As a security tech, I have installed hundreds of low-resolution analog security cameras.
But with HD analog cameras, millions of homeowners and business owners can now upgrade their old-fashioned analog cameras to high-definition cameras with amazing clear video.
What is an analog camera?
There are two types of analog cameras, obsolete low-resolution analog security cameras and the new high-definition HD analog security cameras.
In this article, I will be referring to low-resolution analog as just analog cameras and high definition analog cameras as HD analog cameras.
Initially, all security cameras were analog cameras. There was no such thing as an HD analog or IP (Internet Protocol) camera.
An analog security camera is a low-resolution camera by today’s standards that uses a coaxial cable to connect the camera to the digital video recorder (DVR) or a video monitor.
Analog security cameras are still available for purchase today only because there are so many existing analog systems in use that will need to be maintained.
But analog cameras will eventually be phased out entirely at some point. So, analog cameras should not be your first choice if you are thinking about installing security cameras for your home or business.
An analog camera’s resolution is measured in TV lines, while an HD analog or IP camera’s resolution is measured in pixels.
What is a TV line?
TV lines refer to the number of lines that scan up and down a TV’s screen to make up the video image on an old-fashioned tube-style television.
For those of you who are not old enough to remember, we used to have these square boxes that we called televisions, they were big and bulky, and we couldn’t even mount them on the wall.
The more TV lines that an analog camera can produce, the sharper the camera’s video image will be.
Early analog cameras could only produce 300 TV lines, a low-resolution video image. Then as lens technology became more advanced, we could purchase analog cameras with as many as 1000 TV lines.
Even at 1000 TV lines, these analog cameras produce a very low-quality image where you can’t even identify a person’s face standing only a few feet from the camera.
Unfortunately, analog cameras were all we had, and if you wanted security cameras for your home or business, then that’s what you got.
With the invention of IP security cameras, we can now produce much sharper and clearer video images that put analog cameras to shame.
More security installers started using IP cameras, and owners of analog cameras wanted to upgrade to IP but could not because IP cameras do not use coaxial cable.
Instead, IP cameras require a category 5e network cable. With so many analog systems in use, there needed to be a solution for using the existing coaxial cables installed in millions of homes and businesses to upgrade to high-definition video.
So, the camera manufacturers invented high-definition (HD) analog security cameras that could use the existing coaxial wiring and produce a higher-resolution video comparable to IP cameras.
What is a high definition (HD) analog camera?
Simply put, HD analog cameras are cameras that can use existing coaxial cables to provide a High definition video output of up to eight megapixels in resolution.
HD analog cameras are not compatible with traditional low-resolution analog systems because they use different video compression to transmit the video signal through the cable.
There are three different HD analog video formats:
- HD-TVI: High Definition Transport Video Interface, was invented by Hikvision, the biggest security camera manufacturer in the world
- HD-CVI: High definition composite video Interface, was invented by Dahua, the second-biggest security camera manufacturer in the world
- AHD: Analog High Definition
Out of the three formats available, HD-TVI is the most popular, HD-CVI coming in at second, and AHD the least popular and, in my opinion, a format that will eventually be phased out at some point because there aren’t many manufacturers producing this format.
So, which format should you use? There is no noticeable difference in video quality between the three different formats but, instead, you need to look into the video quality and features of each particular security camera.
Since there are three different formats of HD security cameras, it makes sense that there are also three formats of Digital Video Recorders (DVR) needed to record these security cameras.
When purchasing a Digital Video Recorder, you can buy a single format recorder to match the security camera format you are using or purchase a hybrid DVR compatible with all three formats.
Are HD analog cameras better than IP cameras?
When researching what type of cameras to install for your home or business, you will come across many experts telling you that IP cameras are better than HD analog cameras.
I have installed thousands of IP and HD analog cameras, and I prefer to install HD cameras over IP cameras because of two reasons:
- HD analog cameras are more cost-effective than IP cameras
- HD cameras are a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot than IP cameras
When choosing between an IP or HD analog camera, there is no difference to the end-user the majority of times, especially when it comes to residential installations.
When installing cameras for residential customers, I’ve noticed that cost is more important than the few benefits of installing IP cameras. Typically, HD analog cameras can be 20% to 40% cheaper than comparable IP cameras.
I installed both HD analog and IP cameras in my home, and I can’t tell the difference between the two types, they are all 8-megapixel cameras, and I can view them on a video monitor or my smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Pros and cons of analog cameras
Analog cameras are obsolete, so there is no point discussing the pros and cons. So, let’s skip to HD analog cameras.
