Avigilon's Megapixel Surveillance Offering Examined 2008

By: John Honovich, Published on Jun 20, 2008

[NOTE: This report is FAR out of date and is left here simply for historical purposes. See our recent Avigilon coverage.]

While megapixel cameras are a 'hot' technology, a number of factors including cost, complexity and usability undermine its uptake. Megapixel cameras still represents less than 1 or 2% of the total security cameras deployed despite its accelerating growth. As such, for megapixel cameras to go mainstream, a number of issues need to be resolved.

While Avigilon is best known for its super high definition cameras, its most important impact may be in solving critical problems that constrain megapixel cameras from being used in the mainstream market. 

Summary of Recommendations

  • If you are a security manager evaluating a new DVR/NVR and are interested in megapixel cameras, you should seriously consider Avigilon.
  • If you are an integrator looking for a differentiated offering, Avigilon is a strong choice.
  • Large enterprises with requirements for third-party application integration and advanced domain specific functionalities may not be met by Avigilon.

In this report we will be examining the advantages and risks of the Avigilon offering to explain the recommendations we offer.

[NOTE: This report is FAR out of date and is left here simply for historical purposes. See our recent Avigilon coverage.]

Avigilon Overview

Avigilon supplies a full suite of video surveillance products including cameras [link no longer available], encoders [link no longer available]  and a video management system [link no longer available]. Cameras range from standard definition to 16 MP units. Encoders enable support of fixed and PTZ analog cameras. The video management system is offered both as an appliance and software only versions.

Most importantly, all of the Avigilon products are designed to work together as one integrated system. This is significantly different and perhaps a unique approach in the IP Video Surveillance market. Whereas it is common that you can buy a megapixel or IP camera from dozens of manufacturers and use it with dozens of NVRs and DVRs, Avigilon’s cameras and encoders are designed to only work with their NVR.

Avigilon's reputation is based on superior image quality, however, the greatest strength of the solution comes from it being an integrated system. With an integrated system, the manufacturer can ensure that the product works optimally from end to end, simplifying integration and increasing usability. They can also reduce costs by streamlining functionalities. By contrast, with an open system, common in IP video surveillance, the component manufactures have much greater difficulty coordinating, simplifying and ensuring the product works optimally end to end.

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This approach drives both Avigilon's strengths and risks.

Advantages Overview

  • Improves Image Quality Significantly
  • Increases Usability of Viewing and Investigations
  • Makes System Integration Simple

Risks Overview

  • Benefits from Avigilon are maximized when using megapixel cameras. If you do not plan to use many megapixel cameras, obviously, Avigilon's business case is reduced.
  • Avigilon supports other manufacturer’s IP cameras but it is limited to top selling models.
  • Certain advanced video management features are still in development and you will need to verify with Avigilon on these points.

Product Overview

  • The MSRP pricing for a 1 MP camera from Avigilon is 20-40% lower than the MSRP of ArecontVision av1300 [link no longer available].
  • The MSRP for a 5 MP camera from Avigilon is under $1000 comparable to ArecontVision's pricing and hundreds of dollars lower than other top megapixel cameras.
  • The MSRP for a 4 channel 4CIF/120fps encoder from Avigilon is 20-35% lower than the top competitors MSRPs for equivalent encoders.
  • Avigilon servers can automatically discover and synchronize its cameras, saving integrators time and complexity when deploying the system.
  • All of Avigilon's camera functionalities are supported by Avigilon's management software. This is rarely the case with other megapixel cameras. While megapixel cameras can offer dozens of functionalities, many NVR / IP Video solutions only support a fraction of those functionalities. Avigilon eliminates these potential implementation problems and hidden issues.
  • When Avigilon makes changes to its cameras or management software, Avigilon can ensure the whole system works optimally with ease. This is more difficult when dealing with separate vendors for cameras and management software because coordination is complex and time consuming.
  • Avigilon's partner portal offers excellent on-line tools that makes it very simply to design and specify the entire system (both cameras and servers), reducing complexity, error and time in putting together systems.
  • “One Throat to Choke”: With Avigilon, any camera or management software problem is Avigilon's responsibility because they provide both. This is not to say that other suppliers would shirk responsibility. It's simply harder to determine which supplier can fix your problem when your solution has multiple suppliers involved.

Advantage: Reduces Costs

Avigilon can reduce the costs of cameras and storage.

The cost advantages arise from the tighter integration of cameras, encoders and management software and the ability to bring intelligent video features server side and avoiding more expensive compression technologies such as MPEG-4 and H.264.

