Internet protocol (IP) cameras are quickly becoming the security camera system of choice for many homes and businesses. With their convenience, high-quality video, and remote accessibility, IP cameras offer numerous advantages over traditional analog security cameras. But before installing an IP camera system, it’s important to understand what IP cameras are, their benefits and drawbacks, and what to look for when choosing one. This comprehensive guide will provide everything you need to know about IP security cameras.
What Are IP Cameras?
An IP camera, also known as a network camera, is a digital security camera that connects to a computer network to transmit data. Whereas traditional analog security cameras simply capture an analog video signal and send it to a recording device, IP cameras turn images into digital data and use Internet protocols to communicate that data.
There are two main types of IP cameras:
- Centralized IP cameras – These cameras connect to a central network video recorder (NVR) which handles the data recording and compression. The NVR is connected to switches which provide connectivity to various IP cameras.
- Decentralized IP cameras – Also known as standalone IP cameras, these have built-in processors and storage and don’t require a central NVR. The camera encodes, compresses, and stores the video on an internal memory card or connected storage device.
How Do IP Cameras Work?
IP cameras contain image sensors that capture video. This raw analog footage is then converted by the camera’s processor into a digital format. The camera compresses the video in order to transmit it efficiently over an IP network.
Many IP cameras utilize H.264 or H.265 compression, which drastically reduces video file size while maintaining quality. The camera then transmits the compressed video data over the network to either an NVR or cloud server using standard communication protocols like TCP/IP, SMTP, HTTP, and more.
Some key advantages of IP cameras:
- Send digital video that’s not susceptible to signal degradation over long distances like analog video
- Allow remote accessibility from anywhere with an internet connection
- Provide higher resolution video with better detail than traditional analog cameras
- Offer intelligent video capabilities like motion detection, pan/tilt/zoom, video analytics, and more
- Can transmit video securely using encryption and authentication
- Enable easy scalability by adding more cameras to the network
Now that you understand the basics of how IP cameras work, let’s look at the many benefits they provide compared to analog security cameras.
Benefits of Using IP Security Cameras
IP-based surveillance offers numerous advantages that make it an appealing choice for home and business video security systems. Here are some of the top benefits of IP cameras:
Higher Video Quality
One of the biggest advantages IP cameras have over analog is higher resolution video. Whereas the best analog systems typically max out at 1080p HD resolution, IP cameras can deliver up to 4K ultra HD quality and beyond. This results in much clearer, more detailed video footage.
With an internet connection, IP cameras can be accessed from anywhere in the world. You can view live footage and recordings remotely using computers, smartphones, and tablets. This enables convenient monitoring when away from your property.
Scalability and Flexibility
IP systems are highly scalable simply by adding additional cameras to the network. This provides flexibility to expand coverage as your needs change. IP cameras can also be placed farther from the recording device than analog thanks to the ability to run data over long distances.
From motion detection to pan/tilt/zoom to video analytics, IP cameras offer intelligent functionality not possible with analog cameras. These features allow for automated alerting, tracking capabilities, and more.
IP cameras are digital, so video does not degrade over distance like analog. The footage remains crystal clear no matter how far it travels over the network cabling.
Using a single network for video, data, and voice can save on infrastructure costs compared to separate analog CCTV systems. IP systems also allow lower cable, wiring, and installation expenses.
Integrating IP cameras with existing computer networks and systems is straightforward. And accessing footage on mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones is simple.
Advanced IP cameras provide video analytics to generate metadata that can help search and analyze footage. This can enable functions like facial recognition, automatic alerting, and more.
This long list of benefits makes network-based surveillance an attractive option for upgrading from older analog CCTV systems. However, IP cameras also come with some potential drawbacks to consider.
Drawbacks of IP Surveillance Systems
While IP cameras provide many advantages, they also have some downsides and limitations to be aware of before choosing one for your property:
The upfront cost of IP systems can be higher than analog. The cameras themselves are more expensive, and networking equipment, servers, storage, and installation add to the total expense. However, prices continue to fall as the technology becomes more ubiquitous.
IP systems are more complex than traditional CCTV and require IT expertise for configuration and management. Untrained users may find IP cameras and NVRs difficult to setup and operate.
Without a wired or wireless network connection, IP cameras fail to transmit footage. Network outages will interrupt surveillance, an issue that doesn’t exist for closed-circuit analog CCTV systems.
Like any device on a network, IP cameras are vulnerable to hacking if not properly secured. Strong passwords, authentication, and encryption are essential to prevent unauthorized remote access.
Most IP cameras require a nearby power source, limiting placement flexibility. Though options like Power over Ethernet (PoE) help provide connectivity and power in one cable.
The high-resolution video produced by IP cameras results in large storage requirements. Ample network storage must be provisioned to retain all the recorded footage.
While these drawbacks should be considered, most are easily mitigated through careful system design and security protections. And the numerous advantages IP cameras provide often make the switch from analog well worth it.
Key Features to Look for in IP Security Cameras
If you’ve decided that an IP surveillance system is the right choice for your property, choosing the right cameras is key to getting the performance, features, and reliability you need. Here are some of the top criteria and capabilities to evaluate when selecting IP security cameras:
Look for the highest resolution within your budget. At minimum 1920 x 1080 HD for most applications, and 4K for high detail. Also consider low light performance for nighttime footage. IP camera sensors that are too small can result in dark, grainy footage at night.
Select H.264 or H.265 encoding to maximize efficiency while maintaining high video quality. This allows transmitting high res footage over the network while using less bandwidth and storage. Avoid older MJPEG compression which has larger files sizes.
