Police Top Surveillance Pain Point

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Apr 28, 2013

We recently interviewed surveillance experts from the International Association of Chiefs of Police about various issues, uses, and best practices for police agencies regarding video surveillance. Interestingly, one point that the group frequently returned to was the difficulty of compiling and accessing video from different systems. Though we will recap the entire discussion in a future post, in this note we highlight what they said was their biggest problem when it comes to video surveillance.

Too Much Media, Too Many Codecs

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Manufacturer ******** 

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Comments (22)

We have about the same problem, and we are one organization. At highest count (pre-consolidation), I counted at least 16 separate video systems. Some users don't even have the passwords to access their systems anymore...

Our new Video Management System is consolidating 15 of 16 on to 1 system, and keeping one other, for now. The new VMS uses non-proprietary encoding.

My suggestions:

1. No proprietary formats. Any format must have a codec or at least decoder freely and publicly available for Windows, MAC, Linux. Preferably use an existing royalty-free codec.


The other issue is that some recorders may ingest video using 'standard' codecs but then they export them using proprietary ones. I actually think that's gone down over the last few years or maybe it's because the bigger VMS software applications just don't use this practice while many DVR appliances in the past did.

Hence why many entities we deal with prefer Video DVDs. Pop them in any player and watch the video...

I would like to hear the consensus on billing For this time consuming process? Personally I used to feel helpful burning video for hours. After a few years of that, (free), I had to stop. Margins used to be there, but not anymore.

Victor, good point. Treat it as a service call? That is essentially what it is. If the user cannot burn the video themselves...

Carl, by the way, if you burn DVDs, what do you do if you want to display/play back multiple cameras simultaneously?

We don't. One at a time. Right now, we feed analog out to a standalone DVD Burner and stop the burn at the end of each clip, then start it again on the next clip. That creates a menu on the DVD.

At this point, I would agree it is time consuming but we've learned to live with it. In testing replacement systems, we specifically asked manufacturers to demonstrate the ability to "author" DVDs directly to an internal burner. One, Geutebruck, can do that. The other, IndigoVision, requires authoring software.

Victor, who would we charge? I don't think that police departments or prosecutors would be willing (or legally allowed) to pay for evidence.

Wow, that's not great either. Many/most modern VMS systems export to a self-executing player that works pretty much on any PC without the need to install anything plus it allows playback of multiple cameras simultaneously.

We could do that but most entities prefer Video DVDs.

As was found at the IACP, Law Enforcement is much happier with DVD's than any other form of file. This is because only a very few agencies have an in house forensics department to deal with the codecs. More often, it's the assigned detective that just wants to collect and review the video and decide if it of value as evidence. Otherwise you have to have a non sworn IT guy download/transfer the file and this just means one more person that will need to be brought into court regarding the chain of custody. And since he is a non sworn employee who is tasked with other responsibilities, this is not a good idea.

In a best case situation, the end user knows how the system works and can provide the DVD or self extracting file. This is so often not the case as most businesses large and small never paid much attention to the information provided by the installer nor do they ever ever bother to review files. I would say that about half of the systems I come across are no longer even recording properly and it's lucky if even one person knows how to use the system.

As for the cost to retrieve, this is not something that law enforcement usually pays for. Since it's evidence, the business has a legal responsibility to provide what is requested. The only time I have seen this to any extent is with Cell phone providers who sometimes bill based on just how much work is required on their end in non emergency situations. Think wire tap and GPS / cell tower tracking. So, if a security provider were required to find the date on behalf of the target business, I think the business would be footing the bill. More often than not they are the victim of the criminal act and are happy to do so. I guess if it was a third party incident it could be a matter to discuss but the bottom line the law enforcement agency could draw up a warrant and not worry about who pays the bill.

Mark, great feedback. Thank you!

Btw, to clarify, my point about paying was between the integrator and the end user requiring or wanting the video to be exported. I certainly don't expect law enforcement to pay. Also, if a client is a good enough customer, often integrators just do it for the good will (i.e., "we're helping our customer catch a bad guy").

It's a tough situation, for our large corporate clients, they have no problem paying. Many of our calls from retailers start like this, "the mouse is the thing with the buttons on it" you know you're in for a 3 hour call when it starts like that. I did have a small town murder case, 2 hour drive. I helped retrieve video over 3 days, no charge, my own dime. It did pay off when police referred me for a couple of years. It was one of my systems that helped in the arrest. I agree, as a professional, we can help quite a bit with our knowledge.

Here is a completely different way of approaching this problem. Companies like RGB Spectrum make video processing solutions for DVI, HDMI, SDI etc. One soluton we have is an H.264 encoder/recorder that accepts in DVI-i from any computer. You could normalize your video to H.264 standard RTSP wrapped streams using this. If you have a VGA monitor you would need a dongle to convert it to DVI. But other wise this is a simple way to convert everything to one format.

