Surveillance Technology – Software is As Key As Hardware

Even people with an incentive to keep up on surveillance technology – the many businesses and homeowners with property and people to protect, for starters – often focus on the amazing hardware that is available. With wireless cameras the size of a wristwatch and point-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras with optical and digital close-ups of 50-100X or more, the field is full of great gear. After you’ve finished “oohing and aahing” over the latest miniature marvel or long-distance lens champion, take a look at the new generation of surveillance software. It’s nothing short of amazing.

With the right equipment set up in the proper way, a business owner can keep watch over his 20,000 square-foot hardware store, the warehouse in the back and every approaching street and sidewalk, too. Early on in the computer era (back in the Stone Age, 20 years ago) one of the first ideas for surveillance software was to split the screen and let you see two camera views at once. That is a quaint memory now that today’s software lets you view 16 or even 32 cameras in any grouping that you like, across one, two or three monitors – even more if you want!

Total flexibility

There are commercial software packages that are quite capable, and customizable, too. Then, too, there are any number of proprietary applications that are bundled with certain manufacturers’ gear, and you can always hire a programmer to create something special for your unique needs. Most of these packages will share common capabilities, and differ on the implementation, the number of cameras supported and connectivity schemes. However, they all share a common feature set.

You can record the camera feeds if you choose, and often into various formats and on various media. Gone are the days when all surveillance video feeds were recorded to VHS tapes, a costly approach that is also an archivist’s nightmare. Today the video can be compressed and saved to hard drives, flash memory or burnable CDs and DVDs. With the advent of Blu-ray recorders, and their recent price drops to around $100-125, 25-50GB of video can be written to one of the new discs (single or double-sided).

Compressed with quality

The new compression schemes such as mpeg4, particularly Apple’s h.264 version, can compress video files to a fraction of their usual size, while maintaining excellent definition and resolution. These compression schemes are called “lossy” since there is some loss of original information with them. There are also “lossless” compression schemes if it is important to save as much detail as possible while still conserving storage space.

You are advised to check out a variety of compressed video types to see what it is you will get from your system. You need to know the quality of the archived video that you need, before you can decide how to proceed. Then you can calculate just how much media you will need to save what you are recording. It may also be, of course, that you only save segments of the video stream in which there is movement or other activity. The hardware and software available today can be motion-sensitive, light-sensitive, sound-sensitive or some combination, in order to trigger the recording only when it is necessary.

Your call

Whether you need a record of an eventless night or not, it’s your call. You can save everything, you can save only activity, you can save only certain kinds of activity – it’s totally up to you. Your decision will be driven by your particular needs, and when you decide what those are, you can easily “reverse engineer” the storage system. You can use hard drives and/or flash memory, or burn discs with 800MB, 4.6GB, 9GB, 25GB or 50GB of storage (from CD to Blu-ray double-sided) that should keep for several decades.

With a reputable company to deal with and a wealth of info on the Internet, you can easily customize a system that addresses your specific needs and that you can install, maintain, troubleshoot and manage on your own. Depending on your budget, you can even go wireless with much (even all) of your installation, although having a redundant, wired system (a back-up, in other words) would be a smart move. Making sure you have modern, capable hardware and software protecting your property and people, whether at business or home or both, is the first smart move, of course. Don’t wait too long, because surveillance equipment is like insurance – if you want until you need it to buy it, it’s tool late!