TYPICALLY
Panasonic, these new SmartHD cameras are strong on core functionalities like compression,
image quality and low light performance, while at the same time offering new
features like face detection for enhanced recognition performance and variable
resolution selection across scenes.

The SmartHD release
is important at a number of levels, not least that Panasonic is the industry’s
leading CCTV camera manufacturer and its decision to adopt the HD standard
further underlines HD as the benchmark of the future.

An important development
with SmartHD is the use of Panasonic’s proprietary 45nm UniPhier integration
platform in all the new cameras. UniPhier is used in Lumix cameras and
Panasonic Blu-Ray recorders and leveraging this technology in video
surveillance products is a new direction for Panasonic. It suggests a greater
level of standardisation between consumer and professional products in the
future.

The great
strength of UniPhier is its H.264 codec – a device which can squish HD images
down to about one third the size of conventional codecs without loss of
definition. UniPhier can handle JPEG triple encoding as well as dual-stream
H.264.

The push towards
an IP future was not limited to the release of the new SmartHD cameras and
encoders. At the conference president Takashi Toyama announced the merging of
Panasonic Communications and Panasonic Systems Solutions to create a new
entity, Panasonic System Networks. He said the importance of this development from
a security perspective is that it allows Panasonic to leverage all its systems
strength to drive innovation in CCTV.

“The security
business will be a core business for PSN,” president Toyama told the packed conference
hall. “We want to offer products contributing to a safe and secure world.”

Success in a
hybrid market is a balancing act and in order to achieve its goals Panasonic is
being very clever. On one hand its SD5 technology offers end users and
installers the best analogue performance in the business. Now Panasonic’s
SmartHD range delivers arguably the best HD IP performance. With the current
hybrid market now thoroughly bracketed, Panasonic is owning the vital IP
transition thanks to new encoders and an IP matrix system.

On specifications,
SmartHD has leading low light performance, as well as delivering top
compression numbers and an excellent 50 per cent reduction in power
consumption. And setting SmartHD further apart are the addition of brainy
features like face detection, banknote recognition settings for POS
applications, VMD with 4 detection areas and 15 sensitivity levels, wide
dynamic range and adaptive black stretch. These features mirror the smarts you
get with quality megapixel still cameras.   

The important
numbers look very good. The WV-SP306 HD day/night network camera with auto back
focus dishes up 30 images per second at 1280 x 960. Low light performance,
which is a vital area for Panasonic, is claimed to be 0.3 lux in colour and
0.05 lux in black and white using a new 1/3-inch MOS sensor. We’ve not tested
the camera to verify these figures but as Panasonic’s resolution claims are generally
conservative this means SmartHD does excellent work in low light.

Other important
features of the SmartHD range include Panasonic’s Variable Resolution on a
Specified Area function, or VRS. It’s a feature that allows installers and end
users to dial down resolution in large parts of a scene in order to cut back on
bandwidth and storage demands. Panasonic’s boffins say the savings approach 25
per cent but it’s easy to visualise applications where they might be greater
still.

Along with these
core capabilities SmartHD cameras also have privacy zones, digital zoom, full
duplex audio, prioritised streaming, SD/SDHC card slot, progressive scan,
digital noise reduction (this is an important feature for recording in low
light), alarm inputs and a bunch more. The SmartHD range covers full body and
fixed cameras, standard and day/night, as well as VGA 800 x 600 options, in
both fixed domes and full body forms. 

An important part
of the overall release is the i-PRO SmartHD WJ-GEX500, a 4 channel H.264
network video encoder. This unit can handle dual streams of H.264 and VGA/D1,
and it has a weeny form factor at only 140 x 185mm. Designed specifically to
cart Panasonic’s analogue cameras into a networked environment, the WJ-GEX is a
timely release. 

All the new
SmartHD products are done up in handsome silver livery and look fantastic and
they had plenty of admirers at the conference and later at the Tokyo Security
Show 2010, where Panasonic’s stand was mobbed throughout.

At an informal
welcome dinner after the conference, Pacific Communications’ Rob Meachem thanked
Panasonic for its hospitality and praised SmartHD’s strong functionality,
including its ability to handle low light, which he said was a key to the long
term success of IP cameras.

He also
highlighted Panasonic’s move to take ownership of the IP transition as crucial.

“Panasonic has been a leader in CCTV camera
technology for many years and with the release of SmartHD; with its high
resolution and low light capability, as well as smart features like VRS and
reduced power consumption; that excellence is retained,” he said.