What's the difference between HD and Megapixel Cameras?

By: John Honovich, Published on Jan 29, 2009

While 2009 was the year of megapixel surveillance cameras, it was also the year where confusion between HD and megapixel cameras began. Historically, everyone who sold cameras with 1 million pixels or more called them megapixel cameras. However, in the last 6 months, a number of manufacturers have begun touting their new megapixel cameras as HD.

Indeed, Axis emphasizes HD, rather than megapixel in its marketing, causing many to ask what is the difference and which is better?

HD vs. Megapixel

HD is a type of megapixel camera.  All HD cameras are megapixel but not all megapixel cameras are HD.

While standard definition cameras (e.g., analog cameras and 4CIF IP cameras) have no more than 400,000 pixels, all megapixel cameras (including HD) have 1,000,000 or more pixels.

HD's Key Features Compared to Typical Megapixel

The key features of HD for video surveillance is:

  • Maximum HD resolution is 2.1MP, maximum megapixel resolution is 20MP or more with 5MP cameras are common from numerous vendors
  • HD video format is 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080 (megapixel cameras can offer many more formats)
  • HD aspect ratio is 16:9 (compared to 5:4 or 4:3 in other surveillance cameras)
  • HD frame rate is 30/25 (where megapixel cameras are often 3 - 15 frames)
  • HDTV has quality compliance standards (where megapixel simply specifies the number of pixels)
Which is Better?
 
This is not a clear cut case - it will depend on applications. Some applications really need more than 2.1MP (the maximum for HDTV today) and do not need high frame rates (those should choose non-HD megapixel cameras). Other applications will care more about high frame rate and maximum image quality (where HD cameras will be best).
 

For most surveillance applications, the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD cameras will be more efficient to the 5:4 aspect of traditional megapixel cameras. 

In surveillance, you generally need to view far wider than you need to see high. The reason is that people and vehicles are only so tall but they can be anywhere across a wide area.

However, this does not mean you have to use a HDTV camera. For instance, if you use a 3MP camera (2048 x 1536), crop the bottom and top and have the same effective aspect ratio and resolution of a 1080p HDTV camera. Additionally, this camera may be also be less expensive than a 1080p HDTV camera.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Frame Rate

Most applications are fine with 12 frames or less, which is quite typical for 3MP cameras. While a lot of attention will be drawn to 'full frame rate', the reality is surveillance applications have traditionally used far fewer frames per second and been successful at doing.

On the other hand, there will be certain applications (like casinos or money counting) where milliseconds count. A 12 frame per second camera provides an image every 83 milliseconds; A 30 frame per second camera every 33 milliseconds. An HDTV camera cuts out 50 ms. Only in circumstances where very fast tiny movements are key will HDTV make a difference.

Video Quality - Comparing Axis to Cisco

The aspect that concerns me the most about HDTV marketing is the implicit claims to HD TV quality. For instance, I saw the Axis HD camera at Intersec and the image quality was beautiful. By contrast, I saw the Cisco 1080p HD camera at ASIS and it looked like a webcam. Of course, it's just trade shows but it's reasonable to assume that not all companies who market HD cameras are going to produce the same quality.

Cost

So far the 1080p HD cameras are being priced at a significant premium to traditional 3MP cameras. Axis MSRP is $1495. Cisco's HD camera is $1400. Contrast this to an Arecont 3MP H.264 which sells on the Internet for less than $900 and probably MSRPs at no greater than $1100. Is a 30% premium worth it?

Marketing of HD Cameras Here to Stay

Given Axis' market power and the general appeal of HDTV, the branding of HD surveillance cameras is almost certainly hear to stay.  Though it will certainly cause confusion, everyone is going to have adapt to this new emphasis, either through matching HD products or enhanced education of tradeoffs/alternatives.

Comments : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Video Surveillance History on May 06, 2020
The video surveillance market has changed significantly since 2000, going from VCRs to an emerging AI cloud era. The goal of this history is...
Video Surveillance Cameras 101 on Feb 25, 2020
Cameras come in many shapes, sizes and specifications. This 101 examines the basics of cameras and features used in 2020. In this report, we...
Glossary / Acronyms for Video Surveillance on Feb 10, 2020
This directory provides definitions and explanations for over 70 common video surveillance industry terms, including links to related IPVM...
Last Chance - Camera Course Winter 2020 on Jan 30, 2020
This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology testing. Lots of manufacturer training exists...
2020 Camera Book Released on Jan 10, 2020
This is the best, most comprehensive security camera training in the world, based on our unprecedented testing. Now, all IPVM PRO Members can get...
2020 Video Surveillance Cameras State Of The Market on Jan 03, 2020
Each year, IPVM explains the main advances and changes for video surveillance cameras, based on our industry-leading testing and reporting. This...
Axis HD Analog Encoder Tested on Oct 11, 2019
Two years after declaring "Everything is IP", Axis has released their first HD analog encoder, the P7304, with support for AHD, CVI, TVI, and SD...
HD Analog vs IP Guide on Jul 16, 2019
For years, HD resolution and single cable signal/power were IP camera advantages, with analog cameras limited to much lower resolution and...
The Embarrassing Story of ISC West's Best New IP Camera on Apr 24, 2019
A sad but simple situation: Only 2 companies paid SIA the thousands of dollars required to compete for the best new 'cameras IP' The judges...
Axis Supports HD Analog on Apr 15, 2019
In 2017, Axis declared 'Everything is IP': Now, in 2019, Axis has released support for HD analog, with their new encoders. Why the change?...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Viakoo Presents Cyber Hygiene for Cameras on May 28, 2020
Viakoo presented its 'Cyber Hygiene' and 'Service Assurance' products at the April 2020 IPVM New Products show. Inside this report: A...
Seek Scan Thermal Temperature Screening System ReTested on May 28, 2020
Now that IPVM has tested Dahua, Hikvision, and Sunell, we are returning to Seek, the first blackbody system we tested and retested it with our...
Directory of 106 "Fever" Camera Suppliers on May 28, 2020
This directory provides a list of "Fever" scanning thermal camera providers to help you see and research what options are available. There are...
Fever Cameras Are Medical Devices, Per The FDA, Dahua, Feevr, Hikvision, InVid Contrary Claims Are False on May 28, 2020
Fever cameras are medical devices, despite what euphemisms various sellers use. The US FDA clearly categorizes them as medical devices and...
Wyze Raises $10 Million And Seeks Services Expansion on May 27, 2020
Wyze has raised $10 million, the company's first disclosed raise since the $20 million announced at the beginning of 2019. Inside this note,...
Startup Videoloft Presents Cloud Storage on May 27, 2020
Videoloft presented offsite cloud storage at the May 2020 IPVM Startups show. A 30-minute video from Videoloft including IPVM...
Directory of 300+ Fever Camera News Reports Globally on May 27, 2020
This global directory tracks 300+ articles about thermal cameras used to detect fevers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Articles are...
Integrators Rising Against Coronavirus on May 27, 2020
IPVM integrator statistics make it clear - Coronavirus's impact on business is lessening and many are anticipating even better news in weeks...
Netposa Stock Surges 46% After US Human Rights Abuse Sanctions on May 27, 2020
Last Friday, the US government announced it would sanction PRC video management provider NetPosa for being "complicit in human rights violations...
LILIN Presents NDAA-Compliant P2 Cameras on May 26, 2020
Merit LILIN presented its NDAA-compliant P2 camera series at the April 2020 IPVM New Products show. Inside this report: A 30-minute video...