Choosing The Right Video Surveillance System

Choosing the right video surveillance system for you is important.

Do You Know What You Are Buying?

Video Surveillance SystemThere are a lot of different ready to install camera systems available on the market. Out of the box kits allow you to set up a surveillance camera anywhere on your property relatively easily without having to match different equipment.

A ready to go camera recording solution can be good, but for you to find the right surveillance kit for your application, you will need to do a little research. Ultimately a cheap kit that doesn’t do what you expect, is still a waste of money.

With the development of new technology in the surveillance industry, old technology is being economically produced and offered to consumers for a relatively low price. If you are happy with these products this is a bonus for the security conscious home owner. After all, only 5-10 years ago this could have been the best available.

I do have to stress, that many bundled kits is a reflection of what the manufacturer thinks you want, not what you think you need. For this reason I think it is important for you to assess your needs and make your own determination as to whether a kit is suitable for your needs. To do so you will need to arm yourself with some knowledge of what is being offered.

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System Details.

Up until recently analog surveillance systems were the only option for those wishing to install a security surveillance system. Today, digital and IP cameras are also available. To understand the differences and be better informed I will attempt to explain the workings, advantages and system design related to these varying technologies.

Analog Cameras.

The technology is primarily with the camera itself. The old analog camera is usually made up of a camera lens before an image sensor which provides a raw analog signal, that is then carried via coax cable to a video processor. A PC or DVR would then process and decode the signal into a digital image. The resolution has in the past been described as TVL. This stands for TV Lines and dates back to the old analog TV’s. The quality of the picture is best demonstrated with the images below.

CIF 480TVL Image

CIF 480TVL Image

960H D1 Image

960H D1 Image

1080p Digital Image

1080p Digital Image

The analog camera has no processing power, and requires a Digital Video Recorder system. This could be a stand alone dedicated DVR unit or a PC with a DVR capture card and CMS or Central Management System software. This is where the camera image is processed and transformed into a digital image ready to be recorded. It is the CMS software that is needed to time stamp the video image, process motion detection, and arrange a recording of the image.

BNC connector

BNC connector

The connection of the camera to the DVR unit is primarily via a coax cable with a BNC connector, a surveillance industry standard.

This technology is quickly being phased out within the professional industry due to the limitations in connectivity, and image resolution.

It is important to note that generally analog and digital cameras will not work together.

Digital Cameras.

The relative affordability and improvement of the cameras image sensor, like those in your phone or digital camera, has reduced the cost and improved the quality of a high definition camera. These cameras can have image sensors ranging from 0.7 megapixels up. Digital cameras come in two distinct formats, what I call a dumb digital camera and a smart digital camera.

The dumb digital camera is an improvement of the analogue camera, with a digital image processor providing a better digital image, however this style of camera still has no real video processing capability and simply outputs a digital signal to the Central Management System.

Lorex ip cameraMany of these cameras will now be called IP or network cameras. They connect to a NVR or Network Video Recorder where the storage hard drive and the CMS software resides. Essentially this provides a High Definition upgrade to the analog systems.

The smart digital camera is also an IP or network camera. These however will have the ability to record and process the image and motion detection within the camera, effectively having their own built in CMS and NVR. These digital cameras have changed into a stand alone mini video processing device. Most are able to record and sense motion within the camera. Either on a SD card or via a USB or ethernet cable to an external hard drive or network hard drive.

Many high end IP cameras give the option of WI-FI and ethernet connection to a network, enabling access to a central Network Video Recorder. Because they are directly connected to a network, they are assigned an IP address, hence the name IP camera.

Power To The Camera.

Variable DC Power SupplyAll cameras require a power source to operate the system, different techniques are employed to power the camera, one option is to provide power from a power adapter near the camera. Analog cameras are often powered via a parallel cable to the coax, otherwise known as Siamese cable, containing power and coax.

