As with all technology, it’s clear that 4K cannot be ‘4eva’

Mark Chertkow, Executive at Graphic Image Technolog
Mark Chertkow, Executive at Graphic Image Technolog

Mark Chertkow, Executive at Graphic Image Technolog
Mark Chertkow, Executive at Graphic Image Technolog

Ultra-high definition surveillance cameras (or 4K cameras, as they’ve become known) have sky-rocketed in popularity both in commercial and residential security applications, thanks to increasing affordability over the last few years.

These cameras are currently providing excellent return on investment, delivering high-quality imaging, which aids, for example, in the identification of business losses.

Because these cameras feature incredible detail, one 4K camera can cover the same area as four HD cameras, which brings greater flexibility and significantly cuts costs in security installations.

While analogue and lower resolution IP cameras still have their place in low cost markets, industry professionals have worked hard to promote 4K as the imaging new standard, with great success.

However, the only constant in technology is the rapid pace of development and innovation, and we’re already seeing the emergence of the next-generation in camera image sensor technology with an 8K resolution. While it’s too early to start predicting exactly when 4K will be replaced by 8K as a standard, it’s worthwhile looking at the possibilities it would offer the security industry.

The value of 4K is not going anywhere

While there are still many companies in South Africa still running PAL (Phase Alternating Line) or HD cameras, the benefits of 4K resolution cameras to surveillance in the security industry is undeniable. What are the numbers like, in terms of resolution? Consider this: with a PAL camera the resolution is 720×575 pixels.

Moving up to HD saw an increase to 1920×1080 pixels and the jump to 4K was four times that at 3840x2160pixels. This means that if a security operator was zooming in on a face on HD video footage, it would soon start generating blocks and blur. On the other hand, with 4K it’s four times the resolution recorded, delivering usable images with great detail and clarity.

This resolution makes it possible to use 4K cameras for various security functions, like to visually verify and quantify the arrival or dispatch of merchandise on its way through the logistics chain to its end destination. 4K cameras are used to visually identify people and maintain access control protocols at thousands of businesses, factories, laboratories and across the globe.

This advancement in resolution offered by 4K surveillance cameras has also propelled the development of intelligent surveillance systems that integrate with other operational systems, such as fire detection and access control, automatically responding to visual triggers provided by the surveillance system.

Looking into the future

The improvements in resolution quality promised by 8K cameras in a surveillance setting can only lead to greater efficiencies in the security industry overall and it really is only a matter of time.

As soon as the chips are available, the resolution will spill over into all other spheres of industry that dependent on cameras and the immediate benefit to such technology will be the ability to use fewer cameras to cover a wider area with more detail.

How far into the future will this take place? We’re talking a few short years. There are already plans in motion to have an 8K broadcast feed at the Summer Olympics in Japan and Sony has launched a camera that’s running 8K with video. The technology already exists and is gradually maturing in the broadcast industry, which means that it’s merely a cost question before it starts doing the same in the security space.

No surprise challenges

This inevitability means it’s important for the industry as whole to start thinking about their approach, when the moment comes. There’s still time to do this, however, because the technology still needs to move from specialty to mass market.

Companies will have some time to prepare for the challenges that will come with the technological advancements because everything comes at a price and the price of increased resolution as an increase in data demand.

While the data demands are exponential and not linear, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry for businesses as the fields of storage, compression and networking are heading in that direction, anyway. It’s a simply a question of cost benefit that will take some time to answer.

How much time? While security is obviously not a broadcast medium, the 4K camera penetrated the security industry almost as quickly as it did the broadcast industry. This makes it safe to predict that in three to four years’ time 8K camera security systems will start appearing in niche applications.

However, it’s important to be realistic, so it’s also safe to say that it will still be a good few years thereafter before 8K technology goes mainstream. It’s clear that while 4K is not ‘4eva’, it will definitely do ‘4now’.

By Mark Chertkow, Executive at Graphic Image Technologies