Shootout: Megapixel vs Analog Cameras

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Mar 12, 2014

How much does resolution really make a difference? For those purchasing budget or entry level systems, what, if any gain, does one get for higher resolution?

In this test report, we did head to head testing of:

  • 450TVL
  • 600TVL
  • 700TVL
  • 960H
  • 720p
  • 1080p

We bought Q-See equipment off Amazon to simulate the experience / products many entry level systems use.

Preview

Questions Answered

The test report answers:

  • What is the image quality difference between 450TVL and 700TVL cameras? Day and night?
  • What is the image quality difference between 700TVL and 960H cameras? Day and night?
  • What difference is there between the 'best' analog offering and HD cameras? Day and night?
  • If you put an HD camera at double the FOV width of the 'best' analog camera, who will win?
  • What benefits does the wider FoV of 960H cameras offer?
  • What impact does recorder / encoder have on 960H camera quality?

Analog Camera Comparisons

For reference, this image shows the approximate 18' FOV of all cameras.

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We began by comparing analog cameras at three TVL counts/resolutions to see what differences, if any, were present.

450 TVL vs. 700 TVL Analog Cameras

Starting with 450 TVL vs. 700 TVL, we can see that performance is close, with no real gains in the higher TVL camera. Some letters on the eye chart are more legible in the 700 TVL camera, though it begins to wash out earlier than the 450 TVL camera, negating this benefit.

At night, with IR on, the 700 TVL camera produces marginally better details of our subject, with better contrast on the test chart.

700 TVL vs. 960H Analog Camera

Moving up, we tested the 700 TVL camera against a 960H model, both captured at D1 resolution. The gains in the 960H camera are noticeable, with letters more legible, as far as line 5 vs. only line 3-4 in the 700 TVL model. Our subject's face is moderately clearer, as well, with slightly more detail of his features.

In low light with IR on, the 960H camera again provides better details with more visibility of both the test subject and chart.

600 TVL Test

We compared a 600 TVL analog camera (the Q-See QM6006B) to the 700 TVL and 960H analog cameras, seen in the comparison below. The 600 TVL analog camera is able to produce more detail in both our subjects face and test chart than the 700 TVL camera, looking sharper overall. Performance relative to the 960H camera is close, though line 5 of the test chart is partly legible in the 960H model, while some characters in line 4 in the 600 TVL cameras are difficult to discern.

Analog vs. HD

Next, we shot out the 960H camera, the top analog performer, against 720p and 1080p HD IP cameras in order to show the differences between these two technologies. The IP cameras easily deliver more details than 960H, with more lines legible on the test chart, and much better details of our subject's face.

The same is true in low light with IR on, with both HD cameras providing more detail:

960H vs. Wide Angle 1080p

In order to see if 960H could compete with HD at any field of view, we widened the 1080p camera's field of view to double that of the 960H camera. This comparison shows the relative field of view of each, as well as a zoom view of our subject. Even at a FOV this wide, 1080p still beats out the analog camera, with better details of subject and chart.

960H Field of View

Manufacturers regularly claim 960H cameras have wider fields of view than D1. However, we found that 960H simply stretched 4:3 video to widescreen (using a 2:1 aspect ratio, not 16:9 as some claim). This resulted in substantial distortion, as with objects appearing squat and wide, as seen in this image:

Zooming in however, we can see that this "additional" resolution offers no increase in detail, with no more lines visible in the 960H image than in D1. Some characters actually become more difficult to read due to distortion:

960H vs. D1 Encoding

Though the increase in pixel count with 960H offers no benefit, we found a visible increase in detail when connecting the QM9702B to a 960H-rated DVR, instead of D1 DVRs/encoders. This comparison shows the same camera, the 960H QM9702B, first connected to the 960H DVR, the QC524, then the D1 QT534. Notably, lines 5/6 are legible in the 960H DVR vs. 4/5 using the D1 model.

