Video Surveillance Systems Overview

All you need to know about the basics of video surveillance for your business.


What is Video Surveillance?

Video surveillance is one of the most common security practices for both businesses and residential facilities. Despite commonly being only associated with cameras, video surveillance is a more complex system that also involves software and a dashboard to monitor the camera footage.

There are different types of video surveillance systems depending on the technology that is used. As a matter of fact, some systems rely on analog cameras connected to a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) (legacy systems) whereas the more modern companies rely mainly on cloud storage and work with Network Video Recorder (NVR). These use IP cameras instead of analog ones (this type is also referred to as VSaaS).

As this might be confusing at first, we have dedicated the next chapter to understanding how the different types of video surveillance systems work and what their pros and cons are.

In this article, we will go through how video surveillance systems work and their components. Then we’ll discuss some other information about the best video surveillance companies, laws, and relationships with access control.

How Do Video Security Systems Work?

A video surveillance system generally works with one or multiple hardware components and a software component. Basically, the hardware is composed of one or multiple security cameras and a video recorder, whereas your software is the video surveillance software that allows you to access the footage or, in the more modern solutions, to launch analytics and more advanced features.

It all starts with the cameras recording the images. These get processed and stored by the video recorder and, through the software, are made available to the physical person.

Despite the general functioning of these systems being pretty similar, the end product can be drastically different depending on the components that you are using. In the next chapter, we will go through the individual components and how they impact the final product that facility and security managers get to work with.

When we say components, we mean analog and IP cameras, digital and network video recorders, and different video surveillance softwares.


Video Surveillance System Components

As we mentioned above, every video surveillance system is deeply influenced by the nature of its components and how they co-exist. There are two main types of surveillance systems: the legacy ones that adopt analog cameras and a digital video recorder (DVR) and the more modern solutions that use IP cameras and a network video recorder (NVR). In the next paragraphs we will go through the difference between these components and how they impact the ecosystem they work within.

We can start with the difference between digital and network video recorders.

Digital Video Recorders vs Network Video Recorders

The basic difference between digital video recorders and network ones is how they relate to the cameras. Digital video recorders require some intense cabling to the physical video recorder and require you to purchase more video recorders once all the camera connections are occupied. This fact makes DVRs very difficult to scale up, so they may not be the ideal solution for a facility that is planning on growing exponentially.

Network video recorders, on the other hand, only require a Power-over-Ethernet cable for their cameras, as they are directly connected to a network. Scaling up the number of cameras only requires a new cable.

In terms of cameras, however, NVRs only work with IP cameras, and not all of them are compatible with NVRs. Make sure to check if the cameras you want to purchase are compatible with network video recorders.

Another difference between the two video recorder types is the resolution of the image. DVRs have a lower resolution on average and normally offer a 720 x 480 pixels resolution. If you want to work with HD resolution (1080p) you must work with an NVR connected to an IP camera.

The market offers some hybrid recorders (HVD) that support both types of cameras and have the best of the two solutions. If you have a very large security system in place and you want to gradually update it without breaking the bank, this might be a great option.

IP Cameras vs Analog Cameras

Just like for video recorders, there is a clear distinction between the legacy cameras (or analog) and the modern ones (or IP). Analog cameras have represented the standard for video security for a while now, and their technology hasn’t evolved drastically over the last few years. IP cameras, on the contrary, are the future of video surveillance and offer many more features, but they do so at a higher price.

It might be good to start with video resolution. As a matter of fact, the first substantial difference between the two types of cameras is the resolution, which is much higher in the IP cameras. If a requirement for your future video security system is to have clear and HD footage, then IP cameras are an obvious choice. Analog camera footage is pretty grainy in comparison.

Another important difference is represented by connectivity. IP cameras are often powered by a PoE cable, as we’ve seen in the previous paragraph about NVRs vs DVRs. This allows for a faster and easier setup.

The last thing to discuss is video analytics. These are only available with more modern cameras and, for this reason, analog cameras do not offer the possibility of having analytics. So, if analytics are something you might be interested in, IP cameras are the only available solution.

In conclusion, IP cameras are quickly becoming the new standard for every video surveillance system. The only advantage presented by legacy cameras is the price tag, but in some cases, this might not even be true anymore. IP cameras offer analytics, better resolution, and an easier setup and maintenance.

Video Surveillance Software

The last component of every video security system is a software that connects the hardware and the end-user. Many camera manufacturers offer in-house software in order to give continuity to their solution. This is often a very good choice for the end user because it facilitates the procedure and often saves you lots of time. Purchasing a great in-house software is especially beneficial if the camera manufacturer is well-established. As a matter of fact, great companies like Cisco Meraki and Rhombus do not just offer top-of-the-line hardware, but match it with great software.

If, however, you want to see what’s out there, we have created a viral article about the best video surveillance softwares on the market. You can check it out here.

Purchasing an external video surveillance software can potentially allow you to:

  • Save on some costs
  • Get a product that solely focuses on analytics and video management
  • Evaluate multiple solutions at the same time

This, however, requires lots of research, and in the majority of cases there’s no guarantee that it will work better than in-house software. Try to focus on the needs of your business and really ask yourself if it’s worth spending time and resources on finding a custom software.


Best Video Security Brands

Now that we’ve looked into the video surveillance systems’ components and functioning, it’s time to dive into the best brands for your overall solution. Coming up with a final list can be very hard because different systems are suitable for different budgets or different types of business. Some businesses require an incredibly scalable solution with many cameras and other businesses only need one camera for the front door.

