Maplins were probably the largest UK retailer when it came to the DIY CCTV market. They have recently ceased trading but the information is still relevant as other people sell similar products in the same way. The first CCTV kit we ever bought was from Maplins and CCTV42 was founded because we were so unhappy with that system and the advice we received. Nothing has changed; all the problems we encountered are still there today. We have created this guide to try and help people understand why Maplins or people like them such as Screwfix, Costco and so on might not be the best place to buy CCTV systems. It is also worth looking at the Swann CCTV guide because many of the issues which affect Swann are also relevant to Maplins.
It might seem unprofessional to point out failings in a competitor but we are passionate about selling CCTV which does what it says on the tin. As an industry we are unregulated, and advertising standards seem not to apply to the world of CCTV. We sell a lot of equipment to people who have previously purchased from Maplins or others and have been disappointed because their equipment didn't live up to the marketing hype. For us it's easy, we can spot all the errors because it's what we do for a living but if CCTV isn't your thing you don’t know any better. So what are the problems?
Looking through the various descriptions on Maplins' website there was a lot of confusion. Potentially misleading information and stuff that simply wasn't true. A good example would be the effective ranges they quoted for their cameras. They were hugely optimistic in some cases "30-metre range" cameras would struggle to identify someone at 5 metres because of the wide-angle lens fitted. Have a look at the optical range section elsewhere in our camera buying guide.
Another area where Maplins could use 5 minutes in the classroom was in their use of TVL or television lines. They seemed to think it is the holy grail of camera quality; it isn’t as we explain in our guide to TVL. They advertised 1000TVL cameras for sale when in reality those cameras were really only 560TVL. The 1000 lines were across the entire width of the widescreen but you measure TVL in a square equal to the height of the image, not across the whole screen. In any other industry it would be illegal, look what happened to VW when their cars failed to achieve advertised fuel economy figures.
In many instances, the information provided was misleading meaning people could be fooled into thinking they are buying equipment somewhat superior to reality. A good example of this might be DVR recorders which record in D1 or 960H resolution but have "Up to 1080P display resolution". Someone could see 1080P and think they are buying a high-definition DVR. The reality is it is impossible to see 1080P camera images, only the DVR menu will potentially show in a higher resolution.
Many of the products sold by Maplins were not compatible with other equipment. Ideally, everything you use for a CCTV system should be industry-standard using the same connections, voltage and communication language. With Maplins cameras or DVR, recorders would often only work together if they were from the same specific range. This is particularly important if you want to upgrade equipment, it turns out that more suitable cameras aren't available within that family of products and you can't purchase them elsewhere. Further down the line if you have any component failures you discover the necessary cameras or recorders are no longer sold so you have to replace the entire system. Everything we sell is industry standard. You are not limited to a particular brand or manufacturer.
Maplins merely repeated what manufacturers told them verbatim and didn't really understand the technology. A good example of this would be their treatment of 960H recording resolution. They claimed a 30% improvement in resolution compared to D1 equipment. The truth is both D1 and 960H record at identical resolutions, and the pixel density is the same. The difference is a 960H image is a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio rather than D1's 4:3 aspect ratio. The extra pixels are used to populate that additional area to the side of the screen, they aren't used to provide a higher resolution.
The advice given in store will, of course, vary from employee to employee but our experience has been very disappointing. We were told for instance that a more expensive camera with a wider angle of view would give a better quality image than a cheaper camera with a less wide angle of view on account of differing TVL. The reality is both cameras had a high enough number of TV lines to populate D1 recording resolution so the more expensive wider angle camera would have actually given a lower quality image. Maplins sold everything from pressure washers to roller skates so it is possibly unfair to expect excellent technical knowledge across such a broad spectrum of products. We only sell CCTV so it's hardly surprising we understand it. We know very little about roller skates!