Why should a customer continue to buy “premium” surveillance cameras?
Remarkable changes are happening in the video camera market for surveillance applications, including the emergence of lower-priced products that offer features that previously were only available at a much higher price point. Deflating prices of cameras are sometimes referred to as a “race to the bottom” – foreshadowing a market of low-cost cameras that all provide similar features. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable to comment on camera pricing trends and how customers can continue to find real value in the changing environment. Specifically, we posited: Lower-cost cameras have more features than ever. Why should a customer continue to buy “premium” cameras?
When buying cameras, customers are often lured by lower upfront costs, but may end up paying more in the medium- to long-term because of lower quality (requiring costly site visits and replacements), susceptibility to cyber-attacks, or lower quality of integrations with video management systems. Customers should certainly be prudent buyers and make sure that they’re paying for actual reliability/features/functionality rather than simply paying a premium for a brand-name product. When functionality and reliability are important, it always makes sense to “buy nice, not twice.” I have direct experience competing with low-cost cameras with more expensive but higher quality products, and the reality is that there are customers whose security budgets are severely constrained, making price, rather than quality and reliability, the overriding factor. But for most sensible buyers, making informed decisions based on the total cost of ownership and the value of the equipment makes the most sense.
As the market is moving fast, when speaking of cameras, we have found that there are more and more customers who are not just looking at the equipment itself, but increasingly placing more concern on the value that can be added to it. Lower-cost cameras have more features than ever, but customers are looking at more important aspects such as openness, compatibility, integration into the whole system where the camera will be applied, and the value that can be added and extended behind the simple camera. Hard specification is only the basic foundation even with lower cost, but it is the soft capability that makes a big difference. This is the reason why a customer should continue to buy ”premium” cameras. “Premium” cameras still have a huge potential market in the long run.
Today an estimated 80% of the camera market is IP, which means that it is becoming a mature market with less differentiation among products and more price competition. Video surveillance is still fragmented, with the top 10 players holding about 50% of the market. With increasing maturity, the market will become less fragmented, driven by acquisitions or by companies that lead with price to drive market share. There is still a difference between low cost and premium cameras, such as quality, innovation, breadth of product portfolio, image quality/usability, etc. Some of the biggest differences among companies/manufacturers is the way they conduct business, specifically in three areas; (1) Approach to solutions, and how they integrate with other manufacturers (2) Approach to cybersecurity by means of technology, processes and tools and (3) Being a long-term business partner in the sense of how partners and customers are managed.
As prices for standard cameras continue to fall, more capabilities are being added to so-called premium camera lines. More powerful processors onboard these premium cameras mean much more of the image processing and analysis is done at the edge, thereby reducing the load on the recording appliance. Onboard recording, for example, can reduce the cost of deployment in small to medium business applications, and the positive byproducts of this technology include redundant recording and ease of installation. Deploying edge recording devices with on-board analytics that support secure verification applications can dramatically reduce the creation cost for recurring monthly revenue (RMR). In addition, better processors and imagers have produced premium cameras with multiple capabilities such as active PIR sensors onboard the camera as a second motion detection shield. Lower cost thermal sensors are allowing for much more affordable thermal cameras that can quickly and accurately detect outdoor motion without false alarms.
Many low cost/“affordable” cameras will not prove to be a bargain compared to a quality/“premium” camera. The image from a less expensive camera may appear adequate when viewed individually, but a side-by-side live image comparison makes the difference visible. Zooming in on a recorded image to view a licence plate or a person’s face may reveal that the less expensive camera uses an inferior lens and optics package (plastic or low-grade glass lenses) to reduce their costs. Some less expensive cameras may offer only ONVIF compliance to interface with a VMS or NVR, or have some features that only work with their own VMS/NVR system. That means the installer and the end user must learn all the ins and outs of the camera interface, and cannot use all the more advanced features of the VMS or NVR with that camera. Also, product warranties and support descriptions can be quite different.
It’s a confusing time in the video camera market, and a daunting time for customers seeking to find real value amidst the turmoil. Lower prices are certainly tempting, but are they a good value? Might choosing a low-cost option actually cost more in the long run? However, prices are going down across the board, and more features are being offered for less money every day. So, there is more value than ever for the money, even if difficult buying decisions make finding it a challenge.