How to Not Get Robbed and Ripped Off When Hiring a CCTV Company or Buying a CCTV System
· Camera Resolutions. Analog and digital camera resolutions are rated for consumers in TV Lines (TVL) and mega pixels (MP). Below is a list of CCTV resolutions and the corresponding camera formats. There are 2 things to remember when choosing cameras:
(a) the quality of the image you get depends on the quality of “the glass” (lens) and the CCD image sensor on the camera. Do you really think you’re gonna get jaw-dropping images from that $50 blow-out camera?
(b) the proper camera resolution and type must be matched with the proper recording format. Also, “too much” or “too little” resolution or the wrong format are both really a waste of time and money or simply won’t work.
1. CIF cameras will be between 420-480 TVL. Known as “standard res.”
2. D1 cameras should be 600 TVL (although 500+ TVL cameras exist for D1). Known as “hi-res.”
3. 960H cameras should be at 700 TVL and used with a 960H DVR. Known as “super hi-res.”
4. IP cameras vary from 1MP to 5MP. IP cameras can only be used with IP systems and NVRs
5. HD-SDI cameras should be at 2.1-2.2MP and will only be used with HD-SDI DVRs.
6. HD-CVI will use 1.3MP (720p) and 2MP (1080p) HD-CVI cameras and can only be used with HD-CVI DVRs (well, you can use HD-CVI cameras with analog DVRs, but they won’t be hi-def, so what’s the point).
Just because a camera boasts “700 TV Lines” or 8MP does not mean you’ll get superior video resolution. Mentioned above, many things come into play: quality lenses, image processors, outright lying, etc. One way to test this is with an ISO line chart and software to analyze the results and some CCTV companies will take this upon themselves to do this. Oh yes: larger MP cameras means smaller pixels. More is not always better. So, anything less than these camera specs for each format is really a waste of time because you’re not getting the full resolution out of each format. Also keep in mind, for example, that if an installer tries to sell you a 700 TVL camera with a D1 system (600 TVL max) you will see no added resolution and a 420 TVL camera will not provide the full resolution, either (“too much” and “too little”).
· Frame Rate. How many frames per second (fps) the DVR can record per channel (camera). 30fps per channel is the maximum and will use the most hard drive space. 15 fps is more than adequate. In a lot of cases I have used 7fps on a client’s system with excellent results. If a DVR isn’t capable of recording at least 7fps on ALL channels, do not buy. The option of at least 15fps on ALL channels is preferable. You can always reduce or raise this later. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Some manufactures will use “ips” in their marketing material. IPS is “images per second” (not frames per second). So, for example, you may see a 16 channel DVR that lists “30ips on all channels.” Looks good, right? WRONG! It is nothing but one big lie. 2ips=1fps. In other words, you would need 60ips to equal 30fps. So, if you did see the above DVR listed as “30ips on all channels” you would only be getting a max of 15fps on all channels. All this is, is an attempt to scam the consumer by using “impressive” numbers so you’ll buy their product.
· Beware of “techno babble.” Usually, but not always, this is used to scam you by keeping you in the dark and uneducated. It sounds impressive when you hear it, but if you are not educated, you won’t know what you’re getting. Ask the salesperson or installer to clarify before you make the deal. This is a good test to see if they actually know what they are talking about. Of course, now that you have this report, you may be able to school them. Either way, I think it’s just poor manners to talk over someone’s head to begin with. Explain what you are saying.
· You need to know and ask the company all of the above tech specs before you hire. Actually, they should be more than happy to explain everything to you before you ask (see 3 lines above).
· Get all of the specs in writing or get some type of tech spec sheet. You want to be sure you are getting the exact system installed as promised and that you’re paying for.
· You need to know about the hard drive(s) in the DVR. Specifically:
(a) how many days of recording do you need/want?
(b) how big are hard drives in the DVR and how many days recording will you get?
(c) all hard drives go bad-what, if any, warranty is included?
