Here is everything you need to know before purchasing a video surveillance system.
- Video surveillance can protect your business from theft, intrusion, fire, flood or burglary.
- Before you evaluate systems, think about what types of cameras you want, what type of storage you need and the areas of your business that need protecting.
- The two main types of surveillance cameras are internet protocol (IP) and analog.
- This article is for small business owners considering purchasing a video surveillance system who want to know what type of system they should purchase and how much they can expect to spend.
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. Cameras now offer computer-like functions and features, like motion sensors and automatic mobile notifications. Some systems automatically contact law enforcement instantly.
Technological development has also led to more efficient ways of managing recording and storage, as well. Small business owners have access to immensely powerful surveillance systems at relatively affordable prices.
Most vendors allow for a large degree of customization, meaning you can tailor a system to your business's specific needs. Whether you need a widespread system that can cover multiple locations or a few cameras to watch your storefront, there's a solution for everyone. Not sure where to start? Here's our 2021 video surveillance 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.
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What to consider before purchasing a video surveillance system
There are several factors you should consider before deciding on a video surveillance system for your business. These include:
If your business is small and you don't have many areas to surveil or several different cameras to set up, you can install it yourself. Larger businesses with multiple locations and complicated setups should have a professional do the installation.
Pricing also is dependent on the size of your business and how many cameras you require, as well as the type of storage you want, how long you want to store video, and the types of features you want, like video analytics or motion detection. Generally, video surveillance systems start around $50 per month for simple one or two-camera systems, and can go up to $5,000 for advanced systems with many cameras.
Type of Camera
There are two main types of cameras for video surveillance systems: internet protocol (IP) and analog. Analog cameras are what has traditionally been used. They are being phased out in favor of IP cameras, which offer more features and capabilities than analog cameras. IP cameras are networked devices that capture images in a higher resolution and also enable automatic alerts, video analytics and more.
Type of Storage
There are three types of video data storage to choose from for your video surveillance system: NVR, DVR and hybrid. DVR stands for digital video recorder, and these systems use analog cameras. NVR stands for network video recorder and is used with IP cameras. Hybrid systems allow you to combine analog and IP cameras.
What Features You Need
There are a plethora of features available from video surveillance systems, from night vision to smart motion detection to 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, the system with strong night vision capabilities and 24/7 alerts.
Which Areas of Your Business Need Protection
Because this will determine the type(s) of camera you get, it's important to know exactly where you want to place your surveillance. 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.
Key takeaway: There are several factors to consider when purchasing a video surveillance system, including camera type, storage type, features and pricing.
Benefits of a Surveillance System
Not only can surveillance cameras deter criminals and help law enforcement quickly catch any would-be thieves, but these systems can also improve accountability among your employees, it helps you monitor productivity, and may reduce your insurance premiums. While the upfront costs of installing a video surveillance system can seem steep, the long-term payoff and the peace of mind may well be worth the expense.
IP Cameras vs. Analog Cameras
There are two primary types of cameras that can be wired into a video surveillance system: IP cameras and the traditional analog cameras. IP cameras are the more modern iteration of analog cameras, and while the individual cameras tend to be more expensive, they offer many features that analog cameras do not.
Here's a look at the differences between the two types of cameras.
IP cameras are more powerful than analog cameras, usually shooting footage ranging in resolution between 1 megapixel and 5 megapixels. That makes for incredibly clear image quality, especially compared to the grainier analog footage, which is one half of a megapixel. IP cameras generally have a larger field of vision than analog cameras as well.
IP cameras have additional features that analog cameras don't offer. One example of this is video analytics, which allow for mobile notifications and automatic recording if there is movement within the camera's field of vision. This is particularly useful for times when your business is closed, and you want to know if someone is moving around inside the premises. You can configure the system to flag events like this and send notifications directly to your smartphone, along with recorded footage of the event. Some systems also offer a direct, one-touch connection to local law enforcement.
Network Video Recorders
IP cameras are compatible with NVRs, which offer several other benefits compared to the older digital video recorders, which we explain in more detail below. In short, NVR records higher-quality video and allows for systems to be scaled up much more easily than can be done with DVR.
IP cameras can also be connected to what is known as a "power over Ethernet" (PoE) switch, which both sends data from the camera and provides power to it. Analog cameras, on the other hand, require a switch to run the signal from the camera, as well as 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.
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 have a wider field of vision, as well, an IP system can often work with fewer cameras than an analog system.
Did you know? IP cameras offer better resolution and advanced features like automatic alerts and video analytics.
Digital Video Recorders vs. Network Video Recorders
All security cameras in a given system require a central video recorder to transmit and archive the footage they are capturing. DVRs evolved from the older VCR models, while NVRs represent the next step in the evolution of video recording technology.
Here's a side-by-side look at how DVRs and NVRs compare.
Resolution of Recordings
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.
Connecting analog cameras with 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 need to 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 that are connected to the same network, usually by way of a PoE switch, are then able to transmit footage to the NVR. Systems based around an NVR are much easier to scale up than DVR systems, simply because they can accept a new camera once it is added to the network. In the worst case, all that would be required is an additional PoE switch.
Some IP cameras are also wireless and can transmit footage to the NVR over Wi-Fi. There are no proximity limitations so long as a camera is connected to the same network as the NVR. The largest downside to an NVR system, however, is that not every IP camera works with every NVR. So, you need to verify that your cameras are compatible with a given video recorder before buying them.
