Video Surveillance Glossary of Terms

by | Jul 14, 2010

Video Surveillance Glossary


Automatic Gain Control is an electronic circuit that amplifies the video signal when the strength of the signal falls below a certain value.

Angle of View

May be expressed in Diagonal, Horizontal or Vertical. Smaller focal lengths give a wider angle of view.


The opening of the lens that controls the amount of light reaching the surface of the pickup device. The size of the aperture is controlled by the iris adjustment.

Aspect Ratio

The ratio of width to height for the frame of the televised picture. 4:3 for standard systems

Auto Balance

A system for detecting errors in color balance in white and black areas of the picture and automatically adjusting the white and black levels of both the red and blue signals as needed for correction.

Auto Iris Lens

A lens with an electronically controlled iris, allowing the lens to maintain one light level throughout varying light conditions.

Back Focus

A mechanical adjustment in a camera that moves the imaging device relative to the lens to compensate for different back focal lengths of lenses. An important adjustment when a zoom lens is fitted.


A transformer that levels out impedance differences, so that a signal generated on to a coaxial cable can be transferred on to a twisted pair cable.

Black Level

The dark parts of a video signal corresponding to approximately 0.3 volts.

Back Light Compensation – BLC

A feature of modern CCD cameras, which electronically compensates for high background lighting, to give details that would normally be silhouetted.


Video connector used in CCTV installations.

Camera Format

The approximate size of a camera image pickup device. This measurement is derived from the diagonal line of a chip. Common formats are 1/6”, 1/4”, 1/3”, 2/3” and 1″. The size of the sensor directly affects the field of view obtained. When using the same size lens on different format sensors, different viewing areas are obtained. For example, using a 6mm lens on a 1/3” sensor will give you a 37º field of view. Using the same lens on a 1/2” sensor will increase the field of view to 56º and 74º on a 2/3” sensor. It is important to make sure you have a lens that was designed for your camera’s format. The lens must be designed for at least the size of your sensor. For instance, you can use a 1” format lens on a 1/3” camera, but you cannot use a 1/3” lens on a 1” camera. If you use a lens designed for a smaller format camera, the image will be vignetted. Also, by using a lens designed for a larger format sensor, the field of view you get will be greater than what is specified.


Charge coupled device, a flat thin wafer that is light sensitive and forms the imaging device of most modern cameras. Size is measured diagonally and can be 1/3″-1/2″ or 2/3″. There are two types, frame transfer and interline transfer.


The European 625 line standard for the video signal.


An industry standard for mounting a lens to a camera with a 1″ x 32 thread and a distance from the image plane of 17.52mm from the shoulder of the lens. A C-mount lens may be used with a CS-mount camera with a 5mm-adapter ring.

Coaxial Cable

A type of cable capable of passing a wide range of frequencies with very low signal loss.


A single video signal that contains luminance, color, and synchronization information. The American standard NTSC (525 lines, 30 frames per second) and European standard PAL (625 lines, 25 frames per second) are examples of composite video.


The reduction in gain at one level of a picture signal with respect to the gain at another level of the same signal.


An industry standard for mounting a lens to a camera with a 1″ x 32 thread and a distance from the image plane of 12.52mm from the shoulder of the lens. A CS-mount lens may not be used on a C-mount camera.

Depth of Field

The in-focus range of a lens or optical system. It is measured from the distance behind an object to the distance in front of the object when the viewing lens shows the object to be in focus.

Depth of Focus

The range of sensor-to-lens distance for which the image formed by the lens is clearly focused. Depth of field increases with smaller lens aperture (higher f-numbers), shorter focal lengths, and greater distances from the lens

Digital Recording

One of the newest forms of video archiving and reviewing, Digital video recorders take advantage of the speed and reliability of PC hard drives and other computer storage devices such as high speed DAT media, CD-ROM and even compact flash media. Storage using these devices virtually eliminates video degradation and tape wear. Digital recording also creates a variety of remote viewing possibilities using standard transmission modes such as LAN, WAN, ISDN, and the Internet. Ensuring file security also helps to eliminate the possibility of image manipulation to ensure video authentication.

Digital Signal Processing

An algorithm within the camera that digitizes data (the image). Examples include automatic compensate for backlight interference, color balance variations and corrections related to aging of electrical components or lighting. Functions such as electronic pan and zoom, image annotation, compression of the video for network transmission, feature extraction and motion compensation can be easily and inexpensively added to the camera feature set.


The deviation of the received signal waveform from that of the original transmitted waveform.

EIA Electronic Industries Alliance

Monochrome video signal standard used in North America and Japan: 525 lines 60Hz


An electronic circuit that introduces compensation for frequency discriminative effects of elements within the television system, particularly long coaxial transmission systems.


