All you need to know about CCTV systems for your home or business
It’s been more than seventy years since CCTV or, to give it its full title, closed-circuit television was created as a means of recording rocket launches in Germany. Since then, the technology for remotely capturing the goings on at either one or a number of key points in a given location has come along in leaps and bounds.
CCTV is perhaps best known as a means of crime prevention and, where recordings have successfully caught perpetrators in the act, as a source of evidence in criminal prosecutions. The UK, in particular, is fond of using CCTV in public places as a means increasing feelings of safety in the populace by deterring criminal types through the notion that they’re ‘being watched’.
In fact, way back in 2011 it was estimated that the use of cameras for monitoring behaviour had become so prolific that there was one CCTV camera for every 14 UK citizens – though how many of those cameras are actually operational or can produce recognisable images is open to debate.
Systems of various sizes and complexities have been adopted by everyone from private citizens and businesses wanting to keep an extra eye on their properties to large industries needing to monitor areas of their plants and factories that are considered too hazardous for humans.
Whether you’re looking for an entry level set-up to get a better idea of what goes on in your back garden when the sun goes down or a more extensive collection of cameras for business security purposes, Ebuyer has your CCTV needs covered. This buying guide will take you on a tour of the technology that makes up a closed-circuit television network, as well the features to look out for when you are ready to make a purchase.
Irrespective of your surveillance needs, and whether you are a home or business user, the fundamentals of a CCTV network remain the same. First of all, you’ll need a camera. If you need oversight on several areas, you’ll obviously require multiple cameras.
The cameras need to be connected to a central monitoring system that records the visual information they collect. Traditionally, this data would be transmitted along wires to a primitive cassette recorder and recorded on tapes. However, advances in wireless technology and digital recording mean that cameras can now be positioned wherever you like with the data being beamed back to the central unit as a wireless signal and stored on a hard drive.
Alongside the cameras and recorder, there are various other accessories necessary to get your surveillance system up and running. These include the usual cables and power supplies familiar to any technology user. Depending on how you decide to purchase the components for your system, either as a package or individually, these accessories may or may not be included at the outset.
The Benefits of CCTV
Despite nefarious associations with overzealous governments in dystopian futures, there are actually a great many benefits to installing a CCTV system. These plus points can apply to private or commercial property owners, as well as a large number of third-parties, including neighbours, employees, customers and visitors.
Doors, fences, locks; there are lots of deterrents you can add to your property to help make it less appealing to criminals. Unfortunately, there’s only one which promises to catch troublemakers in the act and encourages them to take their troublemaking elsewhere, and that’s CCTV.
No one likes the idea of someone looking over their shoulder, but in a business environment where time is money and safety is paramount, an extra pair of eyes can work wonders for productivity and accident prevention. CCTV is a great way of recording examples of unsafe staff behaviour, of ensuring codes of conduct are followed and of documenting the rare occasions when customers turn nasty.
In a busy shop or store full of bustling bodies and avenues of aisles, it’s easy for shoplifters to believe their sticky-fingered pursuits are going unnoticed. The sight of a security camera, or even just a sign pointing out a system is in place, can be enough to force a shoplifter to weigh the consequences and think again.
In the unfortunate event of a home or business falling victim to an invasive or destructive criminal attack, the chances of a successful prosecution are significantly higher when backed up by CCTV footage. Firstly, the images can be used by the authorities to identify the perpetrator. Then, under the right circumstances, footage can provide a solid link between criminals and their misdeeds in court.
CCTV systems can be viewed and controlled remotely over the internet. This allows you to keep an eye on your home or workplace, whether it’s locked up tight or open for business, no matter where you are. All you need is the relevant program on your laptop or app on your smartphone and oversight of your property is only a click or tap away.
It’s a sad fact of modern life that fraudulent insurance claims are on the rise. Claims are made for everything from the slightest misstep on uneven flooring to catastrophic collisions from poorly positioned puddles. If the fault isn’t yours, one of the best ways to prove it is via CCTV.
CCTV and the Law
Buying and installing a top-end security system is one thing. Setting up a CCTV network that fully complies with the law is another.
