Choosing The Perfect CCTV System
A perfect CCTV solution requires careful balancing of many parts.
Choosing the perfect CCTV system is a balancing act, with performance and cost inevitably opposing one another. For end users it’s vital to make sure the system selected meets achievable operational requirements. Installers, meanwhile, need to listen to their customers, without falling into the trap of over-promising.
ENSURING you end up with the perfect CCTV system – perfect for your application, that is – requires effort and engagement, as well as an open-mind and careful selection of hardware and software solutions that meet the operational needs of the applications. Making sure you get the best networking capability is important, too.
One of the hardest things for installers, consultants and end users is finding a balance between budget and performance – that includes camera performance, with all its vagaries. But there’s more to it than that. You need a system that can offer the resolutions you need, the storage capacity you need, the number of streams you need, the support you need, the analytics – and a whole lot more. Getting it right is a process, not a single decision.
According to Andrew Cho of EOS, the perfect CCTV system provides the best image quality possible in its environment and incorporates smart features to proactively counter threats, as well as sophisticated features to maximise the operational efficiency is required.
“End-users must plan and need to know what they want to achieve from the CCTV system,” says Cho. “Once their objective is clear, then they need to manage the project, ensuring they have enough done enough research, and understand the available systems. For a large organisation, it is best to have a professional (consultant) to manage the project who is working to a set of clear objectives.
“Installers need to clearly understand the customer’s objective through in-depth discussion – adding professional advice drawing on their know-how is essential in providing the perfect solution. They then need to actively research products to ensure the solution is perfect for the customer.
“Installers must be open-minded yet at the same time, they need to be cautious of the brands and systems they choose. There is no room for failure in security applications, so installers must consider numerous of different factors and check if all functionality claimed on paper can be delivered in the real world.”
At the core of larger systems is the VMS and establishing what qualities the ideal VMS offers a perfect CCTV system is vital. Camera integration is also important to overall VMS performance.
“In-depth camera integration is one of the most important parts in the VMS,” Cho explains. “The larger the system, the more crucial seamless communication and transmission become with cameras. This integration impacts the overall performance of the VMS, while irregular transmission may cause loss of data.”
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For smaller sites, NVRs are central – what are the key functions a good NVR must offer in SME applications?
“With NVRs important aspects include an easy user interface, enough capacity for the retention period, strong cybersecurity protection, smart search functionality and minor redundancy such as ARB (Automatic Recovery Back-Up) which allows the SD recording of the camera to recover the missing time gap if there is a disconnection between the recorder and the camera,” Cho explains.
Something that can be tough to resolve in a perfect CCTV system is camera performance. The question here is whether or not there’s a line when it comes to the perfect CCTV system. Should there be minimum capabilities in terms of image sharpness, WDR, low light, motion blur, bit rate, etc, for a given angle of view – or is it just too hard to call, given the variations of camera form/specification and the demands of an application? According to Cho, it’s important not to over-engineer the system.
“For example, in the WISENET SAMSUNG range, there are X series which is a premium performance line-up with 150dB WDR and built-in analytics,” he explains. “However, not every location has strong backlight or requires analytical functions. In those cases, we recommend the Q series line-up which is more cost-effective and provides a quality image for the lesser challenging environment. With the form factor, it is important to consider the potential threat to the camera. Usually for any camera mounted less than 3M height is recommended with a dome design as it is easily reachable.”
“Having said this, the availability of different form factors is very important for the perfect CCTV system. Every location is different, and different form factors are designed to serve different requirements. If the system is an NVR-based solution, then a unified brand is important because of the native integration for a seamless system. However, if the system is non-proprietary VMS solution, then its biggest advantage is freedom of selecting the best fit for purpose camera from different brands across a range of form factors. It is not crucial to have the same brand across the system unless only one brand can deliver the best outcome for every requirement.”
Cho says a properly provisioned network and storage capability is vital to ensure the full performance of devices can be leveraged.
“Given CCTV is networked, it is crucial to provision the network capability properly,” Cho argues. “The bandwidth of the system and available capacity in a real-life scenario must be measured precisely to ensure the storage is calculated correctly. Once both bandwidth and storage calculations are correct, choosing the right product to deliver becomes an easy process which results in delivering satisfactory result for the end-user.”
Should the ability of a system to support analytics now or in the future be a consideration of the perfect CCTV solution?
“Most of the analytics in a CCTV system are video content analytic, which means the quality of the video produced by the camera is the key data source to analyse,” says Cho. “Analytics must be considered in the perfect CCTV solution, whether the customer requires this immediately or in the future. The CCTV paradigm is changing from reactive to the proactive handling of events, and analytic plays a key role in proactively preventing threats.”
