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Closed-Circuit Television, or CCTV, is a term used to describe a system of video cameras that transmit a signal to a specific, limited set of monitors. As the name implies, these systems are closed, or independent, with the individual components connected exclusively to each other. Access to video is limited by design.

Contrast this with the modern state of digital video, and it is immediately clear that the technology has completely transformed.

From their earliest iterations, CCTV systems have provided value by deterring theft and other undesirable activities, promoting safety, and monitoring a wide range of environments and activities. As these systems modernized into the highly flexible platforms we see today, their value has increased dramatically.

What follows is an abbreviated history of the evolution of CCTV. It is amazing to consider how far we have come – and the many ways that we now benefit from this remarkable technology.

Early History

The earliest documented use of CCTV technology was in Germany in 1942. The system was designed by the engineer Walter Bruch and was set up for the monitoring of V-2 rockets, the world’s first long-range ballistic missiles that were launched from mobile platforms during World War II. The German military used the cameras to observe rocket launches from inside a bunker at a safe distance. However, they could only watch the launches through live streams as they happened. Recordings would not become available until much later.

In 1949, the first commercially available CCTV systems were manufactured by the American company Vericon, a U.S. contractor that sold the technology for basic live monitoring applications.

In 1953, CCTV systems were used in the United Kingdom during the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II. Cameras also began to appear at street locations throughout London during this time and continued to be used for safety and security reasons at events where Royal Family members would appear. Around this same time period, CCTV was installed for security monitoring along some New York City streets.

In 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown was awarded a patent for the first home security system in Queens, New York. The system she and her husband invented allowed a homeowner to use CCTV to view a person at the door and hear the person’s voice from another room in the home. This system is considered the predecessor to modern home security systems.

Early Use of CCTV in Retail Stores

CCTV systems have long been present in retail stores due to the mix of valuable assets and public access. They are ubiquitous above cash registers and on the sales floor to monitor activity and watch for theft, but are also used in receiving areas, cash offices, and covertly as part of investigations. Beyond the familiar ceiling domes, cameras are used even more conspicuously with public view monitors that display video in an entryway or aisle in plain sight to further deter theft. Video is well-established as a critical source of evidence and information when dealing with both internal and external investigations.

CCTV systems became widely used in department stores during the 1970s and 1980s, with multiple cameras being monitored and operated by security/loss prevention personnel from a central location in the store. The cameras were bulky, conspicuous, low-definition black-and-white systems. Cameras on the sales floor often had Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) capabilities to better track activity throughout the store and aid in shoplifter apprehensions.

Camera domes were also introduced during this time period which served to protect the cameras and make them less conspicuous, concealing the camera’s view and movements. Some stores would even install empty domes as an inexpensive deterrent to would-be shoplifters.

Covert systems also became much more common. These were mainly used to surveil employees and vendors as part of an internal theft or misconduct case. The cameras were still large and required expensive “pinhole” lenses that allowed them to be concealed above ceiling tiles or inside boxes with only a small hole drilled out. Wiring these devices was often challenging; many experienced loss prevention professionals can share stories of long nights “pulling cable” through dirty ceilings to set up these systems.

Eventually, a major development in the history of CCTV occurred when video cassette recorders (VCRs) became widely available. With the advent of the VCR, systems could be set up and left to run, allowing users to review the recordings at their leisure. The technology made CCTV much more popular for use among businesses, despite being far from perfect. The tapes had to be changed on a regular basis. If users wanted to store video for any length of time, they had to keep a library of tapes, and the tapes were vulnerable to wear and tear.

Moving into the 1990s, digital multiplexing solutions became available. This technology allowed video signals from several CCTV cameras to be viewed at once, combining the images so that they could be viewed on a single monitor. Color cameras were also improving during this time, becoming an increasingly viable alternative to black and white. This was soon followed by time-lapse and motion-only recording which saved time, resources and money.

Evolving into the Digital Age

CCTV’s digital evolution took more than two decades, but during that time, everything changed. Recording moved from VCRs to hard drives. Connections between devices moved onto standards-based networks, abandoning the “closed circuit” concept. Software replaced clumsy push-button interfaces, and connectivity meant that video could be accessed from anywhere. Of course, the cameras themselves improved dramatically as well, shrinking in size while gaining tremendous improvements in resolution, image capture performance, and processing power.