The 1998 Data Protection Act concerning the installation and use of CCTV refers largely to businesses. If you’re a private homeowner looking to increase security around your property, you should be fine providing you adhere to one basic rule: the recording of another person’s home or garden is not permitted. This pretty much goes without saying; however, where such breaches have occurred, accusations range from harassment to voyeurism to violation of human rights.
On the other hand, if you own a business and want to install CCTV, there are a couple of points to be aware of:
- Where the CCTV captures members of the general public, you must inform them that recording is taking place. The simplest way of letting people know is to display a sign that is clear, readable, and highly visible
- You should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to notify them that you’re installing CCTV. Your message should clearly outline why you’re using security cameras
- If you’re an employer, it is your responsibility to control who has access to the recordings and ensure the system is only used for its intended purpose. If that purpose is specifically to detect crime, you should not use it to monitor staff conduct
- Requests to view recorded footage can be made by anyone and must be granted within 40 days. A charge of up to £10 can be issued for granting such a request
- If in doubt obtain legal advice when installing a commercial CCTV system
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the market for a single camera to watch your front door or a complex multi-camera system to watch over an entire worksite, it’s always good to have an idea of your needs and expectations so you can buy the right technology and be satisfied with the results. In this section, we’ll run through a useful list of important factors to consider before we delve into the finer features of security camera systems.
Working out what you need
You should start out by asking yourself: what do I need from my CCTV system? The following questions should help focus your thoughts.
What do I want to see?
Consider whether you need to monitor one specific area, such as your garage or driveway, or multiple areas, such as several aisles of expensive stock. Does the camera need to be in a fixed position or would a sweeping view be better? Are there any obstacles, such as plants, branches or other equipment, which might get in the way or create a blind spot? What will the light level be like: consistent or variable depending on the time of day?
How secure do I need to be?
It’s worth thinking about the role you envision CCTV playing in your overall security set-up. Do you see it more as a deterrent; something to let opportunists know that they’re being watched? Or has your property already fallen prey to burglary or vandalism and you aim to catch the next perpetrator in the act with a view to prosecution?
Your intended level of security will inform your buying decision. It is also worth remembering that CCTV alone will not solve serious security issues, so you should consider all other available measures and think about how CCTV will fit into the bigger picture.
How much am I able to spend?
Your budget will be a major factor in determining the quality of the final image recorded by your security system. The more you are able to spend, the higher the resolution of the camera you’ll be able to buy. If you feel your property is a likely target for break-ins or similar damage, it would be worth investing in the highest resolution camera possible to increase your chances of capturing footage which could later be used as evidence in a prosecution.
Who is going to use it?
As with all technology, the easier it is to use, the better. A system with high usability really comes into its own when instructing others in its use. Do you intend to be the sole operator of your CCTV system? If so, how competent are you with setting up, adjusting and troubleshooting new kit? If someone else will be using the system, will they be monitoring it full time or would you look to outsource this function?
How long should I record for?
Again, depending on your needs and the likelihood of you calling upon footage to verify or resolve an issue, the amount of unbroken recording time can vary. The average recording duration for a business is four weeks. At the end of this period, the footage data is usually saved, backed-up and held externally for safety purposes.
Type of CCTV camera
A quick look at the assortment of CCTV cameras on the market today shows that there is an incredible number of variations, each with its own combination of features. Here we’ll look each of these features a little more closely.
Resolution is measured in TVL (television lines). The higher the TVL value, the better the image the camera can capture. As mentioned earlier, you should always aim to buy the camera that has the highest resolution allowed by your budget.
In terms of resolution, security cameras fall into three main categories: SD, HD-SDI and HD IP. The first category is SD. It has the lowest TVL and creates standard definition images with the lowest resolution. HD-SDI produces high definition images that are around four times clearer than SD. HD IP gives the clearest picture with images that are up to two times clearer than HD-SDI.
The other main difference between these resolution types is that SD and HD-SDI deliver their images via a cabled connection, whereas HD IP transfers images via wireless signal or POE. IP cameras are now the most popular cameras used in CCTV systems.
