“May you live in interesting times.”
–believed to be an ancient Chinese curse
We already do live in interesting times. In fact, they are so interesting that our governments want to know everything there is about us. We are apparently under siege. The word ‘terrorist’ has disturbingly become a part of our day to day vocabulary. While the safety and security of the citizens and the country’s national interests were always of the paramount importance, these notions are doing crazy rounds of the media today.
Surveillance technology is weirdly caught up in this mix. On the one hand it represents the power government-run organizations have on our lives, and on the other it has evolved to the extent where a common citizen can place their complete faith in it as a means to protect their family and property.
For the cynical among us a security camera is a threat; for most of us though it is a very practical solution to our worries about whether our homes, businesses, and loved ones are safe or not. It is very empowering not to have to rely on authorities alone to come to our rescue in the event of a break-in, and also be able to do something about it ourselves.
CCTV cameras are here to stay and grow. We take a detailed look in this post at the nature of the beast as well as its usefulness as it pertains to us in our day-to-day life.
What is CCTV technology & where does it come from?
A closed circuit television system (CCTV) is simply a system comprising a set of cameras, a monitor, and a video recorder. Cameras are placed in locations from where the activity in a targeted area can be monitored. The system enables the cameras to broadcast the feed to the monitors that are put up elsewhere. Together they form a close circuit and can only be accessed by those who have the rights to it.
How did it all begin?
The first use of the rudimentary form of this system is documented back to the days of World War II, specifically to the German military of the time, which used it to “monitor the launch of V2 rockets”. The surveillance technology featured black and white camera and monitor systems, designed by a German engineer and backed by Siemens AG. Around the same time the US military also started using this technology “when developing and testing atomic weapons, as this allowed them to observe the tests from a safe distance.”
The technology was made available commercially in the US in 1949. From that point on there has been no looking back as it has kept on evolving. Being able to observe others from a distance and keep tabs on them has many uses, as we have found out over the years. The success of the technology at the time and the sheer usefulness of it led to it being used in a variety of establishments, and eventually beyond military and government sites, crime prevention, and traffic monitoring.
The CCTV technology is now ubiquitous, though its potential still hasn’t been fully realized. You will be hard pressed to find any commercial establishment (that takes itself seriously) without a CCTV system in operation on its premises.
Within the commercial and private property set-up, prevention of crime is the primary goal of the use of the CCTV technology. While some reports have expressed doubts about the preventive capabilities of the CCTV systems, there is no doubt that a widespread use of this technology has led to a rise in the number of criminals nabbed.
Why is the CCTV technology so popular?
It’s a long story, but we will take a shot.
It’s just that good…
The CCTV technology has come a long way from its origins in the 1940’s. Back then it was a simple system containing low-resolution cameras that were connected by coaxial cables to black and white monitors. Each camera was connected to one monitor by this cable, which effectively resulted in one monitor per camera. This system was used to monitor in real time the development, installation, and launch of military equipment.
We were still decades away from technology that would let us record, store, or share the video captured by the aforementioned cameras. Hence the system back in the day needed to be monitored on a consistent basis to glean the desired information. The tapes needed to be changed manually and the entire process was cumbersome and time consuming by today’s standards, though not unlike other technology of the time.
It was only after the advent of the video recording technology (VCR) that came about in the 1970’s that recording the footage became possible. We could now store data and play it back when needed. The video recording technology was a revolution of sorts in this field, though it too was as of yet in its primitive stages.
Another development that aided the CCTV systems in this age was the arrival of the multiplexer. This made possible the use of multiple cameras connected to one monitor, as opposed to the one-camera-per monitor use of the original systems.
The video recording technology gave birth to the idea of using the CCTV system for surveillance and crime detection. As it did not need live monitoring anymore, it resulted in a better use of time and improved productivity.
In the years following the decade of the 80’s, and particularly post the turn of the millennium, the CCTV technology further improved as it went digital. Now we had bright and high-resolution images available to us as if on demand. The number of features associated with the new surveillance systems made them ridiculously useful in all walks of life.
