Testing 'Megapixel' Analog Camera

Author: Derek Ward, Published on Mar 26, 2014

Megapixel analog sounds like a contradiction in terms. 'Analog' by definition, or at least in common use, is constrained by 60+ year old NTSC / PAL specifications and cannot be 'megapixel.'

However, now manufacturers are starting to incorporate megapixel sensors into analog cameras. While the cameras must output NTSC / PAL analog, the imagers are capturing megapixel.

Many argue that this is nonsense, that there can be no image improvements and that it is simply manipulative marketing.

They are wrong.

We bought a 900TVL camera and tested it alongside our analog resolution setup (including 450TVL, 600TVL, 700TVL, 960H, etc.) matched up against true 1.3MP and 2MP IP cameras.

900TVL cameras delivered a clear improvement in image quality compared to all of the other analog cameras.

Questions we examine inside, with image comparisons:

  • How much better quality was 900TVL compared to 960H, 700TVL and 600TVL cameras?
  • What was the impact in bandwidth consumption?
  • How did quality vary between night and day?
  • How did 900TVL match up against HD / MP IP cameras? 
  • How did performance vary between moderate (~20') and wide (~40') Field of Views?
  • What should you use for specific applications?

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Comments (34)

I have a problem with the entire concept of a 900TVL analog camera and with the way it was tested. First of all, although strictly speaking, the term analog can apply to SD analog cameras, as well as 900TVL and 960H, there is no intercompatibility here. As you admit, there is no discernable difference in resolution when a 900TVL or a 960H camera is fed to a 4CIF/4SIF/D1 device. I would also assume, although it apparently wasn't tested, that there is no discernable difference in resolution when the same cameras are fed to/through any other analog devices, including distribution amplifiers, switchers and analog monitors. I would also wonder if existing UTP baluns would pass the improved signal?

So what we are left with is an alternative that gives some of the benefits of IP but also requires specialized components in order to be of much benefit. Shades of HD-SDI/HDcctv! Maybe good for new installs at Mom & Pop stores but what about more intensive verticals? Where are the Encoders? Monitors? Switchers?

I am not sure what your problem is. We tested it both ways.

And we recommended it for new installs in small locations not enterprises, so we seem to be in agreement with the overall positioning of this offering.

My problem is that here is another "new" technology that offers marginally improved performance while requiring both new cameras and a new DVR. Its benefits are modest and it is arguable whether it will take off, considering the cost of IP has been dropping rapidly. If the picture quality even approached what the lowest resolution MP IP systems are able to offer at a substantially lower price, I could see the point but it doesn't.

It reminds me of Super Beta and SVHS - products that attempted to bring higher picture quality to home entertainment but in the end, were superceded by DVD, BluRay and HDTV. I believe that in the end, 900TVL and 960H, like Super Beta and SVHS, are the last gasp of an obsolescent technology.

As an end user, I always look at Video Surveillance with an eye to what it can do for me. This does nothing!

In fact, I think it's rather odd that you are so gung ho on this, considering your previous cynicism regarding other "competing" technologies.

"If the picture quality even approached what the lowest resolution MP IP systems are able to offer at a substantially lower price, I could see the point but it doesn't."

It does approach, especially for people who are covering small areas, like many/most small businesses. And it is a substantially lower price point than IP.

Carl, I agree you should not be using it for your large scale operation but I also think this is a meaningful improvement that goes against the common wisdom that more TVLs for analog cameras makes no difference.

Technically speaking, you COULD do megapixel over analog... if you were willing to produce equipment with component video support. But of course, you run into the problem Carl identifies, where you have to have suitable components throughout the chain to see any real benefit from it.

On the bright side, it WOULD be able to make use of existing infrastructure, probably more reliably than HD-SDI. Sure you'd have to use three coax runs for one camera, but if standard MP marketing is to be believed, a single 1080p or even 720p camera should easily provide the same coverage as three SD cameras. (Yes, I'm being tongue in cheek... MOSTLY!)

So rather than look at hypotheticals that this 'technology' neither claims nor is intended to fulfill, the real value here is that for people who want budget surveillance kits, this is a clear improvement, and meaningfully closes the gap on IP MP performance at notable lower cost.

Well, there's one benefit to going to a 960H DVR, in that it will work seamlessly with SD cameras.

This article was very informative. The 720p camera looked great.

You can get HD-SDI kits for same price as 960H kit.

