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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Higher Image Quality At Lower Bit Rates On Single Chip Cameras

03 August, 2010
Bob Bleacher Discusses the S7 based software configurable video processors from Stretch with Jonathan Newell and explains how the company has quadrupled performance whilst quartering the price per channel
Storage costs and bandwidth demands continue to be two of the main cost detractors preventing the implementation of IP surveillance networks and are two of the factors which led to the development of the new S7000 range of software configurable video processors from Stretch released today.

The S7 video processor is a single-chip solution for use in IP network cameras, DVRs and hybrid DVR recording equipment. In developing the processor, Stretch focussed on encoding performance, interface flexibility and reduced power which has resulted in a product delivering several advantages over its popular S6 range including reduced power consumption, a four times reduction in price per channel and a four times improvement in performance offering up to 16 channels of D1 using H.264 encoding.

The demands of the video surveillance industry are unrelenting with end users demanding much more than just cost and performance enhancements. Increased channel count, IPSEC and encryption capability for secure transfer of image files, support for the emerging standards bodies of ONVIF, PSIA and the HDcctv Alliance as well as camera parameters such as increased resolution and framerate and increased pixel count.

Stretch has addressed these demands with the S7 processing architecture, building all the required functions onto a single chip. I spoke to Bob Bleacher, the VP of Marketing at Stretch to find out more.

He told me that the core of the device is the Software Configurable Processor where the image signal processing and encoding takes place with performance enhancement having been achieved through programming ability and architectural innovations.

"The architecture of the device", he told me "is what enables us to keep clock speed and power consumption down whilst delivering improved performance". For example, networking functions are taken away from the main processor and are performed on an ARM9 processor which uses LINUX to provide additional networking flexibility. Additionally, a programmable accelerator takes significant load off the Software Configurable Processor by supporting commonly used video algorithms to support High Definition as well as accelerating security functions.

"Customers are increasingly asking for advanced encryption", Bob explained. "The IPsec algorithm takes up a lot of CPU cycles so in order to avoid any degradation in performance, this function is offloaded to the accelerator". Encryption acceleration is also supported for AES, DES and triple DES.

The other potential performance detractor is H.264 encoding which is also accelerated. "The performance of the High Profile H.264 implementation is enhanced with standard algorithms being offloaded to the programmable accelerator which results in higher image quality at a lower bit rate", he explained. "This translates to reduced storage costs, one of the most important factors in IP surveillance implementations".

One of the advantages of being able to program the S7000 range lies in the varying quality of H.264 implementations by camera manufacturers. Interpretations of the video encoding standard vary enormously from one camera manufacturer to the next with some not even meeting the base requirements. Stretch engineers can programme the processor to adapt to connections from any IP camera manufacturer regardless of the way they have implemented the H.264 standard.

Other features within the Software Configurable processor include Serial AIM, Enhanced Dataport and PCI Express and a 32-bit DRAM interface with DDR3 being new for the S7. This gives the device seamless connectivity and scalability reducing component counts and system costs.

With so much functionality offloaded from the main processor, Stretch has been able to keep clock-speeds down to between 267 and 367 MHz thus reducing power consumption and heat generation. This architecture combined with the algorithmic high profile H.264 implementation, enables the provision of very high levels of image quality at low bit rates to maintain downward pressure on escalating storage costs and bandwidth demands.

Programmable upgrades for wider camera support are rolled out in firmware upgrades ensuring users of the processor remain up to date.

Read more about the S7000 series of video processors from Stretch on our story page
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