Analog vs the IP Camera Explained When it comes to surveillance cameras used for security applications, image clarity plays a huge role in being able to visually derive small and large details from every angle. The debate continues between analog and IP camera technology, making it even more important to fully understand the difference between these two cameras and what they can actually produce. This helps to properly analyze budgets in order to purchase the best technology needed for specific security applications.

What it all boils down to with the analog/IP debate is resolution, the quality and size of the footage and recorded images in terms of clarity and details that the human eye is able to decipher.

An Examination of Resolution

Successful video surveillance in terms of security relies on being able to produce clear images with details so that the human eye is able to decipher critical details relating to a certain incident. Is it important to just see the outline of a person or is greater detail like eye color, hair color and the image on the front of a t-shirt that a person is wearing needed? To begin with, we need a baseline of what determines good resolution and what makes even better resolution.

For years, the United States TV standard has been a ratio of 4:3, meaning 4 units wide by 3 units high; however, there has recently been a shift to a ratio of 16:9 for movie theater type of clarity. The same holds true for the security industry regarding surveillance footage; the clearer the better.

With the analog process, the video and audio must be encoded in complete frames, relying on the receiving device to interpret and translate the signal into digital video and audio. With this, a loss of image quality is a huge possibility as it goes through bouts of change. And, in comparison to IP technology, analog technology is unable to produce better image quality even if image sensors are producing the same resolution.

Because IP cameras are defined by the number of pixels they capture and because pixels are mechanically captured, the human-eye quality of an image may be impaired. The problem is found in that visual quality can be worse than the stated number of pixels. Therefore, it is important to always compare pixels versus total number of pixels. This is where aspect ratio comes into play.

The typical aspect ratio found within the consumer security market for surveillance cameras is 16:9 because this ratio is more efficient for video surveillance used in security applications. What this means is that the image produced is wider than it is long, since it has 16 pixels in width and only 9 in length. The image is displayed in a rectangular fashion; this allows the viewer to see wider in terms of peripheral details, capturing more details to the left and right.

In comparison, a ratio of 4:3, demonstrating that of analog, produces a more squared image so the height and width are almost the exact same; however, it seems that useless imagery, like the clouds in the sky and an excessive amount of the ground is also displayed.

In terms of clarity, some VMS lack 16:9 support so images will display as squeezed or pushed together, which degrades the image as a whole. Environmental changes causing low light, shadows and glare can also distort IP image quality. As network cameras increase in resolution, though, NVRs can display and record whichever resolution is provided by the IP camera.

All about Megapixels

Now that we know the background into how megapixels work, let’s take a look at the different level of megapixels available within the security industry.

Because a 1.3 Megapixel camera gives a resolution of 12080×960 pixels, equaling more than three times the resolution achieved from an analog camera, this megapixel count is widely used for IP cameras. Typically, a quality CCTV lens, made for standard analog video, can be used without degrading the image.

“Full HD” or simply “HD” is considered 2 Megapixel, producing1920x1080 pixels, a 16:9 ratio in size that has been mostly adopted by the HD TV market. Depending on what sensor is used in the camera, not all 2 Megapixel IP cameras are capable of capturing image shape. The output is a small-sized image, so it is recommended to use a lens with sharp optics that is made specifically for megapixel cameras.

Producing 2048×1536 pixels, 3 Megapixel cameras actually capture 1/3 more pixels than HD format or 2 Megapixel cameras; however, with the amount of data that flows through the network’s system, bandwidth and processor power is quickly used, which can make the system run slowly. Also, a 3 Megapixel image is about twice as big as a 1.3 Megapixel image, so storage space is also used up twice as fast.

3 Megapixel cameras need good light in order to produce adequate image quality and are not as good in low light conditions as 1.3 or 2 Megapixel cameras. So, if low light images more important than high-resolution, consider a 1.3 Megapixel camera with adequate light specs and be sure to use a 3 Megapixel lens to capture the image properly.

If even higher resolution is needed, consider using lenses for 5 Megapixel cameras, making sure you have good light, an adequate amount of storage space, bandwidth and a 5 Megapixel lens. In most video surveillance use cases, IP camera technology will produce a clearer, more detailed image than analog technology; however, with this superiority comes more expense. Although pricing for IP technology is holding steady, and in some cases becoming more cost-effective, similar resolutions in analog technology are still cheaper. But, even with the recent advances in HD-SDI analog cameras, IP technology still remains the best for video surveillance in the long term. Ultimately, it comes down to balancing budget with system requirements to produce a cost-effective video surveillance solution.

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