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A History of US and Chinese Security Camera Manufacturing

How the US Manufacturers Missed the IP Camera Revolution and Don't Hold Relevant Patents Anymore

In the 1990's Bosch, Pelco, Honeywell, Sony, and Samsung all made great quality analog equipment. These companies make cameras with many different quality levels, but for the most part, they have generally kept a good name by using quality components in their equipment and by having good warranties* (*they will vary by retailer).

For example, SCW's Vanguard line of NVRs (which launched in 2017) is produced in the same factory as GE's brand of NVRs that they launched in 2017. Why doesn't GE make their own product? Here's a bit of a history on what happened in the 90's and early 2000's.

In the Days of Analog

In the late 1990's, each of these companies were leading producers in surveillance. They were doing in the range of 5-15 billion dollars a year in security products, and most of that was in analog cameras. Now, analog is bunny-ears TV quality (or worse) resolution that is straight video signal down a copper wire. Analog looks like this:

Cameras with a small number of TV lines (less than 500)

A face at 25 FT, recorded with a 480 TVL camera with a wide angle lens

Cameras with a large number of TV lines (700 or more)

A face at 25 FT, recorded with a 700 TVL camera with a wide angle lens


Around the same time, HD IP cameras were starting to take off. HD IP cameras have digital signal that goes down Cat5 cable. HD IP cameras look like this (although at the time, the top of the line models were about half this quality):

1080P Cameras (about 2.2MP)

1080P IP camera with a wide angle lens

4K Cameras (about 4x 1080P)

4k IP camera with a wide angle lens

The Missed Opportunity

Here's some quotes from a well-known trade magazine talking about the lack of activity by the major brands with digital IP cameras.

In the $6-$7 billion video security business this year (2011), about two-thirds of the cameras in production are analog, says Scott Schafer.


“The traditional providers of video surveillance equipment were slow to embrace and promote IP products in years past,”


Why Didn't the Major US Brands Design Their Own IP cameras?

In retrospect, it is easy to criticize the decision. Very few people doubted that TV would fully transition to HD and the digital camera market had already transitioned, why would surveillance be different?

The big companies thought that surveillance would not transition to HD for several reasons:

Number one, in late 90's - early 2000's, the price was still high; you can afford to buy one expensive HD digital camera, buying 8-30 HD surveillance cameras was out of reach at the time - what they failed to see is how quickly price would change and how difficult it would be to jump in later.

Number two: the major US manufacturer's distribution networks are largely through installers who are often not computer savvy and early IP cameras were difficult to setup; the distribution network of installers were opposed to IP and, at the time, were a very powerful force in the industry (and still are). The two main distributor networks in the US are ADI and Tri-Ed, and they are billion dollar buying networks and largely set the prices for the industry.

Number three: the big US manufacturer's were already dealing with outsourcing problems and the cost of production driving up their analog products; In the late 1990's / early 2000's, they were already making a transition from US based production to overseas production. The people at the top had their hands full, and moving to IP cameras meant having to transition a massive amount of staff from electrical engineers to computer programmers at a time when they were already transitioning from American electrical engineers to Chinese or Indian electrical engineers. There might have been too much staff turnover for those companies to be able handle.

"There are companies that missed the whole curve (of the analog-to-digital transition) so they would have to source from a third-party company to get involved in it now,” Schafer says.


AXIS Invents the IP camera; Geovision Popularizes it

Although Axis was the first company to create an IP surveillance camera in 1996, it was primarily a mainframe and printer company at the time. One of the first companies to truly take off in the IP world was Geovision - a Taiwanese company. In the early 2000's, Geovision rose to take a significant portion of the IP camera market, however, Geovision, recognizing that new companies would be entering the digital surveillance camera market, decided to charge a yearly fee for every non-Geovision camera you tried to get to work with a Geovision device.

There was a reason for this fee: it was very difficult to support outside manufacturer's products because everyone had a different language for communicating with their camera / NVRs.

In 2008, two industry groups were formed: the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA). Both of these had the idea of creating a common language, so that instead of hundreds of languages to support, there would only be one. ONVIF founders includes vendors such as Axis, Bosch, Canon, Sony, Cisco and Panasonic. PSIA's founding members include Honeywell, IBM, Stanley Security Solutions, Samsung and Texas Instruments. This was a big step forward and allowed better interoperability, however two competing standards for open communication across brands was not much better than none. The manufacturer's fought over which open standard would be used.

