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IP Standards On the Way

THERE ARE many advantages to using IP video for surveillance, from increased functionality to scalability. But one of the disadvantages of IP has been that the systems often lack interoperability, which means that end users can choose from only a handful of products and vendors based on which products work with their systems. A team from manufacturers Bosch Security Systems, Sony Corp., and Axis Communications is hoping to fix that problem by putting together a committee to generate interoperability standards.

The committee will initially address the network interface, although there may be more standards developed later, says Dieter Joecker, senior product manager for IP video at Bosch. The network interface enables communication among network devices like the camera, video management system, and encoders. The standard will deal with such tasks as streaming video, device discovery, and metadata. Video streaming would be addressed first, says Joecker.

The time is right for a standard because the market is growing. “I think IP has a decent market share in comparison to analog video…. It’s no longer a very, very small niche market,” says Joecker. He adds that the industry needs “standardization in these fields to develop this market further.”

This is not the only industry effort. The Security Industry Association (SIA) has a project as well. Its Open Systems Integration and Performance Standards body released its own standard (along with the American National Standards Institute) for a digital video interface data model earlier this year.

The SIA has “defined what [type of information] needs to be communicated between different units,” explains Jonas Andersson, director of business development at Axis Communications. Meanwhile, he says, Sony, Axis, and Bosch are trying to “decide how that shall be done. We are really getting into the detail of the interfaces between the units.”

Cisco, which made a push for standards at last year’s ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits, is working through the SIA, but it also hopes to engage with the Axis/Sony/Bosch group “in a meaningful way, leading to broad-based device interoperability,” says Ray Coulombe, Cisco manager of industry consulting, physical security.

Although the logistics of the Axis/Sony/Bosch committee were still being ironed out at press time, Joecker says that the goal is to open up the forum to other vendors by the end of 2008, and to release draft standards within a year. He notes that SIA has already expressed interest in the committee’s work.

The committee is using the open forum for standard development, instead of trying to have standards passed through a formal body, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Integrator Gary Cowley, of Cowley Consultants in Inglewood, California, says the standards might be especially helpful in expanding systems. Currently, if users want to add cameras to a system, they have to choose a camera they know will work with their network system. If the open standards come out, it might mean that users will have their pick of all different types of cameras since the different brands will work together.

However, Cowley says there are a number of snags that could trip up the attempt to standardize. He served on a committee that was trying to develop CCTV-system standards for Underwriters Laboratories several years ago. That committee was unable to come up with a standard that all the manufacturers could agree on, he says, and there could be a similar problem with the current IP-standards committee.

It will be difficult to set standards that are not only open and basic enough for everyone but that also fit the latest design breakthroughs to accommodate more complicated cameras, according to Cowley. He points to a certain type of megapixel camera, for example.

“They have their own unique protocol that only works with their system,” he says. “It’s already more advanced than what everybody’s using. The standard is always going to be below any new incredible design development.”

Cowley also cites intelligent analytics as an example of “the kind of functions that are going to be very difficult for anybody to build a general spec[ification] for.”

Andersson says basic features, such as pan-tilt-zoom and device discovery, would be covered by the standards, and companies can add additional special features.

One of the goals of standardization is to open up the IP market to a more diverse group of vendors with a wider selection of products, as all of the equipment will be able to work together. Cowley says that, depending on the standards, they may actually squeeze smaller companies out, because these companies might not be able to adapt as easily as larger companies.

Andersson does not think standardization will hurt smaller companies. “We will never require functionality. What we’re saying is if you have this kind of functionality, you should [use] this standard…. It will probably make it easier for smaller companies to get into the market, because we’ll have the same interface.”

Everyone will benefit if the standardization is a success. But whether that goal will be achieved is anybody’s guess. Cowley notes: “Getting that many people to agree to a baseline is really the roughest part.”