· Remember, if an installer or salesperson tries to sell you a camera with a resolution that is under or overrated for any particular format (D1, 960H, HD-SDI) you’re getting scammed or dealing with incompetence.
· If you are replacing or upgrading an older CCTV system with an existing quality (I.e. 100% copper) RG-59 coax cable infrastructure in place that works/tests just fine, you do not need to pay for new cable, wiring and labor to install it. Remember that.
· And lastly, the above DVR and Camera specs only cover the basics and is a very good place to start and will ensure you are getting what you need, want and what you are paying for, but is no way complete.
7.) Contracts (or: Get Everything in Writing)
Real simple: get a written contract of everything from start to finish concerning the system and installation. Some things to consider:
· Everything should be spelled out in plain English and nice and neat (watch that small print).
· Detailed system components should be listed-what you are getting, how many, tech specs, etc.
· What about tech support? There should be something about rates, labor, etc.
· Are you leasing or buying?
· CCTV systems are complex electronics. There will be glitches and there may be problems from time to time. What is the warranty/guarantee terms? Do they guarantee your system? This is very important. Obviously, the longer the better.
· As for the above, if your system does not include a PC based DVR, you will be getting a Linux based electronic embedded DVR (the software is loaded onto the CPU). This means you will need firmware updates for the life of the DVR. Is this included? Is there a charge? Is it free?
Obviously, these are just a few things to consider and every CCTV company will have different terms and every respectable company will have a written contract that is fair. For example, my contracts are 2 pages long, easy to read and understand and lists free phone support, free lifetime firmware updates, 5 year DVR, camera and hard drive guarantees as well as the legal responsibilities of my company and of the client. But, that’s just me.
The Biggest Misconceptions When Installing A CCTV System
The company that offers the lowest price is the company you should hire/buy from (sometimes this works, but usually not). Here are a few things to consider:
1) The price you see offered may not be for what you want or need
· Goals. Before you select a company, decide what you want to accomplish. Why do you want or need a CCTV system? What are your goals? What are you trying to do? What are your worries? What problems do you have, what do you want to stop, keep from happening, protect, etc? Make a list of important features and functions that you want, need and can’t live without before you decide on a CCTV company and system.
· Price. Price is usually an indication of quality. The best DVRs and cameras cost more. Extensive warranty coverage costs more. Better trained service people cost more. Reliable service and products cost more. Don’t let price be the deciding factor when choosing a CCTV company and system. There is a local CCTV/Security company in town that will install a DVR and 2 cameras for $450.00. Do you honestly think you’re getting a quality, hi-end reliable 2 camera CCTV system installed for $450.00? Or, how about these 16 channel “CCTV systems” online for $800.00? Seriously, think about that. You’ve heard “you get what you pay for?” Well, with CCTV it’s true.
2) The price you see advertised may not be the price you pay
Many people have learned that the low, low price they saw advertised was not the amount they were charged. And if you’ve hired a CCTV installer, you too may have been the victim of false or misleading advertising. You may get different cameras than what you were sold or you realize too late that the DVR doesn’t do exactly as promised. You may have learned the hard way that some CCTV companies offer a cheap price and then pressure you into paying a lot more once they get inside your business. Some of them may even break the law by using illegal bait and switch tactics.
3) The low, low prices you see online are low for a reason
Unfortunately, many people are only interested in the lowest price possible so they go to the Internet. This is unfortunate because they are not educating themselves and as a result are getting a system that is not very good and they are left confused, frustrated, angry or even in the dark as they think they bought a good system or this is how CCTV video should look and work. They never realize what they could’ve had. Too bad, too bad…
· Quality. Simply put, usually junk or low quality cameras and DVRs, lenses, CCDs, software, CPUs, etc. There are much better systems available.
· Reliability. How long will this system last? A year? Maybe longer, maybe not.
· “Great” Tech Specs. Incredible camera and DVR specs for the money (too good to be true).
· Warranty. Short warranty (90 days, 1 year). Every company should stand behind their product or service for a decent amount of time.
