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What resolution do I need for CCTV?

So, you’ve planned out how many cameras you need to cover your property and what night vision range they need- what next? One of the most important things to plan when shopping for a new security system is what CCTV resolution you will need in order get useful results. Simply put, the resolution is the size of the digital image that the DVR records. If this is too small, then you won’t have enough detail in the video footage, and it won’t make usable evidence. If it’s too high on the other hand, then you may end up paying over the odds for the cameras, and will rapidly run out of space on the recorder’s hard drive. So, as with many things in the world of security, the answer to the question “what resolution do I need for CCTV”, is “…it depends“.

To help simplify it, we have gathered together a list of the most common resolutions for CCTV cameras and recorders, to help you decide what you need for your system.

A note on lenses

Before we delve into the various CCTV resolutions on the market, there is one thing we need to mention. When talking about the amount of detail a camera can record, the recorded resolution is just one part of the jigsaw. The camera lens also has a huge effect, if anything more so than resolution. As an example, if your CCTV is not recording people’s faces clearly, then you can either pay more for a higher quality camera, or use a similar camera with a more tightly cropped lens, zoomed in to the area where they are standing. The opposite is also true- higher resolution cameras can get more detail with a wide angle lens, so you don’t have to sacrifice a wide field of view for image quality. This is not to say that resolution isn’t important, just that it is one of many things you have to consider when choosing cameras.

So, with that caveat, let’s have a look at some of the most common resolutions available on the market:

sensor size comparison to scale  
Sensor size comparison- to scale, reduced from actual size to fit…

VGA (640×480)

This is less common these days, as HD sensors become progressively cheaper. However, it is still used in some specific situations. Most commonly, many models of wireless cameras still transmit video in VGA resolution, as wireless transmission inherently limits the amount of data that can be sent when compared to running it down a wire. This is one of the trade-offs you should consider when choosing between a wired and wireless system- wireless is easier to set up, but will never provide the same picture quality as a top end wired system. VGA is also commonly used by our USB video capture devices, providing a really cost effective way to record cameras without a DVR.

D1 (720×576)

This one is less well known to many people, but has been used as a standard in the CCTV industry for years. That’s because it’s the most common recording format used by standard definition DVRs. People have been relying on these devices to protect their homes and businesses for over a decade, so if you need a lower cost but reliable format then this is still a great option. Most 650 and 700TVL analogue CCTV cameras will end up being recorded to this size of video. One reason why many CCTV systems still use this instead of HD formats is that the files takes up much, much less space on a hard drive, letting you DVR record for significantly longer before rewriting old files.

Our battery powered spy gadgets record in 720p HD

720p (1280×720) and 960p (1280×960)

720p is the most basic format for high definition (HD) recording, and is also familiar to most people from devices like TVs and games consoles. Whilst it is generally not the most popular format for fixed security cameras, it is now widely used by covert video recorders and spy gadgets, such as our motion activated spy cameras. This is because it provides a great balance between recording detail and file size. Most spy gadgets will have wide angle lenses to cover the best field of view, so get the best results when placed within a couple of metres of the subject.

960p is a less common format, used in quite a few IP cameras like our HD bird box camera. It records files with the same horizontal resolution as 720p, but with a slightly higher vertical resolution with a 4:3 aspect ratio.

1080p Full HD (1920×1080)

This is probably the single most common resolution on the market today, not only used in CCTV cameras, but in phones, videocameras, TVs, and pretty much anything else that records or displays an image. Despite it’s ubiquity, it has only really been economical as a CCTV format for the last couple of years, having previously been solely the domain of high end security kits. Cheaper high capacity hard drives are now available though, making a 1080p CCTV system a great option for everyone from home users to commercial installations. It’s a great all round format, used in all of our HD TVI security systems, which also have the benefit of a simple plug-and-play set up.

4 Megapixel (2688×1520)

This is a comparatively new format being used in many of Hikvision’s professional grade IP CCTV systems. It records at over twice the level of detail of Full HD, making it a fantastic choice for business applications where high levels of detail are essential. Our new 4MP Hikvision systems all record in this resolution, ensuring they can capture things like subject faces and car number plates. They do however take up more hard drive space for recordings, so we would recommend investing in as many terabytes of disc space as possible! 

4K – 8 Megapixel (4096×2160)

Moving up from 4mp are where things start to get more exotic. Currently the largest resolution we stock is 4K, recording the same size image as is displayed on an UltraHD TV. Whilst this is a reasonably common format now for films, the huge sizes the recorded files take up mean that for CCTV it’s still only limited to very specific applications. As the massive amounts of detail let you enlarge small portions of the picture and still get high quality images, they are most often used for recording a very wide field of view. This makes them great for recording in large car parks, stadiums or crowded bars. If you’ve ever wanted to zoom into a tiny part of a picture whilst yelling “enhance!” at the monitor then these are definitely the ones to go for…

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