May 1, 2002 12:00 PM

You've spent thousands of dollars on a CCTV system and hundreds of hours training security personnel in using the latest digital pan/tilt/zoom cameras and digital video hard disk recorders. Nothing has been left to chance or has something been overlooked?

This was the situation at one major building, and indeed, something had been overlooked. The last critical component in a good CCTV chain, the monitors, were 5-inch black-and-white models vertically mounted in a console that hadn't been cleaned in a month. It is certainly not the optimal surveillance environment. Considering the time and money invested in other areas of the chain, neglecting monitors can surely be short-sighted.

Today's CCTV monitors have something for every budget and for any configuration from such companies as Panasonic, Ademco, Pelco and Samsung.

What should users look for in selecting a high quality monitor? "The most important attribute for providing clear, sharp images in a CCTV monitor is the horizontal resolution. A security professional should be looking for a monitor that has over 750 TV lines of horizontal resolution," says Raul Calderon, Sanyo's national product marketing manager.

"This would be the perfect complement to a digital color camera and would provide the best output. An example of a good, small, digital security system would be a color camera, a 13- or 18-inch color monitor and a digital hard disk recorder."

Black-and-white vs. color is pretty much a moot argument in the modern CCTV market, given the lower cost of full-color monitors.

When choosing a CCTV system, is color important? "Color is always preferable to black-and-white, but you must take into account the cost factor," Calderon says. "A color monitor will help in better identification and it's more accurate to describe an event in color than in black-and-white anyway.

"For example, let's say there is a suspicious person in a mall. The description of 'the tall man in the green sweater and brown jacket holding a blue bag' is more accurate than 'there's a tall man in a dark jacket holding a bag,'" he adds.

The importance of color depends on the intended use of the CCTV system. For surveillance of low-use areas, such as stock rooms or back storage lots, black-and-white is likely adequate. If the camera or system is used to monitor a cash register, or any area where identification of people is important, color should always be used. With the costs of high-quality color CCTV equipment plummeting in recent years, implementing the equipment can always be a consideration.

With high-definition and digital television moving to the forefront, will HDTV ever make it to CCTV for video surveillance? "Not until CCTV products begin producing a direct digital output in MPEG-2 video format (used by DVDs) or the format factor (43) is changed to accommodate HDTV (169)," Calderon explains. "Currently, HDTV has far more resolution than standard composite or SVHS video, which is one of the reasons it's so attractive for CCTV."

Perhaps someday in the near future 169-sized HDTV monitors will be the norm. It may take a while, but HDTV could soon be included in all video surveillance considerations.

Traditionally, CCTV has been strictly a "visual assessment tool," providing identifiable or descriptive information during or on tape after an incident. Even changes to a more integrated security environment, the size, resolution and placement of the monitor is still important.

"Using a larger size monitor will cause less eye strain on the person viewing the monitor. It also aids in identification," Calderon says. "The magnification of an object on an 18-inch screen will create easy viewing of details. Size is also dependent on the set-up in the security room. If it's a small room a smaller monitor may be ideal."

Dean Czajka, Samsung CCTV vice president of product management, believes that while the new technologies like LCD, digital plasma monitors and HDTV will provide users with many new choices, the parameters for selecting an effective monitor should remain the same.

"In selecting a high-quality CCTV color monitor, an end-user should look for a high line of horizontal resolution with a low dot pitch for the best picture quality," he says. "The most likely use of digital display devices is LCD technology which has compatibility to accept composite video format. The price of LCD technology, which is driven by the computer industry, is coming down to a point where it can be cost effective for the CCTV market."

Setting up a CCTV control room to house the necessary recording and playback components can be as simple as using a regular television as part of a home CCTV surveillance system, or be as complex as a number of monitors equipped with quad splitters and/or multiplexers.

The main feature of these devices is the ability to compress images from four separate cameras and simultaneously display them on a single monitor screen. A single camera can also be selected and displayed on the full screen. But even the best won't work well if your monitors aren't fully calibrated.

Using technical furniture be it a simple console or a full command center that is ergonomically sound can also go a long way toward making the monitoring environment effective for a staff. New lines of CCTV consoles exclusively designed for LCD flat screen monitors are available. Mounting monitors at an optimal eye height and a strong line of sight will maximize production of video monitors and the people watching them.

With the traditional CRT based monitor being given a challenge by new technologies like LCD and plasma, change is on the horizon.

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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