The most widely used LAN transmission network. Based on a bus network topology, it runs at a maximum speed over 100 meters of 10Mbit/s. It operates over conventional co-axial cable, thin wire co-axial cable and unshielded twisted pair cabling. This has several implementations – 10Base5 for use over conventional co-axial cable, 10BaseF for use over optic fibre, and 10BaseT for use over Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cabling.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
An independent US government agency established in 1934 and charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Any wireless equipment must be approved by the FCC in order to be used without licensing. To receive licensing information, contact the FCC by phone at 888-225-5322 or on the internet at

One of the two equal parts into which a television frame is divided in an interlaced system of scanning. There are 60 fields per second in the NTSC system. The NTSC field contains 262 1/2 horizontal lines. Adjacent lines in a TV picture (525 Lines total) are located in alternate fields.

Field of View

The horizontal or vertical scene size at a given length from the camera to the subject. It is determined by the lens focal length, imaging sensor size, and the distance to the subject being monitored. Usually expressed in degrees horizontal or vertical.


Indicates the brightness of the image formed by the lens, controlled by the iris. The smaller the F-number the brighter the image.

Focal Length

The distance from the center of the lens to a plane at which point a sharp image of an object viewed at an infinite position. The focal length determines the size of the image and angle of field of view seen by the camera through the lens. This is the center of the lens to the image pickup device.


The number of frames per second that the camera produces.


A term used to indicate the speed of a lens. The smaller the F-number the greater amount of light passes through the lens. Gain An increase in voltage or power, usually expressed in dB.


A measure of the ability of a circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal output of a system to the signal input of the same system. It may also be defined as the decimal logarithm of the same ratio.


This is one method used on Auto Iris and Direct Drive lenses to move the iris vanes, open and closed using a coil operation.

Gamma Correction

An electronic correction carried out by the camera circuitry to balance the brightness seen by the camera to that of the monitor.


A node that allows connection to another network using another protocol.

Ground Loop

An alternating current (AC) that can be produced in a cable. This is usually caused by parts of the system being fed from different electrical sources resulting in different earth potentials at each end of the signal path. This results in interference of the video pictures in the form of a black shadow bar across the screen or as a tearing effect in the top comer of a picture.

Ground Loop Transformer

An isolation transformer. There is no direct connection between input and output.

Hole-Accumulation Diode (HAD)

EXview HAD CCD is a trademark of Sony Corporation. The HAD CCD dramatically improves light efficiency by including near infrared light as a basic structure of the sensor. Conventional CCD sensors are sensitive to infrared light but are unable to efficiently gather the charge. Because of this greater efficiency, HAD CCD sensors achieve sensitivities approximately 4 times that of a conventional CCD.



The number of variations per second (e.g. picture frames, alternating of the current, etc).


Hyper text transfer protocol – HTTP

HTTP port 80 normally this is the HTTP port address that cameras can communicate over.

Impedance (input or output)

The input or output characteristic of a system component that determines the type of transmission cable to be used. Expressed in ohms.

Infrared Lighting (IR)

Infrared – The area below the visible spectrum.  Black and White cameras are very sensitive to infrared light and allow the use of infrared illuminators to enhance poorly lit locations without alerting subjects during surveillance. Color cameras are also sensitive to infrared light, but require an infrared filter to filter out the red light to keep the image colors looking natural.


IP Address

The network location of an IP camera, which can be located using a Web browser on a PC. (example –


Mechanism within a lens to regulate the amount of light that passes through, and falls upon, the image sensor. It can be controlled manually or automatically.


Small, rapid variations in a waveform due to mechanical disturbances or to changes in the characteristic of components. Supply voltages, imperfect synchronizing signals, circuits, etc.

LCD – Liquid Crystal Display
LCD displays/monitors are a constantly operating display (as of the time in a digital watch) that consists of segments of a liquid crystal whose reflectivity varies according to the voltage applied to them.


A transparent optical component consisting of one or more pieces of optical glass with surfaces curved (usually spherical), so that they converge or diverge the transmitted rays of an object, forming a real or virtual image of that object.

Lens Format

The approximate size of a lens-projected image. In most cases the lens will project an image slightly greater than the designated image size to insure the pickup device is completely covered. It is recommended that camera and lenses are the same format size. A lens larger format size can be used on a smaller format camera, however a smaller format lens should never be used with a larger format camera.

Lens Speed

Refers to the lens aperture or its ability to transmit light. This is measured in F-stops.


Line Locked

A camera that is synchronized to the frequency of its AC power supply.


