A Propeller-Head Visits Vegas, Part 1

I spent the day yesterday in Las Vegas for ISC West, one of the largest shows for the CCTV and security industry. We have a couple of customers exhibiting at this show, and I haven’t attended the last couple of years, so it was interesting to see.

CCTV / Security is a tough industry to make a living in. On the plus side, it’s clearly a large market. But on the minus side, most products in the space can be duplicated by integrating readily available components, so there’s a low barrier to entry. In addition, buyers focus on cost — more so, I think, than in most industries. As a result, there is a lot of commoditization.

Given how hard it is to sell in this space, I was surprised at how poorly many vendors are showing off their video quality. Now, admittedly I come from a video snob background. But across the value chain, from camera vendors to DVR/NVR vendors, and across the spectrum from low-budget guys to industry leaders, many of the exhibitors could make their product shine just by taking some care with their demos.

For instance, here’s a view of a DVR’s screen that I captured on my camera phone:

DVR screen pic

I’m not sure if this image is being scaled prior to encoding or after decoding (or both) — but they need to switch to different source material because all that text on CNN really highlights how badly they are mangling the image! Also, the aspect ratio is wrong; I’m pretty sure that’s a 4:3 source stretched horizontally to 16:9.

This wasn’t the worst I saw — it just happens to be one I captured on my phone’s camera. In a large camera vendor’s booth, I saw blatantly out-of-focus images. In a smaller camera vendor’s booth, I saw a camera that was nominally displaying 30 frames per second but was dropping one or more frames at least every other second, which you could easily tell if you stood in front of the camera and waved your hands back and forth. One of the most established manufacturers of high-end DVR was displaying video that had been horizontally subsampled by a factor of two, without correcting the aspect ratio, so everyone appeared really tall and thin — space aliens in trade-show attire.

And don’t even get me started on the problems of smooth playback; the video below is just one example of many:Holy cow, that’s embarrassing.

I saw this same problem of unintentionally jerky video playback in different forms in at least 5 booths, including Axis, one of the largest and most respected vendors of IP cameras.

On the other hand, some vendors stood out as counter-examples: Pelco, in particular, had a large booth, and their video looked really good.

As it happens, next week I’m returning to Vegas for the NAB Show. That’s normally an industry that errs the other direction, with an insane focus on video quality. So, it should be quite a contrast.

UPDATE: You can read about my NAB trip here.