Analog vs. Digital

Oct. 27, 2008

New technology in the security industry can be met with two emotions - excitement at possible product capabilities and caution as to how the technology will affect current business practices in terms of cost, use and functionality. Digital video is no exception.

The older technology, analog video, is still used in about 90 percent of the security installations, so there is a big potential to upgrade to digital. It may be time to consider revisiting old clients and talk to them about the benefits that digital video has over analog. What factors should you discuss when designing a security system for a new customer or upgrading an old system?

Digital video has numerous advantages over analog technology. Higher quality video using IP cameras and the ability to store data on network video recorders (NVRs) mean that security systems will now have the ability to store more video. Events that may have been previously impossible to review, being too far back in time, may now be within reach. Not only that, adding a new camera to the security system is as easy as adding a printer or scanner to a computer network. All this results in a security system with greater reach and flexibility.

It is also possible to send video data over a network with IP cameras, so that offices in the same corporation can share security data with other departments located all around the world. The video data can also be e-mailed, making it easier to share information with law enforcement authorities.

However, analog video still has an important role to play in the security industry, for now. It is still the best choice for a security system that extensively uses pan/tilt features and is also more effective than IP cameras in low-light environments. Digital video is quickly catching up to the old standard though and it is only a matter of time until IP cameras become the superior, cost-effective solution here, too.
A great way to ease the hassle and cost of completely upgrading an old system is by phasing in IP cameras with analog cameras. Digital video recorders (DVRs) are available that allow both types of cameras to run on the same network, so it is possible to install a few IP cameras at a time until you and your customer feel the system is ready to go completely digital. Another handy tip is to move toward using Cat5 or Cat6 cabling because unlike coaxial, these can support IP cameras in the future.

Video encoders are also available that can be used to convert analog video data to digital data. This relatively low-cost method will allow remote viewing and e-mailing of video data without the hassle of replacing all the cameras.

With the convergence of IT departments and security systems the industry should see a continued trend toward the use of digital video. However, make sure your client understands the advantages of both systems and create a plan that is cost effective not only for today, but also the future.

Steve Morefield is president of Anaheim, Calif.-based Firstline Security Systems Inc., which has provided the commercial, high-rise, medical and corporate marketplace with standalone and integrated access control, CCTV, burglar and fire solutions since 1992. Firstline Security is also a member of SecurityNet, a 22-member international organization of leading, independently owned security system integrators.