The art of making an informed upgrade

As law enforcement equipment is used in critical missions, it must be rugged, capable, easy to use and based on proven technologies. These days, it must also feature open standards, along with technology that is cost-effective and flexible enough to allow...


The MPEG-4 compression algorithm has been developed, among other things, to optimize video streaming on the Internet. MPEG-4 H.264 is designed as a simple and straightforward video coding application, with enhanced compression performance. It was also developed to provide a “network-friendly” video representation. MPEG-4 provides DVD-quality video, but uses a lower bit rate. This makes it feasible to transmit digitized video streams in LAN, and also in WAN, in critical situations, where bandwidth is vital and hard to guarantee.

MPEG-4 H.264 is on its way to becoming the next standard format of convergence in the digital video industry, regardless of the video playback platform. Major Internet players such as Google/YouTube, Adobe and Apple are all backing this cross-platform format. This should give law enforcement agencies the comfort and confidence of knowing that they will be able to transmit, distribute and play back video on a variety of end-user devices, as the application evolves. It also ensures they will not be locked into a single source of proprietary vendors and technologies.

Having the ability to “see” in poor conditions is an important aspect for most law enforcement applications. Operating in the dark, with visibility reduced by smoke or sand storms, in highly populated areas and similar conditions, are common scenarios for today’s search-and-rescue and other law enforcement operations. Advancements in camera technology must be balanced with advancements in the transport mechanism (i.e., the data link) to be able to supply increasingly high-resolution video content to the decision makers who may be located in a mobile command center on the ground, or possibly across the world. Improved picture quality is useless if it never reaches those who require this information to make wise decisions.

Efficient use of bandwidth

Why is bandwidth important? Besides video, users also want to include metadata and information from other sensors, such as infrared sensors, chemical/hazmat/nuclear-radiation detectors and GPS devices, among others. This information must be made available immediately to decision makers in multiple locations—squad cars, emergency response centers and firefighters. Video compression is the key to reducing the size of the signal to be transmitted. The application of the MPEG-4 H.264 standard to digital video microwave environments has greatly improved the efficient use of the crowded bandwidth. With the improved coding efficiency offered by MPEG-4 over MPEG-2, public service organizations are able to deliver broadcast-quality video signals where previously there was not enough bandwidth for the higher data-rate requirements of MPEG-2. With the lower bit rate, the transmission becomes more reliable not only over the air, but on wired backbone networks and the Internet as well.

By using the more efficient MPEG-4 encoding, law enforcement agencies can reduce the bit rate substantially, while maintaining the same level of quality and significantly increasing the number of video recipients without the need for additional network backbone capital expenditure (CAPEX).

Future-proofing your system investment

Probably the most daunting challenge facing law enforcement agencies today is making investments in technologies, equipment and infrastructure upgrades that enable them to better manage and maximize the value and the full potential of their existing assets and infrastructure, while future-proofing these investments for tomorrow’s applications.

The fact that MPEG-4 performance upgrades can be performed (on some encoder models) purely through software is a great asset, because ongoing performance improvements can be done with no downtime through field upgrades, without disruption to the daily system operations. The CAPEX benefits of investing in hardware that can support such upgrades are clear.

Above all, it’s important to invest in video systems that support both legacy MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 standards. Either your own, or the legacy equipment in other jurisdictions, will inevitably include MPEG-2 systems. Your receive sites need to be able to receive MPEG-2 video, and you may be required to provide your video downlink to support operations outside your state. Today’s advanced aircraft transmitters feature MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 encoding, BCRYPT AES encryption, and COFDM modulation. The ability of your systems to support both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 systems is a critical feature, as it protects your earlier capital investment while enabling you to take advantage of the newest MPEG-4 encoding.

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