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Updated Apr 25, 2024

How to Choose a Video Surveillance System for Your Business

Help protect your business from theft, intrusions and more.

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Security is imperative for any business. After all, how can you be profitable if you can’t protect your assets? Video surveillance systems are more intelligent and effective than ever, with cameras that offer computer-like functions such as motion sensors, remote viewing and mobile notifications. Some systems even contact law enforcement instantly with the push of a button.

Technological development has also led to more efficient methods of recording and storage. Small business owners have access to immensely powerful surveillance systems at relatively affordable prices. If you’re in the market for a video surveillance system but not sure where to start, read on for our video surveillance system buyer’s guide.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right video surveillance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

How to choose a video surveillance system

Assess your needs before you select a video surveillance system. Just because some security equipment is more expensive than others doesn’t mean it can meet your requirements.

Take the following steps when shopping around for a video surveillance system:

  1. Consider security necessities. First, evaluate exactly what you want to monitor. Are you only monitoring the front door, or do you also want in-store coverage? This process will help you determine your basic needs, such as how many cameras your system requires.
  2. Consider tech specs. How high-resolution will your video footage be with the systems you’re considering? Can you store your footage in the cloud, locally or both? Answer these questions to see whether the functionality of your potential system delivers what you need from your surveillance infrastructure.
  3. Conduct ample research. Be thorough when looking into available systems. Compare prices and look into the details of each potential vendor’s offerings to help narrow your selection. Additionally, read customer reviews on websites like Security.org for honest feedback.
  4. Try before you buy. Many companies let you test their product on a trial basis before committing. At the very least, you should be able to access a live demonstration. Getting hands-on experience is one of the best ways to ensure a surveillance system is right for your business.
  5. Compare prices and notes. Once you’ve determined which systems feel right for you, compare their prices and review your notes. The best video surveillance system for your business is the one that fits within your budget while meeting more needs than any other option. 
Did You Know?Did you know
Other physical business security equipment to consider includes keyless electronic door locks and motion-detected lighting systems.

What to consider before purchasing a video surveillance system

Here’s a quick overview of some of the most important factors to consider when deciding on a video surveillance system for your business.

Installation

If your business is small and you don’t have many areas to monitor or multiple cameras to set up, you can install your surveillance system yourself. Larger companies with multiple business locations and complicated setups should have a professional do the installation.

Pricing

Video surveillance system pricing depends on multiple factors, including the following: 

  • Business size
  • How many cameras you require
  • The storage type you want
  • How long you want to store video
  • The features you need (e.g., video analytics, motion detection)

Video surveillance systems start at around $50 per month for simple one- or two-camera systems. However, you could pay up to $5,000 for advanced systems with multiple cameras.

Type of camera

The two primary camera types in video surveillance systems are Internet Protocol (IP) and analog. Traditional analog cameras are being phased out in favor of IP cameras, which offer more features and capabilities. IP cameras are networked devices that capture images in a higher resolution; they enable automatic alerts, video analytics and other advanced functions. (We’ll go into more detail about IP vs. analog cameras later.)

Type of storage

You can choose from three types of video data storage for your video surveillance system: 

  • NVR: NVR stands for “network video recorder.” This storage type is used with IP cameras. 
  • DVR: DVR stands for “digital video recorder.” This storage type is used with analog cameras.
  • Hybrid: Hybrid systems allow you to combine analog and IP cameras.

We’ll explain more about NVR vs. DVR later in this article. 

Amount of storage

Video quality and duration determine your storage quantity needs. For example, if you plan to record and archive high-quality footage, you must allot significant storage space for your system. 

You must also determine if you’ll store the footage locally on the camera’s internal storage drive, on a hard drive or externally via cloud storage (more on this later).

Did You Know?Did you know
The best cloud backup and storage systems safeguard your online data and allow for secure data backup and recovery.

Customization

Most vendors allow a high degree of customization, which allows businesses to easily tailor video surveillance systems to their specific needs. Whether you need a widespread system to cover multiple locations or a few cameras to watch your storefront, there’s a solution for everyone.

Features

Myriad features are available for video surveillance systems, including night vision, smart motion detection and pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ). Evaluate which features your business needs and select your cameras and surveillance system accordingly. For example, if you need a system primarily to monitor your business at night, choose a system with robust night vision and 24/7 alerts.

Areas of business that need protection

It’s crucial to know exactly where you want to place your surveillance because this will determine the camera type — or types — you need. For example, if you need to keep an eye on your back door, you’ll probably want a weatherproof outdoor camera with PTZ functionality and motion alerts.

Top video surveillance system providers

As you begin your research, consider the following well-regarded video surveillance system providers. 

