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WatchGuard 4RE Videography

Written by Candy Phelps

Watching the Super Bowl on a high-definition television with a great picture will no doubt enhance your experience as a football fan. Well now law enforcement can leverage similar technology with in-car video systems, but this time, that high-def technology could actually be used to solve crimes and prevent lawsuits.

WatchGuard® Video, a leading manufacturer of in-car video systems for law enforcement, announced the production release of the WatchGuard 4RE™ HD Wireless In-Car Video System, the first true high definition in-car video system for law enforcement. The company says that the WatchGuard 4RE (Four Resolution Encoding) is revolutionary because it eliminates the tough compromise between video quality and file size. WatchGuard says its patent-pending design provides more than 3.5 times higher image resolution than the best video quality offered by any competing system while simultaneously lowering the overall file storage requirements.

The Frisco Police Department in Texas is one of the beta test sites for the new 4RE HD Wireless In-Car Video System. Frisco PD has had the system installed in nine of its 40 squad cars since August 2010 and is providing feedback to WatchGuard on the product.

How HD Helps

Higher quality video may mean the difference between capturing a license plate or not. It may mean the difference between a criminal being incarcerated or not. It could prevent costly lawsuits brought on by suspects who claim they were wrongly stopped. The problem in the past with having better in-car cameras was that it took longer to upload the records to the server, and it cost more money to provide the larger space to store the files.

“HD police video by itself is not a great idea due to its massive storage requirements,” explained Robert Vanman, CEO of WatchGuard Video, in a press release. “The brilliance of this product is that it makes HD practical by giving agencies incredible image quality for the video that turns out to be important, while keeping the routine video (typically 90 percent of recordings) at a standard resolution. To minimize storage costs, the majority of other digital in-car video systems record at a very low CIF resolution. The WatchGuard 4RE HD’s image resolution is a remarkable 16 times better than CIF; yet the overall file storage requirements will be equal to or even less than competing systems,” Vanman said.

The real benefit of the 4RE system is in its ability to record at both high definition and at standard resolution simultaneously. On recordings that turn out to be important, the HD version is stored, while the majority of routine video recordings are archived using the standard resolution. Completely customizable event tags can be configured to control which recordings are stored in high definition, and they can also instruct the back-end software to retain evidentiary recordings longer. Officers simply select the event type, and the agency’s policies determine the rest.

Wireless Upload Speeds

Video files will typically be uploaded wirelessly using a new, advanced, industrial grade 802.11n antenna system that features dynamic beamforming and adaptive meshing technology in a robust, 5.8 GHz multi-radio antenna design. This wireless system boasts real-world transfer speeds fast enough to upload 9 hours of video from six vehicles simultaneously in about 300 seconds. Plus, it is completely scalable for large agencies that require a high number of concurrent transfers.

The 4RE system provides peace of mind by retaining a copy of recordings on an integrated hard drive, so an agency never risks losing important evidence during manual transfers should the flash card be lost or destroyed.

With 4RE technology, the officer’s role in managing uploads is virtually eliminated. Partial uploads, “drive offs” and other types of interruptions are automatically handled seamlessly.

As a backup, the 4RE HD system also records onto a solid state USB flash drive (commonly known as a thumb drive), which is locked securely behind the DVR’s access panel. The removable thumb drive media is today’s most universally compatible flash memory device. No special media readers or adapters are needed.

Nat Broughton, the city of Frisco tech support specialist III, said having the USB flash drive was especially helpful in the beginning of the installation. “Initially, we did have to pull the USB out and bring it into the building and manually download it,” he said. “We had some minor connectivity issues that we worked through. It’s really a backup system so that you can pull the video out if you have some problem with your connectivity or wireless. It’s a built-in safety feature.”

Also, Officer Billy Willis, Frisco PD technology support, pointed out that if an officer were in a car wreck, having the ability to pull the flash drive out and review the video right away would be a helpful feature.

The architecture also allows agencies to limit permission to manually upload files to the server using the flash drive so the agency is never exposed to any risk of evidence loss or tampering. Files are secured on the hard drive until the system receives confirmation that the files have been safely transferred to the server. Wireless confirmations are automatically received when the transfer is complete, or when the USB flash drive is reinserted into the DVR after a manual transfer.

