Wednesday, 29 October 2008


The future for CCTV ... Mega Pixels or Mega problems?

Apologies in advance for the somewhat sensationalist heading to this blog post, but I've been pondering recently the accelerating transition from conventional analogue (frequently described as legacy) CCTV cameras, towards 'how did we ever manage without them' digital models.

You'll perhaps have to forgive me for being ever so slightly flippant with that last comment, but as time and again I come across apparent CCTV "experts" promoting the quantum leap into the wonderful world of MegaPixel technology, as perhaps the best thing since crimp connectors, the realisation for me that things may not be quite so hunky dory has come as a bit of a shock.

Increasingly I find the suggestion that fitting extremely wide angle lenses as a possible killer application for MegaPixel cameras, unfortunately overlooks a glaringly obvious problem with what should be in the great scheme of things, a revolution in imaging technology. 

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the concept of MegaPixel imaging, the theory is actually very simple, so I'll likewise try and explain the issues as straightforwardly as possible.

An everyday standard analogue or IP Video camera may produce an image resolution (horizontal res.) of let's say for arguments sake, perhaps 480 lines.

Now a jobbing 2 MegaPixel camera can normally produce a resolution which is roughly four times that of our conventional example, so unlike a normal camera, the MegaPixel image is actually  sufficiently sharp to allow a digital electronic zoom function to be used. This will allow the operator to examine a selected area of the picture for more detailed examination, without having to use the standard approach of increasing magnification with an optical zoom lens.

So far so good, but then recently I've noticed a growing tendency for some practitioners to promote the idea that the MP cameras are so sharp, you can easily fit an ultra wide angle or even borderline fisheye type lens, to cover extremely large areas with just the one camera.

Now this practice may seem o.k. on paper, but then the realities of trying to be all things to all men suddenly becomes somewhat less attractive, when the disadvantages are carefully considered.

Firstly, if you compare the performance of a normal camera fitted with a "standard" lens, against a 2MP camera fitted with an ultra wide angle optic, whilst the latter may cover a much greater area (and at a significantly greater cost), if you zoom in electronically to pick out a face from the crowd, the actual size of the persons head at a set distance, may well be equivalent to ... or dare I suggest even less than, the normal set up - so in this simple example, apart from covering a much wider area, the technical quality advantage presented by a much higher resolution camera, is to all intents and purposes completely lost.

Now the next problem relates to the difference between the two lenses. 

With a "standard" lens, a person can move away from the camera a few metres, and the reduction in their head image size on screen will in general terms be minimal. However, with the MegaPixel camera, if it's fitted with an ultra wide angle optic (i.e. a very short focal length lens), any movement away from the camera will result in a very rapid reduction in the size of the person on screen.  

So, in order to provide an equivalent size image, a greater degree of digital zoom would be required, which will effectively cause a reduction in image quality (probably through increased "pixellation"); so regrettably, in a purely practical sense, as a technical solution it may actually be far less effective for providing those vital evidential quality images.

This may all sound a bit strange compared to what many would have us believe, but the bottom line as with any video imaging technology, is that the more you ask a camera to do, then generally speaking the less efficient it becomes.

It would be a shame if all the potential quality improvements that are inherent using MegaPixel systems, were thrown away in the rush to adopt the technology in any situation whether optimised or not.

That said, if ever there were a clear case for the uninitiated of caveat emptor (buyer beware), then this would be as good an example as I could reasonably think of .... 

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Sunday, 26 October 2008


From CCTV to CSI, the search for elusive evidence goes on ...

Most people tend to think of the CCTV industry as a high tech business solely concerned with selling "state of the art" surveillance systems, almost guaranteed to catch crooks and increase public safety, as if by magic.

Whilst it's true that globally Closed Circuit Television, and specifically IP Video based surveillance is growing at a more than healthy rate, there are actually two specific areas which are destined for much greater attention in the years to come.

Somewhat paradoxically, Video Analytics and Forensic Surveillance usually occupy their places of merit,  at completely opposite ends of the CCTV spectrum. 

In recent years, there's been an increasing awareness that enhancing the use of surveillance within a 'digital' domain, is only likely to make quantum leaps in terms of efficiency on the back of rapid developments using powerful image analytic and target tracking systems. 

In time, they may not only replace much of the the routine input of a human operator, but will also increase their efficiency and capabilities by automating many aspects of the humble video monitoring and recording process.

Definitely a subject to be revisited in more detail very soon; but of more immediate interest, the role of the Forensic Video Analyst in extracting evidential images from video recordings that aspire to be appalling, is rapidly increasing in importance, particularly as the volume of CCTV 'product' being recovered post incident continues to increase at an exponential rate.

More cameras may well equal more recordings, but for the merry band of experts tasked with recovering usable images, perhaps the only absolute certainty for them is that when it comes to coping with an exploding workload, the demand for more highly skilled technicians will undoubtedly continue well into the foreseeable future. Which in itself creates a wealth of new employment challenges ...

