Video Surveillance Buyer's Guide 2012

By John Honovich, Published May 05, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

With so many manufacturers and so many new products, deciding what products to buy can be overwhelming. Last year, to make this easier, we released our first ever Video Surveillance Buyer's Guide - a huge success. Now, we are updating the guide to help you understand the most impactful new products changing buying decisions.

We reviewed nearly 100 products since the last guide including:

From those, we picked a dozen that most significantly shift competitive market positioning. These are the products that most likely merit changing from an existing product to a new one.

A number of camera lines have significantly impacted competitive positioning:

  • Low Light: Axis's Lightfinder cameras have made the biggest impact on low light options. Without using slow shutter tricks or requiring IR illumination, Axis's Lightfinder has significantly increased low light performance relative to top-tier competitors. See our test results of the non megapixel Q1602 and the 720p Q1604. Axis has also recently announced that they are expanding Lightfinder integration into their new dome series.
  • Ethernet over Coax Adapters: Historically reusing coax with IP cameras was quite expensive. Now, Intersil's SLOC is cutting that cost in half (see our EoC guide). Best example is the Altronix eBridge. If you are looking to migrate an existing analog system, this should be carefully considered.
  • Hybrid Coax / IP Cameras: Sony's upcoming IP cameras that integrate Ethernet over Coax adapters inside their cameras promises to simplify and reduce cost of reusing existing coaxial cables. Plus, on the receiver side, low cost Intersil enabled EoC adapters like the Altronix eBridge can be used. The problem is these cameras are still not shipping, well more than a year after they started promoting them.
  • Really Inexpensive VGA Cameras: Samsung has released a line of extremely inexpensive VGA IP cameras. While it does not improve resolution over analog, the Samung VGA cameras are so low, that it actually can be less expensive to use them plus a NVR rather than buying a DVR. If you are looking for a budget option for VGA IP, this is worth considering.
  • Really Inexpensive Megapixel Cameras: ACTi has announced the most inexpensive megapixel cameras we have ever seen from a major players. The prices are so low that it rivals analog camera pricing. On the other hand, ACTi has developed a reputation for quality problems so be careful when evaluating.
  • Unbelievably Inexpensive Megapixel Cameras: Even less expensive is Ubiquiti's new Aircam line with all 3 camera offerings priced at under $100. However, these cameras have a built-in fixed lens, no D/N and only integrate with 3rd party systems through ONVIF. However, for those motivated by cutting product costs, this is attractive. Plus, Ubiquiti has proven to be a very aggressive, strong product developer that is targeting new professional surveillance cameras this fall. They are the company involved with the Chinese mafia / counterfeiter craziness.

VMS Software

While many providers have released incremental upgrades to their VMS software, very few have amounted to a shift in the company's overall competitive positioning. Here are the exceptions:

  • Low Cost Alternative: The combination of Axis Camera Companion and upcoming low cost HD cameras provides a strong alternative to traditional VMS software for small camera count applications. While ACC has many limitations, we think this will already have an impact that may grow as Axis expands the offering.
  • Milestone Support Changes: On the plus side, Milestone has a new client version that rectifies a number of its usability issues. On the negative side, their head scratching support plan including restrictions to device packs and likely charges for many calls makes their offering riskier to use. Overall, the support plan should make you more careful about using Milestone.
  • Exacq Edge: Exacq joins Genetec as the only two major VMS providers to offer support for long term 3rd party edge recording (See our review of Exacq Edge). This combined with solid improvements in their 4.9 release, moderately improves their overall position, especially relative to competitors who have traditionally and rightfully viewed as higher end.
  • DVTel Smartphone Camera Support: Using smartphones as surveillance cameras has recently become a hot trend, with many larger end users requesting it. DVTel has taken a lead against direct competitors Milestone, Genetec, etc. by shipping theirs (TrueWitness). Many VMS companies are claiming to be releasing the same offering in the near future with Milestone already saying sometime in 2012. It will be interesting to see how quick and how well VMS companies implement this feature.


Traditional centralized storage has not changed much in the last 6 months. The surge of hard drive prices was the biggest issue, though the worse has already passed on that issue.

The big storage shift occuring is the 'rise of edge storage'. Finally, after many years of over promises, edge storage (at least via Axis) is starting to become a viable feature in video surveillance systems. See our edge storage / SD card guide for details.

Video Analytics

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How low has video analytic innovation been? A 4 channel video analytic encoder won the ISC West video analytic award. Worse, it was not as if there was much better competition to beat it. Bottom line - not much has changed in product options for video analytics.

The big spectre continues to be ObjectVideo global litigation campaign. Undoubtedly though OV is out for blood big money. The outcome will impact the future of the industry. Unfortunately, the legal battles, including the US ITC court case and the patent invalidation contests, could easily continue until 2013.


Overall, wireless surveillance options have not really changed too much. This is especially true with mesh networks, where innovation has essentially ground to halt. We see a few developing areas for wireless:

  • Cellular: As 4G and LTE networks continue to grow, these are becoming a more practical way to do remote surveillance. While experts continue to debate the limitations involved, the massive increase in bandwidth clearly are making cellular more realistic for surveillance users. See our Cellular Surveillance Guide for more.
  • Whitespace Wireless: As spectrum once used for analog TV frees up, opportunity is growing to use that for surveillance. It is early and bandwidth will be limited, especially compared to today's super high-speed wireless networks. However, the big advantage for whitespace wireless is that it does not require line of sight - a painful limitation of most wireless offerings in surveillance. See our Whitespace Wireless Surveillance Guide for more.
  • Gigabit Backhaul: Getting wireless throughput of over 100Mb/s is typically quite expensive. Approaching a gigabit can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Against that, Ubiquiti has released a gigabit wireless offering that costs ony $3,000 for the pair. While this has limited use for surveillance, it could be valuable for connecting building on a campus where dozens of cameras need to be transmitted in bulk. See our Ubiquiti gigabit backhaul review.

Manufacturer Rankings Remain

Given that it has only been 6 months and the overall market has not changed that much, we are leaving our rankings as is. These can be reviewed in the following 3 posts:

Who Else?

If you have questions  about other products, please feel free to ask in the comments. One important point - in this post, we focused on companies whose positioning has recently changed. For instance, Genetec has a strong product offering but it has not significantly changed since our last guide (October 2011) so we did not cover them. In our comments, we will segment responses into overall product positioning and recent improvements/declines.

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