How to Choose a Video Surveillance System

Video surveillance gear comes in a lot of different permutations. Here's how to choose the solution that's right for you.

Do You Need More Than One Camera?

Whether you choose a single or multiple camera surveillance solution depends on the size and layout of your space. If you need to know what's happening in a large exterior area or in multiple rooms, you'll need more than one camera to do the job properly. As a general rule, many homes or small businesses can be effectively monitored with four cameras.

Remember to make sure each camera can "see" key areas of the space you're monitoring, including doorways and other potential entrances (windows, roofs, crawlspaces... anywhere a thief or vandal could possibly gain access).

BrickHouse sells a number of high-performance video surveillance kits, many of which combine four or more cameras, a digital recorder and hard drive (for storing and transmitting images), a video monitor and enough video cabling for most installations. It's always a good idea to plan for at least one or two more cameras than you think you'll need. Many all-in-one kits and prepackaged surveillance systems are easily expandable to include more cameras as your requirements change.

Do You Need Hidden Cameras?

Hidden cameras are your best choice if you need to gather information or evidence without your subject's knowledge. On the other hand, traditional security cameras (devices that are clearly visible in the space they're recording) help deter criminal activity simply by their presence. Thieves and vandals always think twice when they see the watchful eye of a security camera looking down on them.

There are Four Main Types of Visible Security Cameras

Box cameras are the most commonly used video surveillance tool. They're cost effective, they're a visible deterrent and they make sense for most security applications. Many box cams can accept a variety of interchangeable lenses that let you adjust their viewing angle to optimize coverage of the area you need to monitor.

Dome cameras are also a common and popular security cam choice. Though they vary in size, dome cameras are generally much less obtrusive than box cams (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your security needs), and they're easy to mount in many locations. Higher end dome cam models are available with interchangeable lenses.

Pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras offer more installation and monitoring options. They can swivel up and down and side to side, so you can cover a full 360-degree field of view with only one camera. The vast majority of PTZ cams are remote-controllable, which makes them a great choice in many single-camera surveillance setups.

Bullet cameras are similar to traditional box cameras. They serve as a visible deterrent and they come in a variety of sizes — some are very large; others are extremely compact. For monitoring flexibility, many bullet models come with variable focal length zoom lenses. Some also offer an interchangeable lens option.

Will You be Using the Camera Indoors or Outdoors?

Some surveillance cameras are specifically designed for either indoor or outdoor use. Indoor cameras tend to be smaller, lighter and generally less brawny than their outdoor counterparts. Outdoor security cams are often more expensive than indoor models because they're built to withstand not only the elements, but also attacks from vandals and thieves. Many of today's higher quality security cams are designed for both indoor and outdoor use.

For an extra layer of covert protection, BrickHouse offers outdoor surveillance cameras disguised as common objects. You can choose a hidden cam and built in digital video recorder disguised as a rock, a hose reel or an electrical power box, for example. We also carry surveillance cams designed specifically for use in cars and trucks.

How is Your Site Lit?

While many offices or other places of business are well lit at night, many private homes are not. The less light in a space, the more likely thieves are to look at it as a tempting target. If you need to protect an area with poor lighting, you'll want to invest in an IR (infrared) camera system. IR (also known as "Nightvision") cameras can shoot and record in complete darkness, and they're necessary tools in many surveillance situations. Though not true infrared models, some cameras are designed to work in extremely low light. To give you a basis for comparison, manufacturers provide a minimum illumination "lux" rating. The lower the lux rating number, the better a camera is at capturing images in
low light.

How Do You Record and View Surveillance Video?

There are a few ways to capture and store images from your surveillance cameras. For simpler security setups, memory card recording is the most common method. Memory cards are particularly effective if you're using a single camera in your system. Some cameras have built in memory cards; others need to be connected to a standalone
digital video recorder (DVR). Cams with built in recording are fine for many basic security applications, but they aren't ideal as a long-term video surveillance solution because they store much less data than a dedicated DVR. (The more memory a recording device has, the longer it can record before it runs out of storage space or begins to override earlier recordings.)

A dedicated DVR is the best choice for sophisticated surveillance systems. DVRs can record much more video than a typical removable memory card, and they're available in a variety of permutations. Small DVRs designed for personal use can support a single camera, while others can support as many as 16 cameras simultaneously and capture video to their large built in hard drives. Some people even use personal computers as hard drive recorders, though we don't recommend that solution for sophisticated surveillance systems because it's not nearly as reliable as a standalone DVR system.

How Can You See Live Video Over the Internet?

BrickHouse offers a huge selection of Internet cameras, DVRs and network video servers Also known as IP cameras, these versatile devices allow you to connect to the Internet via a broadband network and remotely view live video from any web browser anywhere in the world. Once your system is set up, the only requirement is Internet access. You can even monitor one or more video cameras or DVRs from your smartphone.

IP cameras come in all of the form factors discussed above (box cameras, dome cams, etc.). Some require a physical cable connection, others are wireless and transmit their data via radio frequency (RF) signals or over a local Wi-Fi network.

Think of IP cameras as mini computers that happen to have sophisticated optics built in. They come with their own software and need to be configured to a network in order to function. The network configuration is a very simple process for most devices; generally setup is no more complex than configuring a Wi-Fi network.

For professional-grade IP camera functionality, standalone NVR (Network Video Recorder) software is also available from BrickHouse. NVR software packages add robust features like facial recognition (which allows an IP cam to distinguish between people and objects for more precise video surveillance), video quality enhancements and the ability to monitor and control as many as 64 individual IP cameras on a single network.

If you already own a non-IP cam, you can still connect it to the Internet with a network video server. Also known as IP video servers, these devices turn any security camera into an IP cam capable of being monitored over the Internet from any computer or smartphone.