IP or Analog Cameras? What’s the Best Choice?

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IP (Internet Protocol) cameras have been around a long time and many people consider them to be the logical successor to analog cameras running on coaxial cable. They are. But just because something is the next thing doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. When the question is IP or analog cameras, the answer should always be it depends on what the cameras will be used for.

Do you need megapixel, high-resolution cameras?

Most times your decision to choose high-resolution or standard-resolution cameras rests with your goals for each camera. Paired with the right lens, a standard-resolution analog camera is just fine. In addition, two less expensive analog cameras could be used instead of a single, more expensive high-resolution IP camera. Your security provider can be a great resource to help you answer this question. If your application absolutely needs to have megapixel definition, then IP is your only choice. A common misconception, however, is that by buying an IP camera you’re a megapixel camera. While megapixel cameras are (generally) IP cameras, most are the same resolution as that analog camera you thought you were upgrading. Depending on the quality of the IP camera, the analog camera may actually be a better resolution. While there are manufacturers offering high definition cameras over coax, these are proprietary cameras that require proprietary recording units to store the higher resolution images. This means fewer choices in features, and fewer options in cameras to suit the needs of the application.

Are you adding to, or upgrading an existing CCTV system?

If you already have an analog system in place, don’t scrap your investment. You’ve probably invested a fair amount of money into the cabling and infrastructure for your existing system, re-using this just makes sense. An analog camera upgrade, or change in recording equipment may be all you need. A more expensive or better camera may not necessarily mean a better usable image. There are lots of factors in camera choice, and a camera with high resolution might not, for example, have the wide dynamic range lighting capabilities that a less expensive camera does. Fit the camera to the mission and then build your system around the camera.

Do you need redundant or long-term storage? Do you need off-site data storage?

While you can get redundant storage, or off-site backup with analog camera systems, it’s much more common to find this capability in IP camera systems. It’s often easier to build IP systems with massive amounts of storage for those cases where storing video for months, or even years, is a requirement.

Do you need more than 16 cameras?

While there are variations, most manufacturers of analog systems build recording units with a maximum of 16 channels (cameras). Systems with more than 16 channels require multiple storage units, and while they may be connected together as a single system, they are still individual units. Storage is typically not shared between units so one might be grossly overused, while another underused. Whereas IP systems can be used to manage thousands of cameras. Large casinos and even entire cities can have large networks of IP cameras managed as a single system.

Do you have a budget for IP systems?

IP systems are generally more expensive than comparable analog systems. A manufacturer may make the same camera in both an analog and IP model, but the IP model is more expensive.

Bosch Digital Recorder from Wellington Security Systems

Bosch entry level digital recorder, DIVAR IP 3000.

You’ll always pay a premium for higher resolution cameras, but remember that cameras are only part of the system cost. IP systems generally license each channel, which means you also pay a software license fee to record the video. In addition to cameras, you need power, a recording unit and storage. With an analog system, the recording unit and the storage are often packaged together as a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). With an IP system, they can be in a single Network Video Recorder (NVR) appliance, or separated into components. An analog system is wired between the recording unit and cameras. An IP system is connected over a network. Coax cable can run several thousand feet making even fairly large installations relatively simple to install. On the other hand, IP systems can run 100 meters between nodes on the network, thus making it difficult to build a network in a large building. While many businesses already have a network infrastructure in place, it’s typically insufficient to accommodate a CCTV system. Most installations require a separate network just for the camera system. Finally, IP networks will generally have more components and be more challenging to maintain and troubleshoot than a comparable analog system, which results in a higher total cost of ownership. One big advantage of the IP system being networked is that it’s relatively easy to move devices, including the NVR., if you want to move the DVR in an analog system you generally have to re-pull cable from each camera to the new location. With the NVR you simply connect it to the network in a different location.

Do you need to access the video over the network without plugging in a monitor?

Trick question! While NVRs are by definition connected to a network, and, therefore, accessible with compatible software, most modern DVRs include the ability to connect to a network for remote viewing. Either choice should give similar results, with features varying by manufacturer and model, but restricted to any one technology. IP systems are definitely the future of the CCTV market, but analog systems are still viable technology. Don’t feel you’re settling for less when you install an analog system. You also shouldn’t install an IP system if you don’t need it, there’s no reason to pay a premium if you don’t need the features. There’s nothing inherently better about one technology over another. Some applications are better with analog, and some with IP. Use the system that fits your needs.

Seth StiebingerSeth Stiebinger has more than 10 years experience in the design and integration of systems including fire alarms, access control, video surveillance and sound. He’s been a project manager on numerous large-scale security and fire installations including, Target, Wal-Mart and others. Seth’s an expert at working with equipment from Bosch, DMP, Honeywell and more.

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