Analog VS IP Security Cameras - Buyers Guide

Since the introduction of IP cameras about two decades ago to compete with the widely used Analog cameras, the battle for supremacy between these two giants has been raging strong. It reminds me of the days when VHS and Betamax were going head to head. With ever advancing technologies for both Analog and IP Cameras alike I'm afraid the battle for supremacy will continue with no end in sight.

Over the years experts have been heavily divided on this subject; with them being more bias naturally towards their “brand” if you will; essentially what they were used to. This made it so most old school guys tend to lean towards Analog systems whereas newcomers lean more towards IP cameras.

If you were to look back in the early days of IP and honestly even up until the last few years, IP was an entirely different beast; you truly had to be a network guru to set one of those systems up. This is why old school Analog equipment remained so popular for so long.

So what are the differences between the two, then? Lets first speak about them individually. Analog cameras have been around the longest, so lets start there:

Analog cameras use coax wire (Which is most commonly RG59) to carry a video signal back to what they call a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) which records the images as they're seen. The signal could be directly received by the recorder or a television screen which resulted in an extremely easy to use plug and play type of installation. Analog cameras have seen little improvements over the years, finally ending at a resolution of 960H, which boasted a resolution of 960 x 480. By today's standards that's atrocious, and honestly wasn't that great even when it was released. Around the same time that 960H was released for Analog, IP Cameras were already doing 1080P and even higher as long as you had the know how and budget for them.

Just when we thought Analog systems were down and couldn't compete with the ever expanding popularity of IP cameras they released HD-Coax systems. These companies found a way to push HD quality pictures over that aging coax line. Starting with 720P and having multiple iterations over the years they have actually managed to push full ultra HD 4K resolution images through coax. This was amazing for consumers and companies alike who had ran thousands of feet of coax. It meant they didn't have to replace wiring to get improvements to their security systems.

Moving onto IP cameras you will find that they are similar to HD-Coax systems but with their own unique qualities. You have the same fundamental principles which make up a security system: a camera, some wire and a recording box. What changes is the method of communication. IP cameras use Ethernet (which is most commonly CAT5e wire) to connect the cameras. An IP camera digitizes the image into data and turns the data to binary (a sequence of 1' and 0's) and then sends that data through a network. An NVR (Network Video Recorder) takes the binary and rebuilds the data into an image which is then displayed and recorded. This is identical to how our computers and phones access the internet, everything from youtube to your email goes through the same process.

With the approach of having IP cameras using such a popular medium of Ethernet it really changes the game when it comes to resolution. As I mentioned before when the camera digitizes the image and turns it into binary, that mighty 4K image gets turned into thousands of tiny packets that get transmitted through the cable. This means that the image isn't compressed in any way and there is no resolution limitation, only a bandwidth limitation; which even 4K doesn't come close to utilizing the total bandwidth available in CAT5e. With this idea of moving “data” rather than a video feed you get additional features like the built in ability to record audio on every camera, or decentralized recording. CAT5e has a total of 8 wires (4 pairs), only 2 of the pairs (4 wires) are used to transmit data (1 pair to transmit, 1 pair to receive) which leaves the other 2 pair unused. This leaves the door open to utilize one of those pairs to power the camera through the use of POE (Power Over Ethernet).

Having a network background myself I can understand how daunting of a task designing a network for a camera system sounds. Luckily, with advancements in technology and the implementation of DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) it allows a camera to speak directly to an NVR and get an IP address automatically assigned to it. With the lingo aside, it's plug and play.


The question isn't which one is better; it's how you're going to use it. It's your building, and your unique situation. If you look at a 1080P HD-Coax image side by side to an IP 1080P image the IP cameras image will look nicer because the image isn't compressed, but I'm talking marginally better. 

My advice is simple: When comparing prices and features IP cameras hands down have the advantage in every category. However with that being said, HD-Coax systems do have their place within the industry, and that's with legacy equipment. So, if you're installing a brand new system and you do not have any cable previously ran I would recommend an IP camera system. If you have a commercial building with say 48 analog cameras installed, then I would take a hard look at HD-Coax systems. Always keep in mind to double check to see if that old wire still works and it hasn't decayed or been cut.

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