The specialist role of a Forensic Video Analyst has really only existed for a relatively short period, and whilst organisations like the Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association (LEVA) have done much to develop this area of expertise, there are only a relatively few top "experts" working within the field.

One such highly respected member of this rather exclusive 'club' is Jim Hoerricks, the Senior Forensic Video Analyst (FVA) for the Los Angeles Police Department. Having authored his book "Forensic Photoshop" as a working bible for analysts keen to learn about the techniques and tricks used in enhancing video images, his latest development just launched is an online training course entitled "An introduction to Forensic Photoshop".

The course is available through the American Institute of Forensic Education, and will no doubt prove to be an invaluable step for any technicians setting out on a challenging career as an FVA.

Which is very opportune considering the slowly growing recognition here in the UK, that Forensic Surveillance may well in the not too distant future, eclipse the potential for both DNA and fingerprint analysis, in providing the vital edge in crime detection and case resolution.

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Thursday, 23 October 2008


Defining the use of video surveillance, in a Homeland Security role

The U.K.'s wide scale adoption of CCTV over the last dozen or so years, has in many situations, seen the enthusiastic deployment of technology looking for an appropriately defined purpose.

The idea of public space (mostly Town Centre) camera schemes being tasked with improving public safety, may be a commendable concept in itself, but the legacy of almost exclusively deploying "active" CCTV systems with the inherent cost and operational limitations dictated by their structure, has resulted in a less than convincing argument for continuing the funding of a technology, which parts of the media would now have us believe is failing before our eyes.

The truth of the situation is that much which has gone before, has been an expensive experiment in an open space laboratory, where the outcome in terms of actual effectiveness, has been both predictable and lately proven.

Now anyone that's read any of my spurious scribblings over the years, will be aware that this is something of a recurring theme for me, albeit that it is particularly relevant to review the state of play at this time, given that many of the mistakes made over here, are now being enthusiastically replicated by regional governments and law enforcement agencies, right around the globe.

Where perhaps ten years ago, the motivation for deployment was based on anti social behaviour and mostly low level criminality, the world as we know it has changed in nature, and the ever present threat of terrorism, is now more than at any previous time in our history, a driving factor for the further deployment of  expansive and expensive, video surveillance networks.

We only have to look across the pond to our colleagues in the U.S., to see that massive amounts of Homeland Security funding are being channelled into large public space security camera schemes, which despite being less readily acceptable overall to the good folks stateside, are nevertheless being promoted as a necessary weapon in the fight against terrorism.

And yet experience here tends to suggest that given the often low operating efficiency of the average Town Centre camera, the real potential for addressing Homeland Security issues actually lies with the massive number of relatively low tech privately owned and operated cameras, most of which are in urgent need of some proper 'care in the community'.

Considering the security camera images captured of the London Bombers back in July 2005, including the failed attacks a fortnight later, and more recently of course the attempted car bomb attack on Glasgow airport, it is now widely accepted by most law enforcement professionals that privately owned and operated CCTV systems will undoubtedly in the future, hold the key to potentially unlocking both Homeland Security and serious organised crime investigations.

The fact that vast sums of investment continue to be pumped into unsustainable mostly inefficient publicly owned schemes, whilst little if any practical assistance is invested in improving smaller privately maintained installations, speaks volumes for the clarity of thought currently being applied to tackling one of the most serious issues facing our modern societies.

It's perhaps ironic that over here, government grants can so easily be obtained to help stop heat being lost through the roof, yet there's no actual mechanism available to help keep the roof on in the first place.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008


So the French have decided to polish up their CCTV act

The UK may be regarded by many as the epicenter of the CCTV universe, but when compared to our freres across the channel, I'm reminded that there may only be a 22 mile strip of water that separates England from France, but in terms of deploying video surveillance in the capitol cities, we're practically living on separate planets.

Following a visit to our shores by Monsieur Sarkozy roughly a year ago, the President was heard to remark about his admiration for the significant and impressive level of surveillance, currently experienced by those people living in London.

Although traditionally, citizens of the republique have been spared the delights of widescale video surveillance monitoring, all that is set to change big time, with the announcement that Paris will receive a further thousand or so Public Space security cameras, within the next two years.

According to this news piece in the Telegraph, cameras are to be installed where they are needed most, which somewhat optimistically assumes that once installed, the political and operational pressures for expansion will somehow be contained through the power of the people.

Far more likely is the scenario that the proposed 44 million Euro investment as described in Le Figaro  will provide the pump priming foundation for a far more expansive and no doubt expensive foray, into wide ranging video surveillance throughout the city.

Whether the rapid adoption of city wide video monitoring is actually going to meet the needs of the good citizens of Paris, is perhaps something only the authorities can decide in the fullness of time. 

That said, given the proposed expenditure for what is in effect a relative small and no doubt less than efficient 'active' surveillance scheme, this does tend to suggest that whilst Londons past enthusiastic adoption of this technology may well provide a compelling basis for comparison, in practice our less than perfect experiences may not be quite so readily acknowledged, by those who are clearly on a mission to impress.

Bon chance mes amis!!

