The Development of Video Technology over the Last 20 Years
Axis and the Safety and Security publications of GIT are both successful prodigies of the nineties, sufficient reason for them both to take a look back at their roots - and also to risk a peek at the forthcoming decades. We spoke on this occasion with Ray Mauritsson, President & CEO of Axis Communications, one of the leading companies and pioneers in network video technology.
GIT-SECURITY.com: Mr Mauritsson, Axis and the GIT Safety and Security trade magazines are sort of contemporaries. If you think back 20 years, how did it all start with Axis camera technology?
Ray Mauritsson: The network camera business of Axis was built up between 1993 and 1996 by Martin Gren. He had the idea to manufacture a network camera during a trip to Tokyo together with a potential customer. At the same time, the Axis engineer Carl-Axel Alm had the idea to construct a network-based video conference system.
The two developed the ideas further and turned the concept into reality. Admittedly you could not consider its performance as optimum when we brought the first network camera onto the market in 1996. It managed one image per second (fps) and needed 17 seconds to generate a single D1 snapshot. That was virtually useless for normal surveillance applications - but it did finally lead to success in remote surveillance, and we saw the opportunity for a video surveillance market of the future that, although it was completely analog, was definitely on the way to digitalization, like everything else today. Luckily the performance has improved today - way beyond what Martin or Carl-Axel could have predicted then. It‘s a fact that network cameras from Axis today deliver 30 fps in HDTV 1,080p resolution compared to just one fps at 0.1 Mpix 15 years ago. That‘s a 600 fold improvement.
How and when did the fundamental IP-based technology platform of your products arrive, like the Etrax and Artpec chips?
Ray Mauritsson: The development of Asic already began at Axis in the late 80s with the Etrax family chip set that is used, above all, in our print server products.
As the focus moved towards network video technology at the beginning of 2000, our Asic development planning brought the Etrax know-how together with network video-specific functions in our Artpec family.
From your personal point of view, what were the most important technical sensations of the last two decades during the digitalization of video surveillance?
Ray Mauritsson: The most important was of course the arrival of the first network camera that we developed 15 years ago. Another early technical development was the digital video recorder that made it possible for an analog system to digitally record images. Power over Ethernet was a further important step because that is a cornerstone of the whole era of digitalization. Power over Ethernet enables network video products to receive data and power over just one Ethernet cable.
PoE enables products like network cameras and video encoders to be installed in environments where traditional power cables and supplies are not available or would be difficult to install. Power over Ethernet provides a more simple, quick and cost-efficient solution than installing new power supplies and electricity cables. Another extremely important development is the improvement of image quality that digitalization has brought. It grew in the same dimensions as the image sensors became more sensitive and the number of readable pixels moved into the megapixel range.
...right up to HDTV.
Ray Mauritsson: Correct. And the whole time there was no mention of HDTV. HDTV provides a resolution up to five times higher and with twice the number of TV lines than a conventional analog television image. The colors are true and the images are sharp, even if an object is moving quickly. We can now see how the video industry is following the TV market because the customers have recognized the potential of HDTV technology.
I consider that the best performance indicator: the demand. More than anything else, the picture quality can be extremely important for video surveillance because the ability to exactly identify someone, also whilst moving, is of central importance. Images in HD quality were however impracticable until H.264 compression came along. Thanks to this standard, video data files are up to 20 times smaller and the demand on bandwidth is correspondingly lower.
The use of thermal imaging technology for surveillance tasks was also an important innovation. This enables cameras to see in the dark - invaluable for areas with poor lighting that have to be watched. A whole world of opportunities arose with the introduction of intelligent video technology: a camera can now do far more than just monitor and record; it has become much more an interactive business tool. By utilizing intelligent applications such as movement sensors, people-counting functions and audio functions, the camera can be used for communication over the network and to raise alarms when something changes, for example when a lamp is switched on or off or a particular area is entered. Additionally, there‘s the surveillance of people‘s behavior, in stores for example.
What developments in other security fields have particularly impressed you?
Ray Mauritsson: Compared to other industry sectors, the technology change didn‘t come as quickly as I had expected. The risks that an organization is confronted with today have never been more complicated. Companies expect - and need - more from the security function. Development in security must therefore move ahead quickly in order to keep pace. An interesting area where we have noted a big change is access control.
This includes the integration of a video management system in the access control system of a building to document entry into buildings and rooms with video recordings. The access control market doesn‘t yet use IP networks to the fullest extent - a lot could still be done here. One example is the use of tracking systems to follow objects with the help of RFID technology. This is used at airports for items of baggage: you can follow them wherever they are and ensure that they are brought to the right destination. If this is coupled to video surveillance, the authorities have visual proof where baggage items get lost or are damaged - the result is a very efficient search procedure. Biometrics are becoming exciting for the security market in general. Face recognition, for example, will make a great contribution to crime prevention.
Let‘s jump ahead a decade into the future: which technical, product-related visions can you imagine in the year 2021?
Ray Mauritsson: Above all, standardization. It has been important to a large extent in all branches of industry for the spreading of new technologies. Supporting good standards leads to simpler manageability - that is one of the reasons why analog video technology remained dominant for so long. And innovations are encouraged by the distribution of knowledge. We can therefore expect the tempo of technical progress to continue to grow. I believe that Onvif will be the dominating standard in network video.
Although the image quality has improved considerably, still more can be attained. In the last fifteen years, the most improvement has happened in definition and the refresh rate. In the future, performance improvements will concentrate on image processing. I expect that this will enable an average surveillance camera to be able to see more than the human eye. Thermal imaging technology will gain significant importance in the next ten years. Everybody wants the lowest possible Lux rating for his camera - how about zero? Thermal imaging is still a niche market today, mostly for military and government applications. But if the price of network thermal cameras sinks we can expect a large number of new applications to appear.
How does analysis technology look?
Ray Mauritsson: Video analysis will also serve wider applications, and that will improve the efficiency of the systems. In addition - a look at all the other sectors confirms this - the security market will be further digitized. I would say that network video systems will completely dominate the market by 2020 - this will include more than 80 % of cameras sold. After all, network video technology is positioned to fully revolutionize the design of surveillance systems. We will see improvements in installation that will make it easier; there will be more installation options available and more pan/tilt cameras. And personnel will be trained in the use of mobile devices that are connected to the cameras - and that in turn will provide greater efficiency.
Mr Mauritsson, many thanks for the conversation.