15 Things To Look for When Buying a CCTV Surveillance System
By Reese Newman
CCTV camera systems have has been escalating in sales year after year. Large companies, small companies, local governments and homeowners are using CCTV systems more than ever. With the advent of the CCTV industry experiencing a large demand for their products, manufacturers have increased, and CCTV cameras are more affordable for even the average homeowner.
What Should You Look for in a CCTV Camera System?
There are hundreds of websites that offer or sell closed circuit camera or security systems. In a previous post I’ve mentioned you should do a search and consider looking at the Better Business Bureau website for a company. In this article I’ve compiled a few items you need to consider when looking for a system. Sure pricing is competitive and you want to get a great deal, but there are many other critical technicalities that are important to understand.
- System: There are four basic type of CCTV camera surveillance systems.
- Analog System: The least costly system uses video tapes which much be maintained (tapes changed every day) and offers low video quality compared to digital systems.
- PC Based DVR System: DVR cards are built inside a computer. Includes a capture board with a 4,8,16 video input. The PC Based system receive the analog signal from all the cameras, it convert the signal to digital signal and compress it with mp4 compression, and than it store the data on the hard drive for archiving and playback.
- Stand Alone DVR System: Computer based which run proprietary operating systems designed to run only one application.
- IP Network Camera System: Offers remote monitoring and Security Camera, is a system which gives users the ability to monitor and record video over an IP network (LAN/WAN/Internet).
- Number of Frames Per Second (FPS): In your system, the DVR or Digital Video Recorder usually offers a specific amount of frames per second. The minimum FPS you’ll want is 30. Nothing less. It will be easy to find more, and you may want to consider more than 30 FPS.
- Camera Resolution: Do you need clear, accurate images? The higher the camera resolution, the better quality image you’ll get. Over 480 TVL (TV lines) is a good high-resolution, though it will cost more than the lower resolution cameras.
- Monitor Resolution: Select a monitor matches the resolution of your camera. You should not “mix” resolution: High resolution camera, recorder and monitor.
- CMOS or CCD: There are two basic types of cameras. The CMOS-based cameras are less expensive but do not produce as clear and sharp image as CCD (charged coupled device) cameras.
- Black & White or Color: The old rule (always meant to be broken), if you need the security system mainly for low-light or night conditions, consider a black and white system. However, as you look for your system, you’ll see color versions are offered for low light as well.
- Lux: Lux is the measurement for light sensitivity. A sensitivity of 0.5 lux would indicate a camera can distinguish images in low light, for instance: outdoors with dim lighting. A 2 lux would indicate a camera can see fairly well by the light of a 40-watt fluorescent bulb.
- HDD Capacity: The camera has a memory for recording data. It stores the data on a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). This data gets recycled at specific times in the cycle. The higher the memory, the longer the camera will store the data.
- Motion Sensors or Thermal Sensors: Some cameras have motion sensors or thermal imaging capabilities. Thus, they begin recording when something moves or is emitting heat (such as people).
- Signal to Noise Ratio (S/N): Signal to Noise Ratio indicates how much signal or actual picture information, the camera transmits, as opposed to how much noise it is receiving. (Noise comes across as static.) A S/N of 40db indicates that the signal is 100 times the noise. This indicates an acceptable picture with some fine grain or snow. 30db would indicate a poor picture, and 60db produces an excellent picture with no static visible. Not just the camera produces noise; other components can contribute to noise as well.
- Lenses: The lenses you purchase should match the format of your camera: 1/4″ lenses work best with 1/4″ cameras. There are also types of lenses, such as fixed focal length lenses which offer only one field of view. On the flip side, there are variable focal length lenses and zoom lenses. These types of lenses allow for the field of view to change or be adjusted. With Zoom Lenses, you can zoom out to get a wider view and bigger picture, yet zoom in for detail when you spot suspicious activity. Some cameras also pan, tilt, rotate, and scan. The more features and functions the cameras have, the more costly they will be. For outdoor activity, you may want to consider an automatic iris.
- DVRs: To record and store a lot of data, you’ll need a large hard drive. An 80-gigabyte (GB) hard drive will store about 5-8 days of full-motion video from one camera. It is unlikely you’ll be storing that much full motion, as usually there is low-quantity motion. A 120 or 240 GB is a better investment. You an expand the hard drive units by adding to them.
- VCRs: The security system VCRs are by far the better choice than a homeowner VCR. Security system VCRs are made more rugged and reliable, necessary since they are used on a constant basis. Though VCRs are less expensive than DVRs, the costs for replacing and storing tapes gets expensive. Look for a security VCR that offers a decent record period without sacrificing frames per second recording. You will be able to find a VCR that records for 960 hours on a standard tape, but the FPS may not be optimal.
- Coaxial Cable or Wireless: Systems can be set up using coaxial cable or you can consider a wireless system. Large corporations, banks, casinos and such often use fiber optics. Wireless systems run into a few problems, such as interference.
- Installation, Demonstrations, References, Recommendations: check out several companies thoroughly. Ask about installation fees, a demonstration of the system, references, and recommendations based on your needs. Ask about success and failure rates of the systems and what can potentially go wrong with a system. What happens when the power goes out? How does it perform in bad weather? What the warranties for the various components?