Friday, October 5, 2012

HELPFUL HINTS ON SECURITY CAMERA SYSTEMS

     If this is your first time looking at a security camera system, here are a few things to know:
    --we won't recommend vendors or camera systems, but we do recommend that you use wired systems. Most neighbors we know who tried wireless systems gave up because of system bugs. Moreover, the city's failed high-tech camera system used wireless connections, and the failure to remain up and running was one of its major flaws.
    Please note that this technology is changing rapidly. Systems that are hot today will be out of date next year. Moreover, even as system prices drop, the technology continues to improve.
    --basic two-camera wired systems with a decent recording system (Digital Video Recorder) can be purchased at several online sites for less than $300. Better quality two-camera systems run between $400 and $600. Higher quality systems run between $700 and $1,000.
    --basic four-camera wired systems with a decent DVR start at around $400; better quality systems start at around $500, and higher quality systems start at around $750.
A typical four-camera system
    Note: Be wary of ultra cheap systems because the DVR may not come with a hard drive. We recommend a system with at least a 500 GB hard drive installed to avoid problems. Don't skimp on camera cost - you will be disappointed with the performance of the cheaper cameras.
    What's the difference in systems?
    Basic wired systems have a reasonably acceptable resolution (380 to 480 lines) and may have limited night vision. 
    Better systems have better resolution (550 to 600 lines) and usually list an IR (InfraRed) number between 12 and 24. They generally work better at night.
    Higher quality systems have even better resolution (650 to 700 lines) and more IR (30 to 48 in more cases). 
    The more IR in a camera -- generally speaking -- the better the night vision. Your night vision in all cases will be affected by the lighting on and around your property.
    So-called IP (Internet Protocol) cameras are much more expensive and are sometimes used in commercial systems. They have very different components and offer digital images that can be zoomed with minimal distortion. We don't have any experience with these systems, so please consult an IP expert. Be sure to ask if night vision is in color or black and white.
    To view your video, flat-screen monitors start at around $110. Make sure the connections (VGA, HDMI, or RCA) work with your DVR. Most systems have multiple outlets, so if you want a second in-house viewing spot (at the door, for example), any television (even old analog TVs) will work if the TV and your DVR have the corresponding jacks. 
    (In most cases, you can use an old computer monitor or television as your primary video source, but we do not recommend it).
    When shopping for a system, please note that many new DVRs allow you to access your cameras on portable devices, such as computers, I-pads and I-phones.
    If that option is important to you, we recommend you read reviews from consumers about how easy it is to make these off-site connections. When the linking works, most users give this feature high marks.
    Some systems allow access to the DVR using a mouse, as you would with a computer. Others use a remote, as you would with a television. Some systems offer both. Both work. 
    Our recommendation: if you are comfortable with both, chose a system that gives you easy access to video segments you've recorded. User reviewers are the best guideline for help. 
     Also, make sure the system uses a popular format for downloading video, such as  H.264 or AVI.
    By the way, most popular systems use low-voltage power packs and BNC cables to connect the cameras to the DVR. Some packages include the power packs and cables. Some do not.  While there is no industry standard, using non-BNC cables may limit your ability to upgrade later. 
   To install a system yourself -- or to use your own contractor -- you need to make sure that your system comes with adequate power packs and BNC cables (one connection for each camera). 
BNC cable with video and power connections


A typical power adapter

    Also, you need to identify an access point (one hole from exterior to interior about the size of a silver dollar).

    You can install the camera system yourself if you are adept at typical do-it-yourself jobs.  If you use a handyman for your usual maintenance jobs, it's possible that your handyman may have the skills to install the system.  
    A reputable supplier will have a good 1-800 customer support line to help with setting up the system.  Again, check the companies ratings on the website you are using.
    If you live in the French Quarter, you should review these new, more flexible guidelines on camera placement and size approved recently by the Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) at
http://vcccamguide.blogspot.com/
      If you decide to use a commercial company to install your cameras, we recommend you get at least two bids from licensed contractors. It obviously will cost you more to use a commercial company. If the bids significantly exceed the following ranges, you should be very cautious.
       You can generally expect to pay $1,000 or more for a decent camera system; up to $3,800 for a high-quality four camera system.
    If you are thinking about upgrading an old system, we hope these guidelines can be used to purchase individual cameras.
    So you know: it has been our experience that most systems require an upgrade every four to six years because of exposure to the elements.
    Again, this technology is changing rapidly. Camera specs and recording formats are improving from month to month. So if you have questions or comments of general interest, please click on Comment below and add your comment or question. If you want to ask a private question or make a private comment, please contact SafeCams8@aol.com.