Smile, you’re on camera

InAVate’s Technology correspondent, Steve Montgomery investigates the rise of the camera in AV installations, talking to vendors about the features, installation concerns and bandwidth requirements of modern fixed install cameras.

As internet and PC processing bandwidth increases, the role of live and stored video becomes more and more prominent, which in turn, creates a need for a wider range of source material. One area where this demand has created a greater supply is in the field of cameras that can be used in AV installations to generate live video feeds and can be operated locally or remotely. Typically they are used for applications such as video conferencing, webcams and remote monitoring and sensing, delivering images across the internet or onto a local AV system and displays or recording and transmission devices for a plethora of uses.

Take up of cameras has been greatly helped by advances in compression technology, typically using MPEG-4 compression, that enables high quality video to be distributed over wired and wireless network links. Cameras with integrated compression and IP addressing are readily and cheaply available and as a result they are widely used for remote security. Additional features such as remote controlled pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ), autofocus, audio and IR lamps and filters provide comprehensive control facilities enabling the camera to be located in an out of the way location and easily used by non professionals. A typical example is the Cisco (Linksys) Wireless G-PTZ camera, that also includes a security mode which tells the camera to send a message with a short attached video to multiple email addresses whenever it detects motion in its field of view. Many cameras include IR lights and filtering making them suitable for dusk and night operation. A similar product from Canon; the VB-C10R also includes a built-in web and FTP server allowing it to be connected to the internet directly for image streaming to up to twenty simultaneous clients.

These types of cameras are becoming more common in full AV installations in business and domestic environments. As a result manufacturers of AV control systems, including Crestron, Stardraw and AMX provide software modules. Adam Findlay, Technology Group Manager for AMX: “Cameras for security and general observation are now an integral part of a whole house AV or commercial installation. Programming control modules are available for large manufacturers such as JVC, Panasonic, Pelco and Kalatel. Axis that provide a simple means for the system programmer to add touch panel control to pan, tilt, zoom and focus a camera from their central or distributed control point as part of the integrated system. It also allows preset positions to be recalled, so for example a button can be designated for the front door which will position an external camera and zoom to the correct level for display on the Modero panel.” Crestron’s Mike Izzett agrees: “Any device with an RS232, 485 or IP interface can be accommodated in the control system using standard protocols. We are currently installing a lot of CCTV and door entry cameras into our residential and commercial networks, in many cases delivering video straight to a hand held panel, like the Isys TPMC-8X WiFi touchpad over a wireless link.”

Cameras are obviously critical components of video conferencing systems: the quality and performance of a link will depend upon the ability of the camera to deliver high quality images and to respond to changes in speaker position and ambient light conditions, as well as needing to provide flexibility in direction and zooming of the lens. As a consequence, the major manufacturers of these systems invest considerable development resources to produce the most effective and highest resolution camera possible. Ray Kenny, Regional Sales Manager, UK and Ireland: “The camera is an integral part of any videoconferencing system and full high definition quality is a must. LifeSize has developed two HD cameras, LifeSize Camera and LifeSize Focus, that deliver outstanding image quality in a wide range of light conditions found in offices. Together with a LifeSize HD videoconferencing system, they offer a great alternative to any face-to-face meeting. The technology offers an immersive telepresence experience and ‘looking through a window’ quality and the camera is crucial in making this a reality. LifeSize Camera features pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) functions to focus on different points in the room. LifeSize Focus is a compact, fixed-focus camera and integrated two-microphone array that provides excellent sound quality. By integrating the microphone array in the camera housing, LifeSize Focus saves space and eliminates clutter and can be used to create executive desktop telepresence systems.”

Polycom’s EagleEye HD Camera has been designed for its HDX conference room solutions to capture high definition images with resolutions up to 1280 x 720 pixels up to 60 frames per second. The camera includes a 12x zoom lens and 180 degree panning radius ability. Ray McGroaty: “Key features include the ability to deliver clear, crisp and natural colours with quick, sharp focus when using the manual PTZ or the preset locations.” Tandberg has a similar camera in its Precision HD Camera offers 1280 x 720 pixels at up to 30 frames per second with a 7x zoom capability.

Panasonic’s new AW-HE100 is their first all in one pan tilt and zoom camera. John Funnell, Product Manager for Panasonic outlines their design philosophy: “The design is aimed at applications requiring simple installation and where the camera is small, unobtrusive and blends in with the surroundings, such as high end CCTV, auditoriums and lecture theatres. It includes infra red remote control as well as manipulation from a PC or joystick controller. With an optional HDSDI output card the camera is able to transmit full HD, broadcast quality images and is applicable to TV applications.”

The delivery of lectures, meetings and seminars to remote participants via the web is also an area that has spawned a range of dedicated cameras and control systems. Historically these types of events were achieved using manned cameras, often multi camera set ups with associated costs and complexity. Newer robotic camera systems are now available with simple set up and use which allows much cheaper operation using non-professional camera operators. Nick McLachlan, Director of Webcast IT: “We specialise in first class filming services for webcast, based upon broadcast expertise and equipment, which is ideal for large and prestigious events. For smaller events we supply multi camera robotic units which are more economic and cost effective. Small robotic cameras are unobtrusive and with remote control several cameras can be operated by one person to create unique shots and angles that are not possible with manned cameras. They are ideal for corporate studios, places of worship and sports events and can deliver the ‘audience angle’ where the camera is amongst the audience and delivers the same view as attendees over a web presentation.” The type of camera used by Webcast IT in these applications is the Sony BRC-Z700, a robotic camera with three ¼ type CMOS sensors and over 1 million pixels, delivering full HD 1080 images at 50 or 60 Hz. With a 20x zoom lens, 340º panning and 120º tilt it is easily wall or ceiling mounted to deliver images in almost any visual environment.

An alternative to a robotic camera is the Add-A-Cam system that allows third party cameras to be mounted on a movable platform. Manufacturer Vaddio offers this product alongside a wide range of cameras and control systems. Rob Sheeley, Vaddio President: “As Sony’s largest OEM supplier, we add value to PTX camera systems with additional capabilities, such as TrackView to provide motion controlled tracking of presenters. This measures pixel changes in an image to determine the motion present and drive the camera’s position. We also have ControlVIEW Xtreme for multi camera room configurations that can be linked to an audio mixer and selects the appropriate preset camera for the speaker, so that the picture follows the sound.”

Installation in many locations and old buildings presents problems with demands for unobtrusiveness and discrete installation. Bosch has a range of dome mounted housings for PTZ cameras with auto tracking, low light capability and 18 x zoom capability that can be used internally and externally and include a pendant version that can be mounted in ceiling or as a pendant on a wall. Vaddio’s range extends to in-wall enclosures and mounting brackets and includes video, data and power distribution using Cat5 cable rather than coax and junction boxes, making it simpler to install. Rob Sheeley: “Retrofitting cameras into old buildings is problematic; particularly in Europe where they are generally constructed from stone and masonry, so choices for wiring installation are limited. QuickConnect delivers signals and power to cameras using Cat5 which is far easier to install, meeting all electrical regulations of course.”

As with many areas in the audiovisual industry, convergence between technologies is occurring rapidly so that cameras and techniques used in the broadcast industry are being adopted for AV applications, more so as the use of high definition video is deployed and network bandwidth becomes more pervasive. We can expect to see more of this as new products are released into both markets.

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