Best New Product Awards InvestigatedBy: John Honovich, Published on Apr 03, 2012
The ISC best new product awards use a secretive process that lacks transparency, making it impossible to understand the rationale, fairness or accuracy of the awards. Equally troubling, SIA, the organization behind this program, chose a Pixim marketing manager to chair a committee bestowing awards on multiple Pixim customers at ISC West, raising conflict of interest concerns. SIA should make major changes to improve their program's legitimacy.
These awards suffer from a lack of transparency. Decisions are made in secret. No one publicly ever learns why one product won over another. SIA simply releases a long list of winners with hardly any details about why or how a decision was made. Even if nothing 'sinister' occurs, this encourages sloppiness or favoritism as no one can question, debate or check decisions.
Amazingly, SIA's "code of ethics" enforces severe restrictions on judges. Specifically:
- "Support the program by refraining from any public criticism of it."
- "Keep all conversations about a specific product or service confidential."
North Korea has nothing on these policies. How does it support the program to bar judges from publicly ever saying anything negative about it? What if there are legitimate ethical or procedural problems in the judging that SIA will not address? How will these ever be overcome?
Each year, people across the industry question these awards. This year a few stand out in particular on the video side:
- Best Video Surveillance Wireless: A transcoder service won (Ocularis X). This does not even fit into SIA's own definition - "video security system components that operate via wireless protocols."
- Best Analytics: A 4 channel analytic encoder won (VideoIQ Rialto). How is this new or innovative in 2012? I, of all people, recognize the lack of innovation in this segment but to give an award for such a mundane product advancement takes away the value of awards.
- Best SD camera and Judge's Choice: Both awards went to Pixim powered cameras. We detail our concerns below.
Maybe the committee is 'right', or has insights and information the rest of us lack. Or maybe they screwed up or simply misunderstood certain products. Unfortunately, we will never know because these questionable awards are chosen in secrecy.
The Pixim awards are especially strange.
Both award winning Pixim powered cameras cite Pixim as their core differentiator in their award submissions:
- Interlogix claims: "The UltraView XP4 Series of analog cameras offer a one-size-fits all solution that combines industry leading wide dynamic range and extreme low light performance in one package. These box and outdoor-rated rugged domes utilize a customized Pixim Seawolf platform."
- TKH affirms: "The Siqura BC620WDR is a network box camera that provides superior performance and wide dynamic range under all lighting conditions. This is possible through its distinctive image sensor, which uses adjustable shutter speeds for each individual pixel."
Not only did both products win awards, the TKH camera won the 'Judge's Choice' award for the second best overall product in the entire show - out of 60+ entries.
The only public rationale offered by SIA for the TKH camera's award is that the "camera provides superior performance and wide dynamic range under all lighting conditions." That is a description of the Pixim chipset, returning us to the troubling condition of a Pixim chaired committee issuing an award to a product because it uses Pixim even though dozens of products use the same Pixim solution.
Pixim offered the following response: “Although a Pixim employee, Jennifer Martin works in a volunteer marketing and press-interface role that has zero impact on award results, does not view the presentations, does not vote, and has no idea of the voting outcome in advance.”
Awarding Pixim Powered Cameras
We see three technical issues in awarding Pixim powered cameras:
- Not New: The Pixim Seawolf series was released 2 years ago (in 2010). These awards are supposed to be for new products. Considering the Pixim Seawolf series itself at last year's awards would have been far more appropriate.
- Widely Available: This series is now widely used in dozens of cameras, mostly second or third tier brands that cannot afford to develop their own technology. These awards are supposed to be for novel products, not technology that is available in dozens of manufacturer's existing lines.
- Not Cutting Edge: Compared to today's leading MP WDR cameras, Pixim Seawolf is neither cutting edge nor tops in performance. We have tested a Pixim Seawolf powered camera. While the results showed improved performance against Pixim's previous generation model, overall Pixim Seawolf was nowhere near competitive to top Megapixel WDR cameras. This performance deficiency has only increased as large vendors such as Axis (Q1604) and Pelco (Surevision) have released advanced MP WDR cameras. Indeed, Axis Lightfinder, another entrant, lost to multiple Pixim cameras. This is shocking considering how significant an advance this is in low light imagining (see our Q1602 and Q1604 test results).
[Update: The Interlogix Pixim based camera (XP4) is not yet shipping, according to Interlogix customer service. The product should therefore not be eligible for an award, according to SIA's own policies.]
What To Do
The combination of no transparency and awards to multiple customers of the committee chair is problematic. A simple, but incomplete step would be to no longer have a committee chairperson who works for a manufacturer (whether it is a product or component one). The more important, yet tougher one, is for SIA to open up about how they judged products and why certain products won or lost. Not only would this improve transparency, it would help the community better understand which products to use or avoid.
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