Does the perfect CCTV system include thermal where appropriate?
“I think thermal could be required in the perfect CCTV system if it is necessary to deliver on the end user’s requirements,” Cho explains. “Thermal cameras provide a different type of information which non-thermal cannot deliver. If it is used correctly where required, then it will help in designing the perfect CCTV system.
“Integration with multiple sub-systems (or third-party system) is another key aspect, as the market is trending towards automated systems which interact with different sub-system in enhance a user’s overall solution.”
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According to Pelco’s Craig Cobbin, an effective CCTV system includes video cameras that can extract detail in challenging lighting conditions, has intelligent video analytics, and an intuitive, flexible VMS that makes it easy for operators to access video or any other key data as quickly as possible. It is also easy to customize or scale, so that operators can add more cameras or put in place different types of cameras to address their changing needs.
“The first step is considering what the problem is that you need to address,” Cobbin says. “There are myriad reasons for installing a CCTV system: protecting people & property, minimizing liability, theft prevention, employee accountability, restricting access to sensitive facilities, etc. The next step is determining your budget, including how much you are willing to spend in the initial investment and how much you plan on spending in ongoing operating and staffing costs.”
Cobbin says the key to ensuring the client ends up with exactly what they need operationally is to use your ears.
“Listen to the end-user and try to assess their needs as well as their capabilities in terms of training, staff, and budget,” he says. “If you don’t take those factors into consideration, then you might be setting up the end-user for a system they aren’t equipped to handle.
“Installers need to think critically about the customer they are serving and the types of systems and products that make sense for the specific site. It also helps to establish a specific team that will manage the surveillance system application.”
According to Cobbin, an ideal VMS integrates with any kind of video camera (analogue or IP) and can provide easy access to their key capabilities including in-camera video analytics.
“The key here is finding a system that automates many of the responsibilities that previously depended on individual staff, whether that is identifying an abandoned object, counting objects, triggering an alarm for a wrong-way entry, or zooming in on a person entering a facility,” he explains.
“These capabilities allow systems to identify problems and alert security personnel as quickly as possible. Above all else, however, an ideal VMS is easy to learn for any operator, whether they come from a surveillance background or a traditional IT background.
“When it comes to smaller sites, most SMEs depend on having an NVR that is easy to install and use, thereby reducing the time and cost spent on training. To maximize flexibility and save time and staffing costs, it’s key that operators be able to access the video from a variety of sources, including remote mobile devices, and that the system allows operators to quickly search for recorded video that can be saved as a record or shared via email for the purposes of an investigation.”
Camera performance comes down to the unique needs of each organization, Cobbin says.
“A system that is aimed at employee accountability at an indoor location may not require low-light capabilities while an outdoor system aimed at providing 24/7 perimeter security will,” he explains. “It starts with what is the nature of the environment – is it critical infrastructure or more routine surveillance? What are the consequences of a breach? What lighting conditions will the area see over the course of a day, a week, a year. How widely spread out is the needed coverage? Is there manned surveillance required?
“There are a wide range of possible cameras that meet varying needs here, as well as tiers of product lines suited for levels of performance. While there’s no such thing as a universally perfect camera, there are effective cameras for certain situations. The ideal CCTV installation needs to be able to accommodate a variety of cameras that can address the challenges of coverage required in each situation.”
Storage needs to be carefully managed to meet varying needs, according to Cobbin. And analytics is now an area that demands serious consideration, as is thermal.
“Operators have different priorities when it comes to storage,” he explains. “An effective CCTV system should allow for adequate storage of the requisite days of video that meets business and regulatory needs. Since storage accounts for a substantial portion of total system cost, it is important to take advantage of compression technologies emerging in IP security cameras that minimize storage without significantly compromising image quality.
“Further, surveillance systems are no longer simply a means to record video. They are also a means to gather and analyze a variety of data. The more that CCTV systems can leverage data analytics, the better they will become at identifying and even foreseeing problems before they occur. Also, quickly identifying people and vehicles of interest after an incident across petabytes of video from dozens or hundreds of cameras is a challenge. Video analytics can greatly speed this up and eventually look for patterns that enable predictability of future events.”
“Thermal capabilities are also useful in areas with no light where longer range viewing is desired. They are good for perimeter security, in critical infrastructure and are particularly suited to detect the presence of people and running vehicles with appropriate video analytics.”
Cobbin argues that the ability to integrate with multiple sub-systems is a key aspect of an effective CCTV system.
