The Not Next Big Thing: Virtual Reality Video Surveillance

By Ethan Ace, Published May 05, 2015, 12:00am EDT

This company, according to the company, "wowed the industry-at-large, created a hunger amongst resellers."

Best known as another Dahua OEM, IC Realtime (also now calling themselves IC Real Tech) is working hard to transform itself as a pioneer of 'virtual reality video surveillance.'

Alas, having experienced it at ISC West ourselves, there are some critical flaws with the approach.

IC Realtime IC720

The basis of this solution are 2 imagers mounted back to back, looking like a huge double Dropcam. Each imager is 180 degrees and, by putting them back to back, they get 360 or, in their logic 720.

This video does not integrate with their own or third-party VMS systems. Instead, it is viewed on various mobile/tablet apps (Android, iOS, Windows) as well as via virtual reality goggles, the basis of their latest press release. 

Problems

IC Realtime had multiple demonstration videos on YouTube which they recently removed. One was a nightclub, another mounted on a race car, and one used in an actual outdoor security application. Video had serious problems on all of these videos.

The problems came from the super wide FoV. By definition, most of the area captured was ground or ceiling / sky, which is generally not useful. Related, because the FoV was so wide, WDR was terrible, which showed very clearly in the daytime race track scene. Finally, even with each imager being 10MP+, spread out over such wide areas results, coverage / detail distances are limited (as any fisheye panoramic would). 

"Virtual Reality" Viewing Problems

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Trying IC Realtime's demo at ISC West, the immersive "virtual reality" aspect was neat, tracking our movements as we looked up, down, and around, but it was ultimately less practical than viewing these cameras via typical VMS systems. Using the VR goggles, users are only able to view a section of dewarped video at a time. By contrast, panoramic cameras typically provide some sort of overview of the entire FOV, whether warped or dewarped into a single or double panorama or quad view, allowing users to see the whole scene, and zoom in to areas of interest as needed.

Additionally, viewing video in all directions means a user must be free to move in all directions. Typical monitoring stations are not set up to allow this, and it is unlikely users would choose to rearrange their operations center(s) for this niche product. Not to mention many would be uncomfortable or fatigued wearing these goggles. Though they weigh about a pound, this weight is noticeably fatiguing after only a short period of viewing.

Pricing

The IC720 is priced at ~$3,000 USD MSRP. Even assuming deep dealer discounts, this pricing is still much higher than other panoramic options. Typical outdoor panoramic models sell for $500-800 and are generally positioned so as not to capture the floor/ceiling/ground/sky the IC720 inevitably captures. Moreover, models with advanced features such as WDR and integrated IR have become common, addressing key limitations of panoramic cameras in general and the IC720 specifically.

The Plus Side

Until IC Realtime's push for virtual reality / 720 cameras, the company had no reputation for technology, relying on providing lower cost OEMed products with solid service.

Though a double fisheye offering is unlikely to be a very practical solution for most, just having something different and 'cool' to the uninformed consumer raises the brand recognition / perception of IC Realtime. The company has done a great job getting press for this, and that may pay for itself in getting more customers for their conventional products.

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