Portable Power for Video Surveillance

By Ethan Ace, Published Dec 26, 2011, 12:00am EST

Sometimes you need power for your video surveillance equipment but do not have convenient access to mains electricity. Common examples of this include:

  • Demonstrating or trying out a camera in the field to see the quality and coverage area of the video
  • Testing cameras to measure relative performance (like we do in our shootouts) in remote outdoor locations
  • Conducting temporary surveillance for an event or activity

We've spent hundreds of hours using a variety of equipment in our testing. In this report, we will review our findings and experiences in what worked best for powering cameras and other equipment for short-term testing.

Here's a visual example of some of our more commonly used portable power options:

We explored multiple options for power while performing testing, eventually settling on three options, which we will detail below:

  • Veracity PointSource
  • Portable Consumer Battery Packs
  • Rollable Industrial Battery Packs

There are other options, such as gasoline or propane generators, solar, and fuel cells, which we decided were not appropriate for our testing application, but which may be a good fit for temporary power for other users.

PointSource

Applications: The PointSource has a two prime uses, as we see it: (1) Short-term demos and testing, and (2) On-site configuration and aiming. While it is capable of powering a single camera for at least 4-5 hours, this duration is not long enough for running an all-day or overnight test, making it unsuitable for those needs. For aiming and configuration of cameras on site, we would expect, due to the intermittent nature of use, that it would be easily capable of handling a full day's use on a single charge. Obviously, since it only has a single output, applications requiring power to multiple cameras, or a laptop or switch, will need to seek another option.

We are not aware of anything quite like it, optimized for convenient temporary use of surveillance cameras.

Veracity's PointSource [link no longer available] is essentially a self-contained, battery-powered PoE injector, supplying a maximum of 15.4 watts (802.3af) to a single device. It may also supply 12VDC power via two spring terminals on the top of the unit, for cameras which are not PoE-capable. PoE is supplied through one of two RJ45 ports, with the other being a non-powered pass-through for connection of a laptop to the camera. The PointSource is lightweight so portability is not much of an issue. The PointSource can be found online for about $200.

Portable Consumer Battery Units

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Applications: Portable battery units generally fit in the same application as the PointSource, above, though on multi-camera scale. Users may find them of use for temporarily powering a switch to configure and aim multiple units, when building power is not available, such as when construction is not yet complete. A battery pack may also be capable of running a single camera for an extended period, such as an overnight test. It may also be used to plug in a 24VAC transformer to power up a PTZ camera, which the PointSource is not capable of doing. However, for longer-term testing of multiple cameras, users will likely need to use a larger, less portable battery pack, which we cover below.

These units are rechargeable, with both 12VDC output and an inverter supplying 120VAC, most commonly used for jump-starting vehicles. We tested both Black & Decker and Die-Hard portable power packs. Both were relatively lightweight, so portability was not a problem. Both were able to supply the 8-port switch used for testing for 1.5-2 hours. This is likely long enough for a demo or test, but relatively short compared to larger options. Battery packs such as these can be found online for between $100-$150.

Larger Rollable Industrial Battery Units

Applications: For longer-term testing of multiple cameras, high-capacity, rolling battery packs are a good choice. In our tests, three hours of powering a laptop, 8-port PoE switch, and six cameras used less than 50% of the battery capacity of the Xantrex unit we chose. These units also could potentially run a single camera in a temporary deployment, for either testing and demo purposes, or security purposes, for over 24 hours. 

For a larger-capacity battery pack, we chose the Xantrex XPower 1500. The XPower 1500 contains a 51 amp-hour battery and inverter, which supplies 120VAC to two three-prong outlets. Sizewise, it is larger than other options. However, it is still compact, about 15"x12" and 15" tall. It is relatively heavy, at about 60 lbs. Its weight is also unevenly distributed, since the battery is located to one side, which makes carrying it awkward at times. Moving the unit is not a problem, however, due to its large, rubberized wheels. The XPower 1500 can be found online for about $350 and up.

Generators

In our LinkedIn discussion, several members recommended compact gasoline or propane-powered generators. For purposes of testing, however, we preferred battery options. Since we perform most testing in public, carrying fuel and the noise of a generator are less convenient than using battery-powered units. If carrying fuel and noise are non-issues for users, if testing is going to be done on private property, for example, generators may be an option. 

The Honda EU1000i was a popular model among our members, specified to run at full load (900W) for 3.8 hours on .6 gallons of gas. By specification, and user comments as well, they are quiet, rated at only 59dB max, well below ambient noise in most locations. They also weigh less than battery options such as the Xantrex unit, with the EU1000i weighing under 30 lbs. The EU1000i can be found online for about $700 and up

Other Options

Two options came up which we felt were not appropriate for portable, temporary use: solar and fuel cell. Both of these options have their applications, which we will cover in a future update. For portable use, however, they are impractical or cost-prohibitive.

For testing, solar was not an option for us, simply due to the size of the panel needed to generate the current we required. Again, since we perform testing in public, we prefer to be as inconspicuous as possible. For most temporary applications, as well, solar is more complex than other options. A larger-capacity generator is likely the simplest way to power a camera or cameras for multiple days in a portable setup.

For temporary or off-the-grid surveillance where no other option for power exists, fuel cell systems are becoming an interesting option, as they're generally intended for longer-term loads, not short term testing as we perform. Additionally, they're expensive. The smallest model, capable of supporting a 600W load, retails online for $2,700 or more, vastly more expensive than battery options.

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