Virtual Viewing with CCTV

Networking and digitization continues to revolutionize closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance. Systems can be scaled to the application and integrated with other voice-data products to satisfy a host of needs that range from security and video management to identification and accountability.

We can thank, in part, the ever-voracious consumer appetite for propelling this niche. Technological advancements in digital signal processing, recording and control hardware and software have grown by leaps and bounds.

Cameras are a perfect example of technological innovation in CCTV. They’re smaller, smarter and boast super-high resolutions for a sharp image. Color is preferred to black and white: charge couple device (CCD) units now cost less than their monochrome peers of the past, making it the product of choice by many specifiers. Motion-activated circuitry and built-in Web-servers that attach directly to the network connection add further punch to CCTV.

Cameras may have gotten smaller, but there’s much more going on inside. “A new breed of camera provides 24/7 monitoring without the need for a day and a night camera,” said Scott Jolma, product manager, GE Interlogix, Kalatel, Corvallis, Ore. “These types of cameras switch automatically between a color mode for daytime and a more light-sensitive monochrome for nighttime, providing 24-hour coverage in all light conditions,” he said. These two-in-one cameras, Jolma adds, cut the number of cameras and domes in half, reducing both hardware and labor costs.

There are applications for CCTV in every market, in every niche. From the smallest installation with a quick set-up Internet monitoring configuration to a multi-site, multi-camera endeavor, surveillance systems are the solution.

Innovation, effectiveness and lower price are key reasons why so many public entities select CCTV surveillance. Cleveland Electric Co. in Atlanta, a family-owned electrical contracting business, is working with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) on beefing up security. That means an extensive CCTV installation, according to Joe Buchanan, contract manager for Cleveland Electric. The security work is coupled with other voice-data work, including a public-address system, computer-driven matrix signs, telephones, LANs, WANs and more. Security zones have also been established and images can be viewed at each central zone over the MARTA network.

“The miniaturization is mind-boggling,” Buchanan continued. “These little cameras can do it all: pan in 360 degrees, tilt, etc., and the image is so much better than ever before.”

The City of Chicago recently contracted the installation of domed surveillance cameras at locations in its downtown State Street shopping district. Throughout the Chicago Transit Authority System, a massive security program will test the effectiveness of surveillance at elevated train locations, with the pilot plan expanding to other stations if its effectiveness is validated.

As part of a major surveillance upgrade, the City of Minneapolis Municipal Parking System is in the process of moving to a digital CCTV system. All alarms will be recorded digitally and cameras will be installed at elevator lobbies, stairwells, entries and exits in the general parking areas. Virtually an entire facility can be viewed.

Tipping the scales to CCTV

Whether it’s four, eight, 16, 32 cameras or dozens more, CCTV systems can be scaled up or down depending on the user’s needs. Integration of product hardware and functions also continues to develop. Several years ago, a switcher, controller, multiplexer and recorder were likely installed as separate devices. Many new multiplexers have all these functions built in. The real move is to multiplexers with built-in digital recorders and network and/or phone-line transmission systems.

Transmission options also give surveillance installation leverage. Monitoring over the Internet, or other networks, including WANs, LANs, or Virtual Private Networks, is what CCTV is all about. When integrated into the company’s computer network through standard IP addresses, it’s easy to make remote monitoring and recordings available to authorized personnel anywhere in the organization via their PCs, laptops or PDAs. Users can also be informed of system alarms via cellular phones or pagers.

In fact, it is common for control to be handled by a PC, rather than by banks and banks of analog monitors. “With smart alarming capabilities, monitoring is done mostly by computer today,” said Allison Gapter, senior marketing communications manager, Loronix Video Solutions, Denver. “When there’s pertinent activity, the viewer/security official is notified. Today, how you receive and view signals and video is up to you,” she said.

Integration on a roll

“Intuitive” and “intelligent” best describe camera and recording functions, and these capabilities mean that more and more products can be being integrated into the fold. Access control is a perfect example.

Historically, integration between access control and video systems had involved the use of interposing relays and extensive interconnecting wiring systems. In the last several years, matrix switches have provided an open protocol, allowing other system designers simple integration using serial (RS232) or LAN/WAN (TCP/IP) interfacing. For the installer, that means that it is easy to achieve sophisticated features over simple system-to-system connections. Digital recording innovation continues to have a profound effect on CCTV technology. Many users are shifting to digital video recording, storage and transmission systems, away from videocassette recorders (VCR). In fact, some predict the eventual demise of VCRs in these types of application.

Digital video recorders (DVRs) and digital video multiplexers/ recorders (DVMRs) are becoming the norm. They operate similarly to traditional multiplexers and VCRs but display live video and record high-resolution pictures on a hard drive, opening up new applications and providing instant access to critical recordings. Applications continue to emerge as DVMRs are refined even further. For example, smaller retailers, such as convenience stores and independent shops, can use a special four-channel digital video recorder featuring an auxiliary read/write function that records to CD on demand.

It’s Moore’s Law all over again for surveillance systems. Look for improved Internet transmission, new intuitive software capabilities for tracking and recognition, enhanced digital recording and even biometrics to be added to the fold—all in the not-too-distant future. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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