Overall Resolution Comparisons

For those who wish to see all five cameras side by side, we've included the following comparisons, in full light:

And low light:

Methodology

All cameras were tested using default settings.

These are the camera models used in this test:

  • Q-See QD4501B 450 TVL analog bullet
  • Q-See QM6006B 600 TVL analog bullet
  • Q-See QM7008B 700 TVL analog bullet
  • Q-See QM9702B 960H analog bullet
  • Q-See QCN7001B 720p IP bullet
  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-B01 1080p IP bullet camera

DVRs used:

  • QC524 4-channel 960H DVR
  • QT534 4-channel D1 DVR

1 report cite this report:

Why You Should Avoid 960H Cameras on Aug 20, 2014
960H promises to increase analog resolution by 34%, transforming the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio image into a widescreen 'hi def' one, like this...

Comments (29)

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This is a whole lot of Dahua products on display...

Tim, as an employee of Lilin, what is your point? Please elaborate.

I couldn't see any of dahua product in this test

John, I wanted to see if there was possibility of using some other brands in distribution as comparison cameras. Example the Digital Watchdog, Speco, Clinton, or other cameras. Avigilon camera and Dahua cameras have been shown on various reports but few other cameras.

Maybe using one single model is simpler but having more cameras from different platforms will do better as a comparison. Hope this is helpful for the next shoot out.

Tim,

So far this year, (2.5 months) we've tested:

  • ACTi
  • Arecont
  • Bosch
  • D-Link
  • Geovision
  • Foscam
  • Hikvision
  • Honeywell
  • Samsung
  • Wodsee ($29 chinese camera)

In addition to Avigilon, Dahua, Axis, Sony, etc. and excluding the many other cameras in the low light ranking report.

We use many cameras from many different platforms.

We do not use your cameras (Lilin) because no one ever asks for them. Speco and Clinton are not even serious players in IP and rarely do people ask for them either.

We tested Q-See / Dahua since lots of people use them. The point of this report is not even about specific manufacturers but about general categorical differences.

Hello John:

Thanks for the feedback. Do enjoy the test reports on the cameras tested. Would have more questions but I will post it on the discussion section.

Clinton? Speco? Is this security for hipsters - find the least known brands possible?

Hello John,

In image of all cameras side by side, can you please specify the field of view of each camera?

Luis, FOV was approximately this for all cameras. We had to stagger cameras about 1-2' in a couple of cases to account for differences in lenses, but the width of the FOV was standardized. I've inserted this in the report as well.

Good morning John, and thanks for the shootout. We do them here with some frequency. My question to you and to the industry is this. Why do IP or 1080p cameras "appear" to perform so poorly at night or low light? Is it just a matter of product maturation or is there something inherent in the devices, in your opinion?

1080p generally does perform worse in low light than lower resolution cameras, which you can see in a lot of our shootouts. Though the gap is narrowing somewhat, based on some recent cameras we're working with.

However, if you're looking at the comparisons above, it's because that specific camera adjusted exposure (not IR power in this case) differently than the others to compensate for the reflective objects (subject + chart) in the scene. The others simply did not adjust exposure as much.

Btw, 720p IP cameras do better than even top SD ones - see: Ranking IP Camera Low Light Performance

In the images above, the 1080p cams are listed as being an Avigilon cam, but the report states it was a Dahua cam. Can that be clarified please?

Pardon the confusion. That's been fixed. It was the Avigilon camera.

So is it safe to say that Q-See cameras are comparable to the other analog brands out there like panasonic, sony, etc.?

I have to admit, the 450TVL vs. 700TVL comparison is quite surprising. I expected a better images from the 700TVL over the 450.

Margarita,

That's because stated resolutions of greater than around 550TVL for analog cameras are doo doo. Most manufacturers "fudge" the numbers. One way they get away with it is by using a non-standard way of measuring TV lines. The proper way is to measure the number of vertical black and white bars that can be discerned in a square area of the screen whose width is equal to the total screen height. That was designed to eliminate differences caused by varying aspect ratios of monitors.