The revenue that Geovision was getting from licensing fees was so significant that they decided to keep charging them even after PSIA and ONVIF were created. This was a disastrous decision. In a few short years Geovision would have gone from market share leader in IP surveillance cameras to an afterthought, because people did not want to pay their licensing fee. Meanwhile, "The Big Three," were winning a large percentage of market share, benefiting from a combination of lower cost of production from being in China, having patented many of their early inventions, and the desire for standardization. Because The Big Three fully embraced ONVIF together, PSIA became more of an alarm and biometrics standard.

And that's what they did (and still do). Most of the big US brands now purchase their equipment from a factory in China. With the "The Big Three" Chinese manufacturers: Hikvision, Dahua, and TVT making about 90% of IP cameras on the market.

Distribution Networks and Price

The vast majority of security cameras are primarily sold through retailers or a distribution network such as ADI or Tri-Ed. ADI and Tri-Ed are billion dollar distribution networks that negotiate prices on equipment for installers and surveillance experts; their primary role is to keep the retail costs high and the installer price low, so that their installer network can make profit selling the surveillance equipment. Bosch, Honeywell, Pelco, Sony, and Axis's do most of their business through ADI, Tri-AD and retailers, and so they care a lot about the price they sell the products to the distribution networks. The US manufacturers' don't sell much retail, which means that they don't care that much what the retail price is.

SCW systems are sold direct, so that you can cut out the middleman and get a great surveillance system at affordable prices.


Our support is included free with your order. It never expires.

To join ADT or Tri-Ed, you have to be a "value add," which means that you have to install, support, configure, or integrate the products. However, the costs, quality and availability for support will vary by the installer or retailer.


Our warranty is 3 years for all our digital products.

The warranties for the US manufacturers will vary by the installer or retailer.

That's why we're trusted by these companies:

What if my Government Contract or Other Requirements Force me to Buy USA-Made equipment?

Sometimes, because of cybersecurity concerns, federal government bids and contracts require that cameras not be made in China. If your contract has those requirements, please make sure that whoever is approving the SCW order, understands that our equipment is manufactured in China. Often you can get an exception to these rules.

Why we tend to get exceptions

(1) Quite Frankly, there's just not a lot of choices. If you want US made cameras Arecont Vision and Avigilon are really your only options that we know of. Arecont has been rumored to be going bankrupt for years and just had an acquisition from a Chinese conglomerate fall through - post agreement, which basically means that the cybersecurity concerns that force the government to buy cameras in the US are largely mute since their details were shared with a Chinese company. Avigilon is a Canadian company that does some manufacturing in the USA. It is also really a software analytics company and charges a larger amount per month for (very impressive) video analytics. Government agencies and City Wide Surveillance use Avigilon a lot, but they are very expensive and sometimes overkill for some projects.

(2) Just don't connect it to the internet or your internal network. Most of the concerns from the Federal Government about security cameras stem from hacking concerns from hostile governments who could potentially force their camera manufacturers to put backdoors or compromised code into their devices. Whether foreign government are forcing code changes or this sort of thing is happening accidentally is irrelevant: A group Romanians, for example, recently hacked all the Washington DC police security cameras and they had nothing to do with the manufacturing of those cameras. Sony is not based in China and was recently found to have a massive number of devices with backdoor accounts. We don't think you can 100% prevent hacking, so we advise solving the issues differently. We have a Best Practices for Preventing IOT Hacks on our support portal (we also have may news articles listed on that page of recent hacks). One of the more unique ways that we sell camera systems is that we have subnets built into our NVRs, this helps reduce the number of devices that are hackable by placing the cameras on a network with a network. For federal governments who have hacking concerns and are looking to source product from the USA to reduce that risk, we actually recommend just creating a second, separate network connection so that there's a physical barrier between your cameras and computers with potentially sensitive documents or processes. Lastly, most of our military clients don't even allow access to the outside world at all for any camera systems; we strongly recommend this for all military bases - whether you buy from us or any other manufacturer.

Mobotix is out of Germany and Axis is made in Sweden. They are both sometimes used on federal projects.

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