Pros and cons of HD analog cameras
- HD analog cameras are a cost-effective way of either upgrading your existing analog cameras to high definition cameras without having to install new wiring for all the cameras.
- HD analog cameras are less expensive than IP cameras
- There are no compatibility issues with using cameras and DVR’s from different manufacturers
- You can use coaxial cable or category 5e network cables
- Long cable length is not a problem with HD analog cameras, you can have up to 1500 feet of cable length
- HD analog cameras cannot be viewed on a computer or smartphone without connecting them to a Digital Video Recorder like you can with IP cameras
- Cannot record HD analog cameras to the cloud or on a memory card without the use of a Digital Video Recorder like you can with an IP camera
Can I view analog or HD analog cameras on my smartphone?
You can view HD analog cameras on your smartphone, but they need to be viewed over the internet through a DVR.
Unlike IP cameras that can be viewed remotely over the internet without a Network Video Recorder (NVR), you can only view HD cameras through a DVR.
When you want to view your HD cameras, you connect to the DVR using an app on your smartphone. The app connects to the DVR and allows you to view all the cameras wired to the DVR.
Can I view analog cameras without a DVR?
You can view standard analog cameras on a video monitor without a DVR. Analog cameras have composite video output that you can plug into a video monitor or TV that has a composite video input.
Analog cameras cannot be viewed on any other device such as a computer or smartphone without a DVR because an analog camera only has a video output and no network or internet connection.
Can I view HD analog camera without a DVR?
One of the main differences between analog and HD analog cameras is that you can view analog cameras on a video monitor or any flat screen TV using a composite video input on the back of the video monitor or TV.
On the other hand, HD analog cameras must first be wired to a DVR before you can view them on a video monitor or flat-screen TV.
This is because the HD analog signal is first compressed by the camera, transmitted through the cable, and then decoded or decompressed by the DVR before you can view it.
So, to view an HD camera on a video monitor, we connect all the cameras to a DVR using a coaxial cable or category five cable and connect the DVR to a video monitor or TV using a VGA or HDMI cable to view all the cameras connected to the DVR.
What type of cables are used for analog and HD analog cameras?
HD analog cameras, as well as standard analog security cameras, were initially designed to work only with coaxial cable, but with the use of a video balun, all analog cameras can now be used with category 5e or category six network cable as well.
The benefits of using category 5e or category six network cable is that:
- It is a lot thinner and lighter than coaxial cable, so it makes it much easier for the installer to run, especially if running multiple cables at the same time
- Less expensive than coaxial cable, A 1000-foot box of category 5e network cable is the same price as a 500-foot box of coaxial cable. A box of coaxial or network cable costs about $49 to $79.
What is the maximum wire length for analog and HD analog cameras?
The maximum wire length for analog and HD analog cameras is 1500 feet using either coaxial cable or category 5e or category six network cable.
Even though you can have a cable run of 1500 for the video signal, you cannot have a 1500-foot wire run for the camera’s power source because of something called voltage drop.
With long cable runs, you will have too much resistance on the wire, which causes the voltage to drop to a fraction of what it is supposed to be.
So, for example, a 12-volt DC voltage will be as low as maybe 8 to 9 volts DC by the time it reaches the end of a 1500-foot power cable, which is not enough to power the camera.
When using a coaxial cable, we use a Siamese cable wire, which includes an RG59 coaxial cable and an 18-gauge power cable.
When using a network cable, we usually use the same network cable to power the camera, which is thinner than the Siamese cable.
When running power cables any longer than 500 feet for Siamese cable and 200 feet for network cable, you must power the camera locally near the camera to prevent voltage drops.
Based on my experience installing security cameras for thousands of homes and businesses, the length of most wire runs for the average home is about 75 to 150 feet. The average wire length for the average retail business or office space can be 75 to 300 feet.
Can I upgrade my analog cameras to HD analog cameras?
Converting from low-resolution analog cameras to HD analog cameras is as easy as replacing the existing DVR and cameras using the same connections and cabling that is already in place.
HD analog cameras are not compatible with low-resolution analog DVRs. But analog cameras are compatible with most of the new hybrid HD DVRs, so you don’t have to upgrade all of your old cameras if you don’t want to.
Replace the existing DVR with a hybrid DVR, reconnect the current cameras that are still working and replace any cameras that may not be working with HD cameras. As your older cameras stop working, you can replace them with HD cameras.
Can I upgrade my analog cameras to IP cameras?
Upgrading analog cameras to IP cameras is possible but not ideal, in my opinion, if the existing wiring for your cameras is a coaxial type cable. Analog cameras can use two types of wires for video:
- Coaxial cable or Siamese cable which is an RG59 coaxial cable and an 18 gauge two-conductor cable for power.
