14 Nov 2014

Editor Introduction

The ability to view surveillance footage on mobile devices adds greater flexibility to an organisation's security monitoring system. But of course, there are drawbacks.

In the age of mobile devices, we are able to do more and more while "on the go" and are less limited by the need to be at a desktop computer with internet / network connectivity. We are seeing the proliferation of mobile apps designed to enable us to access our most important files and perform important tasks wherever we are. The security industry has been using mobile technology to its advantage as well. Previously security personnel had to be at a monitoring station to view surveillance footage; they now have the ability to access security video on mobile devices. This presents several advantages in helping keep a building's premises well-secured. However, there's no question that viewing video on any handheld mobile device is never the same as viewing it on a large monitor. We asked our panellists about their thoughts on the drawbacks of viewing surveillance video footage on mobile devices.

There is no doubt that accessing video on mobile devices is valuable. Linking security systems to your workforce not only makes sense, it recognises the pervasiveness of these devices. The workplace, as normally defined, has permanently changed. The internet, availability of broadband, and travel schedules have guaranteed this. That being said, mobile devices are a tool, and are obviously not a replacement for onsite, full function interfaces. It continues to make sense to limit the resolution of images being sent to mobile devices using multi-streaming. Screen real estate alone limits how much information can be presented on a typical device. Simplified navigation and playback interfaces are necessary to present something aesthetically pleasing and usable. This is not limited by processing speed or software, but by ergonomics and design choices. Changes in this area will be iterative and creative, and not of a “breakthrough” nature.

Omer Shavit ForeScout Technologies

Firstly, video quality is often lower because the mobile data and WiFi networks provide limited and unstable bandwidth. To compensate, this requires quality optimisation by various means, the most advanced of which is adaptive bit rate. Another challenge is supported video formats. The mobile operating systems (iOS, Android) provide native video playback, but they are not at all tuned for live video. This creates decoding and compatibility challenges and lack of support for HD formats. Finally, the screen size of smart phones and other handheld devices is not ideal for viewing video, especially when compared to PCs. On smaller screens, it is much more difficult to achieve high-resolution images and to effectively zoom in on items of interest.

There are technical limitations related to video on smart phones, but I would question exactly what level of video quality is needed on a smart phone. Two big benefits of providing video on a smart phone are immediacy and situational awareness. There is value in providing a video view to a business owner or security professional immediately as an event is happening. The exact quality of that video seems a little less important – as long as you can see what you need to see. So what if the resolution isn’t the highest or the frame rate is a little jumpy? The quality of video is a much more important aspect related to forensic value (i.e., investigations). There you need a good frame rate, good lighting and the best resolution you can get. Viewing on a smart phone, what we have now may be “good enough.” 

Editor Summary

No doubt, there are pros and cons to using mobile devices to view surveillance footage. It's easier to see what the benefits to one's organisation would be if one were to implement the use of mobile devices for security monitoring. However, it is important to know and understand what the limitations are to using handheld devices to surveillance. Screen size is an obvious drawback which limits what and how much you can see, but as outlined above, there are several other detailed technical specifications to consider. For instance, quality is limited by not only the screen size but the system's bandwidth as well. There are also operating systems and compatibility issues to consider. 

The other important thing to consider is what you need or want to achieve with accessing video on mobile devices in the first place. The minimum video quality which needs to be achieved will depend on what the footage needs to be used for. Lastly, anyone who is considering using mobile devices to view security footage should remember that mobile devices are not meant to replace traditional surveillance equipment, but rather, support it.