How to Design Video Surveillance Solutions For Your Business

January 27th, 2021



Designing a video surveillance solution for your business in requires decisions on 7 fundamental questions. This tutorial walks through each issue explaining the basic options and the rationale for selecting different options.

The goal here is to quickly identify the key aspects of video surveillance design, not to examine the many details and edge cases in such designs.

The 7 fundamental questions are:

  • What type of cameras should I use?
  • How should I connect cameras to video management systems?
  • What type of video management system should I use?
  • What type of storage should I use?
  • What type of video analytics should I use?
  • How should I view my surveillance video?
  • How should I integrate video with my other systems?

Cameras

Cameras are literally the eyes of a video surveillance system. Cameras should be deployed in critical areas around your business in to capture relevant video.

The two basic principles of camera deployment are (1) use chokepoints and (2) cover assets.

  • Chokepoints are areas where people or vehicles must pass to enter a certain area. Examples include doorways, hallways, and driveways. Placing cameras at chokepoints is a very cost-effective way to document who entered a facility.
  • Assets are the specific objects or areas that need security. Examples of assets include physical objects such as safes and merchandise areas as well as areas where important activity occurs such as cash registers, parking spots or lobbies. What is defined as an asset is relative to the needs and priorities of your organization.

Once you determine what areas you want to cover, there are 4 camera characteristics to decide on:

  1. Fixed vs. PTZ: A camera can be fixed to only look at one specific view or it can be movable through the use of panning, tilting and zooming (i.e., moving left and right, up and down, closer and farer away). Most cameras used in surveillance are fixed. PTZ cameras are generally used to cover wider fields of views and should generally only be used if you expect a monitor to actively use the cameras on a daily basis. A key reason fixed cameras are generally used is that they cost 5 -8 times less than PTZs (fixed cameras average $200 – $500 whereas PTZ cameras can be over $2,000).
  2. Color vs. Infrared vs. Thermal: In TV, a video can be color or black and white. In video surveillance today, the only time producing a black and white image makes sense is when lighting is very low (e.g., night time). In those conditions, black and white images are produced by infrared or thermal cameras. Infrared cameras require special lamps (infrared illuminators) are fairly inexpensive for producing clear image in the dark. Thermal cameras require no lighting but product only outlines of objects and are very expensive ($5,000 – $20,000 on average) In day time or lighted areas, color cameras are the obvious choice as the premium for color over black and white is trivial.
  3. Standard Definition vs. Megapixel: This choice is similar to that of TVs. Just like in the consumer world, historically everyone used standard definition cameras but now users are shifting into high definition cameras. While high definition TV maxes out at 3 MP, surveillance cameras can provide up to 16 MP resolution.
  4. IP vs. Analog: The largest trend in video surveillance today is the move from analog cameras to IP cameras. While all surveillance cameras are digitized to view and record on computers, only IP cameras digitize the video inside the camera. While most infrared and thermal cameras are still only available as analog cameras, you can only use megapixel resolution in IP cameras.

Most organizations will mix and match a number of different camera types.

For instance, an organization in may use infrared fixed analog cameras around a perimeter with an analog PTZ overlooking the parking lot. On the inside, they may have a fixed megapixel camera covering the warehouse and a number of fixed IP cameras covering the entrance and hallways.

Connectivity

In professional video surveillance, cameras are almost always connected to video management systems for the purpose of recording and managing
access to video. There are two main characteristics to decide on for connectivity.

IP vs. Analog: Video can be transmitted over your computer network (IP) or it can be sent as native analog video. Today, most video feeds are sent using analog, but migration to IP transmission is rapidly occurring. Both IP cameras and analog cameras can be transmitted over IP. IP cameras can connect directly to an IP network (just like your PC). Analog cameras cannot directly connect to an IP network. However, you can install an encoder to transmit analog feeds over IP. The encoder has an input for an analog camera video feed and outputs a digital stream for transmission over an IP network.

Wired vs. Wireless: Video can be sent over cables or through the air, whether you are using IP or analog video. Over 90% of video is sent over cables as this is generally the cheapest and most reliable way of sending video. However, wireless is an important option for transmitting video as deploying wires can be cost-prohibitive for certain applications such as parking lots, fence lines, remote buildings.

Video Management System

Video management systems are the hub of video surveillance solutions, accepting video from cameras, storing the video and managing distribution of video to viewers.
There are 5 fundamental options in video management systems. Most organizations choose 1 of the 5. However, as companies may have multiple types when they transition between one and another, but frequently move ultimately to cloud-based Video Surveillance as a Service.

  • DVRs: are purpose built computers that combine software, hardware and video storage all in one. By definition, they only accept analog camera feeds. Almost all DVRs today support remote viewing over the Internet. DVRs are very simple to install but they significantly limit your flexibility in expansion and hardware changes. DVRs are still today the most common option amongst professional buyers. However, DVRs have definitely fallen out of favor and the trend is to move to one of the 3 categories below.
  • HDVRs or hybrid DVRs: are DVRs that support IP cameras. They have all the functionality of a DVR listed above plus they add support for IP and megapixel cameras. Most DVRs can be software upgraded to become HDVRs. Such upgrades are certainly a significant trend and is attractive because of the low migration cost (supports analog and IP cameras directly). Learn more about the value and issues in selecting HDVRs.
  • NVRs: are like DVRs in all ways except for camera support. Whereas a DVR only supports analog cameras, an NVR only supports IP cameras. To support analog cameras with an NVR, an encoder must be used.
  • Cloud-based Video Recording (also known as Video Surveillance as a Service): is usually the best solution for businesses that operate from multiple locations as it uses the lowest cost hardware, and optimizes the use of IT resources, resulting in the lowest operation costs.
  • IP Video Surveillance Software: is a software application, like Word or Excel. Unlike DVRs or NVRs, IP Video Surveillance Software does not come with any hardware or storage. The user must load and set up the PC/Server for the software. This provides much greater freedom and potentially lower cost than using DVR/NVR appliances. However, it comes with significant more complexity and time to set up and optimize the system. IP Video Surveillance Software is the hottest trend in video management systems currently and is the most frequent choice for very large camera counts (hundreds or more).

However, IP is also full of drawbacks to network performance, management and maintenance, especially to multi-site business owners and their staff. Consider Cloud-based solutions before looking at IP camera based systems.

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