Is 720P the camera you are using have WDR on?

Yeah, I think both 960H and HD-SDI are really solutions looking for a problem... neat tech, but ultimately niche markets.

Do you have actual experience with HD-SDI ?

just curios

Since when is an 4Ch SDI recorder around $100-$150 so it competes directly with 960H recorder? Sure the cameras have come down in price but SDI recording is still expensive

I am buying 4 ch HD-SDI around $ 230

I would not call it's expensive

and plz do not ask me name of my supplier :)

Alex, good for you and your secret supplier. But without knowing who it is, it's difficult to compare apples to apples.

There's lot of ways to buy direct from Asia to get super cheap prices, including 900TVL / 960H at even less than what you are paying.

Unless you are willing to talk specific suppliers, let's leave it at that.

That is misleading, if not wrong. It's like saying you can get IP cameras for $29, which is true but misleading because it's not comparing apples to apples.

Suffice to say, from any given supplier, their 960H costs are lower than their HD SDI ones. If you disagree, please respond with a known vendor and a link to their offerings.

No WDR claimed for the 720p.

Hi John,

What would be interesting to see as an addition, would be to record both a 900TVL camera and a 700TVL/960H camera to a 960H DVR and see if there is a noticeable difference in recording/viewing quality.

Interesting innovation, and may protract the staying power of the analog camera. I wonder if sourcing analog imagers is getting difficult or just plain expensive compared to digital imagers, and is driving manufacturers to this hybrid approach….

Skip, I am pretty sure that all imagers are digital. The digital signal from the imager is then converted to an analog signal, in the case of an analog camera, which also means it is interlaced too. In the case of a IP cam, the signal remains digital throughout, as well as progressive scanned.

I believe imagers all start with analog signals as the wells (pixels) accumulate charge during exposure. I was wondering if the old CCD chips have been predominately relegated to traditional analog cameras since the imagers don’t scale very well to higher resolutions and frame rates on account of the electronic bottleneck imposed by the single (or several) A/Ds. Not a problem for PAL or NTSC resolutions at 25 or 30 fps but tough to scale from there. CMOS imagers have a dedicated A/D right behind every pixel so they easily scale to higher resolutions and frame rates. And they are cheap to produce, which begs the question: are analog camera makers just reaching for the readily available and less expensive imager component, and then highlighting the improved performance?

I completly agree with Skip. I believe there are two reasons, The first is the possibility that the megapixel chips are manufacturered more than the analog chips now and as such probably cost less to use.

The second is now they can truthly advertise slighlty better analog image (the output is still the same NTSC signal, but better source, such as why DVD movies typically still look better than D1 cameras, quality source material). In addition the new DSP features are available on the new imagers as it doesn't look like Sony or others are updating the older analog imagers thus leaving any analog manufacturer in the past. This allows tem to provide optins such as digital zoom, better DSP, WDR, etc. (ie, like what Bosch was doing with the Dinion 2X series).

The big issue I have is you need to have an DVR with a higher quality encoder if you wish to retain some of that source quality.

WHY though. Looking at Hikvision and how low cost you could purchase a complete 720p or 3mp setup, it's hard to compare. I'm buying Hikvision 720p cameas for $90 each and 3mp for $130 (no SD, no autoback focus, no audio, no I/O) and the image quality of the Hikvision camers is better or at least somewhat comparable to my Sony, Axis, Panasonic, Arecont cameras while providing much more reliable RTSP streams. So when you compare an 8 channel 1080p setup w/ NVR at a cost of ~$1400, it's not that much more for a reliable IP system now a days (even the rebranded Swann units are pretty good now). It looks like an 8 channel 960TVL will end up costing over $1200 as well.

That reminds me of an argument that me and my first bossman would get into every now and then:

"Jimmy there ain't no such animal as digital, its all analog." I'd object and say "No, look this ethernet cable is carrying a digital signal on 10BaseT", he grab his scope and say "Looks like a varying voltage signal to me, analog". I'd say "no the varying is the 1s and 0s". He'd say "just show me the 1s and the 0s, without the varying voltage.

People think that analog and digital are opposites or something, but they're not even exclusive of each other."

And then smugly conclude "see boy its always analog first, then whatever people wanna have in their mind about what it represents is up to them i suppose, don't forget it" and I never did.

