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2005 Yonge St
Toronto, ON

416-482-8588

Canada's first spy shop.  Spy gadgets including electronic security, counter surveillance, video cameras and GPS tracking devices.  Online shopping available for Canada.

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Spytechblog

As a business that sells somewhat unusual products, we recognize that any additional information we provide can benefit not only our customers, but casual readers as well.  Since the owners and staff at Spytech have accumulated decades of collective experience in the business, we have decided to share our knowledge through this "Spytechblog".

Multi-Camera CCTV Systems

Hans School

Multi-camera CCTV systems are everywhere.  You can find them in most buildings and even outside in the streets.  Overall these CCTV systems are made up of a Multi-Camera "DVR" (Digital Video Recorder), with anywhere from 2 or more cameras attached to it.  Since any DVR usually does about the same job, you'll find that variety mainly comes in the form of the different types of cameras you can use with this machine.  Pretty much every video surveillance system you see would be some variation of the same setup described below.

The biggest difference from any one system to another, is that as you get into higher numbers of cameras, the hardware and software become more sophisticated and thereby more expensive.  Yet, however sophisticated a system may be, the individual parts still perform very similar functions.  While addressing these functions, I will use past customer inquiries as a guideline as to which technical details to address.

Here is just one example of a simple CCTV system.  This one is available on our own website:

 
 

Multi-Camera DVR

The most common DVR models come in 4 or 8 channel versions, but there are also other models as well (like 32+ channels).  Our customers have usually bought a second smaller DVR instead of one huge one.  Maybe these customers are expanding from 4 to 8 cameras and they just add a second 4 channel unit instead converting over to one 8 channel unit.   Maybe they would rather have two monitors displaying 8 images each, rather than one monitor with 16 tiny images squeezed onto one screen.  Maybe the customer doesn't even connect a monitor to the DVR and just leaves it recording constantly until something happens.  Of course, every option has its own advantages, and every type of application could favour a different kind of setup.  As such, let us leave that debate to individual customers and their qualified installers to sort out.

The typical DVR will record hundreds of hours of video onto a Hard Drive, with the exact time determined by the amount of memory in that Hard Drive.  Usually, a DVR will be connected to an internet service for online access, assuming there is internet available at the site.  This online capability, along with video motion activation and memory overwrite are the most important features for DVRs.  To keep this article brief, I will focus on these universal features of a DVR, instead of listing countless industry-specific tweaks that are only relevant to a few special cases.

Online Video Feed

Having an online video feed from your DVR allows you to "remotely" watch your property at any time.  Some people will check on their home from work, which is known in daytime talk show lingo as "nanny cams".  Conversely, entrepreneurial types will check on their business from home, or while they are away on vacation.  Speaking of travel, it has become more popular to use phones and tablets to view these video feeds, instead of relying only on computers, since most DVR devices have surveillance apps these days.  DVRs will also send out some kind of notification message using motion activation or some other event, like a damaged camera alert, for example.  When users receive an alert like this, they might check their camera feeds for more information, or maybe they will immediately send someone to the location.  It all depends on the context of the alert.

Motion Activation

Motion activation doesn't seem like a very important feature until it's time to play back your recordings.  That's when you see a list of motion recordings sorted by times and dates, and organized by which camera captured them, and you begin to appreciate the amount of time you saved yourself while investigating several hours of video footage.  At the very least, you can skip over all those hours where you know nothing even happened.  All DVRs these days will also allow you to adjust various motion activation settings to minimize common issues like false alarms.  Since today's DVRs can be fine tuned just the way you want it is rare to find one that is not running in motion activation mode any more.

Overwrite

Overwrite - also known as "looping" - is the expected default setting for video surveillance these days.  When you don't use overwrite, the DVR simply stops recording when the memory is full.  For example, if the Hard Drive holds 900 hours, the DVR will only contain the first 900 hours of footage you recorded, unless you delete the footage and start over.  When you do use overwrite mode, the DVR erases the oldest contents of the memory constantly while continuing to record the latest footage.  In our example, the 900 hours of video content of the DVR would always be the last 900 hours recorded.  The only issue with overwrite is that you must make a copy of your recording before that time loop comes around again and erases it automatically.  Of course either mode may work better for a customer, depending on the actual application.