And while the potential, usefulness, and the sophistication of the CCTV technology kept on increasing, it also became cheaper with time, thus further fueling its popularity. Now one sees it being used everywhere, from car parks to public transportation, sports grounds, community parks, prisons, banks, airports, etc. So much so that it’s now considered poor form not to have a security system in place if you are serious about your business.
Private citizens and small business owners have always been among the most eager users of this technology to keep their property and families safe, as this report suggests:
“In the 1980s, video technology became cheap enough for individual businesses and citizens to install their own home security systems. By the ’90s, that technology improved, leading to more digital footage with better quality.”
…but there’s more to it
A fast changing geo-political reality for America further expedited the use of surveillance cameras in public. Following the new challenges of the post-Cold War world which has seen a rise in the number of terrorist attacks on the US soil, the use of the CCTV technology has markedly increased.
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center popularized the use of police-run cameras. The extent of this surveillance was brought to fore in the most recent terrorist attack in the US. CCTV footage running into hundreds of hours helped the FBI identify the Boston Marathon bombings suspects within a couple of days of the attack in April this year.
Jim Bueermann, a former police chief, told NBC news earlier this year: “The use of surveillance cameras is growing exponentially. There [are] all kinds of rationales for them being used in the private sector, whether it’s loss prevention or for the safety of people. In the non-governmental world, cameras are everywhere.”
While the number of security cameras installed across the country is hard to arrive at, especially in the light of the reticence of government organizations about where they stand on the issue, the NBC report (linked above) cited a study saying that about 30 million surveillance cameras were sold in the last decade.
The American appetite for security camera systems has served as a trigger for growth in surveillance industry worldwide, with the market “slated to grow from $11.5 billion in 2008 to $37.5 billion in 2015.”
In summation, the CCTV technology is popular because it has proven to be immensely useful and versatile. It is also impressive and cost-effective, and in the public domain it seems to be the need of the hour. Let’s just say, it’s a sign of the times we live in!
The types of CCTV cameras in the market
A fast-paced and impressive evolution in the CCTV technology over the past few decades has meant that there is now a security camera system for every need and budget. You just need to identify what yours are and are sure to find the exact match.
The CCTV technology of today is divided along the lines of digital video recording (DVR) or network video recording (NVR) systems. (See here to learn the difference between the two.) Primarily, the CCTV camera systems involve installing multiple cameras across any give property, which are controlled from a central location in a DVR system, and remote controlled in case of an NVR setup. The footage in both cases is recorded onto computer hardware — a disk drive, a USB flash drive, or an SD memory card, from where it can be retrieved for documentation purposes.
Another primary division within the current CCTV technology is that of wired and wireless systems.
Wired surveillance camera systems may cause a slight alteration to your home or property construction if you don’t want the wires to be visible while installing the cameras. These cameras also tend to be fixed in place. For example, you mount a camera on your roof to keep an eye on people who walk up your porch. If it is a wired camera, it will have to stay there. To make any changes you may have to request professional help to take the camera off its current place, mount it elsewhere, and put the wiring in place again.
This is a great choice if you are sure you need a camera firmly in place in a particular location. You install it and forget all about it.
The wireless cameras, on the other hand, are not meant to be in a fixed location. As the name suggests, these camera systems come without any ugly or intimidating wiring, which allows the cameras to be moved around easily as long as they stay within the range of the IP network backing your system.
Pros and cons of cabled networks versus wireless ones:
Wired camera systems are harder to intercept or break into. Due to them being connected only to their computer or video hardware, only those with access to this equipment can control the systems or watch the footage.
With sufficient skills one can theoretically break into your IP network, or intercept your transmission signals, and access your wireless camera system. You will have to put proper Internet protocols in place to prevent the hacking of your security system. This precaution should be observed with wireless networks and systems everywhere, as a matter of safety.
Depending on the type you purchase, wired cameras typically have a higher resolution which improves the quality of the footage recorded.
A wireless nature, on the other hand, leads to other signals interfering with the quality of the feed you receive via your wireless cameras. Many regular household appliances, such as the phone, the microwave, the radio, etc., can interfere with the wireless signals of your security camera system. You might want to keep other devices causing interference in transmission away if you want to extract the best out of your wireless security system.
