4K Image Capturing: the ultimate video surveillance solution?


So far this year, the security industry has seen the release of several new 4K surveillance cameras from leading security brands, marking a notable increase in 4K solutions on the market.


4k first started appearing in the security industry with the realise of several 4K cameras at last year's ICS West. However, the recent increased the hype surrounding this cutting edge technology has stirred some debate and contest in the industry as to the application, functionality and adoption of 4K.


Covering the key information and challenges surrounding 4K, this article aims to give you a overview of this technology which should help you decide if your company or site could benefit from this solution. 

What is 4K?

4K, called 4K Ultra HD in full, offers images that are four times the resolution of Full HD (1080p) (and 9 the size 720p HD) therefore providing larger, more detailed images and video.

Characteristics can be generally summarized as:

  • Resolution of at least 3840x2160, or 8.3 megapixels
  • Frame rate up to 120 fps
  • Aspect ratio 16:9
  • Color fidelity and a much larger color palette than HDTV

In security, this extended resolution results in wider coverage, higher quality images and superior zoom, allowing end users to expand their surveillance area while still able to magnify and closely examine the images captured.


However, it's not as simple as just buying and installing a 4K camera to capture dramatically higher resolution images. There are several challenges that may be faced or issues that may need to be considered before going ahead with adopting 4K. But first, let's look at the advantages.

The Advantages

Key advantages include:

  • Increased image size and number of pixels enables superior detail on zoom, allowing end users to better identify suspects and criminals via both facial recognition and license plate recognition. In addition, higher frame rate may also enable a clear image to be captured even if the subject is moving. Such clear images may help solve cases or could be used to prosecute in court.

  • Ability to ‘see more with less’ allowing end users to reduce the number of cameras needed to cover an area (by as much as half), therefore helping reduce ownership and operational costs.


  • Can have on board analytics providing more detail regarding people monitoring and mapping customer paths, helping provide more accurate information useful for business intelligence and to gain market knowledge.

The Challenges

Image Quality

It sounds counter intuitive, but 4K cameras do not necessarily guarantee sharp and high quality images. Although this is the goal, various factors can affect the ability to produce such images and some brands or models do a better job than others.

4K cameras can unfortunately often come at the expense of WDR or low light sensitivity, resulting in reduced image quality in challenging lighting conditions. Tests recently carried out by one third party research company compared 4K cameras from of numerous leading video surveillance brands and found that several models experienced image quality issues when face with low level lighting situations.

In addition, other factors which can affect image quality are the lens, illumination and compression efficiency.

More than just a 4K Camera

In order to implement 4K surveillance, a 4K camera needs to installed and integrated as part of a wider 4K solution, in terms of not only of the hardware used but also the VMS, monitor and bandwidth. The whole system needs to be 4K compatible.

  • Bandwidth: since 4K captures images 4 times the size of Full HD, this means that the bandwidth capacity has to also be 4 times the size to be able to effectively transmit the images. A site's network capability should therefore be thoroughly checked before adopting 4K. If the network is already experience degradation in performance then adding 4K may overload the network, possibly making the network unreliable and/or unable to take on the increased capacity and storage. Options for increasing network capacity should therefore be explored.

  • Playback: to take full advantage of 4K image quality, end users must use a server capable that is capable of decoding and analyzing the footage received whilst ensuring that playback is smooth. It is therefore important to test 4K video on your VMS for any issues. In addition, end users will need a 4K monitor (currently only offered by a handful of manufacturers) to view the video with the equivalent level of detail.

  • Storage: due to the significantly larger size of images, storage of footage can quickly become a problem. Large amount of storage space is needed and/or effective compression methods.


Due to the various components required as part of a 4K solution, it can be challenging for the end user to implement, especially if servers and network infrastructure are already be in place and are unable to support 4K. Overcoming the challenges of network and storage are essential, whilst data integrity, flexibility and performance must all be maintained.

Industry Applications

Due to the ability of 4K to capture images from extremely large areas, this technology is particularly relevant for sites or industries with many large open spaces as the area that can be monitored by one camera will be significantly increased. Several industries that could benefit from a 4K solution include:

Transport (roads, railways and airports)
Transport (roads, railways and airports)
City surveillance
City surveillance
Government and military
Government and military
Campus sites
Campus sites


It is not just in the security industry that 4K is receiving increased attention; just this month there have been various news articles related to 4K TV which is expected to start being more widely adopted at the end of the year when 4K TV channels and DVDs are likely to be released. This, along with the increased hype surrounding this technology in the security industry suggests that in coming years, 4K will become 'the new standard', as one security expert already described it. 

However, at the moment, this technology can still face some challenges in application, so its adoption has to suit the situation. For example if it is incredibly important to be able to capture high quality images at night or in challenging lighting situations at your site, it may be better to opt for a more light sensitive camera than 4K.

But, as with any new technology, challenges that are faced now may well be overcome with the next generation of 4K cameras. It seems very likely that more innovative solutions will appear in the industry to overcome issues regarding bandwidth, storage and playback.

Given the superior image quality that this technology can offer, it is surely security trend worth keeping an eye on. 

If you are considering adopting 4K video surveillance in your security solution and would like more information, or have any questions regarding the above content, please contact us on sales@icdsecurity.com.