How video security systems work

17 November 2022

Their technology might seem complex, but video security systems represent a surprisingly simple front in the battle against crime

Of all the things which help police officers solve crimes, vague descriptions of potential criminals are among the most useless. Even if you’re fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to spot a miscreant in the act, describing them as being quite tall and wearing a hat won’t do much to increase the local police force’s conviction rate.

Conversely, video security systems are invaluable in identifying criminals. They’re also helpful for day-to-day activities like parcel deliveries and problem-solving. Weather-resistant external cameras silently record the who, what, where and when, all in time-stamped detail. Positioned high up on the walls of your home, outside arm’s reach and harm’s way, they can often reveal the innocuous nature of troubling events. Plant pot with your spare key underneath knocked over? – it was actually a cat at 12.34am chasing a moth. Online delivery nowhere to be seen? – the driver decided to store it in your recycling bin just after the refuse truck drove away.

Telling a thousand words

Video security systems have become big business in the age of near-universal internet access. Most modern systems are connected, which means they can be viewed and controlled through a computer or smartphone/tablet app. Even if you’re not confident using this technology, relatives can keep an eye on your property while you’re away, or deal with any issues that may arise on your behalf.

Internet-connected video security systems are often referred to as cloud-enabled. Their footage is uploaded onto a remote website server, where it can be viewed or shared by anyone with your account credentials. If a food delivery service claims it dropped off your takeaway half an hour ago, you can rewind the footage as you would with a traditional tape recorder to check. You can also share the footage with other people via email, which is ideal for police investigations, customer service complaints and neighbourhood notifications alike.

Stop thief

Alongside lower insurance premiums, a key benefit of video security systems is their crime-deterrent power. Even the doziest burglar will think twice about walking up to a house with a camera positioned beside the doorbell. Indeed, many video security systems are marketed as ‘smart doorbells’, such as Amazon’s Ring. This offers two-way video communication, with notifications sent to an app whenever motion is detected; it may take a degree of trial and error before the motion-detection area has been optimised.

Doorbell intercom systems can be paired with additional standalone cameras outside your property, creating a whole-home network. Individual devices may be hardwired into your home’s electrical circuits, or wireless – connected to WiFi, and powered by batteries that last up to six months. Wireless options are easier to install but less secure – a thief could potentially rip them off the wall, though this is hard to do in practice. A limited amount of archive footage storage is provided for free, which can often be increased with a small monthly subscription.

Don’t be afraid by the technical jargon surrounding video security systems. The terms 2K, 4K and 1080P all relate to footage quality, but any modern system should be clear enough. Look for cameras with wide-angle lenses (150 degrees or higher), to capture a panoramic view of their surroundings. Many systems offer motion-activated spotlights or low-light amplification which captures things the human eye might miss, while some activate live human communications at a remote centre. Systems offering two-way speech enable real-time warnings to be issued, usually scaring away all but truly committed criminals.