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 protection.
- The two main types of surveillance cameras are Internet Protocol 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, with cameras that offer computer-like functions such as motion sensors, remote viewing and mobile notifications. Some systems even contact law enforcement instantly with the push of a button.
Technological development has also led to more efficient methods of recording and storage. Small business owners have access to immensely powerful surveillance systems at relatively affordable prices. If you’re in the market for a video surveillance system but not sure where to start, read on for our video surveillance system 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.
Tip: Check out our best picks for video surveillance systems to see our recommendations for your business.
What to consider before purchasing a video surveillance system
You should consider several factors before deciding on a video surveillance system for your business.
If your business is small and you don’t have many areas to monitor or multiple cameras to set up, you can install your surveillance system yourself. Larger businesses with several 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, but you could pay 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. Traditional analog cameras are being phased out in favor of IP cameras, which offer more features and capabilities. IP cameras are networked devices that capture images in a higher resolution and enable automatic alerts, video analytics, and other advanced functions.
Type of storage
You can choose from three types of video data storage for your video surveillance system: NVR, DVR and hybrid. DVR, which stands for “digital video recorder,” uses analog cameras. NVR, which stands for “network video recorder,” is used with IP cameras. Hybrid systems allow you to combine analog and IP cameras.
Amount of storage
Your desired quality and the duration of your videos determine how much storage your surveillance system needs. If you plan to record and archive high-quality footage, you’ll need to allot a large amount of storage space for your system. You also need to determine if you’ll store the footage locally on the camera’s internal storage drive, on a hard drive, or externally on a cloud-based platform.
Most vendors allow for a high degree of customization, meaning you can easily tailor a system to your business’s needs. Whether you need a widespread system to cover multiple locations or a few cameras to watch your storefront, there’s a solution for everyone.
Myriad features are available for video surveillance systems, like night vision, smart motion detection and 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, choose a system with strong night vision and 24/7 alerts.
Areas of business that need protection
Know exactly where you want to place your surveillance, because this will determine the type(s) of camera you need. 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: You need to consider several factors when purchasing a video surveillance system, including camera type, storage type, features and pricing.
Top video surveillance system providers
Protection 1, which we ranked as the best overall video surveillance system in our review, has a wide range of features that make it a versatile choice for any organization. The system offers 24/7 professional monitoring from its agents, while also allowing you to watch over the system yourself. It also provides a wide selection of storage devices for your system. For more information, read our full review of Protection 1.
ADT remains a great surveillance system for small businesses looking to increase their security measures. It offers three types of camera options – wireless, indoor color and dome – so any type of business can install ADT products. The system also offers digital video recording, allowing different security officers to watch the same feed from different locations.
For businesses on a budget, Amazon’s Blink is a competitively priced security system with a user-friendly interface. Blink offers both local and cloud storage options, and it integrates with Amazon’s Alexa and other Amazon Web Services products and platforms.
Tyco Integrated Security
Tyco Integrated Security gives small businesses a variety of customizable surveillance solutions, including closed-circuit systems, remote web management, and viewing and recording hardware. It also offers a wide range of camera options you can use to outfit your spaces.
Tip: Before committing to a surveillance system, take advantage of free trials or demos of these systems to decide the best choice for your business.
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, help you monitor productivity and potentially 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 be worth the expense.
IP cameras vs. analog cameras
Here’s a look at the differences between these two types of security cameras.
IP cameras are more powerful than analog cameras, usually shooting footage ranging in resolution from 1 to 5 megapixels. That makes for incredibly clear image quality, especially compared to the grainier analog footage, which is 0.5 megapixels. 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 is video analytics, which allows 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 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. We’ll explain those 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.
Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches
PoE switches are a feature of IP cameras that both send data from the camera and provide 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 also have a wider field of vision, 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.
DVNs vs. NVRs
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 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, can then transmit footage to the NVR. NVR systems are much easier to scale up than DVR systems, simply because they can accept a new camera once it is added to the network. At most, all that would be required is an additional PoE switch.