As with any camera or similar viewing device, your CCTV camera requires a lens to focus. The size of the lens determines how wide your area of viewing coverage is, so it’s crucial that you match your lens size to your security needs. A camera with the wrong type of lens could very easily give you security footage that’s of little or no use.
Here’s a handy rule of thumb to use when looking for the right lens: less is more. The smaller a lens’ focal length (measured in millimetres), the wider the field of view (FOV). Less in the focal length gives you more in the viewing angle. A camera with a small lens, 3mm for example, will have a wide FOV but a relatively limited range in terms of distance. By contrast, a bigger 50mm lens will be able to focus on objects that are further away, but its FOV will be much narrower.
Some security cameras minimise the need for choosing between fixed near and far range lenses by including a varifocal lens. Where fixed lenses come with an ‘x’mm specification for focal distance, varifocal lenses come with an ‘x-y’mm spec to indicate their adjustable range. Varifocal lenses are, therefore, more flexible and give users greater control over image clarity.
While crime and other unpleasant incidents can occur at any time of day, criminals have a tendency to favour the post-sunset hours as there are generally fewer witnesses and the dark helps conceal their activities. If your CCTV system will be recording indoors with constant lighting, light sensitivity won’t necessarily be a high priority. If, on the other hand, you need oversight of dimly-lit grounds or out-of-the-way areas, an understanding of light sensitivity will come in handy.
Cameras generally come with one of two types of lens iris. Less sophisticated and cheaper models will often include a manual lens iris. This is set in a fixed position when the system is installed and is suitable for environments where the light level is consistent, such as offices and shopping centres. As the name suggests, an auto iris lens will open and close automatically in response to the level of ambient light. This helps to ensure a constant light level in your recorded footage.
For CCTV which will be used predominantly at night, you will likely need an infrared camera unless the recorded area is particularly well illuminated. A camera’s light sensitivity is measured in ‘Lux’. Infrared cameras can record images in complete darkness (0 Lux), whereas non-infrared cameras will have varying Lux levels. The following conditions and their approximate Lux levels will give you an idea of typical values:
- Direct sunlight = 100,000 Lux
- Indirect sunlight = 10,000 Lux
- Cloudy day = 1,000 Lux
- Dull day = 100 Lux Twilight = 10 Lux
- Full moon = 0.1 Lux
Indoor or outdoor
Security cameras can be fitted almost anywhere, but it’s important to match the right camera to the intended environment. For an office-based camera, chances are you won’t need it to be fully waterproof, although a degree of dust-proofing might be a good idea. External-use cameras will almost always encounter rain, making a level of waterproofing essential.
CCTV cameras usually come with an international protection or IP code to help you gauge suitability. The first digit of the two-digit code refers to dust-proofing; the second refers to water protection. If a camera doesn’t come with a clear IP rating, it’s best to assume it’s for indoor use only.
- Protected against a solid object greater than 50mm, such as a hand
- Protected against a solid object greater than 12.5mm, such as a finger
- Protected against a solid object greater than 2.5mm, such as wire or a tool
- Protected against a solid object greater than 1.0mm, such as wire or thin strips
- Dust-protected. Prevents ingress of dust sufficient to cause harm
- Dust tight. No ingress of dust
- Protected against dripping water
- Protected against dripping water when tilted up to 15º
- Protected against spraying water at an angle of up to 60º
- Protected against splashing water from any direction
- Protected against jets of water from any direction
- Protected against heavy seas or powerful jets of water. Prevents ingress sufficient to cause harm
- Protected against the effects of temporary immersion in water. 8. Protected against the effects of continuous immersion in water
CCTV is not a new technology; thieves and vandals are well aware of security cameras and will often seek to neutralise them before committing a crime. If you are using CCTV for surveillance over a high risk area, it might be worth investing in a camera that can offer protection against vandalism and tampering.
Most modern security cameras are metal, which immediately affords them a degree of resilience. The more secure cameras are often housed within a protective dome, allowing the camera to operate even if the exterior is assaulted. Obviously, there are very few cameras that offer total protection from tampering and vandalism, but those built to withstand such attacks could help deter those tempted to tamper and reduce the likelihood of you facing the expense and inconvenience of replacing damaged cameras.
