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A brief history of surveillance

August 5, 2021  By  Colin Bodbyl

Video surveillance technology has changed immensely over the last 25 years, but so have customer expectations.

In the late ’90s, surveillance systems were more commonly referred to as CCTV, or closed-circuit television. These closed systems operated independently of any other technology or software. If a user wanted to view the recordings from their cameras, they needed to do it through the recording device or by watching the VHS tape on a standard VCR. Today customer expectations are very different, in many cases due to their experiences with consumer products from outside the security industry.

In 2002, a surfer in California was looking for a better way to film himself out on the waves when he invented the GoPro. While GoPro was primarily marketed towards athletes, it opened the world’s eyes to new possibilities. Workers in dangerous or sensitive jobs could now record their every action through a body-worn camera. Two years later, the first police body-worn cameras were implemented in the United Kingdom. Today body worn cameras are one of the fastest growing segments in video surveillance, with police forces around the globe requiring them for every officer.

HDTV may be one of the most memorable consumer innovations from the last 25 years. Unfortunately, the invention of HDTV worsened the gap between what consumers were accustomed to seeing on TV and what they received from their surveillance systems. Video surveillance had gained a reputation for creating grainy low-quality images that made it impossible to identify a suspect. When HD surveillance cameras finally came to market, manufacturers began racing one another to release new cameras with progressively higher resolutions. Today, video surveillance cameras can support resolutions far higher than most consumer TVs and the industry is finally starting to shake that old reputation.


In 2008, Google launched Google Cloud, a suite of cloud computing services. Over the next few years, there were a handful of cloud video surveillance startups, many of which struggled to gain traction given the high costs of cloud computing. In 2015, Google released Google Photos, a free cloud service that allowed for unlimited photo and video storage on Google’s cloud servers. The widespread publicity of its launch brought on a flood of questions from surveillance users asking why they couldn’t backup all their surveillance footage to the cloud for free. Of course, this was not possible and even Google Photos had limitations on its free service, but it did start a new conversation in the industry. Since then, several pure and hybrid cloud surveillance products have found success. The popularity of cloud services for video surveillance continues to grow and it is undoubtedly a key part of the industry’s future.

Perhaps no single product has influenced change and innovation in the security industry over the last 25 years as much as the mobile phone. The invention of the smartphone started a race to build the best mobile app for every possible need. The surveillance industry suddenly found customers asking for access to their cameras from a smartphone. Large manufacturers and small independent developers alike started developing mobile video surveillance apps in a race to keep up. Today, it would be unheard of to offer a system without one. In fact, beyond simple camera viewers, mobile apps are now an integral part of the industry and are used for everything from system design to troubleshooting and customer support.

Innovation in the surveillance industry has been remarkable over the last 25 years. No longer closed-circuit, video surveillance systems now integrate with an endless list of devices and software applications. Many of the innovations we witnessed over the last 25 years were driven by a change in customer expectations, largely due to products from outside the security industry. Customers today expect the same features from their surveillance system that they get through their smart TV. Since there seems to be no slowing down the consumer electronics space, the surveillance industry can expect this trend to continue to drive innovation for another exciting 25 years to come.

Colin Bodbyl is the chief technology officer of Stealth Monitoring (www.stealthmonitoring.com).

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