Other DVR Features

Other features you may find on a DVR include the schedule record function, so you can set the unit to record only during certain hours.  Usually, a modern DVR will have one connector (sometimes more than one) for "PTZ" (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) controls.  This is for operating the type of "PTZ" camera that has motors to move left and right, up and down, and in and out.   There may also be an external alarm input to connect an existing alarm system to trigger the DVR recording.  While integrating the DVR into other alarm systems can run the risk of creating more errors, there is still a certain level of comfort in having more layers of security.  Those are really the most popular features that people generally ask about.  Any of the more obscure features can be explored in person or by email.

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Surveillance Cameras

This is where things get complicated.  Since there are so many different types of cameras, it is quite rare for us to sell the same multi-camera setup more than once, even when it's just a simple four camera setup!  It is not uncommon for a customer to actually buy 4 completely different cameras for one DVR.  This is the reason our stores only carry universal DVR and camera models, which use industry standard BNC connectors, not those systems that only work with their own proprietary wiring and come with just one type of camera.

Surveillance cameras come in outdoor weatherproof or indoor versions.  They may have night vision or no night vision capability.  There are those special PTZ cameras that can move around.  Each camera is actually some combination of all of these variations, not just one of them.  Each of the variations also has its benefits and its limitations.  The night vision cameras can see in the dark, but their larger size makes it impossible to use them discreetly.  PTZ cameras can see a larger area, but a DVR usually has only one connector for the PTZ controls.

 

With so many different potential options, you should consider your own situation carefully, before deciding on what to use.  Decisions like how many cameras to use, and what kind of cameras, would tip the scales back and forth between the degree of security coverage vs the total cost.  If you decide to install your own DVR and camera system, make sure you have all the tools required, and a good amount of knowledge about the location.  Generally, we warn our customers that this type of installation would usually be too difficult to learn on the fly, especially running wires through a building.  For an easier time, you can either consider some of the plug and play camera from our shop, or hire a proffessional installer to do the installation.

Fortunately, an experienced CCTV installer can work with you, and offer their own opinions about the location you are considering.  If you are close to our Spytech store location, we can refer you to such an installer, so feel free to contact us.  If you  are located far from Toronto, you should seek out a local certified electrician who can give you a quote.

Hans School
President, Spytech

Questions or comments:  stproductinfo@gmail.com

Introducing Our Newest Product: Button Camera Pro

Hans School

In the old days, we were only able to stick a button camera in our clothes, and record some video.  Today we can do so much more!  Recent breakthroughs in button camera technology have allowed the button camera to evolve into a versatile tool for countless surveillance applications.

259.95

The Button Camera Pro is still a tiny sized camera that you can easily carry around in your pocket.  In addition to the old fashioned video recording capability, the new "pro" model also has a live video streaming function, motion activation, WiFi connectivity, timer recording, and more.  You can place the camera in your shirt button hole and film a conversation, or you can place it in a room with an extended battery or power supply, and view the video feed remotely like any regular surveillance system.  The camera comes with a standard USB cable that can be used to charge the internal battery or to provide permanent power to the camera.

Button Camera Pro records in clear 1080P HD resolution.  The WiFi function allows access worldwide by using a smartphone app.  The Button Camera Pro is not weatherproof and should only be used indoors.

New Features of the USB Recorder

Hans School

This USB audio recorder is one of our most popular products, so we are pleased to announce a firmware update, that will improve its performance even more!  As you know, the recorder already has a superior battery life for its size, a convenient sound activation mode, and good sound quality.  Here is a summary of the new upgrades:

USB Stick Grey Recorder
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  • Adjustable Sound Activation - This determines how loud the sound has to be before the recorder starts recording.  You choose the level.  Lower sensitivity level will result in longer battery life, but the very queitest of sounds may not be recorded.  Higher sensitivity will miss nothing, but you may record a lot of "dead air" that you don't need.
  • Adjustable Record Quality - Although the default quality has always been high enough to please our customers, there is now a second, even HIGHER quality setting to choose from.  The cost of using the higher quality is a reduced battery life and larger file size, which means the total memory will be used up faster.
  • Setup Software - There is a new program that allows you to adjust all the settings mentioned above.  In addition to activation and quality, you can also adjust the time and date.  Setting the correct time and date makes it easier to organize your files, especially if you have multiple recordings spread over several days, which often happens with the sound activation feature.

