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How to Pick a Surveillance System

How to Pick a Surveillance System

Original Post - December 10, 2020

Picking a surveillance system can be tricky. Here are a few things to consider: Digital versus Analog A digital system (IP based) is one that uses ethernet cables and other network infrastructure to stream video as well as power the camera. This is a great option because the same network infrastructure that connects computers and other devices together can be leveraged. Analog systems use coax cable (TV cable) to send live video back to the controller (DVR - Digital Video Recorder). The camera is powered via a separate 12v line that is extended from a power supply. My pick: Digital. It offers more flexibility in its installation and use. Analog systems are a thing of the past, but can still be used if a requirement. Wired vs Wireless (This question assumes that the system is digital. There is no wireless analog surveillance system.) A wired system means the surveillance system uses wired network infrastructure for communication. A wireless system utilizes radio waves for transmission. Wired communications are conducted in full duplex, meaning that both sides of a conversation can send and receive at the same times. Conversely, wireless communications are conducted in half duplex, meaning that either side of a conversation can only send or receive at any one time. My pick: Wired. Wired systems are more stable and in my experience have better longevity. Proprietary Hardware vs Open Standard Hardware A proprietary surveillance system makes cameras that only work with its proprietary NVR (Network Video Recorder). While a proprietary surveillance system tends to limit the hardware choices for future maintenance or replacement, the technical support of these systems is often better and more streamlined than open standard systems. Systems that support open standards (ONVIF) offer a user to mix and match different brands of cameras and recorders. The benefit of this feature is that the surveillance system owner isn’t locked into any one brand of camera or NVR. My Pick: Open Standard Hardware. They can be a bit trickier to configure, but the benefit of not being locked into any one brand is a big deal. Stationary Cameras vs PTZ Cameras Stationary cameras are fixed in place and can’t be moved remotely. Conversely, PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) cameras are not stationary and can be moved remotely by a controller or phone app. Both types of cameras have their uses. Surveillance owners who prefer better coverage and past event playback often opt for stationary cameras. Surveillance owners who favor a livestream of current events and discount playback of past events tend to select PTZ cameras.


A surveillance owner who wants to protect his/her home from break ins will often choose stationary cameras for their stability and cost effectiveness. A surveillance owner who is calving cows in a feedlot will more likely choose a PTZ camera for their flexibility and coverage. My Pick. PTZ. They cost more, but they are easy to move and change without needing a ladder. Solar Powered/Battery (Wireless) vs Power over Ethernet (Wired) Solar powered and/or battery cameras are relatively new at the time of this writing. Arlo, Wyze, Blink etc all make a simple camera that is powered by AA or AAA batteries. Solar battery cameras utilize a small solar panel and LiPo (Lithium Ion) batteries to power the camera. Most cameras of the solar variety are proprietary, meaning they only work with the hardwares brand of local storage (NVR) or cloud storage. Both types utilize wireless communications to connect to the local network or internet. Power over Ethernet cameras are simply digital wired cameras that leverage a feature, Power over Ethernet, to power the camera. This power comes from the network switch (or power injector) and is supplied via the same cable that the camera sends the livestream data. My pick: Power over Ethernet. They are stable, trialed, and proven.

Other Considerations:

Apps Buy a system that has both an iphone version and android version. Make sure both versions have the same features and functionalities. This is a gotcha that many will stub their toe on. Fees and Licensing Check if the system requires licensing or storage fees. Many battery, cloud, and solar cameras require a monthly storage fee for access to previously recorded events. Ease of Use Check if the system (and app) is easy to navigate and use. Attempt to download and send a video clip to someone else. Is this process easy to complete or ridiculously complicated? Cost vs Quality vs Longevity Check on the price of the system versus its average longevity. Off the shelf systems from big box stores are VERY cost efficient, but rarely last longer than a year.

Resolution 1080 is the resolution at which most movies are streamed by Netflix. This equates to a 2 MegaPixel (MP) camera. A 4MP camera has twice the resolution as a 2MP camera, meaning higher definition, clarity, etc. The same goes for an 8MP system vs 4MP system. 8MP equates to the resolution that a 4K TV uses. Do you have a 4K TV? Do you have a screen that is capable of viewing a 4K video? Many phones have this capability, however many computers and TV’s do not.

Storage More is always better. No one can give you an exact amount on how long your hard drive storage will last. If they do, become suspicious. As technicians, we can give you a good estimate, but hard timelines and exact measurements are nearly impossible to estimate as we won’t know if your system will be used heavily (tons of motion recordings + high resolution) or minimally (low motion recordings + low resolution).

My Ideal System (FYI, I haven’t found it yet) A wired, ONVIF supported system utilizing POE PTZ cameras with a very sleek, easily navigable Android/IOS app. Again, I haven't found it yet.


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