· Hardware/Software Platform. A lot of companies will sell cheap knock-offs with bootleg software based on reputable DVRs and cameras. When you try to get warranty coverage or firmware updates… you’re outta luck.
· Country of Origin. Do you know where these systems are manufactured and shipped from? Probably China. Those are the fact today. You’ll save time, money and frustration by knowing which company is developing the software platform and the manufacturing process. If not, you may be dealing with knock-offs and/or lousy quality control.
· Price. That low, low price is low for a reason. Please re-read the above.
These are probably the most important things you need to know if you are seriously thinking about buying a CCTV system online, from the big box stores, membership clubs and the big box home improvemnet stores (dread the thought). Actually, these are the types of things you need to know and be aware of when in the market for any CCTV system online, from a store or from an honest, reliable CCTV company.
(installing/upgrading/replacing a CCTV system)
1) Ask questions
The way you learn about a company and the systems they install is to ask specific questions and listen carefully to the answers.
Here are some questions I suggest you ask:
· Do you have a Vendor’s license? Are you bonded or insured?
· Can you provide any references of recent jobs?
· Do you offer financing or take credit cards (not necessary but you may need this)?
· What training have you had?
· Are you a member of any trade associations, and if so, which ones?
· Can you be reached in an emergency?
· Can you provide a demo? Onsite or over the Internet or Smartphone?
The above are basic, good questions and should help you decide if you want to move forward. The next questions will really tell you if this is the right company for you.
· How “real” are the camera resolutions (TV Lines)? How are they tested? Are they line chart tested?
· What is the DVR’s recording frame rate? On how many channels?
· What is DVR’s recording resolution? On how many channels?
· If there is a technical problem, how long before it is fixed, repaired or replaced? Do you offer loaner cameras/DVRs?
· Do you offer system training?
· Do you offer tech support? If so, is it onsite or over the phone? Are there charges for this service? How long (months, years) is this service offered?
· Unless you are getting a PC based DVR, this will be an embedded electronic device and will need firmware updates. Do you get them? How do you get them? Are they free or is there a charge? How long are firmware updates available (months, years)?
· What type of warranty coverage or equipment guarantee(s) are offered? What is covered? How long does the coverage last?
· Body language. When asking these questions, keep an eye on this. This will tell you a lot.
2) Go for it
Only after you’re satisfied that you’re working with an honest, competent professional, you can begin the installation process.
By following all of the above recommendations, you’ll gain all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision.
As in all business and professions, the CCTV industry has its share of crooks and thieves. I know. I worked for one and 2 of our 3 competitors were no better. I take no pleasure in telling you this. Also, I have talked to more than one business owner showing me where they gave the CCTV installer money, he ran a few feet of cable and then… left. And I’ve upgraded or added on to existing systems that looked like they were installed by a 5 year old. Add to this their B.S. advertising and false promises, they cast a dark shadow on our entire industry. Then you’ll find other companies-professionals like me who work hard to earn your trust and respect.
As a way of improving our profession, I’ve dedicated my business to
(a) helping people
(b) educating the public.
The only way you can make an intelligent CCTV buying decision is to have all of the facts you need. This is why I offer this report. This is why I offer free newsletters. This is why I am there for my customers before, during and after the job is done. If you want a cheap (I.e. junk) system and service, there are a lot of companies in the phone book and online that can help you with that.
Glossary: Basic CCTV Terms and Definitions
Below is a list of everyday, common CCTV terms and definitions. These terms are used by every CCTV installer, website and in most product literature. Familiarize yourself with these terms and make the best hiring and buying decision possible.
1080p– I wanted to mention this because you see this everywhere: flat screens for your home, PC, Blu-ray discs and in digital video surveillance products. Just know that 1080p (1920×1080 progressive scan) is the standard for all true hi-def display technologies. If your CCTV system boasts 1080p recording, playback, real time view, etc then this is hi-def.