Pan tilt and zoom
At the higher end of the security camera market are the pan, tilt and zoom or PTZ models. Cameras with this functionality can be rotated, usually around the full 360 degrees, for total coverage of an area. There is also the option to zoom, in some cases as much as 30 times, which could prove very useful in circumstances where facial recognition or number plate recognition are required.
While undoubtedly useful, there are a couple of things to consider before purchasing a PTZ camera. First, you need to make sure your digital video recorder (DVR) is compatible with the PTZ, so the two pieces of kit can successfully communicate with one another. The second consideration is around PTZ cameras usually requiring manual input. For this reason, they’re not often the recommended choice for home users. They do, however, come into their own on large sites that are constantly manned by security guards who are able to put the cameras’ movement features to work.
Type of CCTV video recorder
If the cameras are the eyes of the CCTV network, the DVR is the brain. Its job is to process and store all the visual information sent to it by the camera, and make it accessible to the system’s owner. Video recording equipment comes in three basic types: PC-based DVRs, standalone DVRs and network video recorders (NVR). As with the cameras, each type of DVR has its own strengths and ideal usage scenario.
These recorders are basically high-spec PCs built solely with CCTV recording in mind. They feature powerful components and dedicated software, and are capable of high levels of processing to cope with the demands of a multi-camera security system. One advantage of such a set-up is the ability to add additional cameras. Perhaps the biggest downside is the higher cost of such a system resulting from its high performance parts.
The preferred choice for homes and small businesses, the standalone DVR is not as rich in features as its PC-based counterpart, but is still versatile and easy to use. Consisting of a Linux-based operating system designed to just run the DVR software, standalone DVRs aren’t customisable but are usually capable of delivering key features, such as live view, camera control, and remote access.
Network Video Recorders (NVR)
If you are thinking of using IP cameras as part of a wireless security system, you’ll need a network video recorder. Designed specifically to work alongside wireless cameras, NVRs use high performing components to efficiently process data from multiple megapixel cameras at the same time.
As with standalone DVRs, NVRs are typically less expensive than PC-based DVRs, although the wireless nature of the transmitted data means there is an occasional risk of interference and signal-related performance issues.
Before choosing the right security system for you, there are other features and specifications that may or may not be right for you.
Number of channels
The number of channels supported by a DVR refers to the number of cameras which can be attached to the system. A four channel recorder, for example, can support between one and four cameras.
This refers to the number of images or frames captured by the camera per second (fps). To be considered ‘real time’, footage must be captured at 25fps. While this is the ideal, it is suggested that frame rates as low as 6fps can still be effective in capturing useful footage.
For example, if it took someone five seconds to walk past a camera recording at 6fps, the system will record at least 30 separate images of that person.
Many of the DVRs on the market today come with a motion detection feature. When activated, this feature ensures that footage is only captured when a difference occurs within the sequence of pixels being sent to the recorder i.e. when a new object enters the recording area. Some of the more advanced recorders allow ‘masking’, which allows for certain areas to be blocked out from motion detection; for example, an area containing foliage easily swayed by the wind.
Despite the plethora of charts and tables out there to help you work out how many days your security system can record for, it’s best to view any such information as an approximate guide. There are a great many variables which can influence the maximum recording time. Increasing any one of these variables, such as frame rate or resolution, will inevitably lower the recording limit. The main variables to consider are the size of the DVR’s hard drive, the number of connected cameras, the frame rate and resolution, and the motion detection settings.
Because all DVRs have a finite storage capacity, if you want to keep footage for a period longer than the system’s recording time, you’ll need to back it up. Almost all DVRs come with USB connectivity so you can move the data onto an external hard drive or, if you only require a certain segment of video, onto a pen drive. Some DVRs come with a DVD burning facility, allowing you to keep a physical copy of your recordings, while others allow network back-ups directly to a remotely connected PC.
If you intend to view your CCTV footage at a location other than where the DVR is held, you’ll need to choose a model that offers a networking or remote viewing facility. Setting up a system for remote viewing can be rather complicated, although there are lots of online resources to guide you through the set-up process. When your system is set up, networked and ready to go, you can usually download apps from your DVR’s manufacturer to enable remote viewing on smartphones and tablets.
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