Protection 1 

Protection 1 is a highly ranked video surveillance system with numerous features, making it a versatile choice for any organization. The system offers 24/7 professional monitoring from its agents while also allowing you to watch over it yourself. It also provides a wide selection of storage devices for your system.

ADT

ADT is an excellent surveillance system for small businesses that want to increase security measures. It offers cameras with customization options for a range of industries, including retail, professional services, and food and beverage. The system also offers digital video recording, which allows different security officers to watch the same feed from various locations.

Blink

Amazon’s Blink is a competitively priced security system with a user-friendly interface for businesses on a budget. Blink offers both local and cloud storage options and integrates with Amazon’s Alexa and other Amazon Web Services products and platforms.

TipTip
Use Alexa skills with your Blink camera to arm or disarm the system, view motion clips, assess the system status, and more.

Tyco Integrated Security 

Tyco Integrated Security, owned by parent company Johnson Controls, gives small businesses various customizable surveillance solutions. Offerings include IP cameras with advanced features and hybrid networks supported by highly skilled engineers. Tyco also offers a wide range of camera options you can use to outfit your spaces.

Benefits of a surveillance system 

A video surveillance system brings multiple benefits for various aspects of your business. For example, while you may already use employee monitoring software, surveillance systems can help improve employee accountability and potentially reduce insurance premiums. 

Consider the following additional upsides of installing a video surveillance system:

  • A video surveillance system can protect your bottom line. Preventing theft or property damage might be the number one reason you’re in the market for a security system. High-resolution footage leaves no questions as to what took place when you see suspicious activity on screen.
  • Video surveillance systems are flexible. With the option to store recorded footage, you don’t have to worry about someone monitoring all videos around the clock. In fact, most systems will let you access footage remotely from your mobile device. This way, if you’re out of the office, you can check on your property anytime.
  • Video surveillance systems can bring unexpected insights. Security cameras may provide surprisingly helpful data on customer behavior and patterns. For instance, recorded footage might show you when you’re likely to experience a busy period.
  • Video surveillance systems bring peace of mind. Above all else, you want you and your employees to feel safe at work. The presence of cameras may deter intruders or unwanted behavior. 
Did You Know?Did you know
If you implement digital time and attendance tools to record employee work time, it's crucial to stay on top of biometric time and attendance system laws that protect employee privacy and require consent.

IP cameras vs. analog cameras 

Here’s a more in-depth look at the differences between IP and analog security cameras.

Resolution

IP cameras are more powerful than analog cameras, usually shooting footage ranging in resolution from one to 8 megapixels. That makes for incredibly clear image quality, especially compared to the grainier analog footage, which is 0.4 megapixels. IP cameras generally have a larger field of vision than analog cameras.

Video analytics 

IP cameras have additional features analog cameras don’t offer. One example is video analytics, which allows for mobile notifications and automatic recording if there’s movement within the camera’s field of vision. This feature is particularly useful when your business is closed, and someone is moving around inside the premises. You can configure the system to flag suspicious events and send notifications directly to your smartphone with recorded event footage. Some systems also offer a direct, one-touch connection to local law enforcement.

Network video recorders 

As mentioned earlier, IP cameras are compatible with NVRs, which offer several other benefits compared to the older digital video recorders. (More on NVRs below.) In short, NVR records higher-quality video and allows systems to scale up much more easily than DVR.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches 

PoE switches are an IP camera feature that both sends data from the camera and provides power. In contrast, analog cameras require a switch to run the signal from the camera and a separate power source, meaning a more complex setup and more wires. PoE switches are also generally regarded as a more secure way to transmit data. (More on PoE switches later.)

Comparable system cost

While IP cameras generally cost more than their analog counterparts, the total cost of a full IP system tends to be slightly lower than that of a comparable analog system. Since IP cameras also have a wider field of vision, an IP system can often work with fewer cameras than an analog system.

DVRs vs. NVRs

As explained earlier, security cameras require a central video recorder to transmit and archive the footage they capture. DVRs evolved from the older VCR models, while NVRs represent the next step in the evolution of video recording technology.

Here’s a look at how DVRs and NVRs compare. 

Recording resolution

DVRs generally offer what is known as D1 resolution, which is the traditional video quality used in closed-circuit television systems. D1 equates to a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels, which is considered standard resolution. 

NVRs, though, can record in 1080p, which is high definition. NVRs also offer a significant improvement in video quality over a DVR system. For comparison purposes, 1080p equates to a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. This results in a much clearer image.

Camera connections 

Connecting analog cameras to a DVR system involves plugging a BNC cable from the DVR into the camera. Connecting more cameras to the DVR system requires additional cables. DVR systems are difficult to scale up because once every BNC connection is occupied by a camera, you must purchase an entirely new DVR before adding another camera to the system. DVRs also require that the connected cameras be close to the recorder; otherwise, video quality degrades.