A unit of incident light. It is the illumination on a surface one square foot in area on which a flux of one lumen is uniformly distributed, or the illumination at a surface all points of which are at a distance of one foot from a uniform source of one candela.


Luminous intensity (photometric brightness) of any surface in a given direction per unit of projected area of the surface as viewed from that direction, measured in footlamberts (fl).


International System (Sl) unit of illumination in which the meter is the unit of length. One lux equals one lumen per square meter.  Full moon light is about 0.1 lux whereas full daylight is about 10,000 lux. Most color cameras can produce decent images during deep twilight. Most black and white cameras need about as much light as produced by a full moon. With an HAD and Super HAD CCD cameras, the only light needed is starlight on a dark night. (about 0.0003 lux)

Manual Iris Lens

A lens with a manual adjustment to set the iris opening (aperture) to a fixed position. This type lens is generally used in fixed lighting conditions.

Matrix Switcher

A combination of electromechanical or electronic switches which route a number of signal sources to one or more designations. Monochrome Black and white with all shades of gray.

The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that falls within the range of 300 MHz to 3 GHz. A very efficient transmission band for sending video signals wirelessly. Typical microwave video links use the following frequencies: 434 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.2 GHz, and 2.4 GHz.


Black and white and all shades of grey. In a monochrome video signal, this is what controls the brightness of each pixel. Since there is no color, the brightness determines what shade of gray the pixel needs to be. In a color signal, this also has control over the brightness of the pixel, whether color or not.


Moving picture experts group, version 4. A form of compression that makes transmission and storage of images easier.

Multiplexer with Multi-record Capability

Using a multiplexer (as opposed to a quad processor), it is possible to record multiple cameras full screen Since every video signal is comprised of 30 frames per second, you can divide these frames among each camera. A multiplexer will send a camera’s video signal a consistent rate. For example, eight cameras connected to a multiplexer with each camera recording evenly between 30 frames. In other words, each camera is recording for a single frame every 8 frames or every 0.266 seconds. When the video is played, each camera appears as though it was recorded on it’s own time lapse recorder at 3.75 frames per second.

ND Filter

A filter that attenuates light evenly over the visible light spectrum. It reduces the light entering a lens, thus forcing the iris to open to its maximum. Noise The word “noise” originated in audio practice and refers to random spurts of electrical energy or interference. In some cases, it will produce a “salt-and-pepper” pattern over the televised picture. Heavy noise is sometimes referred to as “snow”.

Network time protocol – NTP

NTP Server –  A central source that can set the time of all network devices.

NTSC National Television Standards Committee

Color Video Signal standard used in North American and Japanese: 525 Lines, 60Hz.


The signal level at the output of an amplifier or other device.

Pan and Tilt

A device that can be remotely controlled to provide both vertical and horizontal movement for a camera.

Peak to Peak

The measurement of a video signal from the base of the sync pulse to the top of the white level. For a full video signal this should be one volt.

Phase Adjustable

The ability to delay the line locking process so as to align cameras fed from AC voltages of different phases.

Photo Detector

A device at the receiving end of an optical fibre link that converts light to electrical power.


A device that automatically switches on the infra-red lights when light levels fall to a pre-set level.

Pic in Pic

An electronic device that superimposes the view from one camera over that of another.

Quad Splitter

A product that can display the views from 4 cameras simultaneously on one monitor. It is also possible to select any individual camera for full-screen display on real time monitoring, dependent on model.

Random Interlace

A method of combining two fields to make one frame where strict timing is not a requirement.


The ratio of light returned from a surface expressed as a percentage.

Reflected Light

Scene illumination multiplied by reflectance. This is the amount of light returned to the camera and determines the quality of picture.

Refracted Index Profile

A description shown in the form of a diagram illustrating how the optical density of an optical fibre alters across its diameter.


Devices placed at regular intervals along a transmission line to detect weak signals and re-transmit them. These are seldom required in fibre optic systems. (Often incorrectly referred to as ‘repeaters’).

Remote Switcher

A video switcher to which the cables from the cameras are connected and which contains the switching electronics. This unit may be remotely located and connected to a desktop controller by a single cable for each monitor.

The amount of resolvable detail in a picture, or the maximum number of pixels that can be distinguished either horizontally or vertically. Horizontal resolution is expressed as the number of distinct vertical lines that can be seen at a distance equal to the picture height. Vertical resolution is expressed as the number of horizontal lines that can be seen in the picture.


Specified in lux to provide indication of light level required to gain a full video signal from the camera.


Ability to control the integration (of light) time to the sensor to less than 1/60 second.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

A measurement of the noise level in a signal expressed in dB (decibels). In a video signal values from 45dB to 60dB produce an acceptable picture. Less than 40dB is likely to produce a “noisy” picture. Spot Filter A neutral density filter placed at the center of one of the elements (or on an iris blade) to increase the high end of the F-stop range of the lens.

