Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is used for improving security, and preventing and detecting crime through monitoring and surveillance. Although reports about the number of CCTV cameras in use in the UK are often exaggerated, the country remains one of the most monitored in the world. The Data Protection Act of 1998 specifies how CCTV images may be used and distributed in order to protect the rights of those captured in the images. Before installing CCTV, learn whether the provisions of the Data Protection Act apply to you and how you can ensure that you comply with them.
Once you understand your legal obligations, learn about the basic components of CCTV systems and how they work together. This includes cameras, monitors, cables, switchers and multiplexers, and the differences between analogue and digital recording systems. Some systems are more complex than others, so a professional may need to be consulted before installation. However, simple systems are easy to install and can help you to protect your home or your business. CCTV equipment is available from electronics shops and specialist suppliers, and online from sources such as eBay.
Legal Requirements for Installing CCTV
If CCTV is used in a businesses or public place, the owner of the system must comply with the provisions of the Data Protection Act and related best practice guidelines. For example, sound recording facilities, if any, should be switched off, access to recorded images should be restricted, and a record should be kept of those who view any footage collected. In some cases a Public Space Surveillance Licence may be required and most systems must be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office. For more information on compliance and registration, contact the Information Commissioner.
The Data Protection Act does not apply if the CCTV system is used for household purposes, even if it records part of the pavement or public walkways. However, take care to protect the privacy of neighbours by angling cameras so that they are not intrusive. Although planning permission is usually not required when installing CCTV, confirm this with your Local Authority if you live in a listed building or a conservation area.
Basic Components of a CCTV System
A CCTV system is made up of a number of basic components. The most simple systems consist of only a camera, cable, and monitor. Larger systems can consist of multiple cameras, cables, monitors, controllers, matrix switchers, or multiplexers, and analogue or digital recording devices.
CCTV cameras are the eyes of the system, capturing images in a variety of indoor and outdoor conditions. They are available in colour or black and white models, and can be wired or wireless.
Waterproof CCTV Cameras
Waterproof CCTV cameras have a special housing to protect them from the elements and are used on the outside of buildings. Dome cameras are often seen in shops and feature cameras inside clear or coloured domes. A coloured dome makes it difficult for an observer to see where the camera is pointing, making this type of camera more suitable for the detection of criminal activity in a public area or business environment than in the home. Infrared cameras record in colour during daylight hours and switch to infrared light and black and white recording at night. These cameras are a popular choice for home CCTV systems due to their versatility and ease of use.
Covert CCTV Cameras
Covert CCTV cameras are designed to be inconspicuous and are available housed in intruder alarm detectors or other unnoticeable covers. These can be used in entrance ways or areas where large CCTV cameras are intrusive and appear out of place. Box or body cameras are the cameras most often associated with CCTV. As they may require some assembly, these cameras are not recommended for household use.
Internet Protocol CCTV Cameras
Internet protocol (IP) CCTV cameras are digital cameras that can send and receive data over a network or the internet, much like conventional webcams. However, these cameras are sturdier than webcams and designed specifically for surveillance. Transmitting images from IP cameras requires a lot of bandwidth and images may not be secure if they are transmitted via the internet.
Static vs. Pan Tilt Zoom CCTV Cameras
Static CCTV cameras are manually angled in a particular direction and cannot be redirected electronically. These cameras usually feature rings on the lenses that allow users to adjust the focus. Pan tilt zoom (PTZ) cameras can be manipulated electronically with a system controller, allowing the operator to change the camera’s focus and viewing angle. Static cameras are usually adequate for household purposes.
CCTV Camera Sensors
CCTV cameras have two types of sensors: complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) and charge coupled device (CCD). Cameras with CMOS sensors are usually cheaper, but produce lower quality images. Cameras with CCD sensors are more expensive, but deliver higher quality images, making them a popular choice for cameras for professional use.
CCTV Camera Power Supply
Most CCTV cameras must be plugged into a power supply in order to work. Some are battery operated, but batteries tend to run down quickly and are not an economical choice. Other CCTV cameras feature all-in-one cables that both provide power and carry the signal.
Wireless CCTV systems work with transmitters and receivers that send and receive signals from the camera to the monitoring point. Although these cameras can be installed without unsightly cables marring the look of your home, quality wireless cameras are expensive and various factors, such as walls or other electronic devices, can interfere with the signal. Wired CCTV cameras are connected to the system using a coaxial cable and standard connectors.
Most television sets can work as CCTV monitors. The only difference between CCTV monitors and standard televisions is that monitors do not have tuners. Some monitors also feature built-in switchers. This means that more than one camera can be plugged into the monitor and viewed by changing the channel.