The NVR eliminates these problems because it is connected directly to a network. IP cameras connected to the same network, usually by way of a PoE switch, can transmit footage to the NVR. NVR systems are much easier to scale up than DVR systems because they can accept a new camera once added to the network. At most, all that would be required is an additional PoE switch.

Some IP cameras are also wireless and transmit footage to the NVR over Wi-Fi. There are no proximity limitations as long as a camera is connected to the same network as the NVR. 

However, the most significant downside to an NVR system is that not every IP camera works with every NVR. You must verify that your cameras are compatible with a given video recorder before buying them.

Hybrid video recorders

Hybrid video recorders are video surveillance systems that run IP cameras and analog cameras. The versatility of HVR systems makes them desirable; if you are upgrading an old system and don’t want to do away with your old analog cameras, for example, an HVR can help you make the transition and prepare for a full IP system in the future. 

What to look for when choosing a camera

It’s crucial to understand the following key camera aspects when purchasing a video surveillance system.

Resolution

Resolution is one of the most important considerations when selecting a camera. For sharp images, you want a camera that shoots in 720p high definition or better, which means an IP camera. If you want to guarantee that your camera will have a clear, identifiable image, don’t cut corners here.

Frame rate

Frame rate is another crucial camera aspect — the higher the frame rate, the smoother the video. Video is a series of still images stitched together to create a motion picture. The lower the frame rate, the less frequently a still is taken, which results in choppier footage. For reference, real time is typically measured as 30 frames per second. 

Models

There are many types of security cameras, including the following: 

  • Bullet cameras: Bullet cameras are the rectangular boxes you might see protruding from a wall.
  • Dome cameras: Dome cameras are often attached to a ceiling and housed in a tinted cover.
  • PTZ cameras: PTZ cameras offer remote-control capabilities to adjust the field of vision. 

Based on your security needs and where you plan to install the cameras, consider which types of cameras will provide you with the quality of footage you’d like with your system.

Indoor/outdoor

Some security cameras are made specifically for indoors and won’t stand up to Mother Nature quite as well as their outdoor counterparts. If you plan to use cameras outside, purchase weatherproof models. Otherwise, water or dirt will interfere with the clarity of your video feeds or, worse, cause the camera to malfunction. 

Lighting

Many security cameras shoot in what is known as low-light infrared (IR), enabling them to capture clear footage in dark conditions. The more IR LEDs a camera has, the better it can record crisp, clear footage at night. If capturing footage in the dark is a priority, ensure your camera has plenty of IR LEDs.

Audio

Some cameras don’t pick up audio at all, while others do. Some even enable two-way audio, so a person watching the camera on the other end can communicate with a subject in the camera’s field of vision. 

What to look for in a video recorder

Weigh the following factors when deciding on video recording capabilities.

Storage capacity

The amount of storage you need depends on several factors: 

  • The number of cameras in your system
  • Each camera’s resolution
  • The amount of archived footage you intend to store
  • How long you plan to keep recorded footage

If multiple cameras are shooting in a higher resolution, the footage will quickly eat up storage space. You can set a video recorder to overwrite the oldest footage once you reach the system’s capacity. However, if you’re not careful, the system might overwrite the archived footage you still need. 

Online tools can help you calculate how much storage space you’ll need based on your system’s details. For example, according to the Supercircuits calculator, a four-camera system that runs 24 hours a day using IP cameras, each with a 2-megapixel resolution and a frame rate of 5 frames per second, with video compressed into MJPEG files on an NVR, would require 2.79TB of storage space for footage. That’s a lot of data for a moderately sized system, so determine what kind of capacity you’ll actually need and plan accordingly. Maintain a cushion beyond that calculated number so you can store any particularly interesting footage you might need to refer back to.

Cloud storage

You can store recorded video in the cloud and on your video recorder. There are a few distinct advantages to doing this, including remote access to your videos and superior storage volume. Storing videos in the cloud also means that you’ll still have archived footage even if your hardware is damaged, stolen, or tampered with. However, ensure this won’t consume all the available bandwidth and slow down your network. The best way to use cloud storage is to either schedule uploads to the cloud or upload them after peak business hours.

Many cloud services charge a subscription fee, especially if you want to store video files in perpetuity. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your money, ask the storage company what cybersecurity measures it takes to protect your data. 

TipTip
Physical security is a necessary component of effective cybersecurity. Poor access management can lead to cyberattacks.

Camera compatibility

Not every video recorder is compatible with every camera. DVRs require analog cameras, and NVRs use IP cameras, but compatibility issues extend beyond that distinction. 

For example, some NVR systems are compatible with IP cameras only from specific manufacturers. Before you buy a video recorder, ask whether the device is compatible with the cameras you’ve purchased. If you’re working with a surveillance system integrator to configure your system, the cameras should be able to tell you the necessary information.

