One of the largest retailers of CCTV in the UK is Maplins. They are pretty much a household name and as such people trust their products. When it comes to cheap DIY CCTV systems and kits they sell more than anyone else. The problem is we get a lot of calls from people who have bought their products and are unhappy suggesting they don't do what they say on the tin. The claims made by Maplins in their promotional material are at best highly optimistic, at worst deceptive. The CCTV industry isn't regulated and advertising standards seem not to apply when it comes to CCTV so they get away with it. You might think it inappropriate to comment about a competitor in this way and if that's the case we apologise but read on and see how you feel at the end. It's also worth having a look at our section on Swann CCTV as much of the same content applies to them as well.
Take this description of a Swann 3.6mm wide angle camera sold by Maplins: "Thanks to the Pro 535's state-of-the-art high-resolution video technology, you can keep a continuous eye out for thieves, vandals, break-ins or any other suspicious activity. The powerful night vision aided by infrared cut filters can clearly see up to 82 feet or 25 meters away".
There is simply no way you could identify someone 25 metres away using that camera. You wouldn't even be able to clearly identify at 10 metres, we would suggest an optical range of possibly 3 - 4 metres. Maplins seem to have no concept of optical range, one of the most fundamental aspects of a CCTV camera. We made a video to prove the point, it isn't pretty and we don't want you to have nightmares but our noble leader was forever saying he'd happily stand naked in front of their cameras so we took him at his word.
When you go into a Maplins store they will often have a display of their products. You stand in front of a camera, see yourself on the monitor and think all is well, you recognise yourself. The problem is you are only standing a few feet from the camera. Most people fitting CCTV need it to film detail much further away. Try taking a few paces backwards if the store layout allows. You will now form just a small part of the image and be unrecognisable. Try getting the sales assistant to walk 6-8 metres away from the camera and see if you could identify them from the screen image. Remember what you see is what you get, electronically zooming in after the event merely distorts the image, see our guide to Optical v digital zoom.
To be fair to the staff they don't just sell CCTV. They sell everything from garden hosepipes to musical instruments so it's unfair to expect specialist CCTV knowledge. The trouble is you need to buy from someone who knows what they are talking about. A cheap CCTV system is a complete waste of money if it doesn't do the job. When purchasing the camera we used to make our video we were offered a "better" camera for a bit more money. When asked how it was better we were told it had more TVL and a longer range. The camera was actually wider angle and as such it would have captured less detail !
Maplins use TVL or television lines a lot in their advertising. They see it as the holy grail of camera quality but it isn't. Not only that but Maplins don't actually understand how TVL is measured. Television lines are counted in a square equal to the height of the image. Maplins quote TVL measured across the entire width of the image meaning widescreen standard definition cameras are sold as 1000 TVL when in fact they are only 560 TVL. That's a bit naughty. It's worth pointing out that anyone claiming 1000 TVL CCTV cameras is doing the same.
With a wide angle lens the pixels spread apart rapidly as you move away from the camera. Each pixel is a piece of information, less pixels means less detail. Unfortunately pretty much all the cameras Maplins sell are wide angle. They make some amazing claims in terms of how far away their wide angle cameras will record detail but once again it simply isn't true. As you've seen in the video you can't beat the laws of physics. Even if you fit high definition CCTV, using fixed lens wide angle cameras is like heating your house with the doors and windows wide open on a freezing cold day. No matter how far you turn the boiler up it will be cold. Close the windows or in the case of a CCTV camera zoom it in on your subject so you aren't wasting valuable pixels.
On the subject of high definition CCTV Maplins are a little bit vague when it comes to HD. Their 720P resolution equipment is described as "Full HD", we would suggest Full HD is actually 1080P - 2.1 megapixels as opposed to only 0.9 megapixels of 720P. Maplins also describe 960H as being 30% higher resolution compared to standard definition CCTV. But it isn't, it's exactly the same resolution. 960H is widescreen and the extra pixels fill in the extra bit on the side, the pixel density is identical. Finally High Definition and High Resolution seem to be used rather closely but the "High Resolution" images are in fact standard D1 resolution.
On a final point we see a lot of occasions where specification is contradictory. Fixed lens cameras that quote variable angles or view, Standard resolution DVR recorders which claim a display resolution of "Up to 1080P, hard drive recording times which are not possible when using the DVR at the quoted maximum resolution and so on.
Once again we are sorry if this page seems unprofessional but we are passionate about making sure our customers buy CCTV that does what they expect. We speak to so many people who have gone down the Maplins, ebay, or DIY chain route and been disappointed with the results. They end up purchasing replacement equipment from us with, "I wish we'd found you earlier" thrown into the conversation. Hopefully this might save someone wasting money.