Always Judge a Book by it's Cover
One of the first signs that a CCTV company may be trouble is poor personal appearance. When you meet with the owner or any representative (installer, salesperson, etc) of a CCTV company, how well (or poorly) is this person dressed? If it is the owner or salesperson of the company, is this person neatly attired or does it look like they just climbed out of a chimney (well, maybe not that bad but you get the idea)? I know personally, when someone arrives at my home to do a contracting job (landscaping, concrete, electrical, etc) I expect them to appear a certain way and to not appear a certain way. I know the owner of a now defunct CCTV company that met with the owner of a trucking company for a CCTV installation. This was a meeting between the two heads of companies and the final step before the contract was signed. This was only a $ 40,000 job so it was no big deal, right? Against my strong advice to dress for the occasion, he arrived at the meeting in shorts, a polo and pair of New Balance shoes (he was on his way to another job he was finishing). Can you guess what happened? He did NOT get the job. He refused to dress in a business-like manner and lost a $ 40,000 install (in 2004 dollars) because he arrived looking like he was on vacation. The bottom line is this: if someone came at my business to discuss a job and they did not look anything professional I would NOT do business with them. Would you?
Tools / Vehicles / Attire
· Tools. Are they shoddy? Do they have filthy or broken equipment? I would even go so far as to pay attention to how they treat them and how they are organized on their truck or van.
· Vehicle. Is the owner's / salesperson's / installer's car, truck or van beat-up and / or rusted out? Is it lettered? I know that everyone has to start somewhere and may not have the nicest truck or van with the best (or any) lettering and graphics. But, if they are driving some junk car that is ready to fall apart and not well-taken care of, you might want to reconsider.
· Dress. I recently saw a guy in a C-store that was covered in paint head-to-toe. He looked like a walking, talking Pollock masterpiece. Now, maybe he had a really bad day. Maybe these were his only work clothes (warning). But the bottom line is I would not want this guy doing a paint job for me. Why? He's messy and I do not want that at my home or business. Also, he does not care how he presents himself to his or his boss' customers (and his boss does not care, either). What kind of job do you think you would end up with? My uniforms? Spring / Summer-camouflage cargo shorts and t-shirts with large company logo. Fall / Winter-camo cargo pants and long sleeve company t-shirts / sweatshirts. They do not have to be the best or the most expensive, but they should be coordinated, the company name visible and well-kept (Ie clean).
· Spoken Word. How well do they present themselves verbally? This tells me a lot right from the beginning.
How a CCTV business owner, salesperson and / or installer presents himself, speaks, takes care of his vehicle, tools, equipment, website (below) and even business cards is a good indicator of how well he'll take care of your job. Before, during and after. There are always exceptions to the rules. Just make sure you can live with them.
2.) Company Website
How many people check out or consider a company's website before they do business with them? I do. Whenever I am online searching for a product or service, the very first thing I look for is the layout, typos, design, easy contact info, etc. I do not expect every company to have the most expensive 500 page website that costs a fortune. Actually it's the opposite. But if it does not display correctly, has overlapping text and images, pages are missing or no longer exist, contact info is not easy to find or there is just a PO Box number or it just plain looks like crap, I leave and look somewhere else.
3.) Inquiry Response Time
I learned early on (read: the hard way) that whenever I wanted to sign up with a company for a new product or service I had to ask lots of questions and test them, too. I also knew that I could not be in business for myself without having the same kind of safety net in place. I spent one year of my life testing many different DVRs and the manufacturer's customer service, tech support, product flexibility, phone and email response times, tech knowledge and know-how before I settled on the current products I have installed in my home and in my client's businesses. Why do all this? Because I want my clients to have the best possible CCTV system and experience possible. When you call or send an email to me, if I do not answer immediately, I will return them as soon as I can. In the rare instance that one of my clients has an issue that I can not handle, I want to know that my suppliers are going to be there for me immediately. This is the way I do business, this is the way I expect others to do business with me and you should look for the same in the CCTV company you plan to hire or buy from.
Customer Support. How good is it? Are the customer support people friendly, courteous and willing to help you with any questions, info or help you need? Do they transfer you around or not return phone calls and / or emails?
· Tech Support. How good is this? Are the tech support people knowledgeable? Are they willing to go out of their way to help you troubleshoot and / or fix your issue (s)? And if they can not personally, will they find the person who can? In short, do they know what they're talking about? One of the largest deciding factors on whether or not I will do business with any tech oriented company is how the tech department speaks to me. Do they talk down to me because they think they are "technically superior" to me or do they use a lot of "techno babble" assuming I can not understand them?
· Warranty / Guarantee . There IS a guarantee, yes? Unfortunately most warranties anymore for anything are usually 1 year and this includes CCTV gear and is not very impressive. A good DVR is very sophisticated equipment and should be backed up for a few years at least. What is the manufacture afraid of? Get this in writing.
· Response Times. As discussed above, you want to know how long it takes to answer the phone (if they answer at all), return phone calls, answer or respond to emails and how long does it take? It is just a matter of professionalism and just good business.
You better know all of this stuff before you do business with any CCTV company or you may realize too late that you got scammed, ripped off and taken advantage of and the only thing they ever cared about was your money. How do you find this stuff out when you are shopping around? Call. Send an email. Ask these (and more) questions.
4.) No Office
If the CCTV company you find in the phonebook or on the web and are thinking of paying to protect you and your business has nothing more than a cell phone or a post office box, do not give them your money. You can call the Better Business Bureau and the state licensing bureau to see if there are any complaints against them. A CCTV company should have an office somewhere, even if it's a room in his home and references at a local bank and accounts with local suppliers. Many six and seven figure a year businesses offering all products and services are operated right out of the owner's home. I have a home office for business and a garage workshop for all my product testing, set-up and configuration that I would not give up for the world. Make sure there is a legal physical location where they do business from.
