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CCTV Test: 4K UHD Cameras

by Benchmark

While HD video has become the de facto standard for advanced surveillance systems, the introduction of 4K UHD technology looks certain to change user expectations. 4K UHD is based upon standards, and as such security devices claiming compliance must meet strict criteria. Benchmark took a closer look at some leading options to see what’s on offer.

4K UHD video follows in the footsteps of HDTV, in that the basic specifications are standardised. Just as manufacturers could not ‘interpret’ HD or choose which parts of the specification to meet, the same is true of 4K UHD video. If every part of the specification is not met, it’s not 4K UHD.

Because 4K already existed as a DCI standard for projection in the cinematic world, the consumer television standard is UHD-1 (ultra high definition). However, for marketing reasons, several manufacturers added the 4K designation as well, with the result that the term ‘4K UHD’ became widely used. In terms of video surveillance, it’s safe to assume that 4K refers to UHD-1.

4K UHD video has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. This is the equivalent of four times HD1080 resolution.

Streams must be delivered in real-time, although most UHD sources are expected to offer increased frame rates: whilst the increase won’t be part of the standard, it will temper user expectations. The base frame rate must be achieved as a minimum by 4K UHD cameras, and the standard only allows for progressive scan.

One benefit of 4K UHD as an upgrade from HD is that images retain the 16:9 aspect ratio. In many systems 4K UHD devices can be added to an HD set-up, with additional resolution permitting digital zoom, ePTZ and regions of interest to be streamed at a higher quality.

4K UHD compliant devices have other stipulations concerning bit-depth, luminance, colour and dynamic range. In short, standard compliant 4K UHD devices deliver more than higher resolution; image quality is enhanced in many ways.

Even now, Benchmark still sees products claiming to be ‘HD’ which don’t deliver HDTV standards-compliant video. There is concern that some installers, system integrators, specifiers, consultants and end users may be confused by marketing claims. They could mistakenly believe that equipment described as ‘ultra high definition’ is SMPTE compliant. Statements such as ‘4K quality’, ‘ultra high definition resolution’ or ‘4K output’ might imply a 4K UHD device, but resolution is only one single part of a larger standard.

Bosch: Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP

The Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP is a box-type camera from Bosch. The camera delivers 4K UHD compliant streams at up to 25fps. It is also capable of streaming 12 megapixel (4000 x 3000 pixels) video at 20fps. It also offers HDTV compliant streams.  The camera utilises a 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor and features H.264 or M-JPEG compression.

The camera can be supplied with a permanently fixed lens (3.2 or 5mm focal length: our test unit was the latter) or as a standard box camera requiring additional optics. Sensitivity for the fixed lens versions is quoted as 0.36 lux (30 IRE) in 4K UHD mode. The standard box version is quoted as 0.11 lux (30 IRE).

Multiple streams are supported, as are regions of interest. Functionality contains all the usual suspects: adjustable day/night switching, AES, intelligent auto exposure, DNR, defogging, privacy masking, two-way audio, alarm I/Os (2 in, 1 out), video motion detection and IVA.

IVA functionality is fully enabled and does not require a licence. Rules include line-crossing, object within detection field, loitering, condition change, person following route, camera tampering, object left, object removed, entering a defined area, exiting a defined area, crowd detection and people counting. It also includes standard VMD and metadata generation.

The Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP supports edge recording via a microSD (HC and XC) slot. Power is PoE or 12V DC.
The camera is provided with a connector block and a quick start guide. Bosch has joined the growing number of manufacturers who do not include a CD with utilities or full manuals. Instead there is a URL and the installer or integrator is required to download these themselves. Given that this is a premium product, it does feel like an exercise in penny-pinching.

With regard to utilities, the IP Helper is used to find the camera and allow quick configuration of the network settings. This is straightforward and works well. With the address set connection to the unit can be made.

Typically this is when the browser used for set-up will automatically download an Active X element to allow viewing. Again, Bosch has done away with this and a Zip file containing the viewer needs to be downloaded. If the end user does not want internet connectivity on the security network (as is often the case), this approach is a bit of a pain. With the download applied, and after what seems like many repeated requests to run the various elements, the streaming commences.

The menus are straightforward, and they feature a new clean look which makes navigation simpler than previous devices. The interface is intuitive and all of the options are where you’d expect them to be.

There will be some who won’t like the fact that Bosch has pushed the task of obtaining software elements and manuals onto the installer or integrator, and we wouldn’t blame them for that. However, it becomes difficult to bear a grudge when you consider the image quality.

Our first look at the video was in an internal location with an ambient light level of around 140 lux. Detail was very high, motion was smooth and colour balance was neutral with no noticeable bias towards either warm or cool tones. Admittedly, this was using a default ‘balanced’ profile with a target bit-rate of 12Mbps and a maximum bit rate of 24Mbps. To put this into perspective, previous Benchmark tests have established that with relatively motion-heavy HD1080p video, 10Mbps is acceptable for clean artefact-free streams.

There is a bit-rate optimised profile which drops the target figure to 6Mbps and the maximum to 12Mbps, and in scenes with average activity this still delivered artefact-free footage. Compression and bit-rate management are well implemented and allow the benefits of 4K UHD video to be enjoyed without dramatically impacting on network load.