But in common parlance digital = sampled analog signal or A to D. So no I don't believe the analog cameras are doing a an A to D and then D to A.

Hi John, Is there any explanatioon for the better pictures from the 720P camera than from the 1080P?

Alan, the 1080p model was a WDR camera, and in indoor scenes that led to it looking a little washed out compared to the 720p model. If you look at fine details, though, the 1080p camera clearly shows more lines of the chart, especially outside.

Why would you run this test with only one camera WDR enabled?

How do you think the MP analog would do on a Hybrid recorder? are the capture cards recording in D1 on a hybrid? I have an application where I am selling a rid Salient Hybrid recorder with 32 analog channels - but alot of the analog cameras could be pitched to be upgraded along with the 4-5 IP cameras I am adding.

That is if the Hybrid NvR unit can record the analog cameras at higher than D1 resolution.

I am on the same side with David, curious on how the 900TVL vs. 960H vs. 700TVL on 960H DVR looks like, could you complete the one extra step John?

Heng, David,

Below is the 700 TVL vs. 960H vs. 900 TVL (recorded on a 960H DVR) comparison you requested.

As seen in the comparison, the 900 TVL analog camera is superior to both the 700 TVL and 960H analog cameras, with more lines legible on our test chart and our subjects face is more detailed.

Is this 900TVL still considered analog not HDCVI?

Derek,

So what is the key take-away from this article? What I conclude is that a 960H camera provides marginally better picture quality than a 700TVL camera, but only when coupled with a 960H DVR. Yet the 960H camera is also labeled 700TVL in the caption.

But a 900TVL camera provides a better picture than a 960H camera - again only when coupled with a 960H DVR. Then a 720p camera provides a better picture quality than a 1080p camera.

In the end, I think this article has left me more confused than enlightened..

I think one of the most confusing aspects is that I can find no technical information on 960H in the first place. What does it do? How does it work? What compatibility exists between the various flavors of newer "high resolution" analog systems? What incompatibilities?

How can a 900TVL camera provide higher resolution than a 960H camera? Is the 900TVL camera spec'd out as 960H or just plain analog? Do its specs even note that it requires a 960H DVR to obtain its best image quality? How would that apply to 1000(+) TVL cameras?

Basically, it is unclear what are actual improvements and what is required to obtain those improvements? Is this all just a game of specsmanship or are the specs applicable in the real world and do they translate between manufacturers?

"it is unclear what are actual improvements and what is required to obtain those improvements?"

The actual improvements are the images show in the report, e.g.,

What is required is a new 960H DVR and new cameras, as mentioned in the report.

Cameras are being marketed as 960H with different TVL counts. For instance, both a 700TVL camera and the 900TVL one are 960H cameras.

There are 2 material differences with 960H recorders:

  • The increased aspect ratio, which is nonsense since it simply stretches / warps the existing pixels, as our test results here show and copied below:

  • Improved image quality / encoding as shown in the report above and copied below:

John,

DIg deeper. Starting with aspect ratio: are 960H proponents claiming 16:9 or 4:3 (or something else)? If the images are actually 4:3, what's with the 16:9 claims? Then, I would like to know about other aspects of deployment:

  • Do 960H signals pass on standard analog systems, including distribution amps, matrices, UTP baluns and active devices?
  • Are 960H signals viewable "live" directly or do they require being fed through DVR(s)?
  • What are the transport type and distance limitations - the same as, or different from, NTSC/PAL analog?
  • Are all 960H devices both inter-compatible and backwards compatible?
  • Does 960H have "legs" or is the dying gasp of analog?

Enquiring minds want to know...

The increased aspect ratio, which is nonsense since it simply stretches / warps the existing pixels.

I agree, though only after going to your other shootout link and looking at your zoom of the original higher res pictures, but here in the first pair of images you share, using my zoom, the 4th line, for instance, is much more legible with the warped on. Maybe it looks better in this case simply because the pixel 'doubling' allowed it to retain more pixels thru the zooming algorithm? Or does it not look that way to you?

One gentle suggestion: from what I've seen, you've have volumes of valid data and meaningful results, but the terminology used by mfrs is making it extremely challenging to talk about. Also it looks like the two shootouts are at least partially overlapping in some respects. This is making it difficult to even coherently discuss and respond without confusion. Maybe a reorg into one shootout, or at least a consolidated glossary of terms from both.

What is the image size (pixels) for a 900TVL camera?

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