IPTV vs IP Video Surveillance

By John Honovich, Published on Jun 09, 2009

Not all video is the same. Indeed, ideal solutions for one video application can be a waste and completely inappropriate for another application.

The Growth of Video

Solving IP video problems is critical since IP video growth drives the growth of IP networking. IP Video is projected to be 90% of all traffic in the near future. It has prompted the CEO of Cisco to suggest video is the next killer app.

Video Application Differ

The challenge is that IP video consists of a variety of applications - many of which have radically different requirements. For instance, a solution that is ideal for IPTV or video conferencing can be overly complex and costly for IP Video Surveillance without materially improving performance.

Why is this Important?

I routinely see vendors try to leverage their solutions across different applications. This often fails to gain market acceptance as the vendor or specifier does not recognize the differences in need between the applications.

IPTV is an entertainment application. The carrier provides numerous channels of video, available on-demand for viewers to watch over an IP network.

IPTV faces many mature substitutes: Broadcast TV (over the air), Cable TV, satellite, on-demand from websites (like Hulu).

Because of so many competitors, IPTV must work very well and at low price points. The cost for a consumer to switch is fairly trivial so it's easy for a consumer to stop using IPTV unless they are very satisfied

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Substitutes for IP Video Surveillance

IP Video Surveillance is a security application. A custom network of cameras are deployed at the facilities of the organization purchasing the solution.

IP Video Surveillance has no real substitutes (outside of hiring guards to watch). You can throw out your existing system and buy a new one but that requires significant investment and time to deploy. Because you are monitoring your own facilities, there's no easy way for competitors to get around the cost of setting up at your facilities.

Contrast in Customer Expectations

Because there are so many direct substitutes for IPTV, customers demand far higher quality performance than they do of their IP Video Surveillance. The issue is not whether high quality entertainment video is more important than high quality surveillance video. The reality is simple that it is far less expensive to deliver an additional stream of entertainment video than it is to add a new surveillance camera.

Requirements for IPTV

Given the numerous substitutes, customers demand IPTV deliver:

  • Rapid retrieval of new video streams (under 1 second is common)
  • Rare to no interruptions of video streams
  • Rare to no degradation of video quality
  • Vast variety of channels / videos available
  • At a low cost (under $100 USD per month or even less for all of this)

For carriers to meet this requirement profitably, they need economies of scale from delivering IPTV to thousands or millions of subscribers.

Indeed, IPTV demands near perfection at massive scales.

One element that IPTV does not require is the production of video. IPTV carriers expect to receive fully produced videos. The carrier then is responsible for hosting and delivering the content.

Requirements for IP Video Surveillance

By contrast, here are common requirements for IP video surveillance:
  • Capturing video from various locations (dozens to thousands)
  • Capturing video under various environmental and lighting conditions
  • Transmitting captured video to servers for recording
  • Making video accessible to few simultaneous viewers
  • Keeping total installed costs low

The foundation of any IP Video Surveillance installation is the deployment of cameras to cover the organization's facilities. Those camera feeds need to be recorded so a network needs to be provided between the cameras and recorders. However, most surveillance video is never watched and only infrequently do more than a few people ever need to look at the same stream simultaneously.

Because organizations must deploy their own cameras, the cost of deployment can be very high. It's not uncommon for systems to cost $1,000 or more per camera (with $5,000 or greater cost for public surveillance systems).

Contrasting Requirements

A number of striking differences exist between the two application's requirements:
  • Producing Video: In IPTV, video production is irrelevant but in IP video surveillance it is crucial. This is why camera companies are so powerful in the video surveillance market in driving the overall IP video solution.
  • Simultaneous Viewing: The applications are opposite here. While IPTV needs to support large-scale simultaneous viewing of video, in IP video surveillance, this is rarely necessary.
  • Quality of Video: While IPTV users would quickly quit if the video quality was not perfect, IP video surveillance users accept routine issues with quality and reliability (few other options).
  • Economies of Scale: Massive investments in network infrastructure for IPTV are paid by large-scale audiences watching the same set of video streams. By contrast, any investment for IP video surveillance must be absorbed alone by the organization installing the IP video surveillance system.

These contrasting requirements manifest themselves in significant different network designs and cost structures.

Different Network Architectures

For IPTV, large numbers of video streams need to be delivered across Wide Area Networks to massive number of viewers who often will be watching the same video stream. Without any network optimizations, this will certainly overload the WAN.

To accommodate these issues, IPTV network architectures use:
  • Multicasting: Since so many people will be watching the same video stream, multicasting the stream reduces bandwidth costs dramatically. If 100 people want to watch the same show, instead of sending the streams 100 times,  the stream can be sent once and then replicated close to the viewer's location. 
  • Quality of Service: Networks will be designed to detect and enforce quality levels of video streams. Network equipment will delay less time sensitive applications like e-mail and file transfers to make sure that video does not suffer delay or quality reduction.
  • Transcoding: To handle a variety of networks (e.g., mobile), dedicated devices are deployed to transcode video to lower bit rates.
  • End to end management: To accomplish the elements above, vendors routinely develop and provide an end to end solution so that they can tightly control video performance.

An excellent examination of the technology and complexity of IPTV deployments can be found be reading LightReading's recent test of Cisco's IP video architecture.

By contrast, IP Video Surveillance architectures tend to be simpler:
  • Multicast is only used in a small fraction of IP video surveillance deployments. With so few simultaneous viewers, it's generally not needed and rarely worth the additional cost.
  • Quality of Service: To maintain high quality surveillance video, recorders are placed close to surveillance cameras and connected via high speed LANs that provide more than enough bandwidth. These networks are often dedicated. As such, more sophisticated quality of service measures are routinely avoided.
  • Transcoding: Video recorders routinely provide built-in frame dropping or transcoding to manage viewing over low speed connections.
  • Quality loss or delay is generally accepted by end users, reducing the need for enhancing IP networks.

IP Video Surveillance can routinely run with minimum modifications to existing networks where IPTV generally cannot.

Different Cost Structures

Certainly, the different network designs result in significant variants in cost. Where network upgrades to support IPTV can run hundreds of thousands (for specialized equipment and certified engineers), IP video surveillance can be deployed with fairly minor network costs.

Indeed, adding in the the costs and design of an IPTV system for a IP video surveillance application can drastically increase the total cost of surveillance project. Since the added benefits rarely justify this cost, such designs will generally be unattractive.

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