H.264 SVC: Surveillance Video’s New Codec

A new generation of scalable video codecs is being developed to augment the capabilities of H.264.

By Robert K. Beachler, VP of Marketing, Operations and System Design, Stretch Inc.

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Video/Imaging DesignWire
(8/21/2009 3:30:24 PM)

For many years, the surveillance industry has benefited from technology perfected in the world of analog broadcast video, beginning with CCTV systems selecting the NTSC and PAL video standards. Typically, the surveillance industry adopts broadcast technology many years after it has been deployed in television equipment. This slow adoption cycle will shorten dramatically going forward. Increased security concerns have driven an explosion in the demand for video surveillance, and new technologies for video surveillance are going to be deployed much faster than in the past as equipment manufacturers race to provide more cost-effective solutions.

When the surveillance industry took its first steps into the digital age, video compression codecs like MJPEG provided an easy way to compress and decompress captured video. The reduced frame rates and large file sizes were considered acceptable trade-offs for the simplicity and cost effectiveness of having a digital solution. As the power of digital signal processors increased, higher performance codecs such as MPEG4, again developed by the broadcast community, could be implemented. Better compression efficiencies meant higher frame rates could be used to capture video, and streams could be stored more cheaply and for longer periods of time. MPEG4 rapidly became the industry standard in the world of video surveillance.

The demand for better and more cost effective solutions continues, and now even the venerable MPEG4 standard has run out of steam. Large analog camera installations are making the storage requirements of MPEG4 DVRs prohibitively expensive. The streams produced by the proliferation of IP Cameras encoding video “at the edge” are beginning to clog the network infrastructure that transports the encoded video. As the world moves toward a fully digital age, what is needed is a better video codec. And what a better video codec needs is the horsepower to drive it.

Fortunately, the latest version of the MPEG4 standard, MPEG4 part 10, or H.264 as it is more commonly known, is perfectly positioned to become the new workhorse for video surveillance. Developed as a broadcast standard, H.264 has twice the compression efficiency of traditional MPEG4 (MPEG4 part 2), and it reduces both storage costs for DVRs and network congestion for digital installations. H.264 can be used to increase frame rates or quality levels of captured video, but without increased storage costs. This has made previously unattainable clarity available to the surveillance community.

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