“The ideal CCTV system is flexible and scalable,” he says. “Operators should be able to easily add capabilities as their needs and budget evolve and they should be able to know that their current system will be able to take advantage of new tools that come to market.
Avi Gerbi, FLIR’s managing director – Asia Pacific region, says there isn’t a one-size fits all, “perfect” CCTV solution for all deployments – some functions could be more important than others, depending upon the application.
“In theory, a perfect CCYV system will properly address each of the areas that are typically handled by CCTV systems which are: live monitoring, real-time handling of events, situational awareness, data retention and video surveillance,” he explains.
“Taking this into account, it’s important for end-users to define clear objectives, including details such as how they are planning to use the CCTV system, what are the known security threats and concerns, typical use cases and so on. The more the end user is involved in the early stages of the design, the better. The amount of planning required varies on case by case, based on the size, volume, level of threats, applications and the type and nature of the end user and the site being protected.
“Meanwhile, installers need to design the CCTV system according to a clear set of goals defined by the end users given that solutions are not generically perfect but can be close to perfect on a case-by-case basis if they deliver the functionalities that are required to address the end user goals,” Gerbi says. “In addition, it is important to conduct a site survey prior to making the design and include a service maintenance agreement to guarantee that the deployment will continue to serve its goals for the long run.
“I would agree that installers should be open minded and try to select the ideal system layout and product type based on the project needs, not based on their own convenience. Installers play a role of consultants and subject matter experts and as such they should be objective when it comes to system design and product selection.”
Gerbi says there are many qualities the ideal VMS gives a perfect CCTV system.
“When it comes to large systems there are several areas that are crucial for the VMS to be able to address,” he explains. “This includes distributed architecture, failover, redundancy, tools and methods for dealing with network overhead (network load, bandwidth peaks, spikes, latencies etc.), robust UI, tools for searching and browsing through vast amounts of video and high camera counts, remote access, user management. It is very important that the VMS will be tested and certified to function properly under significant workloads.
“On smaller sites, depending on the case, application and type of end users, some deployments would favour simplicity over feature set and vice versa. That said there are several functions that are important to most of the NVR-deployment use cases, such as good cyber security with a continuous upgrade path, robust web client, remote access, retention management and the ability to receive and properly handle events and alarms.”
Gerbi says camera capabilities are subject to trade-offs.
“There are 2 primary trade-offs being cost/performance, whereas camera features and performance levels and reliability directly related to the cost of the camera,” he explains. “Then there’s observational surveillance/evidentiary surveillance, which in many ways is like choosing between high-detail coverage of a small area and low-detail coverage of a wide area.
“This said, it is very important to select camera types and form factors that are designed to meet the specific objectives of each application. Different camera types and form factors address different coverage area needs, and in some cases a specific form factor such as 180 and 360-degree camera allows to save costs having a single camera can replace multiple cameras covering the same area.”
According to Gerbi, network and storage requirements for a CCTV deployment are set to ensure that the system will meet its general requirements as defined by the customer or a consultant on his behalf.
“As such it is crucial to have the network properly provisioned and the storage to suffice, for instance in most cases there are strict requirements for retention policies which otherwise they will not be met,” Gerbi says. “The ability of a system to support analytics now or in the future should also be a consideration, however, such consideration does not depend on camera performance or data quality.
“Instead it should rely on the following criteria (each of the following is a plus): existing support for video analytics by the camera and/or VMS, existing or future interfaces to connect with the cloud, near-term roadmap with new analytics offerings and continuous investment in this area by the camera/VMS vendor, open platform approach by the camera/VMS vendor and an existing network of technology partners including video analytics.”
According to Gerbi, the perfect CCTV system includes thermal imaging where appropriate.
“The perfect CCTV system should include thermal where appropriate,” he says. “When working with video cameras alone, lighting can play a significant role in image capture. Unlike other video solutions, thermal cameras do not need light to capture high contrast quality footage, as such the integration of thermal imaging cameras can provide end users with a multitude of benefits – from better, more accurate intrusion-based analytics to lower cost deployment resulting from cost savings in artificial lighting and longer detection distances.
“The ability to integrate with multiple sub-systems is another very important benefit of a CCTV system, given that most deployments would include other systems as part of the security and safety operation and without integration each of these systems will work separately adding overhead and complexity.”
Jordan Cullis of Milestone Systems argues that in the modern era, an ideal system should include “advanced features such as search and detect, mobile access and alerts for 24-hour monitoring, and an intelligent solution that can integrate with other security systems including analytics, access control, IOT devices and even applications from outside the security realm. AI can bring so much more than just static surveillance to a CCTV system these days, there is almost limitless scope for adding functionality.”
