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A History of CCTV

Today people think nothing of security cameras, they are seen as part of daily life, monitoring our movements in shops and High Streets, on motorways and trains and buses, in businesses and government buildings and increasingly in homes.

But it wasn't always like this – there was a time in recent memory when CCTV wasn't part of life and way before that when movie cameras of any description were not invented.

A brief history of the evolution of the CCTV camera:

1939

Miniature portable cameras appear. Just in time to begin to be used in modern warfare, miniature movie cameras such as the Univex 8mm began to appear. They could be held comfortably in one hand, and were operated through spring winding. Covert surveillance was made possible, because for the first time in history, a camera could be used without drawing any attention.

1942

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is first used in Germany. German scientists developed the technology so that they could monitor the launch of V2 rockets. Later, this kind of video surveillance was used in the United States during the testing of Atomic Bombs.

1951

The Video Tape Recorder (VTR) is invented. The VTR was used to record live images from a television camera through the use of a magnetic recording strip. Five years later, this technology would become commercially available, and would eventually be coupled with CCTV to record surveillance for later viewing.

1960

Temporary cameras are used to monitor Thai royalty in England. Police were forced to set up a couple of cameras in Trafalgar Square in London to help protect visiting royalty from crowds.

1965

Public surveillance cameras become more common. Press reports from the time indicate that police had adopted the use of cameras in a number of public places.

1969

The first video home security system is born. Marie Van Brittan Brown received a patent on her system which consisted of four peepholes and camera that could be moved to look through any one of them. The camera would broadcast its images to a monitor.

1970s

CCTV makes a splash in the non government market. Banks and retailers began to use CCTV as an added security measure against theft. This would continue through the 1980s.

In 1974, CCTV was first used to monitor traffic on the major roads leading in and out of London – paving way for later traffic monitoring systems. A year later, cameras were first used to monitor crowds at football matches.

At this time, surveillance systems were still crude and both difficult and expensive to run. They were primarily used for law and order enforcement at large-scale events, but became more broadly adopted by businesses, petrol stations and banks as the technology developed and the wider appeal became more apparent.

Other industries to adopt CCTV included insurance companies, who used video evidence to discredit false claims, and private detectives – who used video evidence in cases concerning infidelity and family cases. Video footage was regularly used as evidence in family court from this point onwards.

There were many disadvantages to these early tapes, however. They had to be regularly replaced and either recorded over or changed and stored. Sometimes the tapes wore out rendering them useless. Another problem was that the cameras couldn’t pick much up in low light or darkness. This latter issue was erased with the integration of Charged Coupled Devices (CCDs) in the early 1990s, which introduced microchip computer technology to CCTV cameras and improved night-vision.

In spite of the drawbacks that came with VCR tapes, CCTV became more popular throughout this decade and into the next – particularly for crowd control purposes during the hooliganism era of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Modern CCTV

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, CCTV became an integral part of international security. Government and law-enforcement bodies continuously increased the number of cameras used. As such, there are approximately 5.9 million CCTV cameras now in use across the UK.

If CCTV use in prior decades can be summarised as being for transport control in the 1960s, crowd control and law enforcement in the 1970s and 1980s, and commercial use in the 1990s – then the 2000s and early 2010s saw CCTV enter the mainstream market of home security.

Private properties, including the average home, started embracing CCTV technology. From this period in time onwards, CCTV’s emphasis became more personal-safety oriented – as opposed to a tool for surveillance and an assist in prosecution.

As the technology becomes more widespread, it has developed further. Facial-recognition software has been introduced and integrated in recent years, making it easier to identify suspects and missing people. This software has also been used to build ePassport gates, where chipped passports can be used with surveillance cameras at border control.

In more recent years, the popularity of analogue CCTV has paled in favour of internet protocol (IP) cameras, which send and receive data through computers and the internet. DVR technology has similarly been replaced by NVR (network video recorder) tech, which stores data digitally on memory devices and allows several camera networks to be linked to a central observation hub.

Most recently, footage captured by cameras can be accessed on smartphones, tablets and other portable devices.

Live and recorded images can be accessed from anywhere in the world with the correct IP address and security passwords.

Camera and recording technology continues to move forward at an incredible pace with the introduction of powerful thermal imaging cameras, faster processing units and hard drives which are more compact but with far more storage space.

CCTV (closed circuit television) is fast becoming a system of the past as it is superseded by IP camera systems but technology is still at the very early stages – a year is the equivalent to a generation in terms of advancement – in another 5 years we will be looking at a whole new landscape in terms of observational and recording technology.

Further Information

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