How to Upgrade Older CCTV Systems

Replacing analog CCTV components with digital ones doesn’t necessarily require a huge cash outlay. Taking small steps can provide dramatic improvements to on-site security, while allowing a manageable financial investment.

With digital technology now dominating the security industry, upgrading analog CCTV systems is a necessity for most older installations. Still, many customers fear they cannot afford the cost of such conversions. These expenses can be kept in check, however, if the changes are made incrementally.

Upgrades such as installing new digital cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs), integrating these units with point-of-sale (POS) systems, and adding outdoor cameras, along with interactive security and remote access are some steps that can be taken to gradually improve a system, while keeping costs under control.

Replace Analog Cameras With Digital Units in Vital Areas

Digital cameras provide dramatically improved image and color quality, making the captured footage more reliable in terms of actually identifying and apprehending suspects.

Consider installing stationary domes in areas where employees or others could move the cameras. Install the cameras in areas where repeat offenses have been an issue, and don’t forget about the back office, coolers or freezers. Putting cameras in these areas helps reduce internal shrinkage, and has proven to contribute to huge drops in worker’s compensation claims.

Digital Video Storage Improves Image Quality

A DVR greatly improves the quality of the video and eliminates the problem of managing VHS tapes in the back room. This simple step greatly increases the security system’s overall reliability, as VCRs are often the weak link in older CCTV systems.

Most tapes will visibly degrade images after 10 uses, while a DVR will keep recording images onto a hard disk drive for years without any degradation. The average hard disk today has a mean time before failure (MTBF) of 10 to 12 years vs. a VCR, which requires annual cleaning and/or head replacements at a significant cost.

A big misunderstanding about image quality is the assumption that it can be measured by the number of pixels the DVR will record. A pixel count of 640 X 480 will have a higher picture quality than a 320 X 240 pixel count, but this is before compression. All video compression will cause a loss in image quality, and these losses get larger as the compression ratio gets bigger.

Better quality, however, is not the only reason why DVRs should be purchased. Ease of evidence transfer and increased storage are two other pluses.

DVRs Offer Simple Transfer, Greater Storage

It is extremely easy to transfer evidence from a DVR. Many DVRs have a built-in CD/RW drive where the desired video file may easily be burned to the CD, which may then be played back on any PC. Images can also typically be saved in a BMP format and printed on any conventional laser jet or inkjet printer. Digital recorders can also store images for a longer period of time than VCRs.

The amount of storage will depend on a number of factors, such as the size of the hard drive, the number of cameras that are recording and the frame rate. The frame rate is typically a range from less than one frame per second (FPS) up to 30 FPS or more.

JPEG, Wavelet, H.263 Are Most Common Types of Compression

Another factor in storage capacity is the type of compression that a manufacturer uses. With JPEG, the software examines blocks of pixels and decides which blocks are redundant and not essential to creating the image. The blocks that are essential are transmitted, therefore only the changes in images are recorded and or transmitted.

Wavelet captures a complete video image with each frame and determines the content of every pixel in the image. H.263 is commonly used in video teleconferencing. It is similar to JPEG except that it only transmits the pixels in each image that have changed from the last image, rather than full images. As a result, it sends only the differences from one frame to the next.

The compression format used is determined by the nature of the customer’s application. H.263 would typically be used where storage and transmission are priorities, and JPEG and wavelet may be used when image quality takes precedence over speed and storage.

In addition, a DVR can view and record simultaneously so that during playback, the unit is still recording and critical information is not missed. Using the DVR’s password protection, the user may be denied access to various features, which may allow live viewing only or retrieving only. Also, parameter set-up access may be denied to all except maintenance/service personnel or management.

Integrate Digital Storage Unit With POS System

Once a DVR is selected, it can be integrated with a POS system. This allows viewing of specific transactions by time of day or type of action. For example, the POS system can track and display all void discount or no sale transactions that cause the cash register to open. This would allow an authorized user to view any suspicious activity and respond to it.

Another option for upgrades is to install outdoor CCTV cameras in areas prone to vandalism, loitering or crowd problems. Most outdoor cameras should have low-light sensitivity, making images more distinguishable. All outdoor cameras should have weather-resistant housings to ensure optimal performance under any condition.

Provide Interactive Security for 2-Way Communication

Adding interactive security for advanced two-way audio and video communication between the site and a remote central station is another way to upgrade a CCTV system.

Interactive security includes a transmitter/DVR, microphone and speaker in the remote location. It may also include other devices, such as a panic button, bill trap, wireless pendants or emergency phones, which are programmed with the transmitter to automatically dial a central monitoring station as soon as the device is activated.

When activated, a signal travels from the remote location to the central monitoring station via telephone, ISDN lines or LAN/WAN. Once the information is received, the central station can see, hear and speak to the location.

Add Remote Access for Authorized Management

Authorized company managers can also remotely tap into the security system from any laptop computer that has the appropriate software installed. These users can watch and interact with their stores, solving the issue of having to physically travel to each location. Remote management enables cost-effective operational management, employee training, mystery shopper services (monitoring the behavior and performance of employees), and the ability to resolve issues quickly and easily.

Remote access may be via a plain old telephone system (POTS), ISDN or LAN/WAN. The advantage of a network connection is faster speed. Additionally, some transmitters and DVRs have the capability for multiple users to access the recorder/transmitter simultaneously when they are connected on a network.

Michael J. Upp is vice president of business development for Westec Interactive in Irvine, Calif. He can be reached at (949) 797-4720 or

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