For this reason, we have created a very extensive guide dedicated to this topic. You can find that here.

Let’s dive into some of the brands that we discuss in the guide.

Cisco Meraki

Cisco Meraki is one of the best security camera brands on the market, as it merges years of experience and constant drive for innovation. Their cameras are modern and easy to set up, and they also offer a great software for managing visual footage.

Kisi and Cisco Meraki have a great long-term relationship that matured into our integration that, to this day, is one of the most requested.

Their system is especially useful for larger enterprises as it is really scalable and allows for lots of cameras to coexist at the same time. Because of this, we’ve labeled it as “Best Solution for Large Enterprises” in our Top 10 guide.

Rhombus Systems

Rhombus is another brand that offers premium products and a great cloud software to manage the video surveillance process. We’ve also created an integration with Rhombus, as we fell in love with their solution and with the fact that, just like Kisi, Rhombus prioritizes remote management features. This is one of the reasons we’ve awarded it with the “Best Solution for Small Enterprises” in our guide. SMEs, in fact, have often had to rely on a remote workforce, especially in this historical period.

Just like Cisco Meraki, Rhombus has a wide variety of IP cameras that suit a variety of specific needs and a clear and powerful dashboard to control them. The integration with Kisi will allow you to match visual data to the access events that may occur within your facility.

Other brands

Our guide looks into various brands, from the bigger ADT and Avigilon to the newer brands like Nest and Verkada. For each one of the brands, we give an overview of the product offering, a price estimation, and some other useful feedback for the undecided buyer.

In general, we recommend brands that can grant great security without compromising the ability to manage all the data in a secure ecosystem. For this reason, we’ve highly considered brands that integrate with access control, as having a native integration makes sure you do not create false alarms and keeps video and access policies up to date.

Check out our guide by clicking on this link.


Video Surveillance Laws and Regulations

Video surveillance is, as we said, one of the most used forms of business security in the world. This means that there’s a lot of legislation that revolves around video surveillance and, needless to say, lots of controversy related to it.

The first thing that business owners should know is that video surveillance is usually always allowed in every location where there is no expectation of privacy. This means that you can monitor your entrances and the inside of your meeting rooms without any type of issues. However, the problems arise when individuals come into the picture. Generally, you are not allowed to record locations where people are by themselves and privacy is expected, like changing rooms, bathrooms, and shower rooms. Public places are normally problem-free unless we are talking about rooms like the ones mentioned above.

In the United States, 34 states do not have clear legislation about what can be recorded and what can’t, with the only rule being that you can’t film where there is an expectation of privacy. The matter gets even more complicated in the workplace, where employees have high expectations of their privacy and employers have to find the good balance between surveillance and security breach. Let’s dive into it.

Employee Surveillance in the Workplace

One of the recurring issues that employers and employees face, when it comes to video surveillance, is the privacy one. The line between what is proper and what is not is, in fact, very fine in the majority of cases. One the one hand, employees want their privacy to be preserved and their data to be properly protected. On the other hand, the employers want to make sure that their facility is secure and that there are no breaches within it.

One of the factors that makes this topic particularly delicate is the fact that different states within the U.S. and different countries, in general, have different laws and regulations that apply in terms of employee and facility monitoring.

In our study on Employee Monitoring, we’ve discovered that, as a rule of thumb, employers are allowed to monitor all actions happening on the company network, from the company laptop to the enterprise Wifi. Keeping all of these devices monitored at all times, however, can increase the stress level of the employees that feel “spied on.”

Our Recommendations

In terms of security, one thing we can suggest is to only monitor entry points and every room that has intellectual property you want to protect. Avoid what is not necessary and make sure your employees feel happy and motivated. If you’re still afraid of not being secured enough, you can look into other solutions that increase security while not compromising your people’s moods. Access control is a great example of this. Kisi, for instance, allows you to have all the entry points secured (windows included), and you basically only need cameras for your doors.

This makes your company bulletproof and allows you to both avoid getting tens of cameras and filming your employees at their desk for the whole time they work. For more information about our integration with video surveillance systems, check out our dedicated page.


Access Control and Video Surveillance

Access control and video surveillance have become popular for companies for a while now, with the only limitation being two separate products with rules that often overwrite each other. Companies were, in fact, purchasing an access control solution from one company and a video surveillance system from a different one, obligating the office and facility managers to program and set up the two solutions and maintain them. This often required hiring a security and IT expert to solve issues and perform the necessary routine maintenance.

Nowadays, the cloud has allowed these two technologies to advance immensely and opened the doors to integrations between the two. Access control is a perfect match with video surveillance, as it allows you to match entry and security data with visual footage to give you a better overview of what’s going on in your company.

As we mentioned before, Kisi has developed integrations with different brands in order to match high quality IP cameras with the Kisi technology for access control and intrusion detection. The most requested integrations are with Cisco Meraki and Rhombus Systems. If you want to learn more about our integrations, check our overview page.

Kisi’s Product Offering

Kisi itself is not a video surveillance company. Our company started out as an access control solution and, with the years, grew into a more comprehensive security platform. We’ve added to the original access control solution, now offering many features that facilitate businesses with intrusion detection, remote and visitor management and, overall, with their security. It was inevitable to not cross paths with video surveillance.

As of today, Kisi has a partnership with multiple video surveillance suppliers with whom we pair our top-of-the-line access control and intrusion detection solution. Our goal is to make the life of admins and office managers easier than ever by promoting scalability and connectivity.

If you want to know more about how our solution works, check out our dedicated page. We also have a dedicated page for the hardware and software that we offer.