Super HAD
The Super HAD CCD is a version of Sony’s high performance HAD with improved sensitivity from the use of more efficient on-chip microlenses. The Super HAD optimizes the shape of the on-chip lenses in order to minimize the ineffective area between the lenses on each pixel thereby minimizing lost light and improving the overall sensitivity per pixel.

Super Dynamic II

This technology lets you capture richly detailed video in scenes with extremely bright and dark areas. This is accomplished with the double speed CCD that actually captures two images at different exposures. It then combines the two into one video signal that shows detail in both bright and dark areas. Compared to a regular CCD, a Super Dynamic II chip gives you 64 times the dynamic range.


The system by which a signal is transmitted to a remote location in order to control the operation of equipment. In CCTV systems this may include controlling pan, tilt and zoom functions, switch on lights, move to pre-set positions etc. The controller at the operating position is the transmitter and there is a receiver at the remote location. The signal can be transmitted along a simple twisted pair cable or along the same coaxial cable that carries the video signal.

Telemetry Transmitter

The unit that is at the control position of a CCTV system and contains the keys, joysticks etc. for the remote control of pan/tilt/zoom cameras.


The video cable requires an impedance of 75 ohms at normal video signal bandwidth. This is often called ‘low Z’. There is a switch on the back of the monitors to select either 75 ohm or ‘high Z’ (sometimes ‘high/low’). If a signal is looped through more than one monitor all should be set to ‘high’ except at last, which should be to ‘low’ or 75 ohm.

Tight Buffered

A type of cable in which the optical fibres are tightly bound.

Time Lapse VCR

A type of industrial video recorder that can be set to record continuously over long periods. Typically, this can be from three hours to 480 hours, achieved by the tape mechanism moving in steps and recording one frame at a time. This means that if set to record over long periods much information can be lost. For instance, in the 72-hour mode, only 3 frames/second will be recorded instead of 25 frames/second in the real time mode. On receipt of an alarm signal these machines can be automatically switched to real time mode. With rapid advances in digital storage and retrieval techniques the mechanical video recorder is now nearing the end of its life in industrial security systems.

Unbalanced Signal

A composite video signal, transmitted along a coaxial cable, is an example of an unbalanced signal. (See balanced signal).


Video input of a piece of equipment, wired so as to allow the video signal to be fed to further equipment. Does not necessarily include extra sockets for the extra cables.

UPS – Uninterruptible Power Supply

A battery, attached to a piece of hardware, for example a server, that provides back up power for conducting an orderly shutdown if the server’s normal power supply fails.

UTP – Unshielded Twisted Pair

The standard cabling used for telephone lines. The standard IEEE 802.3, 10BaseT, defines use of Ethernet over UTP for rates up to 10Mbit/s. The general LAN medium of choice for the 1990s.

Vertical Resolution

The number of horizontal lines that can be seen in the reproduced image of a television pattern.

Video Amplifier

A wideband amplifier used for passing picture signals.

Video Band

The frequency band width utilized to transmit a composite video signal.

Video Signal – Non-Composite

The picture signal. A signal containing visual information and horizontal and vertical blanking (see also Composite Video Signal) but not sync.

WAN – Wide Area Network

A network that covers a larger geographical area as opposed to a LAN and where telecommunications links are implemented, normally leased from the appropriate PTO(s). Examples of WANs include packet switched networks, public data networks and Value Added Networks.

The length of an electromagnetic energy wave as measured from one point on the wave to the next corresponding point on the wave. Usually measured from peak to peak. The wavelength determines the characteristics of the wave and determines the color of light if it is within the visible spectrum. The most common units for measuring wavelengths is the nanometer (one billionth of a micron), micron, millimeter, and angstrom.


Compression that is optimized for images containing low amounts of data. The relatively inferior image quality is offset against the low bandwidth demands on transmission mediums.

White Balance
Color cameras only. Different lighting sources provide different color temperatures. The white balance helps correct these differences by adjusting the color processing to bring the color temperature to a fixed level. Without this balancing feature, due to the CCD’s poor adaptability, some colors would appear different (green instead of white in sunlight).

White Level

The brightest part of a video signal corresponding to approximately 1.0 volt (0.7 volts above the black level).



Term used freely to mean a PC, node, terminal or high-end desktop processor (for CAD/CAM and similar intensive applications) – in short, a device that has data input and output and operated by a user.


To enlarge or reduce, on a continuously variable basis, the size of a televised image primarily by varying lens focal length.

Zoom Lens

An optical system of continuously variable focal length, the focal plane remaining in a fixed position.