Wireless systems are cheaper and easier to install. Their portability is their biggest positive.
The security cameras are further divided into many categories, depending on their features. The most fundamental among them include:
These cameras are installed inside a house or a commercial property to keep a tab on the goings on within that property. These are available in nifty shapes and sizes, which makes the wireless varieties easy to use anywhere. Some of them are small and inconspicuous enough not to be easily spotted, which makes them go with the décor and not look clunky. They are also an excellent way to spy on your kids, nanny, spouse, or even pets. However, let them know there are cameras trained on them or you could be in the violation of privacy laws in your state.
These tend to be of a sturdier build than the indoor cameras. The nature of their operation requires them to be weatherproof as well as vandal-proof. They are typically made of high grade weather resistant metal housing and sunshade as a protection against rust and deterioration. They can withstand any temperature and also hold on their own in the event of a storm.
Outdoor cameras are not just sturdy but also come with a long list of features that can be used indoors as well. The indoor cameras, however, are usually not interchangeable with the outdoor ones.
Infrared or night vision cameras are your best bet for a reliable operation in low-light conditions. The infrared LED technology lets the camera lens spot and capture in impressive detail things as far as 100 feet or more from where the camera is installed (depending on the model’s irradiation distance).
They are an excellent choice for outdoor security cameras, as they deliver high-quality video in low visibility. Some of these activate automatically in low-light or no-light conditions and deactivate as the conditions get brighter. Bullet and dome-shaped cameras are the most popular of these. A bullet shape provides sturdy protection to the camera’s lens against weather and miscreants, thus allowing the camera to have a long life. Some of these cameras have a dual layer of glass on top of the lens, which prevents the lens from becoming fuzzy or fogging up in cold or humid conditions.
A vari-focal feature within your security camera offers you zoom in and zoom out options, which considerably expands your field of view. It also lets you manually focus on something/somebody near or far for you to be able to have a better look. This feature comes in extremely handy when you are examining footage.
Vari-focal cameras typically come equipped with high-performance lenses as well as built-in microphones that let you hear different voices. (Check the law on your state about electronically eavesdropping into other people’s conversation.)
Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras
As it says on the tin, a pan-tilt-zoom camera can pan a wide area, tilt to different angles, and zoom in to the license plate of that van parked far away. Unlike fixed cameras, a PTZ camera can be physically rotated for a different view and manually adjusted for a closer look. They allow you to follow a person of interest (a la Hollywood) over a wide area.
Not only can you zoom, pan, or tilt live video (from the center and with the help of joy sticks) but also the recorded footage. These cameras come fitted with many features and automations to aid the use of the camera across a large area and in different lighting conditions.
These are things that look like cameras but that’s where the similarity ends. As the name suggests, they are just dummies, hoping to exploit a miscreant’s basic nature to either become cautious and forget their plans, or run away after spotting the dummy camera.
Cameras and smartphones
Security cameras can be used in conjunction with other home security devices for maximum impact. Case in point, integrate your surveillance cameras with alarms and motion detection systems to further secure your property.
Many of the security system providers now have their own security apps available for free download on Android and iOS devices, which makes your smartphone your trusted companion in keeping your property and people safe.
Download the app pertaining to your security system to your phone and install it. Depending on the features your security provider has made available to you, you may be able to view live camera footage on your phone regardless of your location, remote adjust the settings of your alarms and systems, arrange for the porch lights to come on and off as per your requirements, and be alerted to any security breaches promptly.
Assessing the need for CCTV cameras in your business property
An elaborate and detailed surveillance system allows business owners to protect their employees as well as the property. If your business suffers a vandal attack or a burglary/theft, you will have footage that may help you nab the culprits as well as strengthen your case with the insurers if it comes to that.
Well-protected business premises/building also causes a dip in the insurance premiums, so that is an added reason for you to consider equipping yourself with a good surveillance system.
Seeing as it is a one-time investment that pays you well into the future, you want to be cautious about which security system you choose. Do your own research and check out how your competition is handling this aspect. There are literally thousands of options out there so it pays to be clear about your own needs. As a general guideline, smaller places will need smaller security systems.
