High-definition video may be the newest technology to revolutionize the video surveillance industry, but to movie directors and tech gurus, it’s old news. The latest high-quality video resolution for surveillance equipment has been around since 2003, when the first 4K cinema cameras were introduced. 4K has since become popular with streaming services and movie production teams alike, and it’s now available in televisions and other video devices as well.
The main difference between 4K and its predecessors is the pixel resolution. It all has to do with the image’s aspect ratio. Previous high-definition video was displayed in a 1080p format, which usually has a 1920 x 1080 pixel standard. 4K, on the other hand, has a horizontal measurement of around 4000 pixels — hence the 4K of the name. Typically, this results in a resolution that’s close to 3840 x 2160 pixels, quadrupling the video quality of anything we’ve seen before.
Taking their cue from cinematographers and broadcasters, video surveillance equipment manufacturers have recently begun integrating this standard into their devices, too. Upgrading your system to 4K isn’t simply a matter of having the flashiest cameras. Higher-definition surveillance means more efficient security, with the potential to integrate complex analytical tools and sophisticated tracking and IDing.
Of course, there’s always a catch: Like any new technology, higher definition comes with an associated price, in terms of cost and data storage. And upgrading won’t be as simple as switching out your cameras — your whole video network must be reworked to meet new IT and storage requirements.
Even with these considerations, 4K is undoubtedly where the security industry is going, so if you want to get your large-scale surveillance system on the fast track, you’ll need to start integrating HD cameras into your setup. Of course, upgrading from standard definition is a big decision. If you’re thinking of making these adjustments to your surveillance network, here’s what you need to know first.
The Pros and Cons of HD Upgrades
4K video surveillance comes with enormous benefits for businesses — or it wouldn’t be taking off like it is. Most notably, 4K surveillance cameras produce video that is almost four times clearer than their predecessors. This winds up being about 24 times the quality of standard definition — a valuable resource if you’re trying to identify a suspect visitor, for instance.
- Imaging benefits. The added clarity allows for more precise zooming. Images won’t become grainy or blurry as you focus in on objects, details or individuals’ faces. It may also introduce a cost savings, since it’s possible you’ll be able to capture clear images from longer distances, meaning you need fewer cameras to get the same level of coverage. Additionally, the precision imaging allows security teams to introduce analytical tracking tools to measure on-site behavioral data. Once properly integrated, cameras can potentially track movements for more robust building analytics.
- Cost of upgrading. However, although upgrading to HD may demonstrate a better return on investment over time, the upfront per-camera cost may be more hefty. The latest and greatest comes at a price — and HD certainly outweighs those of analog video systems. 4K in particular can be expensive, largely because the 4K camera image sensor and image signal processor haven’t yet reached mass production. However, at Taylored, we’ve seen customers save by upgrading to a 4K camera system, since the coverage and detail is better on these units, meaning lower equipment costs. For instance, one of our clients, an outdoor park, was able to save money by deploying one 4K camera and two multisensor 360 cameras, rather than many lower-quality cameras. The reduced camera commitment meant less spent on licensing, cabling, and labor, which outweighed any potential equipment savings garnered by using less expensive cameras.
- Infrastructure requirements. Additionally, you may incur some extra costs if you need to upgrade your data storage for saved video. High-quality images mean large file sizes. 4K files can easily rack up petabytes of data, especially if you have 90-day storage limits. That means upgrading your storage, as well as your networks.
What You’ll Need to Upgrade to 4K Video or Higher
If you have the room in your budget and need to upgrade your system quickly, a 4K system makes sense. Installing now will prepare you with the infrastructure you’ll need as more advanced UHD formats, like 5, 6 or 7K, become widely available.
Most existing networks are designed with data processing in mind, not constant video streaming. That means they can only handle several hundred megabits per second at most, which is considered high-speed for data transmissions. Computer data also typically comes in short “bursts.” If the network happens to need more than several hundred mbps at any one point, it stores the data, essentially politely waiting until the network is less occupied.
However, because of the high storage quotient, 4K video surveillance systems must be designed with more robust recording equipment and networks. Video files are much larger than typical data files — and in a video surveillance system, they’re transmitted nonstop. As you can imagine, the steady stream of video never gives the network a chance to catch up. Conventional networks are easily overwhelmed by the high-volume, 24/7 data generated by 4K cameras.
To make your network 4K capable, you’ll need to evaluate the following pieces of equipment:
- Data switches. Unless you’ve upgraded your network in the past few years, there’s a good chance it contains legacy 100 mbps data switches. To convert to a 4K surveillance network, you’ll likely need to upgrade each individual port, after assessing your network for the needed switching capacity and buffer size. Here’s where our technicians at Taylored come in — we can help you predict your needs and design networks that can handle whatever’s coming at them, including 4K video.
- Read-write speeds on hard drives must be fast enough to record for multiple 4K cameras. Hard drive equipment specs will affect how many cameras you can feasibly integrate into a surveillance system.
- Storage. To give you an idea of just how quickly stored camera footage adds up, here’s a rule of thumb for implementation: One 4K camera stream can store video for about 42 days on a 4 terabyte HDD. For some clients, long-term storage commitments can sometimes rack up many terabytes of information. For instance, one Taylored Systems customer, a detention center, needed to store video for at least three years for litigation purposes. They required around 1.4 petabytes (or 1400 terabytes, in other words) of storage to hold that volume of footage. Your needs will depend on how many cameras you hope to integrate into your surveillance network, how long you intend to store video and the speed of the transmission. Professional network planners will help you work through these issues to find the right equipment for your surveillance needs.
Should You Upgrade Now — Or Wait for More Advanced Equipment?
Of course, video quality doesn’t stop at 4K. As you plan your network upgrade, you should consider how you’ll need to adapt to accommodate future integrations. Ultra high-definition TVs and film equipment are already available in display resolutions as high as 7 or 8K. Meanwhile, developers are working on better video compression rates to allow even larger file sizes to be transmitted over the Internet, which means that 8K surveillance could be a possibility in the near future.
Additionally, surveillance systems demonstrate great potential for commercial IoT applications. In the future, camera systems may be tied to other security features, like automated door locks and IP-based loudspeakers — all of which will be commonplace in the smart building of the future. For that to happen, we’ll need to move away from hard drives to completely cloud-based storage, meant to enhance not only your site’s storage capability but also increase its cybersecurity. It may make sense for some businesses to wait for these abilities, especially if they plan on moving to smart security systems in the future or have a cloud upgrade scheduled in their roadmap.
As camera manufacturers and device makers continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in video quality and system automation, your network is going to have to get a whole lot smarter to compensate. And that’s where we come in. At Taylored, we’re dedicated to designing networks that will make your business ready to handle whatever network challenges you have. We’ll work with you to select a system that meets both your security requirements and your budget and IT planning — whether you choose to upgrade now or five years from now.