5.) The Low, Low Offer
There's a few scams that shady CCTV installers try to pull. Here's one: when you are reviewing quotes and one of the salespeople / installers says he'll give you a "special low price" that you must keep secret, move on immediately. The "secret price" is either:
(a) way lower than it should be and this guy is going to do only some of the work before skipping town,
(b) way higher than it should be and he wants to keep you from comparing it to others.
Either way, when some company starts playing games like this it's because they want to "do you a favor" and you need to get out of there quick. The only favor you'll get is getting ripped off.
The same is true for a quote that comes in way below the others. For example, you get 3 quotes and 2 of them are around $ 6,000.00 and one is $ 3,200.00, for example. The low-bidding contractor is:
(b) he never plans to finish the job,
(c) you're getting JUNK. Junk DVR, cameras, junk service and guarantee / warranty.
Another scam (I could go on and on) is to bid low and then start charging you extra for materials and / or labor you thought were included. Also, pay close attention to how the contractor looks at your job before bidding. If he just eyes your site and says, "Yeah, we did a job just like this and I'll charge you the same," or if he does not take notes and measurements or make any type of calculations, you may be dealing with a CCTV contractor who does not know or care enough to do a really good job and / or install a really good system.
6.) Technical Specifications (tech specs)
You MUST know CCTV terms and technical specifications BEFORE you hire an installer or buy a system. If you do not, how will you know what you are getting, paying for or if the system will do what you need or want it to do? No? You do not have time to learn this stuff and you'd just rather trust the installer? OK, wait until you get ripped off or scammed (and you will) or worse-you have a problem and need a clean shot of someone's mug and all you have is garbage VHS quality images from 50 feet away. If you know this stuff, how it works and are prepared before you meet with the installer or buy a system, you'll know exactly what you are getting and you'll know it will do what you want it to do and what it needs to do for you. CCTV systems are NOT "one size fits all" and each and every business owner will have unique needs. Any CCTV company telling you different or any website (why do you think all of the stuff online is so cheap?) Selling a "CCTV system in a box" is uninformed or lying.
Some basic things you need to know:
· CCTV Formats. There are several types of CCTV surveillance system format resolutions, in pixel dimensions below, you need to familiarize yourself with.
1. CIF – (360×240). Crap. OK, at one time, this was the standard, but let's face it: things change and what once was acceptable is not no more. There's not much to say about this other than it is old and outdated and the quality is similar to VHS tape (remember those?). Be careful because lower-end DVRs will still use this on some or all channels and you'll be really happy if you buy one of these. However, CIF is used for the "extra stream" on D1 systems (see below) when you do remote viewing over your Smartphone or PC, for example, so this is what you'll be viewing.
2. D1 – (720×480). Very Good. This is a popular format for most CCTV systems today and most systems installed over the last 10 years. Good system if done right and has DVD quality video and 400% more resolution than CIF.
3. 960H – ( 960×480 ). Better. Can be referred to as WD1 (wide D1) because it has a wider, letterboxed image and can be connected to the existing RG-59 coax cable from an older system. You'll need a 960H DVR and 700 TVL Effio DSP cameras to take advantage of the added resolution. This is the highest standard (analog) resolution CCTV format and has 34% more resolution than D1 and over 500% more than CIF.
4. IP – (1280×720 / 1920×1080). The Best. 720p and 1080p hi-def systems. An IP (Internet protocol) camera system works by turning video and audio into data then transmitting over a network or Internet connection. Centralized IP cameras use an NVR for recording and decentralized cameras have recording functions built-in. IP cameras vary in pixel resolutions from 1MP to 5MP and can only be used in an IP system. One of the most important factors to consider with IP systems is the bandwidth required for each camera. What's going on in the camera's field-of-view (FOV) will affect bandwidth. A complex picture from a busy cafeteria, for example, will demand the highest amounts of bandwidth. A large static scene with fewer elements, like an empty hallway, will require much less. Also, the higher the mega pixel camera, the lower the frame rate you'll get for recording. 720p-200% more resolution than 960H, 300% more than D1, 1000% more CIF. 1080p-200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H, 600% more than D1, 2000% more than CIF.
5. HD-SDI – (1920×1080). The Best. 1080p hi-def systems. Unlike IP systems, these works basically like any analog CCTV system and in most cases can use the existing RG-59 coax cable from an older system and can save on installation cost, but a hi-end HD-SDI DVR and cameras can get pricey . Like any quality 1080p system, expect Blu-ray quality video. 200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H, 600% more than D1, 2000% more than CIF.
6. HD-CVI – (1280×720 / 1920×1080). The Best. 720p / 1080p hi-def systems. This is going to change the CCTV world as we know it. In the fall of 2013, Dahua Technology introduced HD-CVI hi-def CCTV systems. Basically, take IP and HD-SDI, mix them together and this is what you get … but for waaaay less. Long cable runs (over 1500 ft) can be used to transmit video, audio and data (PTZ controls, etc). This system is very exciting news! 720p-200% more resolution than 960H, 300% more than D1, 1000% more CIF. 1080p-200% more than 720p, 400% more than 960H, 600% more than D1, 2000% more than CIF. Rumor- 3MP cameras in the works as of writing.
At the very least, you MUST have a properly installed D1 (all channels) system for any type of quality recording and playback. Local CCTV companies and online retailers will boast how their DVR is capable of "Full D1" (D1 all channels, 30 fps, see below), but look further at the tech specs and you'll see this is not true. Or you will get a system that records at a much lower resolution, for example, CIF resolution. Why do you think you were told about all the great things your new system was going to do for you and at such a low, low price? Think about it.