Say NO to analog cameras!

Analog camera systems look worse than IP based systems.

Standard analog cameras will never look as good as IP based cameras at a given price point because of the fundamentals of how the technology works.

IP based cameras transfer information to a video recorder as data – 1s and 0s, which are easily carried over long lengths of wire with ease.

Analog based cameras transfer video to a video recorder as an actual analog video signal. This is easily degraded over standard coaxial wire.

How are IP based systems able to transfer higher quality video?

When a signal is transmitted over a wire, it can easily degrade. Digital video from an IP camera is transferred as data, 1s and 0s over a computer network. These 1s and 0s are then decoded to make an image, so transferring data without degredation over a wire is simple. Representing a 1 or a 0 is very simple. Even if the electrical data signal going over the network cable is a little off, it will still be decoded without loss at the other end of the line. Even if the 0 is closer to 0.2 or the 1 is closer to 0.8 because of degraded signal, on the other end it will be rounded to the proper number. Transferring data in a digital system is simple because there are only two options – 1, or 0. Distortion in the signal may affect the actual signal, but the integrity of the data remains; so even a very basic $90 IP camera can transfer a 2048×1536 resolution image.

In an analog system, the video is what is being transferred – not a datastream representing the image. Any distortion or degradation in the signal running through the line compromises the actual image. There is no reconstructing of the signal on the other end, what is sent through the wire is what you getr on the other end! If the electrical signal in the line is affected in any way, the actual image is permanently effected in a negative way.

One can transfer virtually any type of signal over network. A 5 megapixel, 30 frame per second stream is easily transferred over CAT5 networking cable, but good luck pushing this through an older analog system – it’s not going to happen.

What about those high definition analog systems that claim to offer high definition quality utilizing your old system?

Many technologies promise high definition quality over existing analog infrastructure. In theory, this is great. Reuse the old recorder, reuse the old wiring, and get high definition cameras. Less installation mess, less money spent, better quality. Everyone’s happy, right?

Rarely does it play out like this. In practice, most of these “hybrid” systems fall short. Many of these showroom systems use a new, expensive DVR that supports the technology, using top of the line, short runs of wire in a controlled environment to achieve the result you see in the advertisement. This result you see in advertisements or showrooms often looks nothing like what you see when you plug this shiny new toy in, and here we’re going to discuss why.

The old wiring will be the first limitation.

Carrying high definition signals require shorter runs of wire, and higher quality wiring. Even if you have a high quality camera, it will not transmit a high definition signal if it is going through 1000 feet of poor quality, aging, cheap old coax.

I grew up in a suburban household in a nice area. During cloudy weather, we would have a fuzzy picture on the living room TV, but still have perfect TV reception in the basement; even though both used the same antenna. This wasn’t a rinky dink 100 year old walkup building; this was a modern home!

The practical reality is that so many installations utilize poor quality wiring that was barely appropriate for the system being installed at the time – much less a high definition upgrade. Your average installer, if you’re lucky, installed wiring just good enough for the system being used. The reality of life is that an installer will put up an HD-SDI camera and on the other end of that old, cheap aging coaxial wire, the picture will look nothing like what was captured by the HD camera. That high definition image your camera puts out will never be seen after it is beat down to low resolution grain over the existing wiring.

Will the old DVR handle HD analog video?

Many high definition analog cameras utilize different technologies to create a higher definition system over standard coax. Some cameras carry a digital signal over coaxial wire. Some use technologies like HD-SDI to carry high definition video in analog form over the old coaxial wire.

The question then becomes, will the old DVR actually support these technologies? Your average; and even your high end analog DVRs often do not. So you have the wiring to support this high definition camera, but the recorded signal doesn’t show up any better on the DVR. Even worse, if you buy a camera that sends a digital signal over a coaxial line and the DVR does not support this, you won’t see anything at all!

Pricing of HD analog cameras.

I did not use an ultra high end camera on the sample picture. I prefer to be realistic. We’re not traditional advertisers. You know, those guys showing you a commercial of a burger that never looks like what you get when you show up at McDonald’s. The samples from our sample page did not come from $5000 cameras; rather, they came from a $120 camera. That beautiful, 3 megapixel image that you can zoom in on far enough to make out numbers on the equipment on my desk was captured by a $120 camera.

Many analog cameras supporting these new technologies cost $250, $350, $500 and more. Pricing of IP cameras ten years ago, even five years ago, were through the roof. It was common that you would be paying $1000 for a 1.3 megapixel IP camera. This is because the encoding of the image as data happens inside the camera, and video encoding is very CPU intensive. As technology evolves, computers become faster, cheaper, and most importantly; smaller. A $120 camera that can encode HD video in realtime is now possible at reasonable price points. High quality IP cameras do not cost $1000 anymore. Most of the cost involved in a professional installation is the actual installation – the running of wires, the setup of a remote monitoring solution, the configuration of the system.

