Innovation and Tradition: Using Images Instead of Video Streams for Live Feeds


Recently, I stumbled upon an intriguing website showcasing numerous web cameras operated by the Japanese government. Surprisingly, these cameras offer live feeds by refreshing a single image every 0.1 seconds. Initially, I thought this was a sign of governmental inefficiency or outdated IT infrastructure in Japan. However, upon further reflection, I realized that the underlying reasons may not be so simple.

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Both Europe and the United States have long-standing systems, some of which have been running for decades. Similarly, these Japanese government web cameras were set up over 20 years ago, during a time when 56k dial-up and ADSL were the standard. Given the limited bandwidth of that era, using a 0.1-second image refresh to create a live feed was quite practical. The fact that this system has operated smoothly for over two decades speaks volumes about its stability.

Technological Progress and Practical Compatibility

In the span of just 30 years, we’ve witnessed massive transformations from the personal computer era to the mobile internet age. Consider the 1994 release of the original “The Need for Speed”:
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Now compare it to the latest “Need For Speed: Unbound,” which features near-photorealistic graphics. This is a testament to the triumph of technological advancement.

As a tech professional, I initially assumed that government public service webcams should at least offer 1080p high-bitrate video or even VR capabilities. But is this really necessary?

The Human Touch in Tech Choices

Only a small fraction of the global population uses the latest smartphones. Even if Apple sells 100 million iPhones a year, the total number in use might be around 500 million. At least 60% of people use devices that can’t handle high-definition video due to display and network limitations. The Japanese government’s seemingly clunky method of refreshing images every 0.1 seconds actually boasts the broadest compatibility, supporting devices from Windows 98 to the latest MacBook Pro. This approach ensures the widest reach.

The Value and Longevity of Older Devices

Over the past 30 years, we’ve accumulated many infrastructure and personal devices. This is a valuable asset. While new devices are more advanced, considering the compatibility of older devices when developing new products can extend their lifespan and avoid unnecessary waste.

The Practical Benefits of Low-Tech Solutions

Consider a train station in Niigata, Japan, which displays its departure times via a web camera focused on the station’s schedule board. This approach might seem “low-tech,” but it has numerous practical advantages:

  • Low Cost: No need for complex systems or apps; maintenance is simple and cost-effective.
  • Wide Accessibility: Even basic 2G internet and older phones can display the schedule, ensuring information is widely accessible.

Advanced Isn’t Always Better

When choosing technology for projects, practical considerations often outweigh pursuing the latest advancements. In many cases, the most successful projects are those that use the minimum viable product (MVP) approach to meet essential needs:

  • User Needs: Understand the target user’s requirements and device capabilities to select the most appropriate technology.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Evaluate the cost-benefit ratio and choose the most economically sensible technology.
  • Sustainability: Consider the long-term sustainability and maintenance costs to ensure stable, ongoing operations.


While technological advancements offer exciting possibilities, selecting the most suitable—not necessarily the most advanced—technology often yields the best results. This approach best uses existing resources and demonstrates a commitment to practicality and sustainability.

Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Last updated on Jun 23, 2024 09:54 CST
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