Compression

Compression eliminates unnecessary data from the footage transmitted to your video recorder, which saves space. Three common compression techniques used for high-definition video are MJPEG and H.264 or H.265. You can also use MPEG4, but the quality tends to be lower. Compression methods are relatively complex, and their applications depend on your needs and hardware.

PoE switches

These apply only to NVR systems, but they cut out other components necessary for a DVR system, like additional power sources and the BNC cables used to connect cameras to the DVR. When you connect a PoE switch to your network, it acts as a power source and a means of transmitting data to your NVR all in one package. The most significant consideration when choosing which type of PoE switch to buy is the number of cameras on your system. The next consideration is how likely you are to scale up.

Some NVRs have a handful of PoE ports built into them, while others do not. If you buy a PoE switch, the smaller ones start at around $40 to $50 and offer about five ports. Each port represents a data connection and a power source for one camera. If you plan to scale up and implement a very large system, some PoE switches feature as many as 48 distinct ports. These solutions are considerably more expensive, like the 48-port PoE switch from Netgear, which costs $549 on Amazon.

There are also wireless IP cameras that require little more than mounting, but those might be less secure than wired connections. If you go wireless, you must ensure the signal can’t be easily intercepted. Again, it all comes back to your particular needs and the type of system you’re trying to construct. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
When you choose a surveillance system, pay close attention to your cameras, video recorder and PoE switches.

Pros and cons of video surveillance systems

Discover the pros and cons of installing a video surveillance system at your business.

Pros

Cons

The system provides security for your staff and customers.

Video surveillance could feel invasive to employees.

Surveillance reduces workplace crime.

Workplace surveillance could instill a false sense of security that makes employees and security officers less vigilant.

A surveillance system can monitor employee behavior and prevent workplace harassment and violence.

Purchasing, installing and maintaining a video surveillance system can be expensive.

Employees tend to have a better work ethic if they know someone is watching.

The added surveillance may make employees feel as though they’re not being productive enough and become stressed to the point of workplace burnout.

TipTip
Communicate with employees when installing a new video security system. Discuss why you're installing it, what its features are and what it will be used for.

Video surveillance laws

Companies investing in surveillance systems should research and understand their state’s surveillance laws. Some states have specific laws regulating the use of video surveillance in businesses. Generally, businesses can film people in settings where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, like an office or a store floor. Businesses cannot film in places where a person has a reasonable right to privacy, like a bathroom or changing room. 

The following states enforce regulations around camera surveillance:

  1. Alabama. Hidden video surveillance is allowed in nonprivate locations only. 
  2. California. Confidential information may not be recorded. 
  3. Delaware. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance. 
  4. Florida. Hidden video surveillance is permitted in nonprivate locations only. 
  5. Georgia. Video surveillance is allowed in all locations if cameras are in plain sight and not hidden. 
  6. Hawaii. Consent is required for video surveillance. 
  7. Kansas. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance. 
  8. Maine. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance. 
  9. Michigan. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance in private locations. 
  10. Minnesota. Hidden video surveillance is allowed in nonprivate locations only. 
  11. New Hampshire. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance. 
  12. South Dakota. Consent is required for hidden camera surveillance. 
  13. Tennessee. Consent is required for surveillance in private locations.
  14. Utah. Consent is required for hidden video surveillance in private locations.

Video surveillance system FAQs

Many business owners ask the following questions about video surveillance systems:
Some video surveillance providers require contracts, and some don't. Research this factor before you make a purchase, especially if you're moving business locations in the next year or don't want to be locked into a contract.
Monitoring frequency depends on the provider and your subscription plan. Some providers include 24/7 professional monitoring with your subscription, while others require you to pay extra, and others do not offer it at all.
Security cameras can help protect your business against theft, intrusion, fire, flood or burglary, which can significantly increase your peace of mind. Depending on your business's needs, they can be expensive but are generally worth the investment.
Depending on your provider, you can pay for long-term or even infinite storage or use external storage devices if you want a long-term backup copy of your data. Many surveillance systems store footage for 14 or 30 days.
Most cameras do not need an internet connection to function. App-based devices, such as Ring, can record and locally store footage without an internet connection. Some NVR and DVR systems can also record when turned off.
Yes. Via IR LED technology, security cameras can record footage at night. This is possible even with no external light source.

Video surveillance systems keep an eye on your business 

You can’t reasonably watch every corner of your business at all times, and video surveillance systems can act as your eyes and ears to help secure your network, devices, employees and premises. Look into which systems make the most sense for your budget and security needs. You should also know your state’s laws around surveillance to ensure you’re complying. When done right, a video surveillance system can keep your business running smoothly — and safely. 

Natalie Hamingson contributed to this article. 

author image
Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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