As a rule of thumb, your ideal business security system should consist of: a reliable DVR surveillance system, high-resolution color security cameras, and at least a couple of variable focal length and motorized zoom lenses.
For outdoor cameras it goes without saying that you would need a sturdy casing housing them. Install a PTZ camera in the front and the back, and multiple small dome cameras within the building.
For small business such as convenience stores or restaurants, outdoor HD security cameras and PTZ cameras are the most useful. Let your customers know they are under video surveillance though.
If you own a convenience store, you might want to install multiple fixed cameras or a few moving cameras so that the immediate surrounding field is panned on a regular basis. Fixed cameras are easier to dodge and expert criminals may not have much trouble doing it. Moving cameras, on the other hand, significantly increase the chances of a dodgy character being caught in the act.
The thing to absolutely ensure here is that the cameras are only placed where the light is abundant so that the videos are clear and you are able to capture full facial shots of those entering and leaving your premises. Cameras with lower resolutions and irradiation distance will cost less but the flipside of that would be a compromised picture quality, which in a way defeats the purpose of having a surveillance system in the first place. If possible, do not cut corners in this respect. Buy the best video security system you can afford for the best results. Think of it as investment for your business.
To make the most of your security cameras you would need to position them strategically. In addition to securing the entry and exit points, certain establishments also place a security camera at the point of transaction, so that the customers have a dome watching over them as they pay their bills. If you are going to do that make sure to position the camera so that it is an angle good enough to capture most of the customers’ facial features and preferably their upper body too.
Another good place to mount a security camera would be any point where a leak of your resources is likely or has happened in the past. For example, toward the back of a store where there isn’t much activity at any given point. You’d be able to observe the movement of the customers on your monitor and catch them red-handed if the need arises.
Unintended benefits of security cameras
Aside from the obvious crime prevention and detection abilities of the security cameras, they also allow you to keep a track of your employees, determining who is wasting time where. The biggest positive is that you do not have to be physically present to monitor the level of activity at your work place; you can do that via remote viewing or by accessing the recorded footage at your leisure. Remote accessibility of this technology allows you to remain in control of your business from anywhere.
As per a recent article, the use of a security camera goes beyond keeping an eye on mischief mongers. Business owners from across the country are increasingly realizing the immense potential of the CCTV technology and using it to boost their business.
Not only can entire businesses be monitored remotely, but also studied at leisure for improvement ideas. The above Wall Street Journal report cites the example of a restaurant owner who from a remote location watches through his restaurant’s security cameras the movement of his customers to determine which areas they tend to gravitate to more, to gain a sense of their “purchase patterns.” He also “checks on how many customers he has at various points in the day to see if he needs to rearrange workers’ hours.”
Studying the video footage further gives him ideas to play around with the furniture for more user-friendly décor and how to position items to lure the customers to buy more of them. If this business owner can make so much of a security camera, surely you can, too?
Home security system considerations
For a detailed read on the factors to bear in mind when purchasing a home security system, refer to this article.
A word on ethics and legalities
In our extremely litigious times, we can only ignore this aspect at our peril. On the one hand the use of security cameras is increasing and is being encouraged, given the long list of positives that come from the technology. On the other hand there are many rules that business and home owners may inadvertently break when it comes to using video surveillance equipment on their premises.
Always check whether the use of the security equipment that you have in mind for your property is strictly legal in your state. And if it is, are there any conditions attached?
Privacy is a touchy topic, and quite a controversial one at the moment. Everybody seems to be spying on everybody. Make sure you aren’t studying people in your store without their permission. Always ensure your property has proper signage alerting others to the operation of surveillance cameras. Hidden cameras are a no-no, as is electronic eavesdropping on people.
Conclusion: As with all technology, how you use security cameras will determine your experience with them. That video surveillance systems hold tremendous potential to improve our lives for the better, and are amazingly relevant to the times we live in, is undoubted. It is then a matter of consumers educating themselves on the usefulness of this technology in their daily lives and buying the best possible system they can afford.