In fact, if you have multiple VMS systems in one location, but no integration, you can used our multiviewer with KVM capability to consolidate all of their video onto one monitor or a wall of monitors if you want. You can put the encoder in the video cable path and record any system you like. And with KVM you can control all of the systems as if they are all one. Kind of a hardware only PSIM of sorts.

Completely different way to get to one format standard.

Bob, Sorry, I don't see the point. It seems to me with that method you'd just be trading one proprietary solution for another. Unless you are suggesting everyone in the world (or at least in that geographic area) use that solution, which is not likely.

Carl, sorry maybe I was not clear. The encoder can attach to the VMS server with the proprietary codec using the server's DVI/VGA out. Then you would play the video using the VMS to the "screen", in this case the encoder. The encoder would capture the screen to a H.264 standard encoded 1080p30 RTSP stream and/or write it to an H.264 file at the resolution of your display adapter . The H.264 file or stream could be viewed by any player such as VLC, WMP, Quicktime, or whatever. This can be done with any fully proprietary system, even ones with closed hardware. As long as you have VGA, DVI. It is just an encoder, but it has the unique capability of encoding VGA or DVI. Stream it to your Roku, android, iphone.

It is not proprietary at all. If you wanted to share the stream with a large audience it also supports multicast or you can pump it to a CDN.

Actually Bob, I don't think you understood me. It may not be proprietary but unless you want to provide them free to everyone who owns or buys a DVR/NVR, it would be an additional cost for them. Not very likely. Besides, VLC will play many, if not most, clip files on its own.

John/Carl...Sometimes my thoughts run orthogonal to the thread. Where I was going with this was to build a small portable encoder that could be sold either to police and they could carry it around with them, or sold to end user businesses and they could send the video to police in a standardized format.

The encoder would take in DVI, HDMI, VGA, NTSC, PAL. Any video signal that a NVR, DVR or VMS would output to a display port. It would have a GPS receiver to record date, time and location. It would have a pass through port for video output as DVI, HDMI or VGA so you could watch as your record. It would have a network interface for outbound streaming of video. It would have a couple of simple buttons for control. And it would have a USB and mSATA port for storage. Option for internal disk.

An officer could then just plug it into the source VMS/NVR/DVR, play out the video to the display port, and record it by pressing a button on the front of the box. The recorder would use a fragile digital watermark indicating date, time and location taken from GPS. Yes, you are limited to the resolution of the display, but it is better than having to carry around the NVR to court, etc. If the video is already in standard format, then you don't need this anyway.

A business could buy a unit like this and stream it right to the police in H.264 RTSP format if that were what the local police preferred to do.

This would solve the backward compatibility issue with systems are are not network capable. Many closed NVR/DVR systems will preclude you from running VLC, etc. If you can't load and run a program, what do you do? If the system has no network port what do you do?

I cannot think of a way to make this simplier.

How much would something like this be worth? What is wrong with this idea?

Ultimately, this will only be solved by some government or industry regulation. ONVIF is making headway on interoperability, but they don't seem interested in specifying a standard playback format. I have said it to them, but they don't seem to get the problem.

Perhaps if more law enforcement specialists were to make thier needs clear to ONVIF it would change their priorities.

A standard format wouldn't cost the industry anything in the long run.

An article written by our CTO Mark Sugrue outlining some of the issues for police: The CCTV File Format Minefield

I'll second that article that Sarah recommended. The CCTV File Format Minefield has a lot of technical details I have not seen covered anywhere else. Also, their company has a web service Vid-ID that claims to identify the file format and provide players where available for surveillance video clips that cannot be played back. I have not tried it, but those who have such problems, may want to.

I believe Mark and Sarah are correct. It is painfully clear that the manufacturers are going to have to be forced by something external to offer a standardized export capability on every system or it will not happen.

It is truly a shame with all their expertise and capabilities to accomplish many sophisticated tasks, they do not support a standardized, open export which would be extraordinarily simple for them to accomplish.

In truth, if buyers paid more attention to the VMS/CCTV products and only purchased products with that capability, it would be resolved overnight. Most seem to focus on $ first and evertything else second.

My gut feel is that this problem is more an issue for older DVR boxes than it is VMS software. Most VMS software seems to export to AVI with a standard CODEC or provide wrapped players that allow playback on any Windows PC. yes/no?

I've seen VMS systems which export to non-standard codecs. And wrapped players are better than nothing, but not much use for making compillation videos or easily playing a particular event in court.

Even the standard formats have limitations. There is no standard way to encode time stamps, multiple cameras or gps information into any of the open source formats (avi, mpeg, mp4, etc) So even vms systems will either export this into a non-standard side car file, or burn it into the video frames somehow (ie. altering evidence) - neither is ideal.

One solution would be for a police organisation to publish a minimum spec, offer a 'stamp of approval' logo that manufactures can boast about, and promote it amoung the public. Eventually, that would have an impact.

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