Is it really HD? Digital IP vs Analogue Security Cameras

High Defintion Megapixel Digital Image vs Analogue Photo

High Res? Digital IP? High Definition? HD? There are a lot of buzzwords used when describing camera systems and it can be hard to work out what you’re really getting. Given that installing a security camera system is a significant investment for your home or business, it’s important that you have the knowledge to make an informed decision when selecting your system.

Brief history of security cameras

There are two primary types of camera systems available on the market today: digital IP camera systems and analogue camera systems.

Analogue camera systems are the traditional style of camera which have been available for decades and were once the de facto standard for security cameras. Over the past five years, their popularity with homes and businesses has been on the decline, and it is anticipated that this technology will go the way of similar technologies like analogue TVs and VCRs. This is primarily due to the large difference in quality between analogue and the newer digital IP camera systems.

IP camera systems are the newest style of security camera which utilise digital cameras, digital sensors, digital transmissions, all working together to create higher quality, high definition video. These cameras can produce video quality which is over 12x greater in detail when compared with even the highest quality analogue camera system.

1. The naming

search terms and common words used to describe security camera systems

Analogue cameras

Many installers will use misleading terminology to describe analogue camera systems. Some of the terms we’ve come across include:
– “Hi Resolution”
– “Hi Quality”
– “Digital Camera System”

These are basically different ways of saying that a system is probably not a modern high definition camera, but rather, an analogue camera system. We’ve had many customers come to us saying that they can receive a digital high definition camera system for significantly less from other installers, however upon review, it has turned out that they had been misled by the confusing terminology above.

Another common misconception with analogue cameras is the advertising of analogue systems as containing ‘Sony’ cameras. The truth is that Sony is also a very large manufacturer of electronic components and in particular, analogue camera sensors. Therefore a very large number of analogue cameras from brands ranging from Samsung to no-name brands from Vietnam will have parts manufactured by Sony. A company attempting to sell you a ‘Sony’ camera system for rock bottom prices is probably duping you into purchasing a no-name analogue camera system.

IP cameras

IP or digital IP camera technology is what you need if you are looking for high definition cameras (discussed in more detail below). The key words to look out for are “IP”, “High Definition” or ”HD”.

Some common phrases include:
– Digital IP camera systems
– HD camera system
– High definition camera system
– High definition IP cameras
– High definition digital cameras

If you’re still unsure, it’s worth asking the installer directly, yes or no “Does this camera solution you’re recommending include digital IP cameras?” An installer who attempts to phrase another answer to your question is likely trying to cover up the true description of the system.

2. Video recorder type

Samsung DVR SRD-443 Analogue IP Camera DVR NVR

Analogue cameras

Analogue camera systems will use a device called a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). This device has converters which change the analogue video signals to a format which is recorded electronically to a digital hard drive. The cameras on this type of system are still analogue cameras.

A simple analogy is to have a photograph taken by film camera, which is then scanned on a scanner, and then stored digitally on your computer. Scanning doesn’t make the film camera a digital camera and it doesn’t improve the quality of the picture, however it does mean that the image is now in a digital format.

IP cameras

IP camera systems will use a device called a Network Video Recorder (NVR). This device receives digital video information from the (digital) IP cameras on the system and stores the information to a digital hard drive. As you can see, the video in this system stays digital from capture at the camera all the way to recording on the NVR, with no loss in quality as the video is never converted.

3. Resolution/detail

Comparison of HD cameras and standard definition or analogue digital security cameras

Comparison between a lower resolution image with a higher resolution image with more pixels Source: IDC, 2005

Analogue cameras

Analogue cameras will use Television Lines (TVL) as a means of measuring the camera’s maximum image detail, e.g. 500TVL, 600TVL, etc. This refers to the number of horizontal lines that are present in the sensor.

As mentioned earlier, the video is then converted into a digital file by the digital video recorder which stores the footage in the following resolutions: CIF (352 x 288), 4CIF (704 x 756) or D1 (720 x 480). Resolution refers to the amount of detail that is in a particular image or video; the higher the resolution, the greater the amount of detail that can be viewed.

IP cameras

Digital cameras record in megapixels (MP) which describes the number of square pixels which make up an image; “mega” refers to million, so 1MP is 1 million pixels. Currently, the most common resolutions are 1.3MP, 2MP, 3MP, and 5MP cameras and often the number of squares in the picture is listed out, e.g. 2048 x 1536 for 3.2MP. It’s easy to think of a digital picture as a giant mosaic, made of millions of tiny coloured squares.

Analogue cameras have a maximum equivalent resolution of 0.4MP, and given that the most popular IP cameras at the moment sit around 3.2MP, you’d be getting about 8 times greater quality from an IP camera system for relatively modest additional investment.

4. Cabling type

Blue: Cat-5 cable used in IP camera systems/Black: Coaxial cable used in analogue camera systems

Blue: Cat-5 cable used in IP camera systems/Black: Coaxial cable used in analogue camera systems

Analogue cameras

Analogue camera systems will use cabling called coaxial cable (sometimes shortened to coax) to transmit data on the system. This cabling has limits to the amount of information that can be transmitted and thus is only typically used with analogue cameras.

IP cameras

IP camera systems will use cabling called Category-5, Category-5e, or Category-6 cable (sometimes shortened to Cat-5, Cat-5e, or Cat-6) to transmit data on the system. You’ll probably have seen one before, as it is commonly used to connect computers to a network or modem. This is a digital cable and as a result, has a far greater capacity than coaxial cabling. Looking forward, Category cabling will make any wiring more futureproof for upgrades.

In summary

There are basically four simple things to look for to ensure you’re aware of what you are actually being offered:
1. The name an installer uses to describe a camera system.
2. The type of video recorder used to record footage.
3. The terms used to describe the recording resolution.
4. The type of cabling used for the camera system.

Taking the above into account, hopefully this information helps you make a more informed decision so that you get the system that you are satisfied with.