Over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of new security products and features. This has impacted everything from surveillance cameras and recording devices to the wiring and connectors used in today’s camera systems. We have left the VCR and analog days and plunged headfirst into the digital age, complete with a whole new set of rules, opportunities and language. And as with everything else in life, about the time you think you understand it, it will change.
There are still three major components to consider with closed-caption television (CCTV) systems: cameras, storage devices and monitors. Let’s look at these components in detail as well as the differences between analog, digital and Internet protocol (IP)-type models.
We now have the ability to connect almost any video monitor to a CCTV system. This includes flat and plasma screens and LCD monitors. This is one of the best improvements in CCTV. You can have great cameras and recording devices, but if the monitor is not of the same quality, you’ll still have a system that is not up to speed.
With the cost of flat screens dropping, you can afford to have a large screen or several mid-size monitors for the same price as a conventional CCTV monitor. Most recording devices will accept VGA, S-Video and composite video output. This gives users unlimited choices. Because the monitors can be mounted on the wall, we now have more desk and counter space. Be careful, however, and invest in a quality monitor, not a low-end budget model.
The biggest improvement in cameras has been in picture quality and the ability to see in low-light conditions. With the coming of the digital technology, we have gone from 320 lines of resolution to more than 500. This gives us the same result as high-definition (HD) for our camera systems. Picture quality is markedly better than with analog cameras, even if the rest of the system is still analog.
The main difference between analog and digital cameras is the use of digital chips or imaging devices. These allow for a picture to be transmitted in digital format much like digital TV. If you are looking to upgrade your system, consider improving all your equipment. Any new installations should be done using digital equipment with no exceptions.
Many cameras also have night-vision abilities by using two technologies. The first is infrared (IR) illuminators. These are small, LED-type lights that illuminate the picture field of view, allowing the camera to see in almost total darkness. These LEDs have a soft glow and do not emit any visible light.
When looking at this technology, look at the number of LEDs and the specified range. Some cameras rate for distance farther than 50 feet, but the picture quality tends to be grainy and the image may not be useful. The other consideration for IR is they have a tendency to over illuminate reflective materials. This means items such as license plates will be too bright to be viewable. This does not mean you shouldn’t use IR illumination, just be aware of the limits.
IR technology is gaining ground, and there are now numerous low-cost IR cameras with great quality and reliability. If you lack good lighting on your site, changing your cameras to IR-type will make a big difference in what you see.
The second type of technology used for low light is digital intensifiers. This is where we really see a difference in what digital has brought to the camera side of the equation. By using digital technology, we are able to enhance the picture and boost the light the camera sees.
Cameras can see in almost total darkness. We measure the light a camera needs to see in lux. A lux of 0.27 would be a full moon on a clear night; 0.01 is a quarter moon on a clear night, and .002 is a moonless night sky. Analog cameras cannot see below about .02 and are grainy at this level. Digital IR can see at .002 but, again, at these levels, the picture is grainy. Digital-intensified cameras can see in .003 and the picture is usable.
The other advantage to intensifier technology is that in bright sunlight, like that reflected by a front door or concrete drive, the camera does not get a backwash of bright light. This is referred to as white-balance correction or backlight compensation. The camera takes into consideration the complete picture and balances it digitally. This includes lighting, distance, white balance and focus to make sure the entire picture is correct. In the event you want to zoom in or enlarge the picture, these types of cameras give you the best file with which to work.
VCRs are just like the ones you used to have before DVD and Blue Ray. They are single-channel units that use a cassette tape to record your video from a camera system in time-lapse. Simply put, this enables you to get 24 hours on an eight-hour tape. But VCRs are dead. Tapes are becoming non-existent. Just as you do not use one in your home, you should not use one for your self-storage facility. If you are, upgrade now.
Digital video recorders (DVRs) have replaced the VCR along with multiplexers, quads and switchers, allowing more flexibility and features in one unit. DVRs are computers that have a single use: managing video. They use a hard drive to capture images from cameras and store them in files. They have the ability to store more images for a longer time period than a VCR tape. This is done by setting the cameras to record only when there is motion or a change in the camera’s field of view.
Setting to record on motion eliminates hours of unwanted video. This allows us to have more storage for video files and search for an event faster. Searches are easier because events are stored in records that are date- and time-stamped. Records can be viewed, played back and copied to a CD, DVD or thumb drive for distribution. DVRs can also record and play back simultaneously, allowing for uninterrupted recording while doing searches.
Because we control the cameras and monitors through the DVR, we have the ability to view camera footage on the monitor in a variety of ways and still have the footage recorded even when it is not being displayed. Some DVRs allow for multiple monitors showing different cameras or views. This can be a useful addition to public viewing by giving your office a modern appearance.
Network video recorders (NVRs) are fast becoming the storage device of choice. They retain all the features of conventional DVRs but have several advantages. NVRs still record video at the site like a DVR, but we begin to see the IP architecture. IP cameras have an IP address, which allows them to be viewed through any Web browser. An NVR is the gateway to the cameras and storage device.
This unit is installed in much the same way as the DVR, but it’s also connected to the Internet, either directly or by connecting to the facility’s local area network. This connection now allows for remote viewing and operation. NVRs enable you to view your cameras over the Internet as well as conduct searches and save recorded files. You can bar cameras from being viewed locally and make them viewable only through the Internet via masking or password protection.
Moving to an NVR doesn’t mean you have to replace your existing cameras. You won’t get all the features or the higher picture quality if you’re not using digital cameras, but you can still use many NVR features including Internet viewing. If you’re looking at a new DVR, you might want to look ahead to an NVR, especially if you’re considering remote viewing of your camera system and moving to digital.
Network video servers (NVS) are a lot like NVRs. The main difference is the NVS connects directly to your network and has no storage device. This is a hardware device and a software product. IP cameras can connect to your network through any IP connection point you have. This gives you the ability to use your existing server and network to build your CCTV system. The best part is you don’t have to be a member of the geek squad to install it or make it work. This is all thanks to new technology and user interfaces.
The introduction of NVR and NVS technology has given us the final piece for true remote viewing—the ability to log into your camera system via any Internet connection at any time.
With remote viewing, managing the connection is only half the problem. You need a connection that will handle the demands of video streaming across the Internet. Unless you have the ability to install a T1 connection, you won’t be able to handle video streaming to more than one source at a time. In other words, only one person at a time could view the camera system. The way around this is to use a data bank, a service that allows you to have several people viewing data at the same time.
You also have the ability to view multiple sites simultaneously. This is accomplished by re-broadcasting your video through multiple T1 lines which, in turn, gives you faster video connections.
There is a bonus to using a data bank. By connecting to one, you have the ability to use offsite storage, which acts as a backup to your system and allows for storage of critical files for an unlimited time. You can also have the data bank alert you if you have video loss due to a camera outage or system problems. You’ll know within minutes if you have a problem and can contact the site or service provider for corrections. You can even review files and look at the system at the same time. This eliminates gaps in service and security.
We live in an ever-changing world, and we’ll certainly see more changes in the CCTV market. If your system was installed more than five years ago, it’s time to look at some of the new features and abilities. Consulting with a qualified distributor can be an eye-opening experience and allow you to see what you’re missing.
Chester A. Gilliam is the president of Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. in Centennial, Colo. The company specializes in self-storage security systems and has worked across the United States installing the latest technology for the past 18 years. For more information, call 303.798.5337; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.wzrdwrks.com.
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