Improving a CCTV System Design in 7 Steps

Many people design their CCTV system in the wrong order. They buy some cameras first, then a recorder and install them before realising the system is not performing as expected.

Follow theses 7 steps and I can assure you that the results will be much better and possibly at a lower cost.


Step 1. Determine what your want to protect

This will help you to understand what to expect from the surveillance cameras


Step 2. How will the system be used

How will you use the CCTV system most of the time?

            • Live viewing from a back office
            • Different front and back office views
            • Off site live viewing
            • Only looked at when something has happened


Step 3. Define the time frame before you will know something has occurred

Understanding what events you are looking for will give an indication of how long you need to store the recordings for at a minimum and the type of storage device you will need.

            • Monitoring staff theft – 14 days
            • Shoplifting – 7 days
            • Home surveillance including short holidays – 14 days
            • Public areas – 30 to 90 days
            • Slip & trip incidents – 30 to 90 days


Step 4. Identify camera locations and lens sizes

Depending on the answers to step 1, you may need to mount the cameras low or a long way back, which will determine the lens size, camera resolution and special lighting features. Good surveillance camera placement will make the biggest impact to your results

Step 5. Select the camera style

Now that you know where each camera will be located and its intended application, you can work on what camera style will work best in each location

            • Do not use standard dome cameras for the following situations
              • If the lens focal length is greater than 12mm
              • if the light is greatly varying
              • Instead buy a camera with a separate lens
            • Is megapixel required?
            • Will lighting be sufficient at night?
            • Should a vandal resistant camera be used?
            • Can rain or sun hit the camera? Check the IP rating

Step 6. Choose the recording and storage medium

By now you should know if you are installing surveillance cameras that are analogue or IP CCTV connection. This will determine if you need a DVR (digital video recorder), NVR (network video recorder) or a hybrid recorder

            • Always allow more inputs than you require by at least 30% for expansion
            • Your storage should use a CCTV grade hard drive such as the Seagate SV35 range if you want a reasonable life cycle
            • Do you require a form or drive failure redundancy?
              • RAID1, 5 or 6 will all require additional storage but adds reliability
            • Determine the UPS size based on the recorders power consumption. Power fails kill hard drives
            • Choose a common video compression
              • Stay away from proprietary formats
              • Recommend H.264 or MPEG4 unless you know what you are looking for
            • How many viewing outputs will you need?
              • 1, 2 or more
              • will different cameras be viewed on each screen?
            • Decide how you will get video footage out of the recorder.
              • USB memory
              • DVD burner
              • Networked PC
            • Does the recorder need to keep recording and displaying live while playing back?

Step 7. Choose a playback reviewing method

Depending on the application, you may require to view discretely in a back office or over a network

            • Can the recorder be controlled over a network via a PC?
            • Are front panel controls on the recorder for local control?
            • What bandwidth is needed for internet based playback to stream effectively?
            • Can you remove the hard drives to review them elsewhere?
            • Will the viewing monitor in the customer area show what you are playing back?
            • Will you need to search large time periods for a change in the scene?


Having worked through these questions you are now in a position to start shopping and be armed with the questions to get what you need. However don’t be surprised if the average shop assistant or online store really doesn’t know what they are talking about. They are not security experts and are there for one reason alone. To get sales and lots of them.

If you are looking for a real recommendation, contact your local security professional or email us with as much of the above information as you can. We can recommend products and provide 3D system designs so you know what the end result will be like.


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  1. Felicia December 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for sharing these useful tips on how to improve one’s CCTV system design. By the time I would buy my personal CCTV system, I’d ask a professional for help and I would normally get a set so I won’t end up having trouble because of incompatibility of the items.

  2. Kyle April 8, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    It would seem from your posts that you have done quite a bit of quoting. This is my least favorite part of the job. I like thinking of the solutions in the design phase and I love installing. The last job I did, I used the software. When the job was done, I was able to compare the proposed frames to the actual frames. That was very cool. The client was also impressed because we made some last minute changes on the computer before any holes were drilled. I digress.

    I have been partnering with another company on a few jobs. He has a store front. I go to meet the client and do a walk through, take measurements, and take pictures. The problem is, I\’m looking for some standards for quoting the installations to make them go faster. If the job site has a drop ceiling, everything is generally easy. Put some bridle rings on beam clamps and knock a few holes in drywall. However, the trouble comes when there is a bunch of concrete block, minimal drop ceiling, plaster walls, and ceilings. This is where a lot of surface mount wiring hardware comes into play. Are there easy ways to assign misc. parts costs to stuff like wall boxes, conduit, etc instead of trying to price every little part you will use?

    I would like to go to the job site, go back to the shop, and quickly make up a quote. Granted, a larger job would take more time. If necessary spend some time on software to get some more details. I don\’t always need the software, but I can find a use for it over 70% of the time. I\’m pretty anal when it comes to install. I want everything to be excellent. I just wish customer\’s budgets could accomodate IP cameras. I would love to use those for choke points. SD just doesn\’t cut it for me. However, it does still fit in most people\’s budgets and if designed correctly, still works well.


    • Tim Norton April 8, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      Thanks for commenting.
      To answer your question, I work on average rate per item installed combined with gut feel on sundries.

      – Cable will take 2 mininutes per metre in a suspended ceiling
      – Conduit is 10 minutes per 4mtr length
      – If an external junction box is required, it’s an estimated cost for the hardware and 30 min install.

      It is based on averages and gut feel more than exact figures. The actual equipment based on the real cost + markup

      I always add a sundries and warranty cost to the project total.


  3. Abrahamlinkan February 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    It is really important for our security. This information especially for them who wanted to know about Improving a CCTV System Design. Thank you for posting this. It is a great helps for me and I have got more sufficient information to you about CCTV which was very increment.

  4. preethika March 14, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    Great post. Yes its important were to fix a CCTV camera. The Camera should able to focus what we want to protect instead of focusing unwanted things

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