- Category 5e cable, also known as Cat 5e network cable.
If the existing cabling for your cameras is a category 5e cable, then it makes sense to convert to IP cameras. IP cameras offer some features that HD analog cameras don’t, such as higher resolution and higher frame rates.
But suppose the existing cable is a coaxial cable. In that case, you can save yourself a lot of money and headaches by replacing the analog cameras with new HD cameras that use the same BNC connections as the old analog cameras.
Converting analog cameras to IP cameras using coaxial cable is possible using an Ethernet Over Coax Module that retails for about $175 per camera.
Using this module enables you to transmit the digital signal over a coaxial cable, and I have used this method several times.
The main problem with these modules is that they get hot and burn out after several years. In my opinion, an HD analog camera is much cheaper and a more reliable way of upgrading from low-resolution analog to high-definition video.
Are all analog cameras compatible with all DVRs?
All analog cameras are compatible because they all have the same video format, so all analog cameras are compatible with all analog DVRs.
The main difference between analog cameras is the resolution. As we said, an analog camera’s resolution is measured in TV lines, and the resolution can range between 300 to 1000 TV lines. However, even though the camera’s resolution may differ, they are still compatible with all analog DVRs.
Are all HD analog cameras compatible?
HD analog cameras come in Three formats, and all three are not compatible unless we use a hybrid DVR that can encode all three video formats.
The Three Formats are:
- HD-TVI, High Definition Transport Video Interface
- HD-CVI, High Definition Composite Video Interface
- AHD, Analog High Definition
HD-TVI is the most popular HD format available today because it is manufactured by Hikvision, the biggest camera manufacturer globally.
I prefer to use HD-TVI cameras made by Hikvision because the cameras that I buy have very good night vision, and Hikvision is sold by many vendors around the world, making it easy to buy.
When purchasing HD security cameras, I recommend buying a Hybrid DVR that can encode all three video formats just in case you want to replace or add a camera in the future.
Hybrid DVRs are not that much more expensive than standard single format DVRs, so it pays to switch to or add different format cameras in the future.
How do you power analog and HD cameras?
There are three ways to power an analog or HD analog camera:
- With a single 12-volt DC or 24-volt AC transformer. A transformer plugs into a standard 110-volt AC electrical outlet and converts that high voltage to a 12 or 24-volt low voltage. Single transformers are ideal for small installations of only one or two cameras.
2. With a multi-channel power supply. When installing multiple cameras in a house or business, installing a multi-channel power supply makes sense to keep the installation neat.
Multi-channel power supplies can power either four, nine, or sixteen cameras.
3. With power over coax. We can now power HD analog cameras without any power cables with the newest DVRs.
The video and power are transmitted through a single coaxial cable, making for a cleaner installation and saving time for not installing any power supplies. This is very helpful for larger installations of 16 cameras or more.
What is the highest resolution of analog cameras?
Analog camera resolution can go as high as 960 x 480 pixels. So, that is the actual physical image size produced by the camera. Viewing a 960 x480 image is only acceptable if you view it on a small screen such as a smartphone.
Viewing the camera on such a small screen will show enough detail that the image won’t look blurry or out of focus because the physical size of the screen is smaller than 960 x 480
However, when you view a 960 x 480 image on a standard computer monitor, which is 1920 x 1080, the image will have to be stretched out to fit the screen, creating a blurry and out-of-focus picture.
What is the highest resolution of HD analog cameras?
HD analog camera can be as high as eight megapixels at this time, 3264 x 2448 pixels. An eight-megapixel camera has a very sharp video image because the image itself is larger, so it doesn’t have to be stretched out to be viewed on a monitor.
An eight-megapixel (4K) security camera should be viewed on a 4K video monitor for best results.
Eight-megapixel security cameras are often used to view large areas such as parking lots because we can digitally zoom in on a 4K image and still have a sharp enough image to have enough detail.
What is a good resolution for an HD security camera?
The resolution of a security camera depends on the area you are trying to view.
For example, you don’t need more than two megapixels if you are viewing someone standing at your front door
But, if you want to view a large area such as a parking lot, then the best option is an 8 to 12-megapixel camera. I would not install any cameras under five megapixels because of two reasons:
- The cost difference between a five-megapixel HD analog camera and a two-megapixel HD camera is only a few dollars. The difference in cost is usually $10 to $15, so there is no point in buying a lower resolution camera.
2. With a five-megapixel camera, I can mount the camera further away from the object that needs to be viewed and still have enough detail to identify someone. This gives me more options if there are restrictions on where I can mount the camera.