Is a quality analog system really cheaper?

Let’s consider everything above. The cameras themselves cost as much, if not more than a quality IP camera. In order to use any high definition analog technology, it will require replacing the old recording DVR equipment, which will cost money as well. In the end, all of this may be for nothing if the old wiring does not support the new system. This is very risky when the only way to tell if the old wiring will support the new system, is to install the new system!

When you consider that a camera capable of double or triple the resolution of a high definition analog cameras costs half as much, where is the cost savings? On new installs, it is nonexistant. The idea that utilizing analog cameras is for price concerns is really only a concern if we are looking at the bottom of the barrel low end, if we are looking at using $25 cameras. Let’s be honest here – if you were looking for a system that low in quality, you probably wouldn’t be looking for a professional install.

With old systems, there can be savings because you do not have to redo the wiring. In complicated setups where wires are already sealed behind walls, you can save redoing the wiring job by using analog, but when the system doesn’t live up to the advertised quality, you’re stuck with a disappointed client, and back to the drawing board. What started out trying to save money wound up wasting time, creating a mess, and bringing us back to what we should have done in the first place; set it up right!

This brings us back to Ricky Begin’s quote. We end spending more money in the pursuit of setting up a cheap system than we would have spent setting up the proper one to begin with.

Why are analog systems so prevalent then? I see them even in new installs.

This has more to do with what people are familiar with than with the reality of what is available. Many installers are used to analog, so they continue to use it.

Installers are comfortable with the older technology.

Most CCTV installers started out using analog systems. They learned on analog systems, they used analog systems when they started their own security firms. Their clients were happy with the quality(or lack thereof) and the limitations of analog systems, and they had no reason to research new systems.
Finding systems that do what you ant them to do isn’t easy. There are hundreds of thousands of different solutions, different cameras, and different recorders out there. Many of them are terrible. When installers find systems that work for them, they do not put time and effort into finding newer and better solutions. Better to spend that time out in the field doing installs, or just enjoying life.

Up until recently, analog did cost more money.

There was a time when a decent IP camera cost $1000, and it wasn’t that long ago. IP cameras do not transfer video over the cable that plugs into them. They transfer data, meaning that the picture from the sensor inside the camera must be converted into digital data inside the camera. This requires a powerful processor, which up until recently, cost a lot of money. As with any type of processor, the best of the best in 2007 is nothing compared to the cheapest in 2015.

Many installers are not actually aware that costs have come down, because many companies have not decreased their pricing. Professional CCTV installers often purchase all of their equipment from one vendor to streamline their operations, and there are many vendors out there that do not offer cameras made by some of the newer players in the field. This has helped retain the myth that IP camera technology is expensive, when you visit vendor websites where the cheapest IP camera costs six hundred dollars!

We actually enjoy playing with these new toys, and are always in pursuit of better systems. Buying new cameras, trying new NVR recording software, comparing them to see what works and what doesn’t. We are, and always have been a technology company first, and this works to your advantage in that we offer cutting edge systems at a fair price.

The myth that IP camera configuration is “hard.”

This is one of the myths that has always rubbed me the wrong way – worse than the myth of IP cameras being expensive. The reason being is that installers will often claim difficult configuration as a reason for going with an analog system.

Analog systems are inherently inferior in quality, and less upgradable over time. For all intents and purposes, I think most can agree, given a new install, it would be best to go with an IP based system. Configuration is something done by the installer, not by the customer. Recommending that a customer go with a lower quality system to make the installer’s life easier is, IMO, a very selfish move.

You the customer are paying the installer $1000, $3000, $10,000, $50,000 – whatever it is, you are paying good money for a professional installation. Given all of that money you are spending, doesn’t it seem fair to have us install what is best even if it means more work for us?

Configuring an analog camera is as simple as plugging it in and turning it on. Configuring an IP camera is more work. You have to set up a network, give each camera an IP, set up the NVR to record the streams from each camera. You must configure the camera’s resolution, framerate, and codec to what is appropriate for a given job. None of this is “hard” – it is basic, fundamentals of networking. If you’ve put a password on a wireless router, you’re qualified to do this, yet in 2015 we still have professional camera installers calling this hard??

IP cameras are the future, and we are a part of that future.

The systems we install are not analog ones. They are never analog ones. We will maintain old analog systems under extreme protest.