GOING DIGITAL
 
GOING DIGITAL

Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM
By TOM PATRICK MCAULIFFE

As removable computer hard drives, CD-ROMs and DVDs replace conventional tapes and VCRs, security directors are finding the conversion to digital has real bottom-line benefits. Though moving from a videotape-based CCTV system to a computer-based system seems initially to be more costly, in the long run, with the added ancillary benefits, converting to digital is both cost-effective and more reliable.

The switch to digital is across the board and happening rapidly. The Consumer Electronics Association reports that, last year, 15 million VCRs were sold, while 13 million DVD players ! double the amount of the previous year ! were a close second. And these new technologies are making their way from the consumer sector into the security sector.

Today's digital CCTV storage units fit in small spaces and provide instant random access and the ability to search footage via Alarm Log, Date/Time or Event parameters. Additionally, the new technologies are easier to store and are smaller than video tapes ! eliminating constricting storage requirements of tape-based systems, and the wait time to review and distribute them. Now, digital storage solutions offer remote access via connectivity through a LAN/WAN network or the Internet. Digital technology has enabled security directors to check on their plants or offices from anywhere in the world at anytime ! day or night.

But like every new technology, there are some challenges. The U.S. court system is contemplating the move to digital ! the challenges being the re-evaluation of the chain of custody, and ability to authenticate images.

"Legal use of DVD both for video and mixed media presentation is on the rise, and some companies have developed tools specifically for use with DVD presentations in the court room. DVD has the best chance of replacing VHS in the court room, skipping any serious use of other digital video formats," says specialist Wayne Cole, a certified legal videographer with the American Guild of Court Videographers and the owner of IHP Inc., a multimedia company in Southern California.

"I think the key to the mass acceptance and use of digital storage in the legal system will be when searchable Meta Data standards and search tools become more commonplace. The economy for storage, ease of access, and the ability to control and monitor data access will probably make the new MPEG-7 digital format a big hit with the CCTV community and legal system," he says.

A stumbling block to the full acceptance of using digital storage for CCTV is that the legal chain of custody for each video segment must be maintained. Without this, even the best CCTV video won't be accepted as legally admissible evidence in court. "If there's video that's 'real-time' evidence, like security camera feeds or a videotaped deposition, the objective is to ensure the authenticity of the imagery and the audio," Cole explains. Having a small window displaying uninterrupted time code also helps to show that the video has been unaltered.

"If a CCTV video will be shown in court, there has to be some assurance that it was not altered in any way that renders it no longer a true and accurate record. So, when anyone passes video along the chain, the standard practice is to maintain date, time, and signature records of the exchange," he says. "The objective is to see to it that the original material remains unaltered. Establishing a chain of custody so that every moment of the evidence's life-cycle can be accounted for makes it possible to determine when and where inappropriate changes may have been made to an edited presentation master or an original surveillance tape."

From video tapes and analog recording, the CCTV industry has now seen the wisdom of using digital recording and computer hard drives. Digital video and storage provides features traditional video cannot. Not only is the storage medium smaller, it lasts virtually forever. It's also easier to enhance footage using software filters and sophisticated algorithms to improve picture and sound. Using the Internet, the digital footage can then be sent anywhere in the world. The benefits of using this technology are too numerous to ignore, making new technologies available to fit almost any CCTV budget and environment.

"The CCTV market is rapidly changing and definitely moving towards digital technology," says Thomas Wade, president and CEO of GVI/Samsung CCTV. "There's a convergence between IT and CCTV. Two years ago 52 percent of our customers went with traditional analog time-lapse video, while today it's just 36 percent. The difference has already moved to digital VCRs and storage," he says.

According to Wade, the concerns that hindered security professionals from adopting digital surveillance technologies are falling by the wayside. "I think until now it has been the cost and fear of the unknown that's kept CCTV users from switching to computer-based CCTV and digital storage systems. In the last 18 months, we've seen all that change as PC prices have come down and the solutions have vastly improved in abilities," he says. "Of course, the main advantage to digital CCTV is that not only is it more accurate, but you can access the CCTV video cameras from anywhere in the world."

The other advantage to using digital technology is reliability. "Today's intelligent digital video systems can be customized to document and store footage of events like facility access or transactions, as well as utilize technologies like biometrics and facial recognition," Wade says. "It's an exciting time to be in the CCTV industry."

A former editor of Government Video magazine and U.S. Navy photojournalist, Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a contributor to Access Control & Security Systems who also writes for Video Systems, a sister publication.

 
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