Cullis says the word ‘governance’ is being used these days to describe the holistic approach to an advanced security system.
“It’s probably the best way of looking at the process behind choosing and managing the ideal solution for a particular end-user,” he explains. “Ideally, you want a solution that not only provides excellent surveillance, but one that is programmable to the company’s unique requirements, literally giving them the ability to govern their space in the best way possible. That may include automation, video analytics for managing spaces better, IoT connectivity between devices for managing attendance and access control, and a host of other features.
“For installers, the key is understanding the customer’s vision is key to success in designing end-to-end solutions. Ensuring that product selection caters to that vision is key, as is ensuring that it does not lock the customer into solutions that throw up immovable barriers in development or strategy change. In addition to this, integrators need to ensure they are skilled in the products they are using and that requires maintaining a strong relationship with those vendors.”
At the core of larger systems is the VMS.
“To fully realise the enormous potential behind a VMS, it is critical to find one that is an open platform,” Cullis argues. “This will allow the VMS to integrate with other systems and provide a company with the power to tailor their own solution to their unique requirements. An open platform can link with features such as facial recognition and video analytics, allowing a truly smart solution that is capable of mapping foot traffic, recognising licence plates, and identifying individuals by their physical features and integrating non-security related data.
“I can see a time our NVRs are pushed to the lower-end market as the development of cloud-based solutions is being commercialised. Cloud VSaaS organisations now have the capability to provide SME solutions on an Op-Ex model and the ability to deploy cost effective VMS instances to consumers. These deployments can still be integrated to enterprise level VMS products and forensic analytics in the cloud, all while maintaining processing and storage capabilities at the edge with low-cost Windows-based hardware.
“On that topic, it is imperative to have fast, reliable hardware behind any security system,” Cullis says. “Now that GPU-offloading can achieve exponentially greater levels of video analysis and processing, the speed, scalability and stability of the network backbone and storage facilities is going to become ever more important in order to keep up with processing demand. When selecting a VMS, it is imperative you understand the level to which GPU-offloading, RAID array options and software grooming has been utilised.”
Should the ability of a system to support analytics now or in the future be a consideration of the perfect CCTV solution according to Cullis?
“Very much so,” he says. “Analytics is rapidly becoming an integral part of an advanced CCTV solution, and it stands to reason that the better-quality of an image, the more reliable the analysis is going to be. Integration is definitely important, too. There is a vast amount of scope for integrating different elements into a CCTV system to arrive at a smarter, safer solution with much greater functionality.
“As discussed, an open platform VMS should provide the backbone for this integration, linking many key elements of the perfect security ecosystem. VMS is almost an outdated acronym when talking about the vast array of integrations companies like Milestone now validate as part of their partner community. These integrations are not necessarily with camera, analytic or access vendors. In some cases, they may be BMS, automation and control, authentication, IT security or other IOT vendors.”
Over at Mobotix, John Lavater says end user seeking the perfect CCTV system need to do plenty of planning and get involved with management of the process.
“Engaging with vendors from within the CCTV space to determine the ideal product fit for the project in question goes a long way to creating the “perfect” CCTV system,” he points out. “Having the end user table their site needs, pain points and expectations allows the vendor to clearly convey if their suite of tools is appropriate for the solution.
“Meanwhile, a clear line of dialogue between installer, consultant and end user needs to be established during the design process. Offering to do on-site testing or a proof of concept showing equipment working in a live environment can eliminate guess work and grey area surrounding a project.
For installers, flexibility is key – the copy/paste mentality of specifications can’t continue, as there isn’t a one size fits all product on the market today,” Lavater says.
When it comes to a camera performance line when it comes to the perfect CCTV system – minimum capabilities in terms of image sharpness, WDR, low light, motion blur, bit rate, etc, Lavater says yes and no.
“A lot of it comes down to the application in question and the desired outcomes based around said application,” he explains. “For example, you would desire higher frame rates for ANPR based applications, higher resolutions for broader coverage areas or WDR for entrance cameras focused on facial recognition.
“On the network side you could argue that network and storage infrastructure are more important than the CCTV hardware itself, without the required bandwidth camera resolution may need to be lessened and by doing so image quality would be reduced also.
“Certainly, I think the vast majority of specifications that hit the market today have a large emphasis on analytics, being able to provide additional business intelligence within a solution can be key differentiator between brand X and brand Y successfully winning a project, while also adding true value to said project.
“And the sheer amount of utility available within thermal technology cannot be underestimated, either. Whether it be used for perimeter protection, process monitoring or personnel safety the value-add of thermal within a CCTV system very often turns a good CCTV system into an excellent CCTV system.”