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Sunday, 19 October 2008


Community CCTV cameras incapable of catching criminals

It's not that unusual to come across video surveillance cameras that for one reason or another, are quite incapable of producing Evidential Quality Recordings (EQR).

Although to some degree, a wide range of technical issues afflict the vast majority of CCTV security cameras currently in use across the UK, according to this story from The Shields Gazette, the three cameras in question were actually not working at all, when needed the most.

It would appear that the CCTV cameras which were installed to protect a parade of shops in South Shields, had in fact been out of action for a number of weeks due to an underground cable fault, at least according to a Local Authority spokesperson.

Failed equipment is not in itself a story, but where staff are held up at knifepoint, some hours after the suspect has been seen parading around the area supposedly surveilled by the community safety cameras, it beggars belief that the same serious fault which prevented the cameras from functioning, could so easily be repaired within a matter of hours of the attack taking place.

Whilst it's true to say that most equipment failures are only ever discovered post event, in this situation, the council were apparently aware for some time, but failed to effect a repair within what most people would consider a reasonable period.

The local traders may be absolutely fizzing at this blatant example of technical incompetence, but I'd much prefer to regard the failing as an obvious example of the laissez-faire irresponsibility, much beloved by those in authority who's favourite expressions include "we're not worried about that" and "it'll never happen here". 

This may be all too familiar to most CCTV Consultants, but for those people affected by poor security management procedures, they could be forgiven for asking who exactly should be held responsible.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2008


A little CCTV knowledge is a dangerous thing

As part of the daily work on my main CCTV information website ( ), I generally go through a couple of hundred or so Closed Circuit TV related news stories, in what passes for an average week.

Now it doesn't really take that much imagination to accept that apart from the numerous "video surveillance coming to smalltown" stories, being supplemented by a never ending procession of "state of the art" products that will revolutionise CCTV as it is today, every now and again a story will pop up that is ever so slightly out of the norm, although not necessarily for the most obvious of reasons.

So it is with this apparently innocuous news piece from the UK's 
The writer having picked up on some industry chatter about British Standard BS8418 having a negative effect on many older "legacy" CCTV systems, has somewhat inconveniently extrapolated what is in practice a relatively small problem, and elevated it into the realms of borderline video surveillance armageddon.

The story relates to the suggestion that the new British Standard for remotely monitored CCTV, in other words, systems that are mostly connected to Central (monitoring) Stations, will only guarantee a police response if the sites security camera equipment fully complies with the latest standard.

Unfortunately, whilst the number of cameras being remotely monitored here in the UK, is only a tiny percentage of the overall numbers in use, the article rather confusingly implies that failure to comply may have far wider and more serious consequences for surveillance systems in general.

The one thing we can say with certainty about CCTV, is that very few users have that much interest in the subject, and of those even fewer have a strong grasp of the basics. Where journalists are perhaps innocently inclined towards grabbing sensationalist claims, and then running off towards the horizon leaving a trail of confusion behind them, it certainly doesn't help to clarify an already misunderstood situation.

This article is by no means unique in it's dearth of factual clarity, but then reporting what's wrong is almost always more readable, than maintaining complete and total accuracy in what they write.

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Thursday, 2 October 2008


How good are your CCTV cameras ...?

After more years than I can remember of advising clients about their problem CCTV, it occurred to me that given the widescale issues with so many poorly set up cameras, I really ought to look at doing something positive to help address the situation.

Well here we are at the 1st of October (erm, that was a couple of hours ago), and after months of planning, ok so it was really only a few weeks, I've now officially launched my new VIPER service.

The idea is actually very simple; if I'm sent a half decent JPEG image from a CCTV or IP Video camera, I can then produce a detailed "Video Image Performance Evaluation Report", which will identify how well the unit is performing, and whether the images produced would be considered as acceptable for possible court use. 

The report also highlights key improvements that can be made to improve the picture quality, and consequently the cameras overall operational efficiency.

It remains to be seen how well received it proves to be, but for those interested in finding out a bit more, there's an introductory page about VIPER on my main site.

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What a difference a day makes ....

I just can't believe I've left it this long to catch up with the blogging.

With the best intentions, I had hoped to post something pithy (no I don't have a lisp) and relevant to the world of CCTV, well at least every other day, so here I am how many months later, finally trying to type something recognisable at almost 2 o'clock in the morning.

My excuse for what it's worth, rests simply on just too much to do, and not enough sleeping time left to give up.

In the last few months, I've introduced some new features on the main site, including illustrated CCTV / IP Video Manufacturers Press Releases, a complete overhaul of the sites layout, which to my shame is only just about half completed, the first featured "Security Event" which is actually the IFSEC India Show,  and I'm also working on various other newsy bits.

It's interesting that as fast as I develop new content for the site, even more material comes flooding in, and I find myself running just to try and catch up. 

I've had lots of very useful feedback and some excellent comments, although I was rather amused by the recent message that started off  "Dear Doktor Jon's Team". 

In my dreams!!  Keep those CCTV news stories coming in folks ...

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