ASC– Auto Signal Compensation. Applies to the new and exciting HD-CVI format (see below). One of the many exciting innovations of HD-SCI is the ability to run long lengths of video cable (over 1500 ft) which would easily lend itself to all kinds of interference and noise, etc. Well, simply put, ASC does not allow that to happen and is a very important consideration to have in place when dealing with cable runs ¼ mile long.
bullet camera– A camera with a round, tube-like shape. These cameras can range in size from a tube of lipstick to can of soda. There are indoor and outdoor designs and some come with infrared features.
CCD– CCD stands for “charge-coupled device”. First invented in the 1970s, this technology uses a shift register combined with photodiodes to create the modern day imaging device. A what? The size of the CCD chip is normally 1/4″, 1/3″ or 1/2″. As a rule of thumb, the larger the size, the higher the quality of the image and the higher the price.
CCTV– Closed Circuit Television. Simply put, this means that the video (cameras) is on a closed circuit-it goes to one place only (the DVR) and is viewed by one person or authorized persons only. In contrast, broadcast TV, for example, is “open” and the video being shot is blasted out to a million viewers. Think of a live news program. Technically speaking, CCTV today really refers to analog (D1, 960H) video surveillance systems but I use it to refer to any and all video surveillance systems (IP, HD-CVI, etc) and companies and you should, too.
dome camera– A camera with a dome-like shape usually mounted on ceilings and walls. They are very unobtrusive and some come with infrared lighting and weather and vandal proof designs.
Dahua Technology-These guys are one of the best and biggest CCTV companies in China. In 2001, they introduced the first 8 channel embedded–software is on the CPU and is a non-PC based DVR–to the world. Nothing’s been the same since. In the fall of 2013, they released the new HD-CVI systems which I believe will change CCTV as we know it (the next year or two will prove me right or wrong).
DVR– Digital Video Recorder. Used with CCTV cameras. Similar to a computer in that it has a hard drive (HD), software and GUI (graphic user interface) and mouse, it converts the incoming analog signals from video cameras to digital, compresses it, and stores it on the HD. The DVR replaces the old-school, pain-in-the-a** time-lapse analog VCRs (remember those?). The advantages of a DVR over a VCR include video compression, remote view capability, burning video to CD-R or DVD-R and not wasting hours locating footage. You will either get a Linux based DVR or a Windows based PC DVR.
fps– Frames per second. For CCTV this refers to the number of video images that can be recorded and/or displayed in one second. Also referred to as the “frame rate” or “refresh rate”, 30fps is considered “real time” and uses more HD space.
Gb– Gigabyte. Digital info is stored in binary code, or lots and lots of 0’s and 1’s. All CDs, DVDs, digital cameras and digital video surveillance is stored this way. Eight (8) 0’s and 1’s make a byte. 1 Gb = 8 billion bits of information. Hard disc drives in PCs and DVRs usually express size in Gigabytes (250 Gb, 320 Gb, 500 Gb) and terabytes (see below).
H.264– This is one of the most commonly used codecs (computer program) for recording, compressing and distributing video as in Blu-ray and videos on YouTube. As far as CCTV is concerned, this allows the recorded video files to be compressed onto the hard drive to save space, but without losing quality for later viewing or archiving.
HD-CVI– This is a new hi-def video surveillance technology developed by Dahua Technology and released in the fall of 2013. There are two resolution formats: 720p and 1080p. This is very exciting news for users who want the quality of an IP system (or HD-SDI system) without the cost and tech issues. Very affordable and very promising.
HD-SDI– High Definition Serial Digital Interface. This system is hi-def 1080p (1920×1080). The use of hi-def mega pixel (MP) cameras and HD-DSI DVRs will record hi-def video with 2.2MP cameras.
IP– An IP camera is a networked digital video camera that transmits data over an Ethernet link. IP cameras (also called “network cameras”) are most often used for video surveillance which is a digitized and networked version of CCTV. IP cameras offer a wide range of MP (mega pixel) cameras with very high resolutions and Decentralized IP cameras have the recording function built-in so there is no need for an NVR. Very popular, IP camera systems can be expensive and sometimes troublesome (but many, many people would disagree). Note: be careful because there are 2 camps out there: one pushing IP and the other not. You must decide what is best for you.
