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Video Surveillance: State of the Art Options

A Short History of Video Technology

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Are you using – or considering – video surveillance? Here is a short history of how the technology has developed, and an overview of the tools at your disposal.

The VCR

First, there’s the time-lapse VCR. By recording a couple of snapshots, or frames, every second, you can store around 72 hours of video on one VHS tape. If you use more than one surveillance camera, the images from each is recorded sequentially, with each camera waiting in line to have several seconds of its images committed to tape.

The problem is, while you’re capturing video from one camera, you lose the images from the others.

While all but obsolete, the time-lapse VCR is still a staple of convenience store surveillance. And a surprising number of banks continue to use this old-school technology to preserve their video.

The DVR

Next came the Digital Video Recorder, or DVR. Now you can record direct to a hard drive from up to 32 cameras simultaneously. No waiting in line, no missed video. With some modern DVRs, you can store surveillance images for 90 days or more.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, someday you will have to review 90 days of video from up to 32 cameras. If you’ve ever conducted an investigation, you know that this is a time consuming, but necessary chore. Trying to dial in on the facial images that will identify a robber, or piece together evidence to solve an employee theft, can take hours, if not days.

Video Analytics

But what if the recorder could do some of the thinking for you?

The latest development in video surveillance technology is the use of video analytics. State of the art DVRs not only store digital video, they also analyze and index the images they capture. As a result, they automate many investigative tasks.

Some common video analytics are

  • Facial Recognition
  • Abandoned Object Analysis
  • Museum Searches

Facial Recognition

San Francisco-based developer 3VR has taken the lead in bringing useful video analytics to market. Their SmartRecorder™ can scan incoming video from cameras, looking for faces. Every time a face is detected, the recorder indexes the image and saves a high resolution snapshot along with the motion video. This function takes much of the grunt work out of reviewing.

Let’s say a customer walked through your front door and purchased goods with a fraudulent check. You need to provide law enforcement with a clear image of the perpetrator’s face. Using a standard DVR, you have to select the camera you think will give you the best view, go to the approximate time that you think the suspect was facing that camera, and then start to move through the video, frame by frame, until you find the “money shot” you are looking for.

By contrast, with the SmartRecorder, you can take a search engine approach. Using check boxes, you tell the machine what camera(s) and time window you are interested in, request to see all facial images, press the “Search” button, and voila! In a matter of seconds, your screen will display high resolution images of anyone who faced that camera. A quick visual scan, and you can locate your person of interest.

If you have identified a person of interest, the SmartRecorder can also search all of your archived video. Now you can see if that same individual has visited you more than once.

Danger, Will Robinson

I used to love the old Lost in Space television show. Especially when that robot – looking like an oil drum on wheels – started flapping his flex pipe arms around and announcing, “Danger! Alien approaching!”

The SmartRecorder can do something like that – albeit not as dramatically.

Since the machine is already indexing faces for you, you can take your surveillance to the next level and ask to be alerted whenever someone who looks similar to a suspect walks into your establishment. These alerts can take the form of emails with attached images, or on screen pop-ups.

I’ve used the word “similar” with purpose. The machine will alert you to people who look like your subject, but it is still up to you to make a judgment. No technology can take the place of a diligent, responsible professional directing its use.

Abandoned Object Analysis

In today’s security climate, an abandoned knapsack can mean a lot more than a forgetful patron. Some modern DVRs can be programmed to alert you if a small object is placed in its field of view and left there.

You can be alerted via email, on your computer screen, or by tripping an external alarm. The details will depend on the equipment you select. As with the facial similarity alerts, the final response depends on your established security procedures.

Museum Searches

A museum search is used when an object goes missing. If a valuable piece of inventory or equipment has disappeared from a room, you can review a section of recorded video that shows the object. Using the museum search tool, you select the on-screen object with your mouse, and then hit a search button. The DVR will take you to the first frame that does not contain the object. This will get you very close to the time when the theft occurred. You may have just saved yourself hours of valuable time.

More Research

Analytics are the future of video surveillance. Any DVR will allow you to record and store video with varying degrees of quality. But we’ve gotten to the point where the amount of video stored has exceeded our ability to analyze.

Before you upgrade or add video surveillance equipment, educate yourself on the available video analytics. The links below will get you started on product research.

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