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Demystifying Surveillance Systems

When you are in the market for a security camera, it is important to remember that you can’t just buy a camera and be done (unless you are looking for a dummy camera, that is). Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that. While a security camera might indeed be what you are looking for, it is only one piece of a larger (and at first sight more complicated) system: a surveillance system. In this brief post, we will attempt to demystify surveillance systems.


A surveillance system refers to a complete monitoring system that is comprised of two core functional parts: a camera and a video recorder. The purpose of the camera and video recorder is obvious, the camera takes in the images and the video recorder stores & processes the images, all in real time. However, the functionality of the system as a whole depends upon the types of cameras and video recorders that you choose. As you can expect, there are a multitude of options, and some are better than others. What’s more is that not all cameras and video recorders can work together. Thankfully, we can navigate this maze of options and functionality by grouping everything into two main classes of systems: Analog systems and IP systems.


Analog systems are comprised of an analog camera and a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). An analog camera is just a plain camera: essentially just a lens and some internal circuitry to turn the incoming light signal into an electrical signal. It has no intelligence. You connect the analog camera to the DVR via a coaxial cable. The cable transmits the electronic signal from the camera to the DVR, where the video storage and processing occurs. The Analog camera MUST be physically connected to the DVR to operate. There are no wireless options. You can connect more than one analog camera to the DVR, but they all have to have their own coaxial cable and each must be plugged into a separate port on the DVR.

There are essentially two types of DVR’s: PC based DVR’s and DVR appliances. A PC based DVR is a card that goes into your PC or desktop. Typically, these are only compatible with Microsoft Windows operating systems. A DVR appliance is a complete computer unto itself. The pros of a PC based system are that it is easy to fix. If the something goes wrong, you can replace the PC DVR card. However, with a DVR appliance, when something goes wrong, you have to replace the whole DVR.

There are pros and cons to analog systems, and each component (the camera and DVR) has specifications that you look out for. We will go into detail on analog systems in another post.


As the name suggests, an IP is a camera that connects to a computer network, and does so through traditional TCP/IP protocols. It is essentially a smart camera. It can store images and video in its memory. It can have its own IP address. It connects to the network via a phone jack that you typically see when you plug a computer into a network. The Network Video Recorder (NVR) is essentially a software program that runs on a computer on the network.

As you can imagine, there are a multitude of options for setting up an IP system. You can have your IP system connected to your computer network, or even a separate network. A later post will cover the specifics, different options, and the pros and cons of IP based systems.


Which system you are interested in depends on both your goals and your budget. In general, while IP systems are a bit more complex to set up, they are typically better quality and offer more functionality compared to Analog based systems. Analog cameras typically have a limit to the image and video resolution that they can offer, where as with IP cameras, the resolution you desire is only limited by your budget and how much you are willing to spend.


Take Charge Security offers complete surveillance system packages, in addition to both individual IP cameras and Analog cameras. To browse and get familiar with what we offer, simply visit our surveillance system package collection and/or our current selection of IP cameras. As always, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us.

Yours in Security,

Dave & Mike

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