“Digital video systems have also become key components in systems that leverage data and exception reporting to improve business performance,” said Steve White, Vice President of Business Development for Vector Security. “A few of the many examples include integrations with point of sale (POS) systems, intrusion alarms, access control, time and attendance and case management software.”

“It is also common to run custom software on the video recorder, camera, or even in the cloud, to analyze video content. Such software can be used to classify objects, detect unusual movements, read license plates, count people or traffic, and summarize activity in an area,” he added.

These advanced capabilities deliver valuable information to multiple departments within an organization, greatly enhancing the return on investment for video technology. For example, to improve efficiencies in retail stores, many companies will use their camera systems to count shopper traffic, track checkout wait times, and analyze patterns of movement within the store. The insights gained can help improve merchandising, staffing, customer experience and ultimately the profitability of the business.

Choosing the Right System

Choosing the right surveillance system can be challenging. When selecting a system that best fits your needs, some of the important considerations include:

  • The shrink history and risk profile for each location.
  • Unique operational or asset-related needs. Is there a cash office to protect? Where are high-theft items displayed and stored? Is extra protection needed at fire exits or in the receiving area?
  • Loss prevention goals for deterrence, monitoring and evidence collection/retention.
  • Alternative uses of the surveillance equipment to maximize the investment and improve overall company performance.
  • Technical requirements that might apply such as image resolution, weather ratings, vandal resistance and compatibility of components.
  • IT and network access requirements. Will the system be accessed remotely? From inside or outside of the corporate network? Will video be stored in the cloud? What are the security requirements for access and stored data?
  • Modern systems must be maintained, and some features are licensed. Factoring in such costs from the outset is important.
  • Long-term needs. Base decisions on total cost of ownership–not only considering cost of installation, deployment and operation over the life of the system, but also its flexibility and scalability.

As an end-user of this technology, it is very important to understand the options available and the pros and cons of different platforms. A good systems integrator will take time to understand your business and unique needs, and make recommendations.

The Future of Video

Today, it is estimated that tens of millions of surveillance cameras are used in the United States alone, with more than 100 million cameras worldwide.  It’s amazing how far we have come since those first systems were used in 1942. And with advancements in technology moving rapidly and solutions improving in quality and usability every year, digital video will only continue to grow in importance and performance.

“Video surveillance is no longer a ‘nice to have.’ It’s an essential tool for all businesses,” said Jordan Rivchun, Leader – Retail Solutions & Strategy, North America for Hanwha Techwin America.  “From safety, security and compliance, to marketing and operations, cameras are being leveraged now more than ever.”

Naturally, as the technology evolves, management protocols, IT support, creative use cases, and inter-departmental coordination will continue to transform as well.

Video system components are now routinely connected to the corporate data network, and they have many of the same considerations and ongoing requirements as servers and other IT infrastructure components. These include the need for careful planning and configuration, ongoing patch/security management, and monitoring/auditing. Additionally, as video moves to the cloud, there is an even greater focus on encryption, authentication, and cybersecurity best practices.

The potential for future video analytics, business information, and artificial intelligence (AI) applications seems limitless. Cameras and other edge devices are already capable of advanced processing and automation tasks, and software is enhancing our ability to connect data sources and offer predictive alerts based on multiple factors in real-time. Add the power of the cloud for information-sharing and global systems integration, and it is clear that the potential for video has only begun to be realized.

White noted, “With this power comes responsibility, so the future of video also includes new requirements and best practices for managing privacy, data and a range of ethical boundaries – many of which have yet to be fully defined. Digital video is everywhere, and only continues to grow in popularity and demand. It is critical that we expand our use of this technology with an appropriate degree of care and concern.”

Whenever, wherever, and however video systems are used, there should be partnerships that drive the decision-making process for this technology. Consultative and collaborative participation from stakeholders like IT, loss prevention, operations, and your systems integrator will help ensure that your digital video program delivers results. History can provide us with a glimpse of the future, but what we learn today is still more likely to put us on the best path forward.

Need more guidance on how the right video solution can transform your business? Contact a Vector Security Networks expert today.

This article was written in partnership with Terry Sullivan, president of the Loss Prevention Foundation.