Why are we still seeing security camera videos that look like we’re stuck in the 1990s?
I have been in this industry a long time and one thing that still gets asked a lot is why security cameras still look like absolute garbage when shown on feeds or in a courtroom. I mean you would think in this day and age we would have progressed to crystal clear video, wouldn’t you? Through 15+ years as a security installer, I have dealt with almost every camera model out there.
I can say there are still some issues like storage and resolution that dictate what quality of video you’re going to get, and frugal businesses often make the decision to save that extra money.
In general, the biggest reason security cameras are so low quality stems from:
- Storage Space
- Compression and Resolution
- Lens Type
- Night Vision Quality
- Internet Connection
- Camera Maintenance
Below I’ll discuss the main reasons that these cameras still aren’t up to par and what can be done about it in detail.
The Main Reasons Security Cameras Are Such Low Quality
1. Storage Space
10GB used to be impressive storage whereas now it is minuscule. With the evolution of storage, there has come better video quality but we are still not “there” yet.
Moores’s law states that we can expect the speed of our components to near double every couple of years.
Though we haven’t reached that exact speed we have come pretty close.
Quick Fact: Taking video in 4K can use between 300 to 400 MB of storage every minute which can go up to 1 GB every three minutes. That’s massive! This level of quality is unfeasible for most.
With regards to cameras, storage has been the biggest issue.
Though we have the capabilities for great 4k video, we simply don’t have the storage space in these smaller cameras to contain the amount of video size that is required.
Sure there are solutions such as wired cameras to a larger hard drive but the majority of businesses and homes do not have access to this massive storage option and instead, you get smaller setups with very limited access to storage.
Another great workaround that many uses are motion-activated detection and loop recording.
When you use motion-activated detection you make sure to reduce the storage space because it only records once someone enters the video frame. However, this is only a temporary solution and is not really feasible in front of a storefront where people are consistently passing through.
Quick Fact: To distinguish a face on a video you need a minimum of 1080p (1920×1080) at a reasonable distance and even then it’s questionable dependent on lighting and conditions of the lens itself that you will get clear video.
Compression and Resolution
Resolution is by far the next most important thing once it comes the video quality.
Though as we mentioned resolution effectiveness does depend on storage since one needs to match the other in terms of its quality to be able to function. For example, if your resolution is too high quality for your storage you won’t be able to get enough footage for any meaningful recordings.
Many people try and go the route of buying older cheaper cameras online.
These advertise a certain resolution but people are shocked to find out what they receive is actually much lower quality. Sometimes this is not exactly because of the resolution but because of the quality of the lens itself. Where you might think the resolution in no way can look like what you’re seeing the actual culprit is the lens quality.
Another big issue can stem from the compression that was used.
There are different forms of compression and some compression will actually reduce the quality of the video greatly just to be able to save more of it on your system. So you may have a phenomenal resolution but the compression may be cutting out a lot of that data and making it near unviewable when zooming in.
Common artifacts are seen with high compression. One issue is artifacting where we see bands or blocking on contour boundaries or areas with fine detail.
Another common artifact is mosquito noise which shows small staticky noise.
High-frequency loss is also common and shows up as blurring or as a loss of detail.
People tend to buy cheaper models that sacrifice resolution for storage space.
For example, a low-resolution 1080p model with a low frame rate and bad lens quality could save you money but will suffer in its ability to see and detect faces. Another common reason is the popularity of wifi cameras and their streaming and storage limitations.
The key distance is 40 feet for a security camera. When we go wide angle we can see more the problem is things get smaller, we go wider and things get smaller. You don’t want to use this any more than 40 feet out as you will not be able to correctly grab a face or any detail.
The best spot is 25 to 30 feet, you can be as close as 5 feet and get lots of detail.
A 6mm lens is for longer distances, the horizontal distance will get smaller, but the zoom will be better and you will be able to see a person and their detail much better.
12mm is even closer and the detail gets better however the horizontal distance is much smaller.
These lens sizes and types cause a lot of security cameras that are wider to grab much lower quality video and not be able to distinguish faces within these.
Night Time Video Quality (Light Sources)
One of the biggest issues with video stems from lighting and most people don’t even know it.
When your video camera takes infrared light video this means that it is using sensors on the camera to be able to use lowlight conditions to produce video. For this to work there needs to be some sort of light source around such ass a streetlight or even light pollution from buildings. If this doesn’t exist what you end up getting is a very choppy and hard-to-see video with different types of artifacts all around.
There is a whole list of issues with night recording that could fit an article in itself but the most common ones revolve around having little to no light source.
Internet Connection (Wired or Wireless)
Wireless security cameras have become much more popular these days.
When using a wireless security camera you may be sacrificing stability. We all know that certain changes or power outages can reset your router or disable your connection. Recently there have been inventions of quicker wireless Wi-Fi protocols that can transfer more data however a lot of these still aren’t able to transfer the amount of data required to provide very high-quality video.
For this reason, sometimes you have to sacrifice your recording quality to be able to adapt to your Wi-Fi speed.
There are also other factors. For example, if you are installing these cameras in your home and someone on the top floor is downloading large amounts of data.
This may sacrifice the functionality of your security camera as it tries to keep up with the bandwidth that is being lost.
A lot of times the best way to have a camera set up is by having it wired so it does not have any chance of losing connection or at least has a reduced chance of it. However, a lot of times the reduction in quality that you see is because of these wireless cameras not being able to keep up with their connection.
Many cameras have a failsafe built into them where they record a certain amount of data that is then passed over.
If this failsafe is triggered and the wireless connection is disrupted they still have a recording on the camera that can then be sent over once the connection is recovered, but this is not always present in lower-priced models.
A lot of older cameras have not been maintained in years and are still readily recording.
When cameras are not maintained there is a large number of issues that can cause bad recordings. These issues can include different dirt and debris going on your camera lens and preventing you from having high-quality video.
When it is constantly raining or snowing in your area this can slowly degrade your lens or damage it. Also, different debris like spiderwebs and bugs can accumulate on the lens making it blurry and hard to see through. (1, 2)
Finally, there are issues that relate directly to the mechanics of the camera and like a laptop or cell phone, these cameras are not meant to last for long-term views because the components may become fried or just be too old to function.
Take a look at some of our related articles below.
- How to install security cameras
- How long do battery-powered security cameras last
- CCTV camera night vision problems
(1) spiderwebs – https://daily.jstor.org/surprising-facts-about-spiderwebs/
(2) bugs – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/insect-bug-medicine-food-macneal