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Configurable processor drives video surveillance systems

Posted: 27 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:configurable processor? H.264? video surveillance systems?

Startup Stretch Inc. has wrapped reference designs and software around its S6000 configurable processor to build low cost networked surveillance cameras and video recorders. The company is following in the footsteps of another startup, Stream Processors Inc. (SPI), which announced chips, designs and software for the same market in March.

As many as 30 million standalone, analog surveillance cameras ship each year with humans tracking their output at banks of monitors. Market researchers say by 2011 that will rise to as much as 66 million with half of those systems shifting to digital, networked products. They will be monitored by computers that use sophisticated programs to watch for events that would trigger an alert to a human security agent.

The forecast may be optimistic, but the opportunity is still very real, said Bob Beachler, a former senior executive at Altera Corp., now VP of marketing at Stretch.

Effective, competitive solution
The startup claims its approach can deliver 30fps of an H.264 video stream at D1 standard resolution for as little as $6.25. Fixed-function chips used in today's digital video surveillance cameras cost almost twice as much, while DSPs also widely used cost about $25 per stream, the company claims.

"We think we are the most cost effective solution," said Beachler.

In terms of power, the Stretch solution requires about 500mW per stream. "We're not the lowest in power consumption, but we are competitive," he said.

Stretch is aiming primarily at a broad group of non-branded manufacturers in Asia, supplying them with all the ingredients for products.

The startup has announced a reference design for Internet Protocol cameras that can deliver 30fps of H.264 video at 1.3Mpixels. The designs are based on partnerships with two image sensor makers. Pixim Inc. has a high end image sensor with a 120dB dynamic range and Micron Technology offers a low cost 2Mpixel sensor. Stretch is also supplying a digital video recorder (DVR) design based on a PCIe card using four of its chips to handle up to 16 video channels at a D1 resolution.

Complete solution
The designs come with a software development kit for a video encoder that can handle motion JPEG or H.264 at up to 60fps. The software also includes video analysis software for applications such as motion detection. The software comes free with the camera or DVR designs that cost $1,995 and $2,995, respectively.

"In Asia, it's all about cost and they won't write much code," said Beachler. "That's why it's important we design a complete kit and make sure the parts are manufactureable in China with PCBs of ten layers or less as well as other suitable tolerances," he added.

The real problem this market faces is the lack of so-called analytics, good software for analyzing video feeds in real time for events that might suggest security problems, said Bengt Christensson, VP of business development for competitor SPI.

"Analytics have been slow to get to market because they have not been reliable to use," said Christensson, who worked for 18 years in a variety of roles, including chief technologist at Axis Communications, a video surveillance company seen as one of the largest and more sophisticated of a sector of literally hundreds of OEMs.

"The most wished-for feature is better motion detection. Right now, computers can't tell the difference between a human and a cat or blowing leaves and a burglary, so you get too many [false] alarms," he said.

SPI and Stretch expect to demostrate the latest software from their internal work and collaboration with partners at the ISC East conference in New York in September. The startups hope their novel architectures provide the hardware umph the video programs need.

The processing need is great because systems will move to high definition soon, he said.

"Most manufacturers' next IP camera designs are going megapixel, full HD1,920x1,080por beyond," said Christensson. "A driver for this is better actionable information than the SD resolution analog CCTV cameras can offer which still represent more than 90 percent of the market," he added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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