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CCTV (Video Surveillance)

From a single camera and monitor to complex video surveillance systems with hundreds of cameras, multiple operators, and digital recorders, Alert1One installs closed circuit television (CCTV) systems that can provide security for a wide range of businesses.

A good video surveillance system can make your business safer, more efficient, and less prone to theft and accidents.

Specifically, video surveillance can provide many benefits:

  • reduce shrinkage by catching shoplifters
  • deter potential thieves
  • monitor cash registers
  • record evidence to prevent bogus accident claims
  • identify visitors and employees
  • monitor hazardous work areas
  • increase security in and around business premises and parking lots
  • meet insurance requirements

The most basic CCTV setup Alert1One provides would be a single camera connected directly to a monitor and a recorder to store the video. While a setup like this could help security in some cases, it is unlikely to be enough for most businesses. Most situations call for multiple cameras. In some cases, you may even want a moveable camera to cover a large area. Before starting to compare systems, sit down with an Alert1One specialist and consider your CCTV needs carefully.

First, we will help you consider what you want to monitor: General comings and goings? Vehicles? Do you want to see faces, merchandise, crowds? Once you decide what you want to see, choosing CCTV components becomes easier.

Next, we can assist you in determining what picture quality you will need. Quality can refer to both how detailed the image is and how fast the frame rate is. Frame rate is simply a measure of how many individual pictures make up the video. "Full motion," what you see on television and on VHS tapes, is 30 frames per second, or fps. Most often, CCTV systems record at slower rates, which result in more "jerky" looking images, but it saves tape or hard drive space, allowing longer periods of time to be recorded.

Finally, Alert1ONe will help you consider how your CCTV system will be monitored. Will you simply record at all times, and only review the tape when a problem occurs? Or will you have a dedicated employee watching for trouble? Also, with multiple cameras, you have the option of connecting each one to its own monitor, or combining multiple images onto one monitor.

One last thing to think about is whether your priority is to deter potential crimes or to catch perpetrators. Both can be important, but your priority will influence your purchasing decisions. If you are more interested in deterring certain activities, large, visible cameras are your best bet. Trying to catch criminals on tape without them being aware of it requires hidden cameras, which cost more both for hardware and for installation. If your monitoring target is internal, you run the added cost of having to hide and secure the recorder and monitor as well.

CCTV Equipment

There are many technical terms and specifications come up when discussing surveillance cameras as part of a CCTV system.

Cameras. The basic technology behind most surveillance cameras is the Charge Coupled Device (CCD). CCDs convert the images that come through the camera's lens into electronic impulses. CCDs provide a good combination of low price and quality picture for security applications.

Camera formats are measured in inches. Most surveillance cameras fall between 1/4" and 1". This refers to the usable image size created inside the camera. For most security use, a small size is fine...1/4" or 1/3" cameras dominate CCTV sales. Larger formats do not necessarily result in better images, but can be advantageous in dimly lit situations, since they are able to gather more light.

Many newer surveillance cameras use digital signal processing (DSP) to convert the analog video stream to digital information, improving picture quality and adding functionality. The DSP circuit in a camera can have a very large effect on the quality of the images.

Cable. The most common way to connect a CCTV camera to the rest of the systme is standard coaxial cable, the same cable used to connect video equipment in your home. Alert1One use unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables, like the CAT5 cable used in many computer networks, because they can reduce interference caused by electrical currents. A simple switching device called a balun can be used to connect coaxial lines to UTP, so you can combine both in a single system. UTP is cheaper than coaxial cable, so for very long runs, this may be an advantage.

Casinos or banks with complex systems consisting of many CCTV surveillance cameras may want to upgrade to fiber optic connections. With this setup, bandwidth is considerably greater, allowing many signals to be carried on the same wire. In addition, security is improved because tapping a fiber optic line is very difficult to do without disrupting the signal.

Wireless Connection. In most cases, wireless connections are not recommended for video surveillance systems. While wireless technology has taken off in recent years, it simply has not reached the level of reliability that CCTV users demand. The frequencies they use are subject to interference from cordless telephones, air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, and almost anything with an electric motor. Users will have to expect interference, usually resulting in a snowy picture. In addition, CCTV surveillance cameras need electrical power, so you will have to run one wire to the camera even if the video connection is wireless.

There are situations where wireless is the way to go. For example, connecting across a public street, where digging a trench is not a practical solution. Wireless systems are also better suited for rural areas, where there are fewer potential sources of interference. In these cases, wireless transmitters can make expensive or potentially impossible installations feasible.

Installation of wireless systems requires specific expertise to diagnose problems and fine-tune the setup, and Alert1One is experienced with wireless setups if you choose to go this route.

Monitors. Selecting a monitor for your surveillance system is a relatively minor decision, but there are a couple of important points to keep in mind.

First, make sure to purchase a monitor specially to handle the type of use it will receive. Televisions are not good monitors, since TVs are built to be on for a few hours per day, not the 8 to 24 hours per day they will endure. In some cases, computer monitors do make acceptable substitutes. Flat-panel LCD screens make great surveillance system monitors because they take up little space, have excellent resolution, and generate less heat than regular monitors.

As discussed earlier, make sure your monitor resolution matches your camera resolution. If you buy a monitor with lower resolution, your camera's capabilities will not come through. If you buy one with higher resolution, then you are throwing money away. Also, make sure you buy color monitors if you opt for color cameras as part of your surveillance system.

You also should consider the size. A 9" monitor may be sufficient if the operator is sitting directly in front of it, but a 15" monitor is the smallest you should choose if you plan to combine images from multiple cameras onto one monitor. Merging multiple images onto one screen can be an effective way to save space, and appropriate if there is a dedicated employee who has the ability to zoom in on suspicious activity.

DVR Recorders. Recording is essential to the effectiveness of any video security system. Without recording, you need to have an employee watching a monitor at all times, which isn't a cost-effective solution. And even if you spot suspicious activity, without a recording, you have nothing to use in court.

Almost all video security systems include some sort of recorder to store the images the cameras capture. Only a few years ago, the universal solution was the familiar VCR. However, the introduction of digital video recorders (DVRs), which record onto hard drives instead of tape, has dramatically changed the situation.

DVRs offer so many advantages over VCRs that they have rapidly taken over as the CCTV recording solution of choice:

  • Ease of locating events- Instead of fast-forwarding through hours of tape, DVRs can instantly retrieve images from any specific time or date, or automatically skip to the point on a recording when something changed.
  • Storage quality- Like all tapes, video cassettes start deteriorating almost immediately once you record on them - and the problem gets worse every time you reuse them. DVR recordings have no degradation at all since they are stored onto a hard drive.
  • Multitasking- While analog VCRs can either record or play, most DVRs can do both at the same time, letting you review images while still recording.
  • Smart monitoring- The DVR can be set to take one picture per second or less - just enough to create a running record. However when it detects motion, it can automatically bump the recording speed up to full (30 frames per second), getting every detail of the unauthorized activity.

For businesses that do not want to constantly change tapes, DVRs are definitely the way to go. While security VCRs usually offer a time-lapse mode that lets them record for long periods of time, the resulting images are not a good record of events. They record only one snapshot every eight seconds. To get higher quality, you need to change tapes every day or more often. However, DVRs can record for weeks or even months.

DVRs are considerably more expensive than VCRs, which is their only major drawback. But DVR prices have fallen considerably over the last few years and will continue to do so. Already, low-end DVRs and high-end VCRs have similar price ranges, and most manufacturers have stopped introducing new VCR models. Despite the increased cost, Alert1One recommends video security system buyers purchase a DVR whenever possible.

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