Blue Line

Enhancing CCTV

April 3, 2014  By Tom Rataj

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is literally everywhere these days, enabled by the dramatic drop in equipment prices and the subsequent and significant increases in availability, simplicity and quality.

Many major electronics and computer retailers sell a wide variety of affordable turn-key CCTV systems. Packages contain cameras, all the wiring (or wireless equipment) and a dedicated multi-camera video recorder unit. A four camera system with recorder typically runs under $200.

Unlike the videotape based systems of yesterday, most current equipment uses a computer hard drive to store the video so there is no quality degradation over time (such as from reusing the same tape hundreds of times) and the system owner doesn’t need to remember to change tapes.

Most retailers, commercial property owners and even many homeowners use CCTV systems for security and general surveillance purposes. Many alarm and security system vendors (now including Rogers) offer CCTV upgrades to their basic systems.


Most systems can be connected to the Internet so a user can remotely control and watch it using a smartphone, tablet or computer.

{For policing}

This explosion of private CCTV is proving to be a huge advantage to law enforcement. Private CCTV cameras helped to identify the two suspects in last year’s Boston Marathon bombing and the London Transit terrorist bombings in July 2005.

Law enforcement and municipally owned and operated systems are used extensively in a number of places, most notably England, where there are upwards of 50,000 cameras in municipal centres. The Toronto Police Service has a small network of public CCTV cameras, located primarily within the downtown entertainment district, where there are constant problems after patrons leave nightclubs.


Image quality is still all over the place (as I’m sure many people have noticed). In general quality is quite low so the effectiveness is often limited to just showing a scene. Video is not particularly useful for actually identifying anyone and can’t be enlarged or zoomed in on to see details.

High-end commercial systems, such as in large shopping malls, generally have much higher quality colour cameras and the ability to move, pan and tilt and zoom into specific areas.

Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a large up-scale regional shopping mall in the north end of Toronto, is currently implementing a new system from Avigilon ( It features 29-megapixel colour video cameras that offer astounding quality, with enough resolution to clearly read licence plates and see occupants of cars in parking lots and driveways.


Video enhancement technologies now being implemented can automatically suppress and clean-up noise, stabilise images, reduce blur and do other general clean-up tasks.

The widespread adoption of solid-state and hard-drive based systems is making continuous video recording possible, replacing the old snapshot based systems where the video is more akin to stop-motion, hence the jerky playback.

File formats are also a wild-west disaster; there are literally thousands of proprietary formats that often require special software players to view. Fortunately, many systems include the ability to package a standalone software player onto a CD or DVD so the video to be viewed on many different devices.

Many systems (including some cheap turn-key models) offer the option of infrared illumination so they can still record images when there is little or no ambient light.

{Video content analytics}

Most CCTV systems do nothing more than record video received from cameras. This is slowly starting to change with a range of technologies commonly known as “Video Content Analysis (or Analytics) – VCA.

Some simple VCA tech has been around for quite a few years, especially motion detection technology. It basically detects motion within an otherwise static background scene and initiates recording.

Most of us are probably familiar with Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems, which can read licence plates and catalogue/check the information on CPIC and other databases.

Mobile ALPR systems have been used in policing for several years and are now starting to penetrate the private security industry, which often uses them to manage parking lots. Yorkdale now has a stationary ALPR camera system on all parking lot entrances and exits.

Another VCA technology that many of us are familiar with is facial recognition. The systems are able to detect faces and compare them against a database of known faces. They have had mixed results in the commercial market, where they are typically used in security systems at large venues like sports stadiums. As computer processing power and software complexity and camera quality improves, they should become far more reliable, eliminating the current relatively high false-positive results.

Video tracking is another VCA tech that is becoming widely available. Systems can track and determine the location of persons or object in the video scene relative to a known reference grid. They can also recognise when a pedestrian or vehicle is moving in the wrong direction in one way areas.

While many CCTV systems record only video, some are also equipped with microphones to monitor audio. This introduces a bunch of new VCA tech where the audio can be analysed for specific features.

A CCTV system being used in the UK and the Netherlands ( includes VCA technology that can analyse audio and recognise possible disturbances because people are speaking in aggressive tones.

Another very interesting similar system can analyse video scenes for aggressive behaviour. Used on CCTV systems in critical public areas such as airports, train and bus stations, or even notoriously problematic places such as entertainment districts, aggressive behaviour recognition look for individuals moving and acting in a manner outside what would be considered “normal.”

Crowd management systems ( are able to do automated crowd counting in public places to accurately calculate pedestrian volume.

The real value in these systems is that one operator can simultaneously monitor more CCTV feeds and be automatically alerted when the system detects potential trouble. After making a quick assessment they can dispatch personnel if necessary.

Many videogame enthusiasts also use a version of VCA. The Microsoft Kinect for Xbox360 is a piece of add-on equipment to the main gaming terminal. It can track body movements and do basic voice recognition/control, allowing players to interact with various types of games without a physical game controller.

Third party developers are also exploiting the $100 Kinect system unit by creating specialised products that use its motion sensing capabilities and microphones.

VCA offers a whole new range of almost endless possibilities.

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