Some IP cameras are also wireless and transmit footage to the NVR over Wi-Fi. There are no proximity limitations as 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. You’ll 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 are 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 full IP system in the future.
What to look for when choosing a camera
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, don’t cut corners here.
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, which results in choppier footage. For reference, real time is typically measured as 30 frames per second.
There are many types of security cameras. Some of the most common 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. Based 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.
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, purchase weatherproof models. Otherwise, water or dirt will interfere with the clarity of your video feeds or worse, cause the camera to malfunction.
Many security cameras shoot in what is known as low-light infrared (IR), 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.
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.
What to look for in a video recorder
The amount of storage you need 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 to help you calculate how much storage space you’ll need based on the details of your system. For example, according to the Supercircuits calculator, 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 frames per second, with video compressed into MJPEG files on an NVR, would require 2.79TB of storage space for footage. That’s quite a bit of data for a moderately sized system, so determine what kind of capacity you’ll actually need and plan accordingly. 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.
You can store recorded video in the cloud in addition as well as on your video recorder. There are a few distinct advantages to doing this, including remote access to your videos and superior storage volume. Storing videos in the cloud also means that even if your hardware is damaged, stolen, or tampered with, you’ll still have archived footage. However, make sure this won’t eat up all the available bandwidth and slow down your network. The best way to use cloud storage is to either schedule uploads to the cloud or upload them after peak business hours.
Many cloud services charge a subscription fee, especially if you want to store video files in perpetuity. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your money, ask the storage company what cybersecurity measures it takes to protect your data.
Not every video recorder is compatible with every camera. DVRs require analog cameras, and NVRs use IP cameras, but the compatibility question extends beyond that distinction. Some NVR systems, for example, are compatible with IP cameras only from certain manufacturers. 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 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. Compression methods are relatively complex, and their applications depend on your needs and hardware.
These 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, it acts as 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 do not. If you 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, some PoE switches feature as many as 48 distinct ports. These solutions are considerably more expensive, like this
There are also wireless IP cameras that require little more than mounting, but those might be less secure than wired connections. If you go 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.
Key takeaway: When choosing a surveillance system, pay close attention to your cameras, video recorder and PoE switches.
Pros and cons of video surveillance systems
Discover the pros and cons of installing a video surveillance system at your business.
|The system provides security for your staff and customers.||Video surveillance could feel invasive to employees.|
|Surveillance reduces workplace crime.||Workplace surveillance could instill a false sense of security that makes employees and security officers less vigilant.|
|A surveillance system can monitor employee behavior and prevent workplace harassment and violence.||Purchasing, installing and maintaining a video surveillance system can be expensive.|
|Employees tend to have a better work ethic if they know someone is watching.||The added surveillance may make employees feel as though they’re not being productive enough and become stressed to the point of workplace burnout.|
Tip: When installing a new video security system, discuss the decision with your employees. Talk to them about why you’re installing it, what its features are, and what it will be used for.
Video surveillance laws
Companies investing in surveillance systems should research and understand their state’s surveillance laws. Sixteen states have specific laws regulating the use of video surveillance in businesses. Generally, businesses are allowed to film people in settings where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, like an office or a store floor. Businesses cannot film in places where a person has a reasonable right to privacy, like a bathroom or changing room.
Video surveillance system FAQs
Many business owners ask the following questions about video surveillance systems:
Do business security cameras require contracts?
Some video surveillance providers require contracts, and some don’t. Research this factor before you make a purchase, especially if you are moving business locations in the next year or don’t want to be locked into a contract.
How often are security cameras monitored?
This also depends on the provider and your subscription plan. Some providers include 24/7 professional monitoring with your subscription, while others require you to pay extra 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 theft, intrusion, fire, flood, or burglary, significantly increasing your peace of mind. They can be expensive, depending on your business’s needs, but generally are worth the investment.