Saturday, March 15, 2008

What is Video over IP?

Since this is my first post I thought I'd start off with a simple question, one that unfortunately doesn't get asked and more often than not leads to fundamental arguments about just about everything that follows. What is Video over IP?

Should be simple enough, but there are extreme purist views, and miles of gray in-between. At one extreme they declare a 'traditional' IP camera, such as is common-place in CCTV, must be used for it to be IP video. The more liberal view is that an analog camera connected to an encoder, or IP video server, is also acceptable as conforming to the label of IP video. Then the purists kick in, taking the stance that only megapixel cameras are true IP video because they break the NTSC/PAL shackles and anything else is a waste of time. At the other end a DVR with a network port on it is considered by some to be IP video, allowing the user to view live and recorded video from anywhere on the network. Somewhere in-between you have IP cameras and encoders with onboard storage (something I refer to as Recording at the Edge) which play a dual role of pure IP streaming device and DVR. Everyone talks about convergance of IT and physical security, because it helps to sell more pure IP video systems. But not many people are talking about the pragmatic use of multiple concepts to solve a given problem. It is this same merger of concepts that brought us the iPhone, Pearl, combo fax/ printer/ scanner/ copier/ and coffee-maker.

I take IP video for what it is - a system which somewhere in its architecture uses the IP network to get video from point A to point B. This abstract view covers all the scenarios above, giving each manufacturer the chance to differentiate themselves by justifying why their view is right and everyone else is wrong. A few manufacturers have all their eggs in one basket - they have only one solution, so by definition it has to be the only right one. I'm never going to say they are wrong, all I will say is buyer beware when you are presented with a prescriptive solution with little or no options. There's always more than one way to skin a cat, and the end-user is entitled to know as many as he or she is ready to hear.

The beauty of IP video is the architectural flexibility it offers, and consequently the things it makes possible. View at one quality, record at another. Record in 2 locations in case of a disaster. Move the monitoring station at a moment's notice. Share storage. Reuse existing infrastructure or just lay one cable. There are many more advantages, and constraints, that with your help I hope to explore in future posts. I welcome the challenges and corrections, in fact I positively encourage it otherwise I would be contradicting the multi-view world I believe in.

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