The pros and cons of 4K for video surveillance

Apr 21, 2016

Surveillance Network.jpgAs the highest resolution currently on the market at scale, 4K may very well represent the future of video surveillance technology. In fact, in January 2016, SecurityInfoWatch declared it one of the biggest trends in camera technology for the year, with interest in and uptake of 4K cameras set to rise over the coming months.

But, before adopting 4K cameras for a video surveillance system, network and system administrators should have a thorough understanding of the technology and what is needed to get the most out of it. By weighing its pros and cons, these admins can better determine if 4K is right for them.

Pros of 4K video surveillance

  • Crystal clear video quality - This is perhaps the biggest benefit of 4K, especially in a security or surveillance setting. SecurityInfoWatch contributor Mig Paredes noted that 4K video is four times clearer than 1080p, the current high-definition market leader, and its quality is around 24 times better than what is achieved through a standard video camera. In situations in which personnel need clear images from the cameras, like when identifying a suspect, this clarity is highly beneficial.
  • Ideal for covering large, outdoor areas - Due to its high resolution, 4K enables security personnel to use fewer cameras to cover a wider swath of territory in a large location like a sports arena or an airport, according to SDM Magazine. With superior zooming capabilities and more clarity when narrowing focus, 4K can be especially helpful in such scenarios compared to their predecessors.
  • No need for immediate upgrade - The odds of 4K being eclipsed by a newer, better technology are slim for now, especially in the near term. That means that an organization that adopts 4K videos today is not likely to want to replace them with anything better over the next few months and years.
  • More cameras available - Since 2014, many more 4K cameras have come to market, SDM reported, and many more are likely to be available throughout 2016 and 2017 as well. This gives admins a wider array of tools to choose from, enabling them to select the exact camera that fits their particular needs.
  • Greater number of installers familiar with the technology - As 4K rises in popularity, third-party installers, managed service providers and value-added resellers are rushing into the market and becoming more well acquainted with the technology. This means organizations have more teams to turn to for help when adopting 4K video surveillance.

"What this means for security remains to be seen, but for now there is growing optimism that 4K will come into its own in the not-so-distant future," SDM's Derek King wrote in December 2015.

Cons of 4K video surveillance

While there are many benefits to 4K technology, it's certainly not without its downsides at the present.

  • Needs a robust network - This is perhaps the biggest problem with 4K video, although it is easily remedied with a networking solution like the Firetide HotPort 7000. Because it captures high-definition footage, the underlying network needs to be able to adequately support all that HD video. Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst Dan Sullivan noted that one 4K video would need bandwidth of more than 20 Megabytes per second to support around 60 frames per second. This is just for one video, as Campus Safety Magazine contributor Duane Richendollar reported that 112 Mbps would be needed for 10 20-megapixel cameras sending data at 3.5 fps; plus network admins would have to make sure that the switches could sufficiently handle this capacity.
  • Requires ample storage space - Higher resolution typically increases the video file size. While there have been developments in compression, 4K video will still take up a lot of space on servers. Richendollar noted that 4K video needs four times as much storage space as an HD camera, which already needs four times as much storage as legacy camera technology. This is why in some very large deployments, storage requirements can reach up to 600 terabytes.
  • New cameras can be costly - Because 4K video cameras are currently the latest and greatest technology on the market, they typically cost more than their HD and analog predecessors.

"HD and particularly 4K video raise the bar on the level of image quality you can offer customers. But its implementation also impacts the rest of the installation chain (and costs to customers)," Richendollar wrote. "For effective operation, a well thought-out system must take into account the bigger picture beyond just the cameras."

Final verdict on 4K for video surveillance?

There's no doubting that 4K may require some significant network upgrades when first implemented in a video surveillance setting. But, it offers unparalleled image quality that can't presently be beat. For those that can afford 4K video cameras and the related costs, it's a worthwhile investment more often than not.

"The best thing integrators can do is make educated recommendations for their customers, whether it be for 4K or against it," said James Marcella, director of technical services and security industry liaison at Axis Communications, according to SDM. "We all know that 4K is more expensive, but integrators should be making recommendations based on customers' operational requirements."

When implementing 4K cameras, it's critical to make sure the underlying network can adequately support the new load. Firetide HotPort wireless nodes can support throughputs up to 300 Mbps depending on the setting, making them an ideal choice for 4K video cameras that need to be deployed with wireless support. For more information on 4K, wireless networking and video surveillance, be sure to reach out to Firetide today.