Why do most security cameras shoot poor quality pictures?

If you look at a CCTV feed from a gas station, convenience store, or bodega, you’ll only notice one thing. The video footage is bad. Like really, really bad. Bad to the point where it may be difficult to may out faces or writing on a t-shirt. That got me to thinking…

“Why do most security cameras shoot poor quality pictures?” The reason security cameras shoot poor quality pictures is the pictures were captured in a system called a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system. In this system, there is no access to the outside world. The CCTV system consists of a camera, coaxial cable, and a digital video recorder. The coaxial cable is responsible for the poor video quality. The coaxial cable sends an analog video or picture to the DVR and the DVR plays or saving the recording.

Continue reading to learn more about security cameras of the past, and why the picture quality is on par with HD and 4K.

Old technology

As I mentioned, the coaxial cable is the reason for the poor picture quality. Because of this cable, the maximum video format is 480i, or standard definition, with an aspect ratio of 4:3. Coax cable is the same cable that was used in the 1980s and 1990’s to watch cable tv.

In an older CCTV system, a coax cable would go from the camera to the DVR, then another coax cable (or DVI) cable would run from the DVR to the tv or monitor. Although the camera can record in high definition, the video is digital, and the TV accepts HD, the analog transmission degrades the viewing quality to standard definition.

The next question is, why don’t they upgrade their system?

Why not upgrade?

The reason someone would choose not to upgrade to an IP system is that it is much cheaper to keep this current system in place, and it still serves its primary purpose.

The primary reason a home or business owner installs a security camera is to deter crime. If a criminal knows they are being watched, they are less likely to commit a crime. This is also the reason why people install dummy cameras.

Another reason to keep the same cameras is the cost to replace one camera with the same technology is much cheaper than upgrading an entire system. You can purchase a bullet camera for less than $100. This is much cheaper than upgrading to a PoE system.

What’s changed?

A lot has changed since the 1990s and early 2000’s. Homeowners now have multiple options for security cameras and they all include high definition.

CCTV 2.0

The first option is what I like to call CCTV2. There are a few differences between this and the previous versions.

First, one cord can do all the work. In the previous version of CCTV systems, a camera needed 2 cords, one for power, and one for transmitting the video. CCTV2 systems now can use one cord for power and video transmission.

Second, you can now watch high definition video on CCTV systems. Many of the newer DVRs have an HDMI port that allows you to watch video recordings in 1080p resolution.

Third, closed loops are now open. As I mentioned earlier, original CCTV systems were a closed loop. The only way you could access the video was to be at the location of the DVR. CCTV2 systems now have ethernet ports that allow you to connect your DVR to the internet. This new connection allows for remote viewing anywhere in the world.

Internet Protocol cameras.

Another change that has impacted the video quality to security cameras is the ability to offer internet protocol (IP) cameras. These new cameras allow you to send video as data over the internet. One of the primary benefits of IP camera systems is the ability to send video as digital data packets.

There are two types of IP cameras Power over Ethernet (PoE) or wireless IP cameras. PoE cameras are like CCTV cameras in that they are physically connected to a video recorder. This is where the comparisons end.

Power over Ethernet

PoE systems send data via Ethernet cables. Ethernet cables look like fatter telephone cables. There are a few benefits to using an Ethernet cable. First, the ethernet cable is used to power the cameras and send data to the video recorder.

Second PoE systems use a network video recorder (NVR). A NVR has a few more features and capabilities than the old school DVR. For example, NVRs may have the ability to save videos directly to the cloud, whereas DVR systems are not able.

Third, PoE systems can provide two-way communication. Two-way communication is the ability for the owner to talk directly with the person on the other side of the camera.

Fourth, because of the digital transmission, video output is either high definition or ultra-high definition. This provides a clear, crisp picture quality that we know and expect.

Wireless IP cameras

Wireless IP Wireless (WIP) cameras are like PoE cameras except WIP cameras send and receive data via a wifi connection. A WIP camera may still need a wall outlet to power the camera but many use battery, or solar power.

The benefit of wireless cameras is that they can be placed anywhere if there is an internet connection.

Wireless IP cameras may be sold individually or as a part of a complete system.


To conclude, the reason why the picture quality is so poor is most people are working with outdated technology. The camera systems you’re referring to are sending video via analog wiring, and degrading the video in the process.

There are a number of options that people with poor security camera videos can take advantage of. First, is upgrading to a CCTV2. This will allow you to send high definition video and open a closed system.

A second option you have in to switch to an internet protocol (IP) system. There are two types of IP systems, Power over Ethernet or wireless IP. PoE systems are most like CCTV systems in that they are physically connected to the video recorder.

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