Hybrid Video Recorders
Hybrid video recorders (HVR) are video surveillance systems that run both IP cameras and analog cameras. The versatility of HVR systems makes them desirable; if you're 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 fully IP system in the future.
What to Look for When Choosing a System
Resolution: This is one of the most important considerations when selecting a camera. For sharp images, you want a camera that shoots at least in 720p high definition, which means an IP camera. If you want to guarantee that your camera will have a clear, identifiable image, you don't want to cut corners here.
Frame rate: This is another key aspect of a camera: 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; this results in choppier footage. You want to consider the frame rate. For reference, real time is typically measured as 30 frames per second.
Models: There are many different types of security cameras out there. Some of the more common ones are bullet cameras, which are the rectangular boxes you might see protruding from a wall; dome cameras, which are often attached to a ceiling and housed in a tinted cover; and PTZ cameras, which offer remote-control capabilities to adjust the field of vision. Depending 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 the indoors and won't stand up to Mother Nature quite as well as their outdoor counterparts. If you plan to use cameras outside, make sure you purchase weatherproof models. Otherwise, water or dirt interferes with the clarity of your video feeds or, worse, causes the camera to malfunction. Look into the level of protection from natural conditions your security camera offers.
Lighting: Many security cameras shoot in what is known as low-light infrared, enabling them to capture clear footage in dark conditions. The more IR LEDs that a camera has, the better able it is to record crisp, clear footage at night. If capturing footage in the dark is a priority, make sure 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.
The Video Recorder
Storage capacity: For video recorders, storage is a key element you need to be informed about. How much storage is best for you hinges on the number of cameras in your system, each camera's resolution, the amount of archived footage you intend to store and 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, but if you're not careful, the system might overwrite archived footage that you still need. There are online tools that can help you calculate how much storage space you'll need based on the details of your system. For example, 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 fps, with video compressed into MJPEG files on a NVR, would require 2.79 terabytes of storage space for footage, according to the Supercircuits calculator. That's quite a bit of data for a moderately size system, so it's important to plan accordingly and know what kind of capacity you'll really need. You also want to maintain a bit of a cushion beyond that calculated number so you can store any particularly interesting footage you might need to refer back to.
Cloud storage: Recorded video can be stored in the cloud in addition to on your video recorder. There are a few distinct advantages to doing this, including having remote access to your videos and superior storage volume. However, you want to ensure that this is done in a manner that won't eat up all the available bandwidth and slow down your network. The best way to do this is to either schedule uploads to the cloud or upload them after peak business hours. In addition, many cloud services charge a subscription fee to use their offerings, especially to store video files in perpetuity. Ask the company what cybersecurity measures they take to ensure your data is protected. On the plus side, storing videos in the cloud means that even if your hardware is damaged, stolen, or tampered with, you still have archived footage.
Camera compatibility: Not every video recorder is compatible with every camera. DVRs require analog cameras, and NVRs use IP cameras, but the compatibility question extends well beyond that distinction. Some NVR systems, for example, are compatible with the IP cameras only from certain manufacturers and not others. When buying 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, thereby saving space. Two of the more common compression techniques used for high-definition video are MJPEG and H.264. You can also use MPEG4, but the quality tends to be lower than that of MPEG4's aforementioned counterparts. Compression methods are relatively complex and vary in their applications depending on your needs and hardware. Security Info Watch has created a handy primer on compression technology.
Power-over-Ethernet switches apply only to NVR systems, but they cut out other components that would be necessary for a DVR system, like additional power sources and the BNC cables used to connect cameras to the DVR. Instead, when you connect a PoE switch to your network, you've got a power source and a means of transmitting data to your NVR all in one package. The biggest consideration when choosing which type of PoE switch to buy is the number of cameras that will be on your system. The next consideration is how likely you are to scale up in the future.
Some NVRs have a handful of PoE ports built into them, while others will not. If you need to 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, there are PoE switches that feature as many as 48 distinct ports. These solutions are vastly more expensive, like this one from Netgear, which costs $800 on Amazon.
There are also wireless IP cameras available that require little more than mounting, but those might be less secure than wired connections. If you choose wireless, you'll need to make sure 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.
Tip: When choosing a system, pay close attention to your cameras, your video recorder and your PoE switches.
Video surveillance system FAQs
Many business owners ask these questions about video surveillance systems:
Do business security cameras require contracts?
Some video surveillance providers require contracts, and some won't. This is an important factor to research before you make your decision, especially if you move business locations in the next year or if you don't want to be locked into a contract.
How often are security cameras monitored?
This also depends on the provider, or the plan you are subscribed to. Some providers offer 24/7 professional monitoring with your subscription, while others require you to pay extra for it, and others do not offer it at all.
What are the pros and cons of security cameras?
Security cameras can help protect your business against things like theft, intrusion, fire, flood or burglary and significantly increase your peace of mind. They can be expensive, depending on your business's needs, but generally are worth the investment.
How long does footage stay on security cameras?
You can pay for long-term or even infinite storage, depending on your provider, or you can use external storage devices if you want to have a long-term backup copy of your data. Many surveillance systems store footage for 14 or 30 days.
Additional reporting by Kiely Kuligowski.
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.