For storage, Avigilon's built in “data aging” can significantly reduce storage costs. Essentially, Avigilon creates three buckets of storage – new, older and oldest. New video is recorded at full frame rate. Older video is reduced to half the new video frame rate while the oldest video is reduced to one quarter the new video rate. User configurable, typically the new video bucket is held for a few days to capture any incidents that may happen over a long weekend; the older video bucket is held for a number of weeks for general investigations and the oldest bucket can be held for any number of months or longer for insurance purposes. This ensures you always have the highest quality evidence available while reducing storage costs by 50% or more.

While data aging is offered in some form by a number of DVR/NVR vendors for standard definition cameras, this is not common for megapixel cameras. As such, it is a significant advantage, especially given the high cost of storage in megapixel camera systems.

With the broad introduction of H.264 megapixel cameras, Avigilon's storage advatange is being eliminated. Their higher storage utilization (compared to H.264) is actually becoming a weakness.

Advantage: Increases Usability

While camera resolution have increased dramatically, the amount of bandwidth going to one's office or home has grown very slowly. This increasing disparity is creating a very significant usability problem for most megapixel video surveillance systems. If you want to watch video but the video streams are too large for your connection, you are likely to have a very frustrating and poor experience.

Most video surveillance monitoring scenarios are affected by this disparity. This applies when either you or the NVR you are connecting to, uses a DSL or cable modem type connection. With so many NVRs at branch offices and so many people viewing remotely, the odds are that this issue will affect you. Indeed, unless you and the system you want to view are in the same building or campus, it is likely this will be a problem.

Avigilon's approach to transmitting and encoding video allows for much higher usability than leading megapixel solutions. Avigilon uses JPEG2000 [link no longer available], the second generation version of the underlying CODEC used by other megapixel cameras (JPEG/MJPEG). JPEG2000 provides significant advances in transmission and dynamic changes to resolution displayed. This offers critical benefits to usability as it can radically reduce the amount of bandwidth consumed while delivering the exact level of quality and detailed wanted by the user.

Let's say you have a 5 MP camera covering a parking lot. If you are looking at the full view of the entire parking lot in quad view on a standard 1280x1024 monitor, sending the entire 5 MP image is a waste. With 90% less pixels on your display, you can send just 10% of the image data and it will look the same to you on your monitor. Only when you zoom in to a specific region do you really need more pixels in a certain area and the Avigilon NVR dynamically handles which parts of the image to send. With MJPEG, on the other hand, the conventional way megapixel cameras are streamed, all 5 MP is sent to your PC which unnecessarily uses large amounts of bandwidth. The PC then must select the area you zoomed in on and discard the rest. By contrast, with Avigilon, only the required pixels of the 5 MP images are sent to your PC. By only sending the minimum image data required, image quality is improved, bandwidth is greatly reduced, and interacting with the Avigilon user interface is much more responsive making it easier to monitor cameras or to conduct investigations.

With the advantages examined, let us look at the three main risks.

Risk: Mainly Analog Deployments

Clearly, Avigilon's strengths are built around its image quality and ability to simplify megapixel video surveillance. To the extent that you are not using megapixel cameras or only plan to use a small fraction of megapixel cameras, Avigilon's advantages are reduced.

Risk: Constraints on IP Cameras Used

The most serious risk with using Avigilon is the lack of support for other IP and megapixel cameras. The higher performance, ease of deployment and greater ease of use that Avigilon delivers comes from managing its own cameras.

To address this concern, Avigilon is scheduled to release support for leading IP cameras in early 2009. For most people who do not have IP cameras yet, this will not be an issue. For those who do, you should factor this in.

Risk: Limited Enterprise Video Management

As a relatively young company, Avigilon does not yet have as broad a suite of functionalities as some of the older and larger DVR/NVR providers offer.

Specifically:

    • Avigilon currently does not support access control integration. They are scheduled to release Lenel integration in Fall 2008 in addition to their current support for triggers from 3rd party applications. If access control integration is a requirement, you should verify if they support your system or how they could support it.
    • For advanced video analytics, Avigilon currently only supports LPR. Object recognition and face recognition are only available to select customers for beta trial periods and are only scheduled to be released at the end of 2008.
    • Avigilon offers centralized management of all servers, supports LDAP and can perform redundant recording and archiving, however, Avigilon is not scheduled to have single-sign on until 2009.

As is standard for a younger company, all of these elements are being developed but if you depend on any of them, you or your integrator need to contact Avigilon directly to get the latest timing on when and how they will support these elements.

Conclusion

Avigilon offers a very different and very powerful way to deliver greatly improved image quality while reducing the cost, complexity and usability concerns of deploying megapixel cameras.

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