A Brief History of Video Surveillance
Security cameras seem like such a modern concept. When you think of CCTV security footage, you probably have an image from the 80’s or 90’s of a black-and-white, grainy video feed, crested by the occasional refresh-rate artifact. It can’t be that old, right? Weren’t personal video recorders, those giant black boxes we all remember from our childhood vacations, an 80’s technology?
Video surveillance goes back much further than you might think. A big part of our job is understanding the history behind the technology so we can anticipate new developments in the industry. Besides, we find the varied history of video surveillance fascinating. Read on, and learn for yourself!
The Early Days of Video Surveillance
Let’s start with Orwell. Yep, the George Orwell. In his 1939 classic “1984”, he envisioned a world under perpetual surveillance. 1939 was also the year the “miniature portable camera” was invented. It was only “miniature” in the sense that it could be held with one hand and operated by a spring-winding mechanism with the other, but for the time that was enough. It was high-tech, and used for covert surveillance during the Second World War.
The Germans made another security camera breakthrough in 1942, when they developed what we now know as closed-circuit television. They wanted a way to observe the V2 rocket launches up close without getting vaporized, so they developed the technology to view footage in real-time (more or less) from a television camera, and thus CCTV was born. This type of system would be repurposed for live home entertainment in the post-war United States.
By 1956, the video tape recorder (VTR) originally developed in 1951 became commercially available, and with it all the major parts of a video surveillance system as we know it came into play.
Out of the Military Industrial Complex and into the Fire
In 1960, the Thai royal family paid a visit to London. Police used a network of television cameras (though they didn’t have the term for them at the time, we would think of them as surveillance cameras) to monitor the crowds in Trafalgar Square to protect their regal guests. The technology seemed to catch on – reports from 1965 indicate police surveillance increased significantly in the years that followed.
The private sector started to incorporate CCTV and video surveillance into standard security practices in the 1970s, with banks leading the charge, but other retail spaces were quick to appreciate the obvious benefits. In the mid-1970’s low-light camera technology came into common use as well, especially to feed the hungry security market. The fact that the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and military-grade night vision technology providers needed a new market probably had something to do with that.
The Information Age
In 1996, the very first IP Camera (essentially a webcam) debuted. It had the primary advantage of being able to send a video feed digitally, allowing for CCTV functionality over practically limitless distance. It was unprecedented and, at the time, unsustainable. It took a few years before networking technology caught up and allowed for more legible real-time video transmission over a digital network.
The Surveillance Age
After the second World Trade Center attack in September of 2001, there was a large push for tighter security and better surveillance. Security cameras became more common in high-traffic areas, and society began to assume public surveillance was a fact of life as the technology continued to advance – HD and 4K resolution, cloud storage and recording, even camera drones.
The security camera has gone from a wartime technology of necessity to a valuable security system to a technology of convenience. They’ve gone from niche to mainstream, from obscure to common, and from feared to embraced. Video surveillance has evolved from a gigantic hand-cranked monstrosity to a subtle, invisible web surrounding our lives.
Safe and Sound in the Modern Age
For the past ten years, Safe and Sound Security has helped local California homes and businesses integrate into that web. Our mission is to help you stay informed and secure, so if you’re interested in plugging in some new security cameras, revamping your old CCTV system, or just getting to know a little more about security systems, give us a call for a free consultation!