How to buy a CCTV system

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The chances are that if you are reading this guide, you have already made the decision to invest in a CCTV system. It’s a wise choice and if you pick the right one, you won’t regret it. But there are many things to take into consideration before committing yourself to a particular system. Hopefully, this guide will give you some insight into what to look out for and what to avoid before you make your purchase. 
 
Firstly, you need to have a budget in mind. Depending on what system you decide to go for, there may be hidden costs. Some sellers will provide you with a full package and all you need to do is set it up. For some, this may be the most suitable option but for others or anyone who hopes to use the footage as evidence, say a shop owner who spots a shop lifter, the cheaper package deals are often not up to the job.
 
There are six main elements to a good CCTV system. They are:
 
DVR – This is the Digital Video Recorder. The days of unreliable tapes are long gone. Camera footage is now recorded on to a hard drive, making it much easier to view and provides days or weeks of recording space.
Camera’s – These vary in price and quality. Some are weatherproof and some are only suitable for indoor use. There are various lens types to take into consideration too. Some lenses will provide a wide angle view whilst other, while give a much closer view from the same position. There are even some which can be altered either manually or automatically and even pan and tilt, but this guide will just focus on fixed cameras.
Mounting brackets – these don’t always come with the camera’s so need to be purchased separately. There are various types available.
Power Supply – The basic power supplies are much the same as any other plug in transformer but there are advantages to buying a dedicated power supply, providing you have the space.
Cable – To connect the camera’s to the DVR and power supply.
Monitor – Either a dedicated monitor or a TV. 

DVR:
When looking for a DVR, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, what do I want from it? Let’s say vandals damage your vehicle and you have CCTV where you park your car. You want to show the Police in the hope that they recognise those responsible, right? Well, it’s worth considering the quality of the image you wish to capture on the DVR. Many of the cheaper (often package system) DVR’s only capture low resolution images. The lower the resolution, the poorer the quality footage and less chance you have of identifying someone from it. Aim to purchase a system that is classed as ‘D1’. That will give a resolution of 720x480 pixels, which is the maximum resolution a conventional analog camera can provide after the video signal has been digitised in a DVR.
D1 will give a good quality image that will provide clarity to the video footage. Also ensure that the DVR is D1 on all channels. Some cheaper DVR’s just have it on the first one or two channels. This is to cut down costs, hence the reason they appear to give a lot for not much money.
Next, you need to think about how many camera’s you will be installing. The usual minimum is 4 channels. They tend to double each time so next is 8 then 16 then 32 and so on. Evidentially and for ease of use, it’s better to have one DVR with 8 channels rather than two DVR’s with 4. It makes life much easier and there are no issues with the clocks showing different times or dates. It’s best to oversize the DVR at this stage since any additional camera’s you want in the future may mean you have to buy a new DVR. It makes no difference if you have 6 cameras and a DVR with 8 channels. You can switch off the unused channels to save hard drive space.
Next, you need to decide what size Hard drive (HDD) you need in the DVR. They range in size and price. The bigger the HDD, the more space you have for recording footage. A smaller HDD will give you less recording space before it over writes itself. You need to ensure that the HDD you pick is compatible with your DVR. Check the listing for the maximum it will accept because some have a cut off limit so you may find your DVR only recognises 2tb of your 3tb HDD. Also, consider paying a little extra for one that is eco-friendly. The small extra cost will be saved in the long run with the reduced running cost.
Also decide if you need remote access to the DVR. This will allow you to view live and recorded footage from your smart phone, PC or tablet when at home or whilst away on holiday. It’s a great facility, especially if your burglar alarm goes off whilst you are away from the premises and you want to check if everything is in order. This facility is pretty much standard on most DVR’s but some are easier to set up than others. Look out for one that states it doesn’t require port forwarding, because if you are not technically minded, opening ports on an internet router can be a headache. The best ones do it all for you without any hassle.