The camera does support regions of interest, but these are only available as an option if the main stream is set to be 3584 x 2016 rather than the 4K UHD standard of 3840 x 2160. If you select the 4K UHD stream, then a second stream can only be configured as a copy of Stream 1. This has obviously been done to free up processing power when RoIs are deployed.

There has been much debate over 4K UHD and low light image capture. Expectations of inferior performance have been well voiced, and manufacturers have claimed that the impact will be minimal. The Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP has a quoted sensitivity of 0.36 lux (30 IRE). The image remained clean and noise-free down to 8 lux. It becomes obvious that the noise reduction is working, but there are the first signs of motion blur.

There is scope to tweak the video configurations, but you’re really balancing between blur and noise. That said, the image remains usable down to 1.5 lux, albeit with a degree of degradation. Switching can be configured prior to this, with the earliest point being at around 10 lux.

While outside of the scope of the test report, the integral IVA works very well and adds value to the camera.

Axis: AXIS P1428-E

The AXIS P1428-E from Axis Communications is a bullet-type camera that utilises a 1/2.5 inch CMOS sensor to deliver 4K UHD compliant streams at up to 25fps. It is also capable of streaming other resolutions (5MP, 4:3 aspect ratio, 2592 x 1944 pixels; QHD, 16:9 aspect ratio, 2560 x 1440 pixels). Again these are real-time streams. Image compression is H.264 or M-JPEG.

The camera is supplied with an integral 3.3–9.8mm P-Iris varifocal lens. Sensitivity is quoted as 1.6 lux in 4K UHD mode.

Multiple streams are supported. Image based functionality includes adjustable day/night switching, shutter and exposure control, DNR, WDR, BLC, privacy masking and video motion detection. IVA can be supported via the ACAP on-camera applications function, but these are optional extras.

The P-1428-E does support edge recording via a microSD (HC and XC) slot. Power is PoE only. In terms of functionality, one feature we expected to see, but which isn’t supported, was Zipstream. This is a H.264 implementation that uses dynamic encoding to deliver advanced bit-rate management, which would be useful on a 4K UHD device.

The camera is provided with connectors, a hex key and a quick start guide. Unfortunately, as is the case with Bosch, Axis Communications has also decided that including a CD with utilities and full manuals is a bridge too far.

Instead you get a URL and a QR code in the quick start guide, accompanied by a drawing of a man scratching his head! If you want to download anything (items needed to use the camera you’ve paid for) you’ll have to register on the website, which could annoy a few installers and integrators.

The Axis IP Utility is used for device discovery and allows network settings to be finalised. The utility works well, and with the config set the camera connection can be made.

An H.264 codec to allow viewing is automatically downloaded, and the next tasks are to set a password and select an operating mode. One of three modes – 4K UHD, 5MP or QHD – must be selected. If this is changed than a number of the configurations will need to be re-entered. For the purpose of the test we opted for the 4K UHD mode.

The Axis interface is well established, and it incorporates well constructed menus, with all the features and functions where you’d expect. It has pretty much retained the same format for some time, and it makes it simple to configure.

As with the other cameras in the test, our first look at the video output was in an internal location with an ambient light level of 140 lux. With a target bit-rate of 12Mbps (maximum if 50Mbps), detail from the AXIS P1428 was very good, motion was smooth, and even with high levels of fast motion there were not any issues with rebuild artefacts. Colour balance was close to neutral without an obvious bias towards warm or cool tones. However, we did notice than when compared to other cameras some reds did seem slightly muted. It did require a side-by-side comparison to spot this, however.

Dropping the bit-rate to 9Mbps didn’t have an obvious impact, but if you looked closely there were signs of compression. At 6Mbps a low level of artefacting was visible, but to be honest you’d be unlikely to deploy 4K UHD video with such a low bandwidth allocation.

The P1428 handles virtual cameras as view areas. This allows a segment of the video to be configured independently, and the stream can be used very much like a virtual camera. It does have some limitations. For example, when using multiple view areas we found that some simply displayed the full screen view regardless of the settings.

With regards to low light image capture, the P1428-E has a quoted sensitivity of 1.6 lux. In the days of sensitivity figures into decimal places, this at least feels a bit more realistic. The image remained clean and noise-free down to around 10 lux. With the camera optimised for motion, noise starts to become visible, and the first signs of motion blur creep in as the light level falls. By 5 lux you’ve definitely lost the 4K UHD ‘edge’, but the image is still usable.

Day/night switching does have an adjustable level, and our test camera defaulted to the lowest (darkest) level. As we’d rather cameras switch before noise is an issue, we turned this up but found that anywhere over 50 per cent switched the camera in good levels of daylight. Our feeling what the 8-10 lux was a good point to switch.

Axis does have some good processing options on many of its HD cameras, and we’ve seen superior low light performance from other models. This isn’t to say the P1428 isn’t a good camera, but it does require considered use in challenging lighting conditions.

