Introduction to CCTV Systems and Spy Cameras
Introduction to CCTV Systems and Spy Cameras

Is the cleaning lady stealing from me? Who is lifting my newspapers every morning? Did the babysitter invite friends over even though I specifically instructed her not to? Did she take care of the baby while he was crying? Or perhaps instead she preferred to keep on watching television? What about the new Nanny we hired? Could the horrors that I hear about in the news occur in my own home?

As the protector of your family you are expected to know the answers to such questions. So why keep asking? A simple recording camera could easily clear all of these uncertainties. Intimidating potential burglars, collecting evidence for future lawsuits and maintaining your peace of mind are all benefits of security cameras. This article reviews camera and monitor types as means of providing protection and household safety.

In order to get started, it's important to divide this large category into two smaller sub-groups: CCTV systems and spy cams. Each group differs from the other by means of function and size, although some features are shared by both groups.

CCTV Systems

CCTV stands for Closed Circuit Television. It differs from broadcast TV in that its elements are directly linked (i.e. closed circuit) by cables or different wireless technologies. CCTV systems are used mainly in large public areas like: banks, malls, train stations, sport stadiums and in almost every large store. This type of surveillance system is extremely efficient in monitoring large crowds in real-time.

For example, the terrorists from the large attack on the London metro (July 7th, 2005) were identified by the Scotland Yard a few days after the attack. They were imaged on the station's CCTV cameras. Thanks to the on-line surveillance systems and the time lapse VCR that recorded them, the bombers were captured and brought to justice. Today, increasing numbers of domestic households adopt CCTV systems as a common means of protection and communication.

Basic Components of CCTV Systems

The basic CCTV system can be divided into three components: A camera, a monitor and a time lapse recording mechanism (usually made in VCR or DVR formats). These are only the fundamental components. For larger areas or for real-time monitoring you will probably need to add cameras, monitors and other special devices. For a common size household, the most suitable system is a quad cam. This basic kit consists of four wireless surveillance cameras, a small monitor and a recording device. The camera kits vary depending on their use. Some camera kits can be used on a computer, taking advantage of its monitor and memory. Others have a monitor and a time lapse VCR in the same console.

CCTV Specs

Surveillance cameras come in various sizes, and use different communication methods and sight abilities. Basic camera capabilities can easily be improved by adding special lenses and other devices. For instance: a camera's night vision can be improved by adding an infrared illuminator under the camera bracket. A camera located in a semi-public area such as your front porch can be put in a vandal resistant dome for protection. Special brackets and tile clamps can support a camera destined to be located in difficult positions.

Most cameras use CCD technology. CCD stands for Charge Coupled-Device. This technology uses a small piece of silicon, instead of film, to receive the image captured by the lens. It then translates it into electric pulses. When choosing a camera you'll have to consider two more aspects: the viewable image size and your preference of B/W or color. Your decision should take into account the amount of light existing in the camera's environment. For example: the average security camera image size is 1/3". This size provides a good enough image quality. Darker environments require 1/3" - 1" sizes. It is also known that black and white cameras perform better than color cameras in areas with poor lighting.

Also check the camera's sensitivity to light. Lux units measure sensitivity, that is, the amount of light per square meter. Low lux units in the camera's specs means it has enhanced ability to operate in poor ambient light conditions.

Another quality to consider is the camera's resolution. Just as in digital cameras and computer monitors, resolution refers to the quality or the sharpness of the picture you'll receive. You can determine the resolution by the cameras TVL datum. TVL stands for TV Lines, and the higher the value, the better the quality. The average security camera has about 430 TVL. Make sure that the monitor you're using has a compatible resolution. Be sure to consult a professional before making this decision.

We advise to carefully check your security needs before buying a CCTV system. Think of places around the house or yard that you can't control by sight. Remember that the camera's function is to replace your presence in sensitive areas. It is also a good idea to use plans or blueprints of your house; you can mark locations and measure distances more accurately this way. You should also take into account your own interactions with the camera. Will it be attached to a computer? Will you monitor the house 24/7? Or will you simply record using a time lapse VCR and then view the tapes after something happens.

Determine exactly what your viewing needs are, and which functions you expect the camera to serve. If you're interested in intimidating burglars, you might consider buying very large and conspicuous cameras. You could also mix-in a number of dummy cameras as part of your security arrangement. Another idea is to put a security yard sign informing that the house is monitored around the clock. If you are concerned that large intimidating cameras might make people uncomfortable, consider using smaller cameras or hidden ones.

Another issue to consider is what recording device to use with the camera. The market offers two basic types of recording devices based on VCR or DVR technologies. Video might have killed the radio star but there is no doubt today that DVRs are responsible for the mass extinction of VCRs. We strongly suggest having a DVR recorder in your CCTV system. A DVR enables you to choose the exact time of recording you want to see without having to rewind hours of tape. It allows you to save special events you have recorded and edit them easily. Hard drives are smaller and more convenient to maintain than VCRs. Video tapes tend to deteriorate quickly, recording quality declines rapidly and you'll constantly be spending money on new cassettes. Controlling the DVR is simple and it offers you a variety of recording speeds. Monitoring software could always be updated and you can always add more memory space. Theoretically DVRs can record for weeks on end, depending of course on memory, recording quality and speed.

Spy Cameras

The term spying can bring to mind negative associations. However, the term does injustice to the camera's true function. There is nothing negative about a house owner or a concerned parent wanting to protect his family and property. In some cases the use of cameras is inevitable. A basic spy camera for home security use is usually based on three main parts, each performing a different function.

The camera and transmitter are usually combined, as are the receiver and storage device. In some systems you can also find a special monitor. Most cameras are wireless and run on batteries. They can easily be relocated without having to rely on nearby power or communication sources. The downside of wireless cameras is the need to replace or recharge their batteries every once in a while.

Wireless spy cameras send electronic signals through a transmitter. The transmitter is located near the camera and they're usually attached to each other within the same box. A receiver locates the signals the transmitter sends and translates them into viewable images. The receiver's output can be stored in a VCR, DVR or viewed in real time on a TV or computer monitor. The maximum distance the receiver can be from the camera depends on its transmission capability. Some systems can only be used over short distances like a nearby room or house, while others can be useful from miles away. Receivers can easily penetrate brick walls, glass windows and other materials depending, of course, on their ability and strength.

When fixing the camera in its chosen spot you might have to play around a bit with its location until you receive a clear signal. Spy cameras vary in size and design. Actually, the word disguise, rather than design, is probably a better word for describing spy cameras. The camera you buy should fit 'naturally' into its surroundings in such a way that it does not draw attention. For example: for the lack of a better option you decide to observe your cleaning help. You simply want to check if they are in the habit of borrowing money from your sock drawer. In this case, you can install a 'nanny camera' in the bedroom. The 'nanny camera' needs to fit in as part of your bedroom decoration. It can be your new alarm clock or pillow, but not a teddy bear (unless of course furry stuffed animals are a common sight in your bedroom).

Home security cameras offer reassurance in the protection of your property and family. They are easy to install and are usually a bargain when compared with the peace of mind you gain by installing them. Once again, before buying a CCTV system or a spy camera it is always wise to consult a professional.