CCTV Controllers, Switchers, and Multiplexers
CCTV controllers, matrix switchers, and multiplexers allow operators to switch between cameras when multiple cameras are installed, manipulate pan tilt zoom cameras in the system, and allow the recording of several cameras as one signal. These are seldom needed in either household or small business set-ups.
Analogue vs. Digital Recording Systems for CCTV
CCTV technology has advanced a great deal over recent years. Older systems relied solely on analogue recording devices, but modern systems are moving towards the ease and convenience of digital video recorders (DVRs). If you are using the system purely to see areas that are hidden for view from inside the house or using CCTV for access control, a recording system may not be necessary.
Analogue CCTV Recorders and Tapes
Although an analogue CCTV video recorder may seem like a cheaper option, this type of system has number of disadvantages. CCTV video recorders are no longer readily available as they are considered old technology. As a result, finding spare parts or replacement devices could be a challenge. Normal videotapes can be used with these systems, but the strain placed on them from recording time-lapse video 24 hours a day makes them wear out fairly quickly and the tapes have to be replaced often to ensure that the images are usable. Time-lapse recording registers an image at intervals, for example every three seconds. Special CCTV tapes are becoming increasingly difficult to source as demand for them decreases. In addition, analogue video recorders are bulky and videotapes have to be changed manually at more or less the same time each day to ensure that the recording remains complete.
Digital CCTV Recorders
CCTV digital video recorders (DVR) are easy to use, compact, and can keep recording for days or weeks without running out of space. A digital system does not require daily attention. However, depending on the size of the hard drive, footage may be erased after a certain number of days in order to allow the system to record new data. This is only a problem for domestic use if the operator goes on holiday or is not home for a particularly long time. Before buying a CCTV DVR, establish how much real time and how much time-lapse video can be recorded by the device. Real time video takes more space than time-lapse recording. Remember to take each camera into account when making this calculation.
Installing CCTV Systems
CCTV systems do not have to be installed by professionals, especially if the system consists of only one or two cameras. However, if the cameras are located in awkward areas or you feel that you lack the technical expertise to set up the system yourself, call in an expert. Spending money on a CCTV system is only worthwhile if the system fulfills its purpose and is installed properly.
For a very simple system, ensure that all components are compatible before buying them, and follow the manufacturer’s installation and instructions for the best system performance. Mount and position the camera and run the cable to the monitor. If the system features more than one camera, then connect the cables to the switcher and then connect the switcher to a monitor, or use a monitor with a built-in switcher. If the system features a recording device, first connect the cameras to the switcher, then connect the switcher to the video recorder, and finally connect the video recorder to the monitor. If pan tilt zoom is part of the system, then make sure that the switcher has a control unit or add a separate device to manipulate these cameras.
How to Buy CCTV Equipment on eBay
Finding CCTV equipment on eBay is easy if you know the basics of searching. To search, simply type a keyword or phrase, for example "infrared CCTV camera", into the search field, which can be found on every page, to see the items available from eBay sellers. Select the most appropriate category, usually the one with the most listings, and the desired item characteristics to refine your search. If you would like additional control over the search results displayed, use the advanced search feature.
Evaluate the Item and the Seller
Before you commit to buy or place a bid on eBay, learn all that you can about the item and the seller. Click on an individual listing to view the item listing page. This page contains information about the item’s condition and description, the bidding and buying options available, the seller’s accepted payment methods, and the postage and packaging costs. The seller feedback feature allows you to see what other eBay buyers have said about particular sellers’ products and customer service.
CCTV systems offer added protection against criminal activity, in both household and business environments. CCTV for business use is regulated by law, but household use is not. Owners of small businesses who are considering installing CCTV should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office for details regarding legal compliance. Home users should do their best not to invade the privacy of their neighbours.
CCTV systems consist of a number of components, including cameras, monitors, and recorders. The cameras chosen should be appropriate to the areas they are going to be used in, with weatherproof cameras being best suited to outdoor conditions and infrared cameras functioning in all lighting conditions. Static cameras are usually adequate for household use. In addition, the type of camera sensor affects the quality of the images produced: CMOS cameras are the least expensive, while CCD cameras produce the highest image quality.
Whether the buyer chooses an analogue or digital system, the system should be cost effective and practical. Digital recorders are a popular choice as they are compact and affordable, and analogue media and components are increasingly difficult to source. CCTV systems do not necessarily have to be installed by professionals, but this may be beneficial if you feel that you do not have the skills needed to install the system properly. Consider buying a CCTV system bundle if you do not wish to buy the components separately. eBay sellers offer a range of CCTV equipment, from basic to more complex devices.