History of Video Surveillance

By: John Honovich, Published on Jul 19, 2019

The video surveillance market has changed significantly since 2000, going from VCRs to ab emerging AI cloud era. 

The goal of this history is to help professionals newer to the industry understand the important business and technology shifts that impact the market today, including:

  • 2000 - 2005 DVR Era
  • 2006 - Infancy IP and VMS
  • 2008 - 2012 MP Cameras Go H.264
  • 2009 - 2013 Cloud Hype / Bursts
  • 2010 - 2018 Struggles For Video Analytics
  • 2012 - 2014 Rise and Fall of Edge Storage
  • 2010s WDR and Low Light Improvements
  • 2015 Smart CODECs Rise 
  • 2018 H.265 Mainstream
  • Storage No Longer Major Problem
  • Slowing of Camera Resolution Increases
  • HD Analog Rises 2014, Niche Now
  • Rise Cybersecurity 2015 - Current
  • 2013 - 2017 Rise of The Chinese
  • 2015 - 2017 Race To The Bottom
  • 2018 - Now US vs China
  • 2019 Rise AI and Cloud Startups

2000 - 2005 DVR Era

The first part of the 2000s witnessed the rise of DVRs, replacing VCRs, bringing two important advances - (1) replacing costly and cumbersome VHS tapes with digital recording and (2) enabling monitoring of video surveillance over IP networks.

Recorders were quite expensive in that era, with $5,000 to $10,000 for a 16-channel appliance common, even with limited storage and low resolution (CIF, a fraction of even SD, was widespread). However, it was less expensive than the operational costs of maintaining VHS and tapes plus had the benefit that video could be viewed throughout an organization's facilities. Remote viewing over the Internet was possible but given limited bandwidth (max WAN bandwidth of 1Mb/s to 3Mb/s was frequent) and limited CODEcs (this was before the rise of H.264) meant that the quality and speed of Internet-based video surveillance watching was poor.

2006 - Infancy IP and VMS

By 2006, the industry was dominated by DVRs and SD analog cameras.

VMS software and IP cameras were still niche. Some megapixel cameras were offered but they were far more expensive than analog ones and only supported MJPEG encoding, making the storage and transmission of these cameras even more expensive.

Analytics was fairly 'hot' in 2006, driven by its potential and VC funding, though with very limited deployments.

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The major players were generally Western and Japanese large manufacturers, with Chinese branded sales nearly non-existent in the West (Dahua and Hikvision were mostly unknown) and notable companies today like Axis, Milestone, and Genetec still relative 'startups' (indeed, Avigilon only started selling commercially in 2007).

2008 - 2012 MP Cameras Go H.264

The single biggest driver for IP was the adoption of H.264 for MP cameras. This drove mainstream IP camera deployment and, by extension, VMS software. With MP H.264, IP was able to deliver clear benefits in resolution with reasonable increases in total costs (compared to the earlier MJPEG only MP era).

2009 - 2013 Cloud Hype / Bursts

Along with the rise of MP / IP cameras came significant interest in connecting those cameras to the cloud. The hope was that it would eliminate on-site recording, on-site maintenance, etc. Bandwidth limitations and poor cloud VMS capabilities doomed this. It never really gained much market share and with EMC dumping Axis, it marked the end of that era / error.

It would take many years for cloud to re-emerge as a significant player within video surveillance.

2010 - 2018 Struggles For Video Analytics

Video analytics never went mainstream, marred by performance problems and unhappy customers. 2011, with ObjectVideo suing Bosch, Samsung and Sony confirmed and deepened the problems of video analytics, with OV, one of the most well funded analytics companies effectively ending commercial sales and suing the industry. OV essentially won, with Avigilon paying nearly $80 million for ObjectVideo patents in 2014. The industry lost, though, as analytics remains a niche offering with minimal industry investment.

2012 - 2014 Rise and Fall of Edge Storage

For a few years, many saw edge storage as being a potential next big thing but it has ultimately become a niche. The promise of edge storage was to eliminate NVRs / recorder appliances as the storage and software could be deployed inside the IP camera. Reliability problems hurt early adopters. And the rise of low-cost Chinese NVRs (a few hundred dollars is now commonplace), as well as HD analog for even less (see below), has pushed edge storage as more of a niche providing redundancy for higher-end applications.

WDR and Low Light Improvements

Cameras have much become better handling challenging imaging conditions, especially harsh lighting and darkness. A decade ago, WDR cameras were fairly limited and expensive (this was when Pixim was considered leading edge). Low light performance was generally poor. And these problems were even worse for MP cameras where real WDR was essentially non-existent and low light performance was often terrible. The state of the art in our WDR Shootout 2011 is nothing compared to even 'average' true WDR cameras today.

Smart CODECs Rise 2015 

One of the biggest changes in the last 5 years has been the rise of 'Smart CODECs' that regularly delivers 50% bandwidth reductions vs 'un-smart' codecs by dynamically adjusting compression and I frame intervals based on analyzing the scene. Smart CODECs are independent of H.264 or H.265 and can be used with either. For the first few years of their introduction, they were primarily used with H.264 but are now generally used with H.265 as well.

