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4K myths debunked

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Ultra high definition (UHD) or 4K technology is the next major evolution in the video space, offering four times the resolution of High Definition (HD) which delivers dramatically enhanced viewing quality, says Laurence Smith, executive at Graphic Image Technologies.

In the surveillance arena, this opens up a host of new possibilities and offers major benefits when utilising surveillance footage for identification and evidentiary purposes. However, when it comes to the deployment of 4K video surveillance, there are a number of myths prevailing, which are slowing the adoption of this technology. The majority of these beliefs are based on false perceptions around 4K technology and debunking these myths is key to assisting organisations to leverage the benefits of 4K.

One of the main benefits of 4K is obviously the increased resolution of footage. With this technology, gone are the days of grainy black and white CCTV footage, which can barely be used to recognise the perpetrators of crimes. Even with HD, which provides a resolution of 1920 by 1080p, images tend to pixelate when zoomed in, which makes fine detail such as facial features and registration plates difficult to read accurately. With a picture quality of 3840 by 2160 pixels @ 25fps (PAL) or 30fps (NTSC), 4K offers much greater clarity and a much larger image, making this level of digital zoom finally feasible without obscuring any of the fine details. However, despite these benefits, many organisations remain reluctant to implement 4K technology as a result of misperceptions around a number of areas, including storage, viewing and processing.

The first misperception that needs to be dispelled is the belief that 4K monitors are required to view footage from 4K cameras. This is only true if viewers wish to view a live stream of the 4K image in full size, in which case a 4K monitor is essential. However, it is completely possible to utilise 4K cameras with existing monitors if you make use of an intelligent system that is capable of scaling the picture to match the resolution of the monitor. Even on an HD monitor, a 4K recording will provide better forensic detail. The picture is transmitted at a resolution that the monitor is capable of handling, and only increases the quality as the user zooms in to a higher degree.

This technology is currently available and it also disproves another persistent myth that a typical workstation computer cannot handle 4K footage because 4K video requires a 4K graphics card and processing power. However, if you are making use of technology that intelligently scales the video and image quality to meet the available configuration, this becomes a completely false perception.

Furthermore, the belief that four times the resolution requires four times the bandwidth to transmit, as well as the belief that storage costs will be much higher, is also not necessarily true, as this is dependent on the camera technology. A 4K camera running at 30 frames per second (fps) could operate at 4 Megabits per second (Mbps), which is no higher than some 1080p cameras. Storage would be virtually unaffected with the benefit of four times the resolution and there would be relatively little impact on a viewing workstation because the data rate is about the same, depending on the camera and how it is optimised.

The camera technology itself not only determines the bandwidth throughput and storage requirements, but also the operating conditions that 4K technology is suited for. Another misconception is that 4K is not suitable for outdoor deployments because there is too much variation in lighting conditions and too much contrast between light and dark, among other issues. The reality is that this is not a failing of 4K technology, but an intrinsic characteristic of the cameras sensors themselves. The right camera technology is suited to both indoor and outdoor applications, and an optimised setup will ensure high quality footage throughout.

Utilising intelligent 4K surveillance systems, organisations can make use of their existing back end system and run 4K cameras on the front end for improved video quality for virtually the same Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as a 1080p system. In addition, 4K cameras can actually help organisations to save money. The higher quality and vastly improved resolution means that often two or three HD cameras can be replaced by a single 4K camera. Although the 4K camera is slightly more expensive than an HD one, the entire installation actually becomes more affordable, as there are fewer cameras and fewer network points so storage requirements are reduced, operators need to monitor fewer cameras and maintenance is dramatically reduced, which brings the TCO down, saving organisations time and money.

While these myths may well be true of certain 4K offerings currently in the market, the reality is that solutions are available that offer users four times more image detail using an average of only 30% more storage than some HD 1080p solutions, utilising existing backend systems and optimising bandwidth consumption. In addition, 4K provides vastly improved forensic capability with four times more detail than HD 1080p, up to 30fps, and significantly higher image sensitivity. Users can thus leverage the benefits of the 4K footage without the need to overhaul their existing monitoring system, for improved quality and reduced or similar total cost of ownership.