FLIR: Quasar CB-6208-21-I

The Quasar CB-6208-21-I from Flir is a part of the DVTel portfolio of cameras. The camera is a bullet-type unit and delivers 4K UHD compliant streams at up to 25fps. The camera supports quad streams, but only delivers 4K UHD if a single or dual stream set-up is selected. It is also capable of streaming HD1080p, HD720p and D1 streams. It also offers HDTV compliant streams.  The camera utilises a 1/1.7 inch CMOS sensor and features H.264 or M-JPEG compression.

The camera is supplied with an integral 9–22mm focal length P-Iris lens. Sensitivity is quoted as 0.3 lux (30 IRE) in 4K UHD mode. The camera also features built-in infrared LEDs with a quoted range of 40 metres.

As mentioned, multiple streams are supported, but if you require 4K UHD video then you are limited to dual streaming. Functionality includes adjustable day/night switching, AGC, AES, WDR, DNR, privacy masking, two-way audio, alarm I/Os (1 in, 1 out) and video motion detection.

The Quasar 4K supports edge recording via a microSD (XC) slot. Power is either PoE or 12V DC/24V AC.

The camera is fitted with a flylead which includes LAN/PoE connection, audio in and out, I/O connections and a BNC output. The Flir camera is old fashioned in a good way: a CD is included with software utilities and full manual, plus you get a quick start guide.

The DNA utility quickly finds the camera and allows configuration of the network settings. This is straightforward and works well. On initial connection an Active X element is downloaded and you’re ready for set-up. One note is that the camera defaults to RTP over UDP and in many cases this will need changing.

The menus are clean and simple, and this gives the camera a very installer-friendly feel. The interface is well considered, and whilst some of the features have limited configurations, it’s not difficult to achieve what is required in most conditions.

The video was initially viewed in an internal location with an ambient light level of around 140 lux. Detail was high and colour balance was neutral. The one aspect of performance that was slightly off the pace compared to the Axis and Bosch cameras was motion. Fast movement did create a slight blur. It wasn’t a significant issue but is worth noting. This occurred with a target bit-rate of 12Mbps; pushing this up to the maximum of 20Mbps did help, but at the expense of greater latency.

With regard to low light image capture, the Quasar CB-6208-21-I has a quoted sensitivity of 0.3 lux (30 IRE). The image remained relatively noise-free as light levels fell, with the first signs becoming obvious at around 5 lux.

However, from around 9 lux motion blur became increasingly obvious with fast motion. There are some tweaks with regard to camera parameters which balance out blur and noise, but it is a case of one or the other.

Because the camera features integral infrared illumination, the sensible thing to do is to switch earlier. However, even with the transition configuration set to the brightest level, the CB-6208-21-I would only go into night mode at around 5 lux. In scenes with a high degree of motion, this is around 3-4 lux too late in our opinion.

BENCHMARK VERDICT

Bosch: Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP

recommendedbestbuyFor those seeking true 4K UHD performance, the Dinion IP ultra 8000 MP ticks most of the right boxes. Image quality is very good, with high detail, smooth motion and well implemented bit-rate management. The camera’s functionality delivers what you’d expect from a high end security camera and the addition of licence-free IVA makes this a highly desirable option. However, the ability to select 4K UHD as Stream 1 and an RoI as Stream 2 would be beneficial. Low light performance doesn’t equal that of the latest generation higher end HD1080p cameras, but it’s actually better than many of the lower cost HD models out there. It’s a small price to pay for the enhanced image detail. The IVA performs very well and offers flexibility with regard to configuration. For installers and integrators seeking high quality image capture coupled with advanced functionality, it has to be recommended and is also the test’s Best Buy. It might carry a slightly higher price tag than the other cameras, but you get what you pay for!

Axis Communications: AXIS P1428-E

recommendedThe AXIS P1428-E is a good 4K UHD camera. With decent lighting it delivers a good level of detail and smooth motion. Despite the odd anomaly, the View Areas do add an ability to create virtual cameras. These are also bandwidth-friendly so long as the resolution is below the size of the viewed area. Functionality is decent, and the camera does offer a decent degree of configuration for most parameters. We expect 4K UHD cameras to not go toe-to-toe with HD devices in regards to low light performance, and by switching at an appropriate time you can balance image quality and relatively noise-free video. While the P1428-E doesn’t quite match up to the Dinion IP ultra 8000 in terms of performance or functionality, it does carry a lower price tag. For some that will make the slight shortfall in sensitivity worth ignoring, especially where a site uses additional illumination. As such, it is recommended.

FLIR: Quasar CB-6208-21-I

recommendedThe Quasar CB-6208-21-I is a decent 4K UHD camera. Of the three on test it does come at the back of the pack. However, for the price, it equally towers above some other devices which were not included as despite a 4K billing, they don’t meet the criteria (which is standards-compliant 4K UHD video). With decent lighting it delivers detailed images and good colour fidelity. If a site has high volumes of fast motion, it wouldn’t be our first choice, but for an overview of large spaces (where perspective will effectively reduce the speed of motion) it is a decent choice. For some the integral infrared illumination will be a bonus, while others will like the simplicity of set-up. The decision to recommend the camera was based on its suitability for a high quality overview of large or open areas, which it does very well.

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