Video Surveillance Systems Cost Profile

Two Technologies

Briefly speaking, there are 2 generations of technology for video surveillance systems.  They are the older analogue based system and the modern Internet Protocol (IP) based system respectively.  The demarcation criterion of what constitute analogue and IP is not clear cut and this article attempts to clear the confusion.  The biggest confusion is however on the costing of the 2 technologies and also the relative effectiveness of them.  This article attempts to provide a more precise big picture of cost benefits to people who are considering a video surveillance system for their organizations. 

Three Cost Areas

There are 3 major cost areas as far as the installation of video surveillance system is concerned.  System design is another cost area although some organizations apply common layman sense in lieu of engaging consultants for design.

o Cameras at various specified locations of the organization
o Cabling fabric connecting cameras to the monitoring centre
o Video Footage recorder at the monitoring centre


Roughly an IP camera is 5 times the cost of an analogue camera.  What does the big extra price offer to the customer?  Top of the list is clarity.  The maximum clarity of an analogue camera is lower than 800 x 600 dots of resolution (called VGA) on a display screen.  An IP camera provides 1280 x 1024 dots (Super VGA) and this resolution is about 3 times higher than VGA.  There are IP cameras with VGA resolution and they are cheaper than SVGA. There is no analogue camera with SVGA as VGA is the limit imposed by analogue production technology.  The higher resolution means higher clarity.  It allows IP camera footage to be used by the police to track down criminals or to cover a wider geographic area.  An IP camera also consists of computer chips to give them some level of intelligence.  The intelligence allows us to talk to the camera at the monitoring centre or over the Internet.

Cabling Fabric

IP camera uses standard and low cost computer cabling system for connection whereas analogue camera uses co-axial cable which is more expensive and being phased out.  Cabling is very site dependent but it is certain that IP has cost advantages in many respects.  One important implication is the potential for integrating video surveillance into standard information system networks for operation and maintenance.

Video Recorders

With the advent of low cost PC systems, most Digital Video Recorders (DVR) for analogue cameras have turned to PC based these days.  They do not look like PC and cannot be opened or modified like a standard PC.  These Recorders use electronics to convert analogue signals from the camera to digital on an individual camera basis.  The design of DVR is therefore dependent on the number of these converters built in.  Common numbers are 4, 8 and 16.  If you install a DVR with 16 camera capacity, you will need to buy another DVR when you want to install the 17th camera at a later date.  IP based video recorders do not have this limitation and the maximum number is whatever the software people set for their software design.

Cost Profiles of Two Technologies

We provide some cost-benefit information of 5 types of surveillance systems herewith.  We use the maximum camera number of the system as the index and the cost per camera as the indicator.  The cost per camera (NZD) does not include cabling or site work as they cannot be easily assumed. 

At the low cost and low benefit end are 2 DVR systems based on analogue cameras with 720 x 576 resolutions.  The cheapest one can handle 4 cameras max and the next one up is for 8 cameras max. 

The other 3 systems are IP based.  They are for 12, 32 and 64 maximum cameras respectively.  The price goes up gradually. 

Interesting Observations

The price of IP-12 is higher than analogue-12 if the latter exists.  However, it is utmost interesting to note that the cost of analogue systems will go up very fast at the level of 32 or 64 cameras if such systems exist.  If we use 2 DVR systems of 16 cameras each to get 32 cameras max, the total cost would be cheaper than one IP-32 system.  However, some people prefer having one system to two or multiple systems from an operation and maintenance perspective.
The graphs are meant for illustrating the effect of camera number in the system on the cost of the system.   We wish to summarize into 3 observations below.

o Cost per camera goes up with the number of camera.  This is a phenomenon most people do not expect.  In fact, the benefits also go up because larger systems provide a better economic basis for development.

o IP appears to be more expensive than analogue if we ignore the maximum camera limitation and forget about benefits. 

o It is fair to say that analogue systems would be adequate for very small sites, and IP system should be given preference for bigger sites.

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