What’s The Difference Between CCTV And Surveillance Cameras?

CCTV refers to a wired, point-to-point system attached to a specific monitor. Meanwhile, surveillance cameras use wireless technology and don’t always need a monitoring station. 

These terms are often used interchangeably in the context of security and surveillance. However, they have different use cases and a few technical differences.

Things to Know

  • CCTV systems have a closed-off system which is usually hardwired. This helps to minimize interference and increase security.
  • Meanwhile, surveillance cameras use more flexible, often wireless, networks. They don’t necessarily need a monitoring station. 
  • CCTV cameras are mainly used in places where reliable professional monitoring is necessary. This includes facilities such as casinos or banks. 
  • Surveillance cameras focus on remote monitoring and tend to be more wireless. They are prominent in broader applications like traffic control or home security.
  • You can connect CCTV systems to the internet via a router for remote viewing.
  • CCTV systems aren’t always analog-based. You can also set up IP cameras with an NVR and call it a CCTV system.

The Major Differences Between CCTV and Surveillance Cameras

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) and surveillance cameras are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are not necessarily the same thing. 

Describing a CCTV System

  • Fundamentally, a CCTV system involves a camera transmitting a signal to a monitoring station. 
  • The crucial components of any CCTV system are security cameras, cables/data transmission medium, video recorder, and monitor.
  • All these components create a closed loop. This is done to avoid interference and signal hijacking
  • Despite being perceived as a closed-off system, there is a grey area. You can provide internet access or local Wi-Fi to a CCTV system. It’s an optional feature that allows you to check footage remotely.  
  • CCTV systems are commonly associated with older analog cameras and security systems. However, you can also set up IP-based cameras and call it an IP-CCTV system.

Understanding Surveillance Cameras

  • Surveillance cameras are more of a generic term used to describe security cameras.
  • They can include both wired and wireless systems. They can also be monitored locally or remotely. 
  • Unlike CCTVs, they don’t need to broadcast to a specific hub or station. It affords them more flexibility in terms of power and storage options.
  • A camera that records footage to the cloud or onto a microSD card is not usually referred to as a “CCTV System.”

The Different Technologies and Features That Separate Surveillance Cameras From a CCTV System

A CCTV system needs a monitoring station. For a surveillance camera (or system), such a setup is an optional feature.

So, in keeping up with that, here are some of the technical differences between a CCTV system and mainstream surveillance cameras:

Transmission of Footage

CCTV cameras usually transmit video footage through a wired connection. They use either coax (for analog) or network cable (for IP) to connect to the monitor and recording device. 

Meanwhile, surveillance cameras can use either a wired connection or wireless technology. The wireless option allows video and data transfer over Wi-Fi.

Reliance on a Stable Transmission Medium

CCTV cameras with a wired setup don’t rely on a wireless network. Instead, they transfer data instantly through cables. 

This offers a more stable and lag-free experience that’s crucial for professional monitoring. 

In the case of surveillance cameras, they need a strong Wi-Fi connection to transmit the footage remotely. 

Video transmission can be instantaneous. However, it can also be inconsistent and hugely dependent on the environment.

Camera Size and Mobility

Both types of cameras come in various shapes and sizes. However, cameras that rely on a CCTV system are often bulkier to accommodate the necessary cabling. 

Meanwhile, wireless or wire-free surveillance cameras can be discrete, and easy to set up and move around. 

Range and Ease of Use

The direct connectivity of CCTV cameras makes them straightforward to use. However, their range and mobility are limited by the cables.  

In contrast, surveillance cameras offer more expansive coverage and control. This translates to installation flexibility and options for remote viewing. 

You can set them up anywhere within the Wi-Fi range and view footage through a laptop or smartphone.

Real-World Applications: Where and When to Use Which

The decision between a CCTV system or a surveillance camera depends on these factors:  

  • The Physical Layout of the Location: This affects the maximum data transmission range and ease of setup. Large facilities will need extensive cabling or network infrastructure. Meanwhile, a homeowner can easily set up network repeaters or DIY the cabling. 
  • The Level of Detail You Need to Observe: Is merely detecting a human or vehicle enough? Or do you want to recognize faces, read license plates, or hover over a cash register?
  • How You Need to Respond to Events: Do you need to catch shoplifters in the act or hand over the footage to law enforcement afterward?

Where CCTV Systems Make Sense

CCTV cameras/systems are instrumental in places that need constant, specialized security. This can be retail outlets, casinos, banks, or high-security government facilities. 

As such, CCTV systems provide reliable monitoring as they don’t depend on a wireless network.

Where Surveillance Cameras Have Their Uses

Surveillance cameras are best when remote access is a necessity, not a feature. This could include home security, parking lots, and city surveillance where you need:

  • To encourage passive deterrence of criminal activity. Instead of actively reacting to it.
  • Flexibility in camera placement and setup.
  • The ability to receive notifications and check footage when a camera registers an event. These can be anything from motion detection and two-way communication to facial recognition


While often used interchangeably, a CCTV system and a surveillance camera differ in their system setup. 

CCTV systems rely on hardwired onsite stations. They are believed to be more secure since it’s difficult to cause interference or hijack the transmission.

Surveillance cameras bring flexibility and remote accessibility to the table. This makes them a popular choice for wider-ranging residential or commercial applications. 

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