A Buying Guide to Security Camera Systems

security camera systems

Helping your customers understand their video surveillance options

Security camera systems have come a long way from grainy, black and white imagery. Consumer expectations, shaped by depictions on TV and in the movies, are high—and often unrealistic. As your sales force interacts with customers seeking to update an existing system or looking to install a new one, this security camera system buying guide can help your team. It’s arranged by key factors that need to be considered in order to find a system that best meets each customer’s requirements.

Power source

How a customer wants to power their security camera system is a key determining factor—if not THE determining factor—of the kind of system they need. There are 3 basic kinds of cameras/camera systems.

1. Wire free security camera system

Wire-free cameras run on batteries. They send their signals via WiFi and so require an existing WiFi system, although some cameras may include the option of on-board recording. If for some reason a customer’s home or business does not have WiFi, it will need to be installed.

And when it comes to that home or business WiFi system, it’s best if it has both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels. WiFi security cameras use 2.4 GHz as it allows for a longer transmission distance. So, a dual WiFi system allows the end-user to switch other devices over to 5 GHz to help avoid 2.4 GHz overload.

Besides wire-free, WiFi-based cameras, there are 4G LTE battery-operated cameras that use a SIM card. These require a separate data plan, just like a cell phone.

Wire-free cameras and camera systems tend to be the most DIY-friendly. Do inform potential customers of charging options, additional battery packs and the parameters surrounding the stated battery running time.

2. Wireless: WiFi security camera system

Wireless cameras run on AC power and send signals via WiFi to some kind of recording device. Check with your customer to see if they have AC outlets near proposed camera placement sites. If not, are they willing to pay an electrician to install them?

Like wire-free systems, wireless security camera systems require an existing WiFi system and may have an on-board recording option.

Note that the terms wireless and wire-free can be confusing to end users. Make sure your customers understand that wireless refers only to signal transmission, not to power! Without that clarification, there can be complaints and returns.

Wireless WiFi systems are next in line for DIY readiness. The sticking point tends to be the availability of electrical outlets.

3. Wired: BNC security camera system or PoE security camera system

Wired systems can have cameras a long distance from its DVR or NVR recorder. Both electrical power and signal transmission are sent via some kind of cable or cables, making this type of system ideal for retrofits and custom installers.

If a customer is replacing an older wired version and wants to retain the current wiring, find out if the older version is BNC based or PoE based. This is important as the wiring type limits the resolution of the cameras that can be connected to it. BNC analog cabling can handle resolutions up to 1920 x 1080—Full HD. PoE wiring can handle up to 4K UHD. Analog DVRs, if not compatible with Full HD, can be upgraded with newer versions. PoE systems use NVRs which can also be upgraded to handle higher resolutions.

These differentiations often lead to a common question from consumers: What’s the difference between a DVR and an NVR?

Both record video. But each is designed to work with a different kind of camera. Most NVRs work with WiFi or IP wired cameras because they connect to a network. Cabling, if used, is Ethernet CAT-5 or CAT-6 or PoE.

DVRs only work with wired, analog cameras. Each camera is individually connected to the DVR, usually by a BNC-type cable.

Pixel Resolution

When it comes to video surveillance, higher the resolution the easier it is to see details or zoom in on a certain part of the image. This enables better facial recognition, greater readability of license plate numbers, etc.

Confusingly, a number of different terms are used to describe a camera’s resolution. Some companies use an MP or megapixel designation. Others use resolution. Yet others use HD terms—or a mixture of all three.

Here’s a handy approximation chart to help convert terms. Note that megapixel designation tends to be a rounded number and covers many variants, so it’s not a precise designation.

Comparative Megapixel/Resolution Chart

Today, we are accustomed to landscape-style video images, but not all security cameras have a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio. Some are still 4:3 while others don’t fall into any readily recognizable ratio. If your sales team is uncertain of how a resolution translates, here’s a handy aspect ratio calculator.

Many cameras include a selection of resolutions. But a higher resolution may be accompanied by a slower frame rate. That’s because higher resolutions take up more bandwidth.

To put it in perspective, TV shows shot on video use 60 frames per second. This accounts for the smooth motion to which we are accustomed. But security cameras tend to process images at slower speeds—30 frames per second, 20 frames per second or even 15 frames per second. The lower the number, the jerkier the action. So it’s important to point this out to customers in advance so there are no surprises.

Types of cameras

Almost all modern security cameras and camera systems offer remote access, night vision, motion detection and push notifications. Therefore, the key variables lie in areas like:

  • Location of use
  • Camera shape
  • Field of view
  • Fixed position or controllable
  • Will it be used in an integrated smart home?

The questions to ask prospective buyers are:

1. Will the cameras be placed indoor, outdoor or both?

One should not use an indoor camera in the outdoors. Even many outdoor cameras suggest a sheltered location. So check for environmental limitations, including temperature range and, if available, relative humidity.

2. How obvious do the cameras need to be?

Bullet style tends to be more noticeable while dome cameras tend to blend into the ceiling or wall.

3. How big of an area does a camera need to cover?

If a wide swath needs to be monitored, choose cameras between 115° and 180°. Remind customers who are seeking a wider field of view that image distortion can be an issue, depending on the brand. Also, the wider the image, the more difficult it may be to grab closeups on faces or license plates, even at higher resolutions.

4. Once installed, is there a need to change the positioning of a camera?

If so, the customer needs a PTZ camera. Its pan, tilt and zoom functions can be remotely controlled using physical controls or software.

5. Does it need to work with a smart home network?

If the camera system is to be incorporated into an existing smart home network, you’ll need to determine which systems work with which voice assistant to pick the correct ones for consideration. As this is an area that’s constantly in flux, it’s important to stay updated in this area.

Security camera systems mashup

As you can see, there are many variables when it comes to security cameras. While one customer can use an off-the-shelf system, another may require something so complex it needs to be custom pieced.

That’s why your company should offer both kinds of systems, as well as installation services. Even the most confident of customers seeking to purchase a DIY system can get overwhelmed once they consider all the variables.

And don’t forget the monitor! Almost no system today includes a monitor or TV, so make sure your customer has considered their viewing options—especially if smartphone playback is not ideal.

If you’re looking to expand your stock of video surveillance systems, be sure to check out the wide selection at Petra.com!

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