Cameras
We will stick with fixed cameras for this guide. I mentioned lenses earlier. These range, the most common being anywhere from 6mm to 16mm. The lower the number, the wider the angle the camera will give you. If for example you have a shop, and you want to capture an image of people entering, pick a lens with a 12mm or 16 lens if you can. This will ensure the customers face fills the screen more than a wide lens would allow. The bigger the image, the more detail you can capture. You can always add another camera in the same location, with a wide lens to get a wider view of the shop door.
The two most popular types of lenses in CCTV cameras are CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) and CCD (charge-coupled device). Their names refer to the types of sensor used in the camera. We won’t get bogged down in the details but you will find that CMOS cameras are cheaper. Aim to buy those listed as CCD. They will give better colour representation in varying light and won’t become as distorted in bright sun light. CMOS lenses tend to give false colours in day light which may make the difference between recognising a vehicle or not.
 
Also consider what lighting you require. Many camera’s come with build in infra red (IR) lighting for when light is low. The cameras with two or three large IR LED’s usually perform better than those with many smaller IR LED’s. They give a wider spread of invisible light and can reach much further.
As for resolution, try and at least match the resolution of your DVR. There is little point buying a high definition camera if your DVR won’t record above D1. It’s like plugging a Blu-ray player into a video recorder and recording the output - the recorded footage won’t be anywhere near as good as the source. Look for a camera that is listed as 700TVL or above (TVL = TV Lines – the higher the number the better the resolution).
Often the mounting brackets don’t come with the cameras so look out for those too. Many of the cheaper brackets simply won’t hold the weight of the camera’s so ensure they are sturdy and will survive in windy conditions.

Power Supply
If you are installing a number of cameras, a dedicated power supply is likely to be cheaper and more reliable. They come in a range of sizes and outputs. Some of the cameras with the larger IR LED’s tend to require a higher rated power supply so ensure you buy one that will match your requirements. As with the DVR, it’s often better to buy one that is bigger than you need rather than replace it in the future if you add to the system.
Most power supplies require that you wire the power cables directly to the board so make sure you are happy and competent to do this, otherwise you will require an electrician to do it for you. Overall, a dedicated power supply makes the system look much more professional and neater.
As for cables to connect the camera’s and power supply, look out for cable described as ‘CCTV SHOTGUN’ cable. This is the equivalent of a video feed cable and power supply all in one. It means one cable to each camera and looks neat when fitted. Because you will be connecting the video and power cables to the cameras, you will need to purchase weather proof enclosures to keep the connections from the weather.
Shotgun cable on a reel will allow you to use the exact amount of cable, rather than having a spools of excess cable at either the camera or DVR end, as with pre made cables. The quality and ability to carry video and power is often improved too because the components of the cable and fittings are usually better.
You will also need to purchase CCTV BNC connectors for each end of the video cable. One end connects to the DVR and the other to the camera. They are relatively cheap but you will need to purchase a BNC crimping tool to fix them to each end.
To connect the power supply to each camera, you will also require a power connector. Search for CCTV DC connector. Most camera’s already have the female fitting so you will most likely only require the male fitting to connect to it. Again, these are only cheap.

Monitor
Many DVR’s have a HDMI output so all modern TV’s are suitable. This will give you the best output along with VGA port, which is the same sort of connector you have on your computer monitor. As with HDMI, this will give a high resolution output to view the footage. SCART, composite or any coax cable connection will only give a lower resolution than the others listed above. Avoid these sorts of connections.
 
That is just a basic guide on what you need to consider when buying a system. Often it seems far easier to buy one that someone has put together. It’s often cheaper too but there is usually a reason for this. Remember, if you are buying a CCTV system it is usually to protect your home or business. There is little point it doing so if you have opted for a cheap system that doesn’t give sufficient clarity and resolution to recognise those on it. I was prompted to write this review as part of a promotion but I hope it will inspire others to do the same and share their knowledge and experience.
Thanks for reading.

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