CCTV Formats and Resolutions

CCTV is confusing if you don’t educate yourself on how this stuff works. This can be a major problem when you are ready to buy a system or have one installed because you won’t know what to buy, what’s best for you or who to trust. And then do you know what happens? You’ll get scammed and ripped off. In this basic guide I will try to explain one of the single most, if not the most important aspect of CCTV you need to know: RESOLUTION. Resolution can be summed up as how clear and the detailed the video recording and playback quality from the cameras and DVR will be. CCTV resolution is measured in horizontal and vertical pixels and is only limited by the quality of both the cameras and the DVR/NVR that you are using. Below are a list of CCTV resolutions and definitions.

1. CIF Common Intermediate Format (352×240)
2. D1(704×480)
3. 960H (960×480)
4. HD-SDI High Definition Serial Digital Interface (1920×1080)
5. AHD Analog High Definition (1280×720/1920×1080)
6. HD-TVI High Definition Transport Video Interface (1280×720/1920×1080)
7. HD-CVI High Definition Composite Video Interface (1280×720/1920×1080)
8. IP Internet Protocol (1280×720/1920×1080)
9. 4K (3840×2160/4096×2160)

CIF Features

CIF (pronounced “sif”) is an old, outdated recording resolution. Some DVRs (digital video recorders) still offer one or even several channels of CIF recording because the DVRs are not hi-quality or because, I guess, to use for “less important” channels/cameras. This way, the “more important” (higher res) channels can be used and this saves on hard disc space. Older systems use CIF recording because they had to, but with today’s technology, stay away from this if possible (if it even exists). Today, pretty much all hi-def DVRs/NVRs will allow the user to set the resolution all the way down to CIF recording resolution, but why would you want to? Just be careful if the DVR/NVR you are looking at maxes out at CIF resolution.

  • CIF (352×240) analog systems
  • Used to be the standard
  • VHS quality record, playback, live view
  • May be used for a “sub stream” or extra channel for Internet viewing on analog systems
  • Old, outdated

D1 Features

DVRs record at this resolution and only the best D1 recorders can record at 30 fps (frames per second). Many DVRs are advertised that they support “D1 real time recording” or “full D1” (30 fps), but if you read the DVRs small print, they are only recording at a much reduced frame rate, or at an outdated VHS quality CIF resolution (360×240) on many of the channels. 30fps is not necessary on all channels, but is a sign of the very best DVRs. 15fps is very good and even 7fps is usable. D1 camera resolution maxes out at around 600 TV lines. Many D1 systems are still in use today and if the best equipment is used and set up right, D1 can be very good.

  • D1 (704×480) analog systems
  • D1 has about 400% more resolution than CIF
  • DVD quality video
  • Less expensive than hi-def systems
  • Very good record and playback

960H Features

960H (also known as WD1) is the name given to a series of CCD image sensors developed by Sony in 2009. These CCD image sensors are capable of capturing video images at a resolution of 960×480. The 960H CCD sensor is often used with Sony’s DSP (Digital Signal Processor) known as “Effio”, which further enhances the quality of the video image. Traditionally, the maximum resolution from an analog CCTV camera was around 600 TV lines (D1 above). With the use of Sony’s new 960H CCD and features from the Effio DSP, resolutions of 700 TVL can be achieved with 960H DVRs (beware of DVRs that have 960 in the model name because this often refers to the total frames the DVR can support, not the resolution). 960H systems were a step up from D1 systems, but these systems never really took off and was quickly over shadowed by HD-CVI, TVI and AHD systems (below).

  • 960H (960×480) analog systems
  • 34% more image size and wider resolution than D1
  • Highest quality analog CCTV resolution
  • Less expensive than hi-def systems
  • No re-wiring work required for existing coaxial cable
  • Cheap upgrade path from D1 systems

HD-SDI Features

No longer available. So why mention it? Because I still see this format for sale on a few CCTV sites. The technology behind HD-SDI cameras is the same as the cameras used for hi-def movies. Until a few years ago, the only available option for hi-def systems was to use network IP cameras. With HD-SDI, users could capture 1080p resolution video over coax cable and in most cases, the same coaxial cable already in place could have been used to upgrade to SDI. In other words, you’d save money on the installation. 2.2 MP HD-SDI cameras were used. The quality for SDI was very good and was really only limited by cable runs (300 ft. max).

  • 1080p (1080×1920) hi-def over coax cable
  • 200% more than 720p systems, 400% more than 960H, 600% more than D1
  • Mega pixel (MP) cameras means hi-def images means less cameras
  • Very good quality hi-def images
  • Less complex than IP based systems
  • Easy upgrade from standard CCTV
  • SDI cameras must be used with SDI DVRs

AHD Features

Developed by Korean chipset manufacturer Nextchip, AHD CCTV is an analog hi-def standard that transmits HD video over coax cable. One of the advantages of AHD, is that coax cable can be run long distances without video loss up to a max distance of 800 feet. According to Nextchip, AHD has three versions: AHD 0.8, AHD 1.0 and AHD 2.0. Of importance, AHD 1.0 can support 720p high definition (HD) video, AHD 2.0 can support 1080p full high definition (FHD) video.

