What is the difference between commercial IP cameras and CCTV?

If you are considering video surveillance technology for your business, you may have heard the term ‘IP camera’. You may even have gathered that it’s the latest and greatest. But what actually is an IP camera, and just how is it different to CCTV?

CCTV – closed circuit television – can be a general term, used to describe any kind of camera system used to keep watch over a particular area, building or business premises. But it is also sometimes used to refer to more traditional camera technology, in contrast to more modern IP models. We will be using the term in the latter sense here.

What is the difference, then, between a commercial CCTV system and a commercial IP camera system?

The technical differences

Traditional CCTV camera technology produces an analogue signal and will in most cases be connected via a TV-style coaxial cable to a central hub, called a DVR, or ‘digital video recorder’. This is where the captured footage is stored for later playback. The technology employed is very similar to that used in TiVo and Sky boxes.

By contrast, IP (internet protocol) cameras are digital-first devices with more advanced capabilities. Most commonly they are connected to a high speed network usually a Local Area Network (LAN) which removes the need for additional power cables (as used with the older style CCTV systems) increasingly they can be operated wirelessly over existing or new wifi-powered LANs (local area networks).

Footage captured is stored on an NVR – a network video recorder. Sometimes these are located on site but commercial IP camera system operators can also take advantage of the cloud capabilities of this technology and use remote NVRs.

For discrete, covert and stand-alone installations edge recording can be used to capture and store images on the camera itself.

It’s usual for the footage to be accessible remotely, in real time, via desktop or mobile devices. By contrast analogue CCTV technology requires the operator to be on site if they wish to view footage in real time.

Digital cameras produce significantly higher resolution images than their analogue counterparts. Better quality footage has clear benefits when it comes to facial and number plate identification.

It is straightforward to link IP cameras together over their network, with no need for intervening cabling, and this allows for easy expansion of the areas covered.

The cost differences

You won’t be surprised to hear that IP cameras typically cost more than analogue systems connected to DVRs. The technology they employ is newer and more advanced. But as with many similar products, costs are trending downwards as increasing numbers of businesses decide to take full advantage of their capabilities in order to mitigate their business risks and protect stock.

In the not not-too-distant future, we expect IP camera technology to become the default choice for businesses.

The precise costs of installation will vary from business to business. Reputable vendors like Ace Fire and Security discuss buyers’ needs in depth and provide them with a personalised quote for the specific camera equipment that meets their particular needs.

How to decide

If you have an existing system, only require coverage of a limited area, and don’t anticipate a need to remotely access footage, then an analogue DVR system may be the right choice for you.

But if your premises require a larger scale solution and you like the sound of a flexible, easily expandable camera network, and you also anticipate benefitting from remote access, then it’s definitely worth investing in a modern IP CCTV system.

Darren Gibbons
Written by Darren Gibbons

Darren is a security systems, life safety and fire protection specialist and Managing Director of Ace Fire & Security.