it was the ACTi camera at 1.8MB/sec.
On the opposite end, the Mobotix camera needed just 300KB/second to achieve its results while the Panasonic came in lowest at around 250KB/second. The other cameras tested fell around the 500KB/second mark.
The low light tests had similar results. The Axis camera came in at 2.5MB/second. Panasonic and Mobotix came in lowest at 300KB/second and 350KB/second respectively. One oddity worth mentioning is the Vivotek camera, which almost doubled bandwidth use in low light, going from 500KB/second to 900KB/second.
Bandwidth Test Results
|Camera||H.264 – Normal Light||H.264 – Low Light|
As mentioned at the outset, you should strive to provide your customers with the highest quality video they need at the lowest bandwidth cost. Your customers might not need a 5MP camera or one that can perform well in low light. They might not have a network capable of handling certain bandwidth-hungry cameras. All of this is for you to determine on a customer-by-customer basis.
So which camera is the best? That depends on your needs and budget. We didn’t talk prices a lot in this article, but those can be found in the accompanying chart. Consider the bandwidth requirements of your customers, the image quality needed, and all the other factors we covered in this article. No matter which camera you choose, 360-degree cameras are a powerful technology worth including on your line card.