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Kind of bizarre CCTV/DVR setup - I need help!

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I need some help. I've done a LOT of research, reading, talking to folks...and I'm really not getting anywhere. Maybe I'm not very good at communicating my problem/intended set up.


I’m a private investigator. I’m trying to build a self-contained, 12-volt surveillance camera rig that I can set up in a vehicle. I want to be able to both run it off of the vehicle’s power or off of a battery pack. In other words, if a vehicle has an "always on" accessory plug, I can use it. But if it doesn't, I've got power anyway. [i’ve already got the battery pack set up].


The idea is to be able to leave a vehicle unmanned, but still be able to obtain recordings of a subject's movements.


I want this rig to be portable; to be able to be moved from vehicle to vehicle or from place to place, without sacrificing the relatively covert status. That means most of the rig should be easily concealable. Remembering that I want it portable, that probably means in a case of some type...including a monitor to ensure the focus and aim is correct.


Further, the subjects I'm usually surveilling are 100 yds to 1/4 mile away. So dashcams/backup cams won't do. I have to hang my own cameras off of this DVR. That probably means a composite/RCA connector to the DVR. (Though I'm open to anything here!)


I have a DVR that I’ve been using for years, that was taken from one of those school bus rigs. But the video is in a proprietary format that requires that I go through several very painful steps, using untold (and generally unbilled) hours to generate usable video for my clients.


I’d like to get to where I’m capturing the video on an SD card or HDD in a format that’s easier to transfer to media for my client. It'll need to be time/date stamped, at minimum. GPS isn't required.


I’d like a 4-channel system...to be able to hook up to from 1 to 4 different cameras at once. I use some fixed focal length cameras, some handycams with enormous zoom capability and a tilt/pan/zoom camera.


I’d like to be able to be agnostic as to the cameras…in other words, I’d like to be able to hook up a handycam with terrific zoom, or a tilt/pan/zoom camera or just some fixed focal length CCTV cameras, depending on the case, the topography and the application. It may be that an RCA plug for the video in is the best way. I don't know.


My problem is that with the research I’ve done