IR– Infrared. Infrared cameras (a.k.a. night vision cameras) have special infrared lights (LEDs) installed around the camera lens. This provides special light that “lights up” the area at specific distances (50 ft, 100ft, etc) that the camera uses to capture images in the dark. Very popular.
lux– The amount of light needed for a camera to capture a good image. Infrared cameras usually have very low lux ratings (0 lux). The smaller the number, the less light is needed. A 0.0001 lux rating, for example, would “see” in complete darkness. This time, smaller is better.
MP– Mega Pixel. Digital images are made up of of tiny, tile-like picture elements. The more pixels, the higher the image resolution should be. This depends on the quality of the CCD sensor, lens, camera, etc. 1MP (megapixel) is one million tiny colored dots in an image, 2MP is two million and so on.
motion detection– The software feature in DVRs to only record video if something moves or changes. Because of this, you don’t have to look through hours of recorded video. It also saves space on the hard drive.
NVR– Network Video Recorder. Used with IP cameras. The easiest definition is that this is like a DVR (above) in that it looks like a DVR and acts like a DVR and can even have a hard drive like a DVR… but, is not a DVR. Unlike a DVR, an NVR does not need to be in the same area as the cabling of your cameras but can be, well, anywhere as long as it is on the same LAN (local area network) as the IP cameras. Video is encoded and processed at the camera, then streamed to the NVR for storage or viewing/remote viewing. Hybrid NVRs use both IP and CCTV cameras and this allows for easy upgrading from the later to the former.
outdoor cameras– Cameras in special weatherproof housings that allow them to function in tough weather and temperature conditions.
progressive scan– For video surveillance, the main advantage of progressive scan is that motion appears smoother and more realistic. It is also a way of displaying, storing or transmitting moving images in which all the lines of each frame are drawn in sequence (different from “interlaced video”). Progressive scan produces a higher quality video frame every time, because it is using every line of the recorded image.
remote view– Viewing your system (live or recorded files) over the Internet, your iPad or Smartphone. You must have an Internet connection at the same location of your system to do all this and this is a standard function on all modern CCTV systems.
resolution– This is probably the most important part of choosing a DVR and cameras. CCTV resolution is measured in vertical and horizontal pixel dimensions. Note: you need to know what you’re doing or deal with an honest company or you’ll end up very unhappy, mad and confused. Note: resolutions are discussed in greater detail above.
Surveillance-1- a watch kept over someone or something, esp. over a suspect, prisoner, etc.: under police surveillance. 2- supervision or superintendence. [1790-1800;
(French, =surveill(er) to watch over (sur- sur-1 + veiller ) Latin vigilare to watch].
TB– Terabyte. 1 Tb = 8 trillion bits of information. See Gb above. Used for the hard drives I install. I do not use anything less than 1 tb.
TVL– Television Lines, or TVL, is one of the most important resolution measurements in a CCTV system and is a specification of an analog camera’s horizontal resolution. It’s also known as TV Lines, “Lines of Horizontal Resolution” (LoHR) or more commonly just “lines of resolution.” A higher number of TVL should mean that a camera will have more detail.
Varifocal– A camera lens in which the focus is not fixed, but can be manually or automatically adjusted. You may see 4-9mm or 2.8-12mm lenses on varifocal cameras.
OK, I think that’s it. As mentioned at the beginning of this report, this glossary is by no means complete but the above info will arm you with basic knowledge and a better understanding of the different terms, formats, definitions and the technology involved with CCTV and will give you more buying power and protection when hiring a CCTV installer or buying a system.
Here’s one last point: I know that many consumers are skeptical about contractors. So am I. As mentioned above, unfortunately, catching crooks does not always apply to customers, thieves or even employees, but from the CCTV industry as well. I hope that you’ve found the information in this report useful, helpful and I hope you have learned things that you didn’t know before. You should now be prepared and feel more confident when it comes time for you to buy a system or have one installed.