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Video Surveillance:  Cameras & Monitoring Solutions

Video surveillance, aka Closed-Circuit Television (“CCTV”) is, at its most basic, the transmission of visual data from a camera to a monitor.  CCTV systems similar to other security system equipment, fall into two major categories: analog (“wired”) and digital (“wireless”).

Incorporating Video Surveillance into Your Home Security Strategy

In addition to the type of technology, before purchasing video surveillance equipment, you’ll want to consider 1. where the camera(s) will be placed - external cameras, for instance, should be more durable, waterproof and infrared (if they are meant to capture images in the dark) and likewise what kind of cameras will work best in the desired locations, 2. the number of cameras you’ll need to sufficiently protect and guard your assets and 3. what type of monitoring service will be used with your security system.

In analog systems, the camera sends data through a coaxial cable to an appropriate monitor (a specific made-for video surveillance monitor or a TV, which must be accompanied by a recording device, like a VCR).  In digital systems, the camera broadcasts the image directly to the monitor (a TV or computer).  TVs require DVR (digital recording devices) to save images, but most digital video cameras come with software that when installed will record images onto your PC.  DVRs are designed to capture a specific number of cameras - between 4 and 32; some sophisticated security systems like those used for corporate surveillance, use one or more cameras per each zone (up to 100s).

There are other advantages to adding cameras to your security system. Ordinary events that have been recorded are often helpful in other ways then those for which they’re primarily intended.  For instance, the footage could help you monitor when someone arrived home, how long it took the gardener to mow the lawn, or even help to find lost or misplaced items.   Cameras can be integrated into an intercom so you don’t have to answer the door without first knowing who is there.  

Types of Cameras

Dome cameras are small, relatively discrete and designed with the lens attached.  Shaped like a dome, they are typically installed indoorsand can monitor fairly large areas.  They come in digital, analog, waterproof and infrared versions.

Bullet or “lipstick” cameras are even smaller and can easily blend into surrounding environments.  They are typically easy to install and are often portable. Available in day/night and wide dynamic models, they are ideal for covert video surveillance.

Nanny cams are intended to be hidden and are used for spying on potentially unsafe conditions, people or events.  They can be planted in a stationery position, like a stuffed animal or in portable objects, like a key chain.

Box cameras are larger, “professional grade,” and can be used indoors or outside for access control.  Lenses are sold separately; some have extremely high resolution.

Infrared cameras use radiation as opposed to light, so they can pick up heat waves and form pictures in the dark.

IP cameras have self-contained processors; in fact, they are usually built in to a computer, which is then able to record, compress, store and transmit images online.

Video Monitoring Solutions

Advances in CCTV and video surveillance equipment along with the widespread availability of broadband IP technologies have made possible a range of video monitoring options.  One common form is called “video verification,” which serves as a backup to the rest of the home security system and helps determine if there has been a real breach in security that warrants intervention. With this service, a central station receives what the system deems to be suspicious clips - anything from the opening of a door to detection from a motion sensor.   These clips are available to the customer in a range of ways; depending on their chosen technology, the clips can be accessed via email, a web browser or sent to their Smartphone. Video verification monitoring can cost as little as $5 per month, in addition to your regular monitoring fees, although companies will most likely charge for multiple cameras.

Some central stations specialize in digital or web-based monitoring, even allowing their customers to co-monitor through their own internet connection or Smartphone. Dedicated Micros uses contemporary technology that doesn’t require the user to install any additional software.  Customers simply go to the website, enter a pass-code and are then able to view each of their cameras; they can even control the angle of the cameras, zoom in and save interesting clips.  There has been some criticism of the “self-monitoring” approach.  Some security professionals say that while customers initially find it to be entertaining (sitting on a beach conducting video surveillance of the home through a cell phone), the novelty soon wears off.   They recommend engaging a central station to co-monitor to keep the security levels at a consistent level.  However, if you wish to self-monitor, you could also set up additional sensors to be your second guard.