  • 720p (720×1280) and 1080p (1080×1920) hi-def over coax cable
  • 720p has about 200% more resolution than 960H and about 300% more than D1
  • 1080p has about 200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H and 600% more than D1
  • No quality loss and delay for HD video transmission
  • Impressive long distance transmission capability
  • Easy to upgrade your existing analog system to HD system
  • AHD cameras must be used with AHD DVRs

HD-TVI Features

Developed by Techpoint, a U.S. semiconductor manufacturer company and released in 2014. Like AHD (above) and CVI (below), HD-TVI cameras support 1080p resolution using the same coaxial cable for traditional analog CCTV systems. This makes it easy for people with existing systems to upgrade to an TVI system because most of the time they can use their existing cable infrastructure already in place. One of the biggest selling points is that TVI technology has been licensed to many manufacturers worldwide (including Hikvision), and consumers can reliably connect TVI cameras from different manufacturers to the same DVR. HD-TVI 3.0 was annouced in Oct. 2016 that promises 8MP (!) cameras over coax.

  • 720p (720×1280) and 1080p (1080×1920) hi-def over coax cable
  • 720p has about 200% more resolution than 960H and about 300% more than D1
  • 1080p has about 200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H and 600% more than D1
  • Transmit video and audio signal, and data signal over coaxial cable
  • No quality loss and delay for HD video transmission
  • Impressive long distance transmission capability
  • Easy to upgrade your existing analog system to HD system
  • TVI cameras must be used with TVI DVRs

HD-CVI Features

Dahua Technology developed CVI that gives users affordable hi-def CCTV as compared to IP systems. HD-CVI uses standard coax cable so if you have an older system and want to upgrade, you’ll be able to use the existing cable already in place. CVI will allow cable runs over 1500 ft. without interference or degradation. 720p and 1080p hi-def systems are available with 1, 1.3, 1.4, 2, 2.4MP and 4MP cameras (with any hi-def camera format, what’s the point going less than 2MP). 4K cameras in 2017-18.

  • 720p (720×1280) and 1080p (1080×1920) hi-def over coax cable
  • 720p has about 200% more resolution than 960H and about 300% more than D1
  • 1080p has about 200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H and 600% more than D1
  • Mega pixel (MP) cameras means hi-def images means less cameras
  • 2-way audio and transmit 3 signals over one cable (video, audio and data)
  • Less costly option (over IP) for upgrading from standard-def to hi-def
  • Less possible problems and cost of IP systems
  • CVI cameras must be used with CVI DVRs

IP Features

IP cameras send and receive data via a computer network and a LAN (local area network) and/or the Internet. Centralized IP cameras require an NVR (network video recorder) to handle the recording. Decentralized cameras have recording functions built-in and can record directly to a flash drive or hard drive and some have a microSD slot for recording right on the camera. IP cameras vary in pixel resolutions (measured in millions or MP) from 1MP (1280×720), 2MP (1920×1080), 3MP (2048×1536), 4MP (2288×1712), 5MP (2592×1944), etc. With a “true to spec” high MP camera, higher resolutions and much larger video images will be recorded. With this, a user can zoom in on the digital images to pull up a person’s face or license plate from across the street. IP systems are the gold standard in hi-def CCTV systems and offer the best images available.

  • 720p (720×1280) and 1080p (1080×1920) hi-def systems
  • 720p systems- 200% more than 960H, 300% more than D1
  • 1080p systems- 200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H, 600% more than D1
  • Mega pixel (MP) cameras means hi-def images means less cameras
  • Wide variety of MP cameras, 1-5MP…
  • Larger MP cameras can produce large images for easier identification from far away
  • Images can be viewed, saved and downloaded over local networks

4K Features

Just like 4K is the new standard (or will be soon) in broadcast TV and consumer flat screens, this is the latest development in IP Network cameras and NVRs. Briefly, 4K NVRs are used with UHD 4K (8MP) and DCI 4K (12MP) cameras. As incredible as the images promise to be there are some issues to be concerned about for early adoption. The max. frame rate is still low per camera although that is changing and there can be issues will low-light performance. Also, higher MP cameras require more pixels. That means they need to be smaller and therefore more light is needed. As mentioned, light is the key to 4K cameras. Also, bigger image sensors in the cameras are needed, too, to capture all that light and produce jaw dropping images. Give 4K some time.

  • 4K-DCI 4K (4096×2160) and UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) hi-def systems
  • 4K Ultra HD is 400% greater than 1080p
  • 4K has 8 and 12MP cameras (compared to 2.4MP cameras for 1080p and 1.3MP for 720p)
  • Great for large areas of coverage with the ability to zoom in for finer detail
  • Larger MP cameras can produce large images for easier identification from far away
  • Images can be viewed, saved and downloaded over local networks
  • This may be the new CCTV standard very soon producing jaw-dropping images (gotta work out a few tech issues first)
To sum things up, below is a diagram that illustrates the differences between D1, 1080p and 4K image sizes. Larger pixel dimensions translates to an increase in image size, detail, resolution and clarity.
4k comparison chart