Weather and Vandal Resistance
Check the camera’s ingress protection (IP) rating and look for IK ratings when resistance to vandalism is a concern. Dome cameras typically offer the most ruggedness. Having an outdoor rated housing is also important if the camera will be exposed to the elements.
The ability to view live and recorded video remotely via mobile apps and web portals is one of the key advantages of IP cameras. Make sure the camera model you choose fully supports these remote access capabilities.
Look for built-in intelligent video functionality like motion detection, automatic tracking, pan/tilt control, night vision, video analytics, and more. These features provide added protection and convenience.
Cameras able to operate on Power over Ethernet (PoE) allow both connectivity and power from the same network cable. This greatly simplifies wiring and installation. Battery powered options also exist for maximum placement flexibility.
Ensure the camera is compatible with your existing network equipment and cabling. Support for WiFi connectivity, multiple protocols, QoS, VLANs, and network security standards allow seamless integration into your computing infrastructure.
Stick with reputable security camera brands known for reliability and performance like Axis, Hikvision, Dahua, Hanwha, and Panasonic when choosing IP surveillance. Avoid cheaper no-name imports that may fail prematurely.
Carefully evaluating IP cameras based on these criteria will ensure you select the models that meet your particular application requirements, environment conditions, and budget.
Tips for Planning an IP Camera Installation
Once you’ve chosen the right IP cameras for your needs, proper installation is crucial for getting the best performance from your video surveillance system. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
Develop a Site Plan
Map out camera locations, fields of view, and network cabling runs. Identify any potential obstacles or sources of interference. Proper planning minimizes rework and avoids coverage gaps.
Follow Best Wiring Practices
Use the shortest cable runs possible, avoid sources of EMI, use quality shielded network cabling, follow local codes, and neatly route wires to keep things maintainable.
Configure Quality of Service (QoS)
Implement QoS on your network equipment to prioritize camera traffic and ensure optimal video performance. This prevents other network activity from impacting video streams.
Provide a Clean Power Source
Cameras should have a dedicated power circuit to avoid electrical interference that can disrupt footage. Surge protectors and UPS backup power provide additional protection.
Position Cameras Securely
Mount the cameras in locations that are as tamper-resistant as possible using mounts and housings that deter theft and vandalism.
Consider Lighting Conditions
Add lighting near cameras if needed to achieve sufficient scene illumination at night. Avoid pointing cameras at light sources which causes glare and overexposure.
Allow Enough Storage
Install sufficient storage capacity to retain continuous IP camera recordings for your desired retention period before footage is overwritten. Video piles up quickly.
Always use SSL/TLS encryption when configuring remote connectivity to IP cameras to ensure video streams remain secure over the internet. Never leave systems open.
Following best practices for installing and configuring your IP surveillance system will help maximize performance and security.
FAQs About IP Cameras
Some frequently asked questions about IP security cameras:
Are IP cameras better than analog CCTV cameras?
In most cases, yes. The digital video, remote accessibility, intelligent features, scalability, and other benefits generally make IP cameras a better choice over analog CCTV systems using old composite video formats like CVBS.
Do IP cameras work without internet?
IP cameras can operate on a closed local area network without an internet connection. But they will be unable to provide remote viewing capabilities without access to the internet.
Can IP cameras record continuously?
Yes, IP cameras are capable of continuous 24/7 recording unlike analog systems limited by tape lengths. However, sufficient network video storage capacity must be available. Recording everything requires large amounts of data storage.
Are IP cameras secure?
Like any network device, default settings can make IP cameras vulnerable to hacking. But implementing password protection, encryption, VPNs, firewalls, and other security measures can provide robust protection and privacy. Never install IP cameras with factory default settings.
Do IP cameras require WiFi?
While WiFi enables convenient wireless connectivity, IP cameras can utilize any data network like standard ethernet cabling. However, wired connections are more reliable for the high bandwidth video streams.
How are IP cameras powered?
Most IP cameras are powered by a nearby AC outlet, but models supporting Power over Ethernet (PoE) allow both connectivity and power over a single network cable. Outdoor battery powered options are also available.
Can IP cameras record sound?
While most focus on visual recording, many IP cameras also support audio recording by including microphones and speakers. Integrated two-way audio provides additional monitoring capabilities.
What’s the cost of an IP camera system?
Costs vary significantly based on factors like resolution, camera numbers, types of lenses, wiring requirements, backend servers/storage, remote access capabilities, and more. But expect a minimum of around $100 per IP camera, plus installation and networking expenses. Ongoing subscription fees for cloud storage/management may also apply.
Key Takeaways on IP Cameras
Here are some important points to remember about IP-based video surveillance:
- IP cameras provide digital video, remote access, intelligent features, superior image quality, and other benefits over analog CCTV
- Choose cameras with maximum supported resolution, H.264/H.265 encoding, rugged construction for your conditions, remote viewing capability, and smart features like motion detection
- PoE cameras simplify wiring runs by providing connectivity and power together
- Proper placement, installation, wiring, lighting, power, and network QoS are crucial for optimal performance
- Heavily consider IP systems if replacing or upgrading legacy analog CCTV equipment
For modern video surveillance applications, IP cameras typically provide the best combination of convenience, flexibility, performance, and advanced capabilities. Just be sure to carefully plan your system design, choose your cameras wisely, and follow best practices for installation and configuration.
With IP surveillance systems, one size or approach does not fit all scenarios. Needs and environments can vary greatly. The experts at Jefferson Security Cameras have over 25 years of experience designing and installing IP camera systems optimized for your unique requirements. Contact us today for help creating the perfect IP surveillance system for your home or business.