Megapixel vs VSaaS

By John Honovich, Published Jan 15, 2012, 07:00pm EST

The surveillance industry's most powerful driving force, megapixel cameras, is virtually incompatible with the industry's biggest buzzword - VSaaS. Indeed, looking through the industry's most well known hosted video offering shows that while all of them support IP cameras nearly none of them support megapixel cameras.

Megapixel cameras are indisputably the real deal and driving revenue growth across the board. By contrast, VSaaS is much more hype than substance today. In this report, we look at the issues involved and how this will play out in the future.

The Fundamental Barrier

Bandwidth is the big issue. The 'pure' and generally preferred way of doing VSaaS is to stream video from a camera on site to a recording service in the cloud. This requires the customer to have sufficient upstream bandwidth to send the video from their premises to the public Internet.

Most people do not have sufficient upstream bandwidth to the public Internet. Typically a few Mb/s at most is available. Unfortunately, a 720p HD stream at full frame rate (the 'lowest' megapixel option) typically requires 1 to 2 Mb/s. As such, a single camera can max out a customer's entire upstream bandwidth. This is a obviously a problem. (For background and to understand the basics, review our VSaaS training guide.)

The practical outcome is that megapixel cameras generally are not supported. Even with standard resolution cameras, frame rate is generally maxed out at 5 or 10fps and some providers only record on motion, not continuously.

What Do You Think?

The Negative Impact

Needless to say, this becomes a hard sell. Practically everyone wants higher resolution and every manufacturer touts megapixel's benefits. However, if you go to 'pure' hosted video you have to give this up.

Making things worse, it is merely one of a whole litany of things hosted video purchasers give up. We examine this in our critique of the VSaaS business case.

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The Future

There's no quick fix. In most places, bandwidth is unlikely to explode. Fiber to the home is expanding but unevenly and relatively slowly. And while hosted video vendors love to brag about H.264 being cutting edge, it's now fairly old technology with no huge jump in compression around the corner.

This leaves only one major approach available: storing more video on site. This has two options:

  • Store video inside the camera
  • Store video in a local recorder (iomega's NAS / AVHS support being the most interesting example)

Inside the Pro section, we break down each of these options, their advantages and disadvantages and how they are likely to impact the surveillance market in the long term.

VSaaS has to support megapixel cameras if it intends to get any serious adoption. Lack of megapixel support is becoming more and more problematic as the market sweeps to HD as the de facto standard of new cameras purchased. At the latest, by the end of next year, the majority of IP cameras sold will be megapixel, a huge jump from a few years ago when it was under 10%.

VSaaS providers will have to add megapixel or face a glaringly obvious deficiency that will disqualify them from many, if not most, new projects. Plus VSaaS cannot depend on being cheap the cheap choice like analog cameras can. At best, VSaaS is similar in total cost to IP camera / VMS systems.

Supporting Megapixel

If megapixel is supported in a pure hosted format, this will likely require further reducing the number of cameras supported per site. Today, with SD cameras it is typically 4. Providers would likely need to limit MP cameras to 1 or 2 at max with low frame rates. Total number of cameras supported per site is already a major barrier so this approach is not very viable.

As much as many of the VSaaS entrants hate it, they will have to expand support for local recording. The choice is either that or face a critical disadvantage to VMS software systems. VSaaS entrants love praising hosted video's immunity to stolen DVRs and managing a recorder on site. The former is very uncommon and the latter is much less of a problem than the marketing literature purports. As such, we expect they will be pragmatic and add local recording support.

Storing on the Camera

Few hosted video providers support remote access of video stored on the camera. That noted, it does have potential:

  • Eliminates the need to add a box or recorder appliance on site
  • Simple to physically add to the camera
  • Can record for days easily

However, it does have some issues:

  • The storage could be stolen. Again, not likely, but runs against a big marketing claim of today's VSaaS providers
  • Of course, providers will need to implement support

While we think storage on the camera is nice to have, it probably cannot be the whole solution to the megapixel / hosted video incompatibility problem.

Storage on a Local Recorder

Ultimately, for VSaaS to expand and for megapixel to work with VSaaS, we believe local recorders integrated into the overall VSaaS service will be necessary. To that end, we are quite bullish on the approach iomega and Axis are taking by incorporating Axis's hosted video software into iomega's NASes. That being said, we are not seeing the new EMC / AVHS partners widely offering the iomega NAS / on-site storage option yet.

Nonetheless, the benefits of a local recorder for adding megapixel to NAS are clear:

  • Substantial storage can be held on site, allowing numerous megapixel cameras to be deployed.
  • NASes are cheap.
  • The NAS can have plug n play connectivity to the cloud providing for a similarly simple setup as adding hosted cameras.
  • The local recorder provides other potential benefits of integrating into 3rd party systems on site.

That noted, the major downside is that this opens the door for VMS developers to match hosted video provider's overall value. If you are going to have a box or server on site anyway, you might as well consider VMS software or NVR providers who are far more mature than most simplistic VSaaS offerings. This is why we argue in the VMS vs VSaaS report that VMS developers can severely cut into the VSaaS value proposition simply by adding in public remote access capabilities.

The Future

VSaaS providers will have to support megapixel cameras in short order. We think most will take the steps to support megapixel. Already, managed video providers (like Envysion and NLSS) have no problem supporting megapixel. Plus, Axis clearly understands this as they roll out support for on site NASes.

As megapixel VSaaS support rolls out, the line between VSaaS and VMS providers will increasingly blur providing an opportunity for non recurring revenue options with appliances or servers on site to emerge as leading choices.

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