While the security industry has gone through a major technological revolution over the past couple of years, there are a few main areas where the improvement has been drastic. Those are the evolution of day/night cameras, wireless signal transmission, and what has been the biggest revolution in the CCTV industry in some time, the advent of digital recording.
In the past, an organization would have to first decide its No. 1 priority when deciding on a security system. Was it more interested in obtaining the additional detail color cameras provide (as long as there was enough light), or the increased visibility a black-and-white camera would provide in low-light situations? That decision is one that no longer needs to be made thanks to the advent of the day/night camera.
In its simplest form, a day/night camera is actually two cameras in one chassis. When enough light is available, it produces high- quality color images that provide crisp detail for the viewer. However, when the amount of available light drops below a certain level (usually preset by the manufacturer, but in some cases, selectable by the consumer), the circuitry in the camera switches to a black- and-white signal, allowing for continuous surveillance in almost any lighting condition.
Wireless Signal Transmission
Expensive, cumbersome and unreliable were once accurate descriptions when talking about wireless systems. Today, these adjectives are being replaced with cost-effective, powerful and inconspicuous.
Wireless systems have changed dramatically in the recent past. Now, many people consider them a viable alternative where hard-wired (coaxial cable) systems may not be an option. Wireless systems offer multiple channels--in some cases, up to 10--and a wide range of transmission spectrums, from 900 MHz to 5.4 GHz. This virtually ensures a clean signal when working with a direct line of sight. They have also become quite cost-effective when faced with laying long runs of conduit or having to trench an existing facility.
While wireless technology has come a long way from its earliest forms, a word of caution is still in order. Just because you have an effective wireless system when it is first installed, outside influences still have a chance of causing problems down the road. This is due to the increased use of wireless and cellular technology in the consumer market.
For example, most wireless phones in use today operate on a 900-MHz cycle. However, as people replace their current wireless phones with new ones, they are purchasing systems that run on 2.4-GHz cycles, which is where most wireless CCTV systems operate. Also, cellular towers are popping up everywhere it seems, and while they might not be running directly on 2.4 GHz, they are still throwing off signals that can cause interference with your wireless system.
Phone-Line Video Transmission
Until recently, the only way to see what was going on at a facility at any given time was to actually be at the site. This would lead to a lot of windshield time if a person had multiple sites to manage. Now imagine being able to call up a site at any time, from any location, and viewing what is going on at that very instant.
What used to be a fantasy has become reality. With the advent of phone-line transmission systems, a property owner or regional manager can call up a specific facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and see what is going on. Some of these systems are even powerful enough to allow the individual to turn lights on and off, sound alarms, and open and close gates. These systems also have the ability to call a pager, telephone or remote computer if an alarm is triggered. This is an excellent add-on piece to an existing system that can provide peace of mind to those who aren't always at their sites.
Now we get to one of the largest innovations in the CCTV industry in many, many years: digital recording. In the past, if a company needed to maintain any type of archived library of surveillance recording, it had to switch tapes on a daily basis. This meant staff had to come in every day to switch the tapes or they would record over the previous day's events.
Also, if they wanted to review a tape, they had to use the existing system or buy an identical head-end system. If they used the existing system, they could not record simultaneously. If they bought an additional system for reviewing purposes, they had to assume the additional cost. Consider also that the VCR would need regular maintenance, such as head cleaning and the eventual replacement of all moving parts. Don't forget the quality of the video degraded every time you copied the tape or reviewed it. In the end, a VCR system was a high-maintenance recording medium.
Welcome to the digital age. With the systems available, a person can record a tremendous amount of information on a hard drive--in some cases, upward from 30 days worth of data for 16 cameras. A person can also be recording all his cameras simultaneously while reviewing the past day's events.
Most digital systems also allow the user to gain access to the system remotely via the Internet, a modem-to-modem connection or a LAN/WAN (local or wide area network). This type of access offers many of the same advantages of phone-line transmission, but with additional features such as the ability to view live or recorded video.
Searching for a file is also much easier on a digital system. In the past, a user would have to spend hours going through tapes (provided he was looking at the right day). However, digital recorders allow users to search from such criteria as time, date, alarm event, camera, etc. Digital recording has truly revolutionized the CCTV industry, and it is believed by many that digital recording will eliminate traditional analog recording systems very soon.
As with any new technology, a word of caution is necessary. There are many digital systems available, and it is very easy to choose one that does not fit your needs either because it is too powerful--in which case you are paying for features you will never use--or it is not powerful enough, which means you will have to pay for a new system shortly. A digital system is a major decision, one that should be properly researched. Make sure you deal with a supplier that will be there to support you and guide you to the proper system.
As you can see, the CCTV industry has come a very long way in a short period of time. The new cameras combined with the new transmission and recording mediums available can make purchasing a surveillance system confusing if not overwhelming. Relax; anything you decide to buy will be better than anything you purchased two years ago. You just can't go wrong at this time. However, use caution. Do your research and buy from a company with a good reputation that will be there to support you as you venture into the hi-tech world of CCTV.
Jon Mitchell is the marketing director for Crest Electronics Inc., which manufactures a complete line of video-security products, including cameras, monitors, digital-video recorders, lenses, and all other video-security products and accessories. For more information, call 800.50.CREST or visit www.crestelectronics.com.