Record-After-the-Fact

The built-in, non-removable hard drive provides total data redundancy. This redundancy makes possible the patent-pending technology called “Record-After-the-Fact,” which is the ability to create a new record event from any of the background recorded video that has been buffered on the hard drive, possibly days after the event occurred. On average, the hard drive can hold nearly 80 hours of recorded events.

The 4RE HD system continuously buffers video to the 80 GB hard drive, often called “background recording.” This video buffer allows an agency to go back in time, up to several days, to recover video that was not initially recorded. If none of the background video is tagged as important, then it is not stored or uploaded to the server.

Greg Ward, deputy chief of the Frisco Police Department, said they have not had to use the Record-After-the-Fact technology yet, but that it could be a great tool. For example, if there were a bank robbery and police knew the suspect was driving a red car, an officer could go back into his records to see if he might have driven past a red vehicle in the area of the crime, which could lead to potential evidence.

This feature, first introduced in the WatchGuard DV-1 in-car video system, has enabled thousands of agencies to avoid countless lawsuits, according to WatchGuard, and it has also helped solve hundreds of criminal cases, including murders and robberies.

The Interface

The WatchGuard 4RE HD also breaks new ground with the graphical user interface on its 4.3-inch touch-screen display. Dedicated hardware buttons give tactile and audio feedback when pressed and provide quick access to common functions. The simple key layout combined with the touch-screen menu make 4RE systems easy to use.

Willis agreed and said the Frisco officers needed only about a 30-minute briefing on how to use the new technology. “It’s easier to use,” Willis said. “The display touch screen is just a very intuitive interface that the officers get to see when they first get into the car and log in.”

The operation of 4RE is relatively simple. File uploads, configuration updates and firmware upgrades are fully automatic and “hands-free” to the officer.

The WatchGuard 4RE system includes a sophisticated back-end server package called WatchGuard Evidence Library 2.0 that runs on Microsoft SQL Server 2008. This software provides advanced file management, a graphical search engine, and scalability for agencies from one to 5,000 or more officers.

The Picture

Just like HDTV, the WatchGuard 4RE HD system records video in a 16:9 wide screen aspect ratio (versus a conventional 4:3 ratio where the image area is almost square). This wide screen aspect ratio is the ideal format for in-car video systems because it wastes fewer pixels on the sky and the squad car’s hood—a full 25 percent fewer wasted pixels (which reduces file sizes and increases transfer speeds).

“There’s a wider field of view also in case something happens off to the side; there’s a better chance of capturing that,” Willis said.

With 720p resolution, WatchGuard says its new system provides license plate legibility up to 38 feet away even at the widest angle zoom level. Most conventional systems are limited to about 18 feet, and systems that tout a 68-degree lens often cannot read plates much beyond the length of the hood.

The Largest Development Effort to Date

The development of WatchGuard’s new 4RE product was an all-new, ground-up design that is the first in-car video system to take advantage of the latest advanced compression technology called H.264 Main Profile (MP). Existing H.264 in-car video systems utilize the simpler H.264 Baseline Profile (BP), which creates files that are 40 percent to 50 percent larger than H.264 MP files at equivalent video qualities. The 4RE design cycle took more than three years to complete and was the largest product development effort in the history of the in-car video industry. It was also the first design to utilize multiple Texas Instruments’ DaVinci DM365 video processors.

H.264 MP technology leverages a highly intelligent video compression algorithm to render video at much higher quality using the same data rate. It can also render video at the same quality using a much lower data rate.

Like most advances in technology, the 4RE comes with many benefits and a few minor setbacks.

“With new technology and better compression ratios with video, we’re now able to have a video on the cabin or the backseat of the squad car as well as out in the front of the squad car,” Broughton said. One issue he pointed out was that they discovered the longer, higher quality videos do not fit on a standard DVD anymore. The agency had to start using dual layer discs, which he said was not a major cost difference, but just something they had to adjust to.

Overall, the Frisco Police Department is pleased with what they have seen from the WatchGuard 4RE HD Wireless In-Car Video System.

“I think any agency that’s looking at purchasing a DVR system or wireless system definitely needs to consider the WatchGuard system,” Ward said. “I think it’s a good product.”

Candy Phelps is a frequent contributor to Public Safety IT. She can be reached at candybuster1@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2011

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