Unfortunately the setup software only works in Windows not Mac.  This software is only used for changing recorder settings so you can still record and play back your files without Windows.

Our instructional video also covers these new features:

Bug Detector Derby

Hans School

During some heavy snow days in January, the staff of Spytech took some time to compare several of our RF Detectors.  We rated each detector for various tasks and then posted the results on our YouTube channel:

 

Here are some additional notes about these tests:

FM Transmitter

This was a very simple job for all the detectors, since it is pretty much what they are designed to detect.  The transmitter was just a high power analog audio signal with a range of about 500 feet.  Basically the same as a standard cordless phone or walkie talkie.  The CC308 detector had a problem with this device because it would reach maximum signal strength when it was still half a meter away from it.  This means, in a real situation, you would only know a rough location for the transmitter and waste a lot of time narrowing it down.  The other detectors were way more precise.  Most impressive was the RF Detector Pro.  Even though the indicator meter had maxed out a few inches away, the detector had a detection confirmation function, which made the lights shut off when we located the device.  You can see this in the video.

5.8GHz Transmitter

This transmitter generated a low powered, high frequency, analog signal.  You could see the feed in the 5.8GHz monitor sitting right behind the camera.  Not many RF detectors are even made for anything higher than 2.4GHz frequency.  So it came as no surprise that most of the detectors had to almost touch the device to give any indication of signal strength.  This would be difficult if you were searching for hidden devices.  The detectors that have a lens detector function would be more useful in this situation.  Only the RD-10 was able to detect the 5.8GHz device as easily as an FM Transmitter.

WiFi Transmitter

This transmitter introduced a digital signal into the mix.  This signal would simulate certain hidden cameras (such as the one in the video), live GPS trackers, or mobile phones that have been engineered into impromptu listening/tracking devices.  With this test we could see that some of the detectors were actually better at detecting digital signals than analog.  Notably the Bug Detector Pro was very accurate, while the Blu Detector seems to be designed for this type of digital detection application.

Conclusion

The best detector overall was the RD-10.  It was capable in each of the 3 very different detection situations we presented, and in addition to RF detection functions, it also has a camera lens detection function that we were not even using for these tests.   Of course we are aware that there are more advanced detectors than this one, and we have even used some of them at Spytech over the years, but in this situation we were limiting our test to affordable, pocket sized detectors.  The more professional units may be more capable, but they also have a much higher price point, they are usually briefcase size or larger, and they require some serious training to use properly.  If you are interested in one of those professional countersurveillance machines, you can contact spytech for pricing information or even hire a local countersurveillance agent in your area who is already experienced in using this type of equipment.

The other detectors we tested each had strengths and weaknesses in one or more areas.  For example, even the worst performing RF detector - the model called "Camera Finder" - still boasts the best lens detection function.  This was not mentioned because it was not part of our test.  These detectors that specialize in just one function are limited to very specific jobs.  In the real world you may be looking for one type of device, but you could always discover something you were not expecting, but only if your detector is capable of detecting many different things.  That flexibility is why we chose the RD-10 as the best bug detector.

Introducing Personal Safety Products

Hans School

Spytech is proud to offer a new line of personal safety products.  Canadian law is very strict when it comes to weapons - even non-lethal weapons - so we try to offer products that fall outside of the self defense catagory, although they can be used in addition to any self defense products you may carry with you.  The effectiveness of these products varies depending on the situation, the reactions of all the people involved and the environment.  One big advantage over weapons, is that these products cannot be used against you.

Personal Alarm

This is a small battery powered box that fits in a pocket or purse.  When the cord is pulled out of the box it makes a loud noise to attract attention.  The intent of the loud noise is to expose and confuse an attacker that is trying to commit a crime without being noticed.  The noise may motivate bystanders to intervene, it may startle the attacker enough to give you a chance to escape, or at least the alarm indicates to the criminal that his control over the situation has been compromised.  Of course, what happens after the alarm sounds is unknown, and depends on many variables.

 

 

Drink Test Kit

This small paper can be used to test a drink for the presence of the most common types of "date-rape drugs".  To use the test, place a few drops of your beverage on the paper and see if it changes colour.  The test may be corrupted by chemicals like food colouring, which would colour the paper just like a positive result, or there could be drugs present that are not part of the test.  In light of these possibilities, the test kit should only be used to compliment common sense behaviour, not to replace it. 

Stay safe and look out for each other Canada.