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A view from afar

October 11, 2010
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As a business that does on average 60 percent of its transactions in cash (PC&D Conveyor Benchmark Survey, March 2008), an express exterior carwash presents an attractive target to criminals. These carwashes are lightly staffed, open late at night, and often situated on large, fairly remote lots. Adding to the owners’ problems are incidents of employee theft (over 70 percent of operators reported at least one incident in 2007), vandalism to property (35 percent), and some situations of violent crime (5.9 percent).

To combat crime, 75 percent of carwash operators now report they’ve installed video surveillance systems, the vast majority of which are traditional CCTV or closed circuit television systems.

In recent years, however, IP (internet protocol) networked video surveillance has become a viable, although more expensive, alternative to CCTV. This is happening across a broad swath of retail and service industries, including car care. Why is this?

Benefits of IP
For one, IP video surveillance systems allow authorized users to locally or remotely monitor a business using only a PC and a standard web browser or video management software — anywhere and anytime. By simply logging into a password-protected website, just as they do to check their e-mail, users can simultaneously view and control real-time video, plus record images onto hard drives for later searching and archiving. Featuring built-in servers, IP network cameras operate as stand-alone units and require only a wired or wireless connection to an IP network. No on-site PC is needed.

The beauty of IP video architecture is its immediacy. Wherever the user is — at home, at work or on vacation — they can access real-time streaming video from their IP cameras on their PC, laptop, PDA or cell phone.

Although they are initially more expensive to purchase and install, in the long run, IP video surveillance may be more cost-efficient than CCTV. Networking cable is less expensive than single purpose coax cables. A Cat-5e cable can also provide electricity to cameras through cost-saving Power over Ethernet (PoE), saving the expense of running electrical wiring. As an added feature, extensive user training is rarely required, nor is a separate room needed within the carwash facility to house the video surveillance equipment.

At modern facilities where twisted pair based networks are already installed, an IP-based video surveillance system can simply be piggybacked onto the network. Like any other scalable network device, from printers to PCs, IP cameras are plugged into the network.

Video surveillance: Then and now
Until a few years ago, video surveillance in a carwash meant analog signals. These original CCTV systems were built on a web of RG-59 coaxial cables that distributed video images from analog cameras to a dedicated monitor and timelapse VCR, sometimes complemented by a quad-board that would allow up to four cameras to be viewed on a single screen. Analog video systems are interlaced, or made up of fields of lines, so fast movement often led to blurry action images, even when the camera was connected to a DVR (digital video recorder).

Distance was another problem. RG-59 could only carry a signal up to 750 feet, although RG-6 later extended transmission up to 1,500 feet.

Yet another issue was video storage. Countless VCR tapes are required to store captured video on a timelapse VCR, and the tapes themselves have to be stashed away in case an incident surfaces months later. Also, when the tapes are reused, their quality deteriorates.

With the advent of digital video, many of these problems have been solved.

Digital signals are made up of 1s and 0s, sort of a Morse code that designates the state of information. Digital video data is stored on a server or DVR (digital video recorder) with mammoth capacities, eliminating tapes while providing pinpoint accuracy to the process of event searching. Most importantly, digital video can be networked, enabling it to be sent over the Internet or Ethernet locally via a LAN, as well as be integrated to access control and other building systems.

An IP system also processes event handling, relay output, alert automation, motion detection and provides a variety of options such as resolutions, recording cycles and frame rates at the camera level to meet specific application needs.

Compared to CCTV, IP systems offer vastly improved image quality, higher resolution for better detail and wider coverage areas, more flexibility, and an overall system design that is easier to maintain and troubleshoot.

Analog video signals transported over coax cable lack encryption or authentication. In other words, anyone can tap into the video. This is not the case with IP cameras. Video is encrypted to block unauthorized viewers or hackers. Watermarks can also be placed on the video data stream to prevent tampering.

IP Video: Cost vs. value
A professional-grade IP network camera costs anywhere from $300 to $1,500, making its initial price higher than an analog CCTV camera. Yet on a cost per channel ratio, an IP network camera is comparable with a DVR-based analog system. Also, analog systems using PTZ controls will require supplementary cabling, something not required with IP.

Because of their deployment of open and standard servers, storage and backend applications, the upfront total solution costs of installing an IP video system are lower than analog CCTV. Most DVRs used in CCTV run on locked-in proprietary operating systems which increase long-term management and equipment costs, especially for larger installations where storage is a large share of cost.

Future costs, especially scalability, must be factored in. Each time a DVR is added to an analog system it represents another 16-channel or more jump, but IP increments a single camera at a time.

Additional cost savings come from IP infrastructure itself. IP-based networks, whether they are Internet, LANs or wireless, are easily leveraged across the enterprise for non-security related data, video and voice applications.

Rod Motta is marketing manager for US Relay, a company that supplies IP video streaming solutions and remote management tools for network camera hosting. You can reach Rod at