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Booming video surveillance market grabs the limelight

Posted: 04 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:video surveillance booming market? H.264? Chris Day? FPGA? DSP?

Video surveillance is suddenly "the fastest-growing market for [digital] video chip providers."

The top executive at one such company, president and CEO Chris Day of Mobilygen, made that comment shortly after wrapping up a trip to China, where video surveillance applications are proliferating at an alarming rate.

Market boom
Indeed, according to a China Security Market Report issued last year by the Security Industry Association, China's security and protection market, which includes fire and safety monitoring along with security surveillance and access control is projected to jump from $6.3 billion in 2005 to $18 billion in 2010.

That should come as no surprise to many in the U.S. financial community, which has been closely following the growth of companies that install and operate surveillance systems at banks, police stations, Internet cafes and other public places in China. The International Herald Tribune last year reported that American hedge funds have put more than $150 million into China surveillance companies.

Hoping to seize the burgeoning opportunity, a host of video chip vendors, from established companies such as Texas Instruments Inc. to startups like Stretch Inc. and Mobilygen, will descend on International Security Conference (ISC) West in Las Vegas this week, toting video surveillance solutions for digital video servers (DVSes), digital video recorders (DVRs) and Internet Protocol (IP) video cameras. Many are aiming squarely at the growing Chinese market.

Mark Kirstein, president of market research firm Multi-Media Intelligence cited four technology drivers for video surveillance gear: "high-performance codecs, analytics, megapixel cameras and all underlying [technologies that facilitate] the migration from CCTV [closed-circuit TV] to IP/networked video surveillance."

The surveillance industry is undergoing a transition, said In-Stat principal analyst Michelle Michelle Abraham. It's estimated that more than 90 percent of surveillance video cameras in use today are analog. Analog surveillance systems run coaxial cable from CCTV cameras to centrally located videotape recorders or hard drives.

Increasingly, the resultant video footage is compressed on a DVR to save storage space. The use of DVS systems is also increasing; here, the analog video is digitized, compressed and packetized in IP, then streamed to a server.

But the endgame envisioned by many in the industry is an IP-networked digital system, in which surveillance video can be directly encoded in H.264 on a digital camera and sent over Ethernet at a lower bit rate. "There will be no need to run coaxial cables, and [the solution] hogs less bandwidth in the network," said In-Stat's Abraham.

Video chip vendors are jockeying to supply digital video surveillance solutions at all levels. Stretch claims its novel processor architecture, with embedded FPGA, offers greater flexibility by supporting various compression schemes and a number of proprietary video analytic technologies in one solution. TI, with the most experience, leads the pack in offering higher-image-quality video surveillance camera reference designs at low cost. Mobilygen touts an SoC with a carefully partitioned architecture, hardwired but with some level of programmability built-in, to allow higher-image-quality encoding at low power.

Offering from Stretch
Stretch, whose initial market focus is on video surveillance, has been an investment community darling. The startup announced a further $15 million in Series B funding last week, bringing the total it has raised thus far to $100 million.

By embedding an FPGA in its processor, "we can add instructions based on the application we are solving," said Stretch president Craig Lytle. "With FPGA, it's completely programmable through C code, but it can be altered and optimized." The chip reportedly can run compute-intensive video analytics simultaneously with video compression schemes such as H.264.

Lytle claimed the Stretch processor is more powerful than other programmable solutions, such as TI's DSP/ARM core combination, while coming in "at a lower price point, about a quarter of the cost." He added that Stretch's C-based programming environment "is comfortable to traditional engineers."

Most video content analysis today occurs in the central office. Danny Petkevich, video surveillance and imaging business manager at TI, said that 50 percent of video analytics is still done on PCs but the rest is done on DVRs, the majority of them using TI's DSPs.

Stretch hopes to break into that segment by touting its device's ability to accomplish both compression and analytics. As more analytic functions are moved to IP digital video cameras, Lytle said, Stretch's solution becomes "more value-added."

TI's classic approach
While startups are often eager to paint a growing market in rosy colors, market veterans offer a different perspective.

When shopping around its solution last year, TI realized that "most analog CCTV camera companies have no clue how to build an IP camera," said Petkevich. "We wanted to demonstrate to our customers all the great image pipeline capabilities and other cool features our chip can offer, but we couldn't get past the image-quality issues with our third-party surveillance cameras."

That experience led TI to collaborate with Micron Technology Inc. division Aptina Imaging on a high-definition IP network camera reference design, announced last week. Pairing TI's DaVinci digital media processor with Aptina's 5Mpixel HD image sensor, the reference design enables an HD IP camera solution at an electronics BOMs of "less than $40," said Petkevich.

Noting that the current premium for digital IP cameras ranges from three to 10x the cost of analog video platforms, Petkevich said TI's goal is to deliver "HD quality for IP surveillance networks at analog video camera prices."

Calling TI "the market leader," analyst Kirstein said the company's "latest solution is aiming decidedly at the mainstream, with lower cost."

Ref tools from Mobilygen
Mobilygen, meanwhile, will show two video surveillance camera reference designs at ISC West: one for a standard-definition IP camera using Ominivision's image sensor and one for an HD IP camera based on the Aptina image sensor.

Mobilygen's en-ViE family includes an entry-level SoC, supporting dual SD encoding or up to 1,280x720p30 HD encoding, as well as an SoC supporting HD encoding at up to 1,920x1,080i60. The company says it is focused on higher video quality at lower power. While competitors provide devices that consume 1W/channel for H.264 encoding, Mobilygen claims 0.5W power consumption for high def. Power consumption is a consideration for DVRs as well as cameras, according to the company, since heat buildup can cause a DVR's hard drive to fail.

Competitors offering fully programmable solutions have power consumption problems, not because of the programmability per se but because of memory bandwidth issues, said Sorin Cismas, chief technology officer and founder of Mobilygen. As on-chip memory utilization increases, power consumption rises.

Mobilygen's SoC has a hardware pipeline that can extract statistics from HD pixels, a feature the company touts as particularly useful for running video analytics. The chip can also stream MPEG-7- based metadata along with compressed video, making it easier for system users to set up tripwires.

The road ahead
Image quality, however, is the top parameter for most users, Day said. Gone are the days when MPEG-4 with CIF resolution sufficed for surveillance. "All the banks in China are now asking for minimum D1 resolution," said Day, adding that even H.264 codecs can vary widely in image quality and that fully programmable solutions can compromise image integrity.

In the end, the transition to a completely IP-networked video surveillance market could be long and arduous. "Although IP is a well-known technology, many in the video security market are still unfamiliar with things like adding IP addresses, dealing with quality-of-service, installing routers and getting help from IT departments," TI's Petkevich said. And there are "no standard ways to hook up video cameras to video management systems."

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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