IP or digital cameras connected via ethernet cables, some are able to obtain power from the ethernet cable. The use of a Power Over Ethernet system, the ethernet cable runs through a POE switch to allow power to run through the cables to the camera.

Designing Your Surveillance System.

Start by asking yourself what you hope to achieve from your surveillance system. Follow this checklist to answer some of the solutions available.

How many cameras do you need?

  • How many access points do you wish to monitor? More cameras cost more money. If you only want to watch the driveway and the front door a 4 camera system would be enough. If you also need to cover your workshop access, garage door, back yard and inside the workshop and garage you will need a 8 camera surveillance system. If you only need to see if your dog is happy at home while you are at work, maybe a single IP camera is more suitable.

What resolution does your cameras need to be?

  • Often, people will answer this with the best available. This was not the question. If you are trying to secure your valuable belongingsĀ from thieves, you might need to be able to recognize them clearly from a distant camera in the dark.

    This is a different scenario to needing to be be able to view the children playing in their play room, to ensure they are playing safely and are happy. Do you need the camera to be capable of night vision via Infra Red image capture? What range do you require the IR night vision to be capable of?

Are you requiring the cameras to be fully weather resistant?

  • Most cameras designed for outside have a weather rating, IP66 and IP65 are the most common camera weather ratings. IP66 is fully dust protected and high pressure water resistant. IP65 is fully dust protected and low pressure water resistant. Do your homework and buy those that are suitable for you. Indoor cameras don’t require an IP66 rating, for outdoor cameras it might be a good idea.

Do you need to view your camera vision remotely?

  • For some it is a requirement for the camera footage to be able to be viewed from a remote location. Most internet connected camera systems have the ability to notify via email if an unusual motion detection is encountered. You might then wish to monitor your surveillance footage away from home.

    When you are notified of an activity you are then able to log in and investigate. Even though you are not there to action the event, you might be able to contact someone nearby or the authorities for assistance. Either way, it can be a level of piece of mind.

Do you have a need to record events?

  • Many of the multi-camera systems on the market have been bundled with a DVR or NVR recorder. Do you really have a need to record the events around your home? If the answer is yes, because you want proof of an event or a history of events anew question becomes even more important. How long do you need to keep it before you review the footage and back up what needs to be kept?

    This is important since the recording medium will need to be able to store all your video footage for at least that much time. The higher the resolution of the image recorded the more disc space is taken up. For example look at this table to see what Seagate Recommend. Essentially if you were recording at a relatively low resolution of 704×480 at only 10 frames per second a 1 Terabyte hard drive would be able to save 86 days of footage from one camera. At more near real time streaming, 30 frames per second and a higher resolution of 1280×1024 a 1 terabyte hard drive would only hold 8 days of surveillance from one camera. At that rate a 4 camera system would fill a 1 Terabyte hard drive in 2 days!!

    Software within these systems are able to be set to only record if motion is detected, thus improving the record capability of the hard drive. But it is important to not take this step lightly. If set up properly, the hard drive might record over the prerecorded footage every week or every month, but you need to be aware of the limitations of your device. A 8 camera system with a 1 Terabyte hard drive sounds adequate, but you might need a 4 terabyte hard drive after you worked it out! Beware, this is often overlooked.

How much cabling do you need?

  • Measure out the distance from the location of the recording device or central device, to each camera position. Include a vertical measurement. Match this with your optimal kit’s provided cables. Do you need more cabling to complete your set up.

Are there any extra equipment you will need to complete you surveillance system?

  • Have you determined if you have enough internet bandwidth upstream to deliver an adequate image stream? Are there enough power outlets to adequately power your system, do you need to protect the power supply so that you don’t fry the system with a power spike or lose surveillance when the power is cut? Have you factored in the focal length of the lens to adequately view your image?

This might seem like a lot to consider for a security system. All of these recommendations and tips are relative to the application of your surveillance system. It is more important now, before you invest in a system, to ensure that you are informed when you buy a camera surveillance system. To avoid disappointment, knowledge is key.

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