In an apparent effort to "one-up" the competition, some manufacturers decided to count lines across the entire width of the screen, which generated inflated resolution specs, and the rest followed suit. Hence the 700TVL spec is actually around 500TVL using the accepted NTSC (and PAL?) method (700/4*3=525).

My guess is that the 450TVL camera spec is rated using generally accepted measurements while the 700TVL camera uses the "inflated" method. That would explain the extremely minor resolution difference.

Carl, next week, we are testing a 900TVL, 'megapixel rated' analog camera. I know you and Todd Rockoff will love it....

We bought one just so we could do our own test and provide a real comparison between 'regular' analog, 900TVL and real megapixel.

Interesting, if only for a good chuckle. Seriously, even if the claim was true, HD analog would be useless without compatible DVRs and/or encoders.

Thanks Carl, that makes sense.

Back to basics; Just rating by Horizontal resolution is not telling the entire story. 960H has the Horizontal reoslution of the 700 lines per spec. but the total pixel count ( 960 H x 480V) is only 460,000 ( 0.5 MP).

The 720P and 1080P have increased vertical resolution ( more vertical pixels). In traditional analog we never discussed vertical resolution, only horizointal as most all cameras had 480 ( Theoretically 525) vertical lines.

With the advent of HD IP cameras vertical becomes an important part of the resolution component.

so a 720P is 1280 H x 720V ( 1 MP). 2X the pixels of the 960H and as importantly 50 percent more vertical resolution.

Then 1080P has 1920 H x 1080V ( 2MP) 4X the pixels of the 960H and as importantly 100 percent more vertical resolution.

"so a 720P is 1280 H x 720V ( 1 MP). 2X the pixels of the 960H and as importantly 50 percent more vertical resolution."

A third of the 'pixels' in a 960H camera are essentially faked. There's no additional information, the pixels are just spread out horizontally wider. In actually, it's far more than a 2x pixel increase.

That 720p cam makes it hard to justify the 1080p. Consistently good pictures ...

I agree. In fact, to these eyes, the 720p camera gives a better picture in at least some of the tests than the 1080p camera.

Would you consider Clinton to be equal to Speco? Just curious.

I consider them both to be value based manufacturers. Not a lot of innovation, but affordable. I will say that in all my years in security, I've never seen a Clinton camera in use at an actual end user.

What we learned from speaking to Speco at ASIS Chicago was that they think IP is too hard for people to install and believe SDI is the only option. When their sales rep asked us if we were doing IP, we said yes. He replied with "it's a pain in the ass, right?" When we replied "not at all", his reply was "BULLSHIT! You know it's impossible!"

We left laughing our asses off!

Members, we added a section at the end of the report comparing 600 TVL to 700 TVL and 960H. As it turns out, the 600 TVL camera produces a sharper, clearer image than the 700TVL camera, while not appearing as washed out as the 960H.

Derek,

That jibes with my findings. It confirms that cameras should not be purchased on specs alone - there's just too much fudging by manufacturers. We prefer to test samples of each camera under consideration in real-life situations and judge by what performance a camera actually delivers, rather than its specs. Far too often, lower-spec'd cameras outperform those with higher specs.

Another source of annoyance: many analog camera manufacturers are discontinuing their SD cameras in favor of 960H. What they choose to conveniently ignore is that 960H requires compatible DVRs or encoders to deliver any benefit at all; and even then, the benefits are marginal, at best. Our favorite analog box camera, the inMotion 11S4N2D was replaced by them with the far-pricier 960H 11S9N2D, which would offer no benefits to us. Thankfully, inMotion agreed to continue importing the 11S4S2D if we placed large (100 camera) orders, though how long they will continue to offer that is anyone's guess.

I will broach the subject with them at ISC West.

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