HDcctv: Back to the Future, or Ahead to the Past?

At ISC West 2014 last week, the HDcctv Alliance provided a first look at the new generation of HDcctv 2.0 surveillance technologies and products. As this is a technology that has been mentioned on and off over the years but never really gained traction, I thought I would avail myself of this opportunity to understand a little more about HDcctv. What you are reading here reflects my take on the technology and the market, not necessarily the staff and/or advertisers of Security Sales & Integration. And the capitalization (and lack thereof) for the term HDcctv is in accordance with the spelling used by the HDcctv Alliance Limited. Ok, all disclaimers present and accounted for.

The premise of HDcctv is that you can get a really good high definition image without the complexities of IP and Ethernet. It essentially builds on the consumer technologies, as set forth by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) that we are familiar with on our HD TVs at home. That is, images can be 1080p or 720p and utilize legacy cable and connectors. So your camera would have a BNC connector, your DVR would have a BNC connector, and you would plug them in together, and they would work without further configuration. Sounds good so far, right?

The resolution side of this is a mixed bag. A 720p image is roughly 1 megapixel (921,600 pixels) while a 1080p image is roughly 2 megapixels (2,073,600 pixels). When looking at HDcctv 1.0 (the older standard), images look incredible since they are not compressed in any way. And, in addition to the simplicity of connecting cameras (no IP addresses or drivers to worry about), Dr. Todd Rockoff, Executive Director of HDcctv Alliance Limited, a nonprofit group that is responsible for the technical interface specifications, is quick to point out that HDcctv cameras are cheaper too.

While HDcctv touts the use of a digital signal (the SMPTE high definition serial digital interface, or HD-SDI) over legacy cable, there are distance limitations (100 meters, the same as Ethernet), the standard did not account for camera configuration or PTZ control, and there’s no way to power devices over the cable as with PoE. And I personally question the use of legacy cabling and connectors for a digital signal; a badly crimped or twist-on BNC connector won’t simply degrade the signal, it will demolish it.

In addressing some of these limitations, the HDcctv 2.0 standard muddies the waters somewhat. There are now two different types of HDcctv, NR (normal reach) and AT (advanced transmission). They both add a data channel so you can control cameras, and AT allows a signal to degrade over distance so it should be more resilient. There’s still no power option, no higher resolution cameras, no support for UTP or fiber optic cable, wireless, higher frame rates, and so on. And, by splitting the standard, we’ve moved away from the “plug and play” nature of the beast; you need to plug an HDcctv 2.0 AT camera into an HDcctv 2.0 AT DVR – it won’t work if you plug it into an HDcctv 2.0 NR DVR or an HDcctv 1.0 DVR. Whew!

So, I am back where I started, wondering just who the customer is for this technology. If you are looking for an inexpensive system, you are likely looking at a relatively small monitor, in which case plain old analog looks pretty darn good. If you are for simplicity, there are a number of IP cameras on the market that utilize local storage (no DVR needed) and connect to the internet via WiFi, so you only need to worry about power (WitnessAll even provides remote management and video alarm reporting for about $4 a month per camera). And if you are looking for higher quality images, there are far more options in the IP video world.

Want to use existing cable? Nitek, NVT, and a host of other companies provide products that let you do that. In fact, while the cost of HDcctv cameras may be lower – and I question whether that will be the case long term – the cost of IP accessory devices may well offset that on all but the smallest installations.

I’m not the only one who sees it this way, either. The list of manufacturing members in the HDcctv Alliance does not include a single first tier manufacturer. No AxisBoschHoneywell, Panasonic, Pelco, Sony, UTC – I’m sorry if I left you out, Mr. Major Manufacturer, but you’re not on the list either.

In summary, if you are thinking of implementing this technology for your customers, my opinion, as previously disclaimed, is that you should steer clear. The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

You may now return to the normal spelling of CCTV.

Click here to read full article on SS&I

Is HDcctv a Good Investment for Your Campus? – May 21, 2014, Campus Safety

Click here to read the full article on Campus Safety

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Is HDcctv a Good Investment for Your Campus? – May 21, 2014, Campus Safety