H.265 Mainstream 2018

While smart codecs reduced the benefit of adding H.265 (by delivering bandwidth savings with 'old' H.264), by 2018, almost all manufacturers were releasing new cameras supporting H.265 + smart codecs.

Storage No Longer Major Problem

While there are certainly cases where storage is still a major challenge, the combination of smart codecs, H.265 and increased hard drive storage / price ratio has made video surveillance storage much less of an issue than ever before. In the 2000s and even the first half of 2010s, storage was a challenge, as much smaller hard drives, less efficient compression and burgeoning HD resolution demand made the cost and complexity of storage a major factor. Now, storage is generally a simpler matter.

Slowing of Camera Resolution Increases

Contributing to that is camera resolution increases are slowing. In the 2008 - 2013 era, resolution (specifically pixel count) was roughly quadrupling from SD (~0.3MP) to 1.3MP.  Now, resolution is continuing to increase, but on average, more in the 3 to 6MP range, which is a much slower rate of increase than earlier. From our resolution usage statistics report, this chart shows the trend:

8MP / 4K adoption is certainly gaining though, on the other hand, even 10MP has been available for more than a decade, so the overall adoption has been relatively slow. Moreover, there are very cameras over 12MP even being sold today and while some talk about 8K (i.e. 33MP), such video surveillance cameras are still mostly conceptual.

HD Analog Rises 2014, Niche Now

While SD analog took a long time to 'die', it was finally killed off by HD analog in ~2015. For more than a decade, IP was the only practical way to deliver MP / HD. But early in the 2010s, HD analog, which transmits over coaxial cable just like NTSC / PAL, emerged. It has wiped out SD analog, becoming a player in home / SMB kit sales and in the low to mid market. 

In the past few years, HD analog adoption relative to IP has slowed. While HD analog has increased its maximum resolution to 8MP and has added (limited) Power over Coax, even HD analog manufacturers have favored marketing their IP offerings, mainly relegating HD analog to the most cost-sensitive applications and geographies. See our HD Analog vs IP Guide

Rise Cybersecurity 2015 - Current

Cybersecurity has exploded into a major issue not only for the video surveillance industry but for the tech world, at large. The two most notable cybersecurity issues came from easily exploitable backdoors of the industry's largest manufacturers - Dahua backdoor and Hikvision backdoor - with the Dahua backdoor resulting in mass hacks in 2017. IPVM maintains a directory of cybersecurity vulnerabilities for video surveillance products.

The other major element of cybersecurity is the risk of state-sponsored or state-controlled companies. This first emerged as a practical issue in 2016 when Genetec expelled Hikvision and Huawei saying they were security risks. This has certainly increased as the US government has banned the use of those products as well as Dahua.

2013 - 2017 Rise of The Chinese

Even in 2012, Chinese manufacturers had negligible market share in branded Western sales. For example, see our 2010 Hikvision IP camera test to see how bad they were back then. Indeed, Hikvision saw Western direct branded sales as a 'dream' in 2009.

While the Chinese had, for many years, been OEM suppliers to Western brands, it has only been in the mid-2010s where Chinese branded sales exploded in the West. 

Before the Chinese expanded in the Western market, $300 was considered low cost for IP cameras, now $100 (or less) MP cameras are commonplace. In particular, Hikvision has also been very aggressive about offering across the board price cuts monthly, something previously very rare in the industry. These moves combined had resulted in a significant ongoing shift to Chinese brands.

Race To The Bottom - 2015 - 2017

This led to the 'race to the bottom', as manufacturers keep cutting prices, some to gain share (e.g., Hikvision) and others simply to stay alive.

The race to the bottom has now ended, due to a combination of less effective price cuts with prices have gotten so low, rising local costs as Chinese entrants expanded, cybersecurity issues (such as the backdoors), criticism / backlash and now the US government ban.

US vs China - 2018 To Current

In 2018, the US government passed a law to ban US government use and funding for Dahua, Hikvision, and Huawei products. While the primary effect was obviously within the US, this move has increased scrutiny of these Chinese manufacturers elsewhere in the English speaking world and the EU (see our directory of Hikvision global news reports for examples).

Moreover, the US government's move to sanction Huawei and repeated reports that Dahua and Hikvision are being considered for sanctions for their billion dollars of contracts in Xinjiang, where a million people are held in concentration camps, could bring further changes to the video surveillance market.

How this concludes remains to be seen. When we last wrote this history in 2016, it is fair to say few would have expected such a conflict would arise so quickly and so heatedly, so it is hard to determine how it will end.

Rise AI and Cloud Startups - 2019

While politics has become a major factor in video surveillance, in the past year there has been an emergence of a record number of video surveillance startups.

AI and cloud are driving this. While the previous eras were driven by increases in resolution and price decreases, this era is being far more shaped by software to analyze video using 'deep learning' and to manage video in the cloud. Of course, video analytics and cloud have been around for more than a decade. The differences today are improvements in analytics and maturity of supporting technologies around cloud (bandwidth availability, cloud infrastructure, etc.). While AI and cloud are still niches within video surveillance today, we expect them to be the major drivers of new product selection in the 2020s.

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