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Protect yourself from fire

We all watch at least one of the CSI TV shows…and maybe one of the other numerous TV shows or movies where we get to see the amazing benefits of video surveillance. But if life were like TV, I’d be thinner, taller and have a better social life. In the real world, we can’t zoom in to a reflection on the victim’s glasses from 200 feet away and see the killer’s face. Maybe one day, but not at this point in technology.

Having cameras installed at your home may seem extreme on the surface, but there are many good reasons to do just that. You’re not going to be able to do what the techs on TV do, but you can have a functional video system that offers useable information in a way that’s easy to access and understand.


To understand the real benefits of having a video system installed, you must first understand a little bit about the history, the current technology and what you should expect from a camera system.

Let’s take a quick look at the recent history of Closed Circuit Television Systems or CCTV. Video surveillance has been around for many years, and has improved as technology improves. We don’t need to travel back to tube cameras, but if we go back about 10-12 years, there have been two major changes in camera systems in this time frame.

About 10-12 years ago, the best you could hope for were some reasonably priced black and white cameras, a multiplexer (a device that allowed multiple cameras to be recorded) and a VCR. Often, the recorded images were of such poor quality that they were almost unusable for any purpose. The system required you to change VCR tapes daily or weekly and after a few times being recorded over, the images would degrade quickly (remember adjusting tracking to get rid of the lines on your VHS movies?). All in all it was not a user friendly experience, but it’s all we had.

After years of the VCR and multiplexer combo, some very smart people decided to move recording into the digital realm. Thus was born the Digital Video Recorder or DVR. The DVR used many of the same concepts as before, but offered benefits like recording onto computer hard drives and using software to view the cameras. Recording on a hard drive offers many benefits, but the biggest benefit was that a digital image could be viewed as many times as needed without degrading the images. With the old VCR, every time you viewed, you degraded the quality a little more.

The DVR revolutionized the surveillance world. Not only could we now record multiple cameras, but we could also review what was recorded (without stopping the recording!) and even bigger still, we could now put the DVR onto a computer network and see images from any in the world. The market exploded. Manufacturers opened up almost daily it seemed and they pushed the limits of what a DVR could do. Improved recording quality offered camera manufacturers a chance to come up with better cameras with cutting edge features. The resolution (picture quality) of cameras practically doubled during this period.

So now we have cameras with better picture quality and recorders with the ability to take advantage of these improvements.

That being said, we still need a quick reality check. The images you capture on your 10 megapixel camera are going to be significantly better than your camera system. So why is that? Still cameras can use incredibly high resolution images because they don’t have to worry about capturing video. Your 10MP camera, when capturing video, will normally default to a picture quality lower than most camera systems. There is a trade off in this technology. Typically, the better the image is, the less likely it is to be full motion (like a movie). It also uses up storage at a much higher rate. Camera systems balance image quality against storage requirements. A DVR that can record four cameras will often offer 250GB of storage. Sounds like a lot right? When you’re capturing full motion (or close to full) video, a 250GB hard drive will usually only last somewhere between 7-10 days.

So let’s jump to 2011 and look at what video surveillance can realistically do today. We can now offer cameras that perform under almost any circumstance or in any almost environment. No lighting? No problem! Use a camera with semi-covert infra-red LED’s (little lights that glow dull red) to allow for images in total darkness (think of the show Survivor and the images they show at night). Want to see your cottage from home or work? Install a DVR and now you can view your cottage from anywhere you can get an Internet connection. We haven’t even touched upon IP cameras, but that is another option that offers a whole series of benefits we’ll discuss in a future article.

For residential applications, video surveillance can be a great way to offer peace of mind if something should happen. We need to remember that a camera doesn’t stop the bad guy from doing bad things, but if they know there is a camera it might deter them from doing those bad things to you. What your camera system should provide is some recourse that if something should happen (the garden gnome goes missing), you have a visual record of the event to help the police.

Having video surveillance at your home does not mean that you’re hiding in your fortress…afraid of the world. Cameras installed at your home can offer benefits beyond knowing when someone steals that garden gnome. How about a record of who is coming to your door while you’re working? Or how about an email with an image attached, sent to you when your kids arrive home from school? Knowing that someone is using your pool at night can help to possibly prevent an accident. Options like having your cameras appear on all your TV’s or on your home computer network can make using the system simple and easy.

At this point in time in the security industry, video surveillance can succeed in pretty much any application, no matter how demanding. That being said, a good security professional will make sure you understand the limitations of a camera system and if your expectations may be unrealistic. It would be great to install one camera that could view your front door, yard and driveway, and be able to identify everyone walking around AND capture their license plate. This would be the point where the security professional should be explaining what is possible and what is not.

While it’s certainly possible to capture a license plate image using the correct camera and careful camera placement in a large area can get you the best chance for recording and identifying the bad guy, but CSI we are not.

You need to discuss, with your security professional, what your goals for the system are and have that security professional actually view the site or at least view detailed drawings. A site visit will always yield the best result because the total site can be assessed as to the best route to get you what you need.

Camera systems today are unobtrusive and easy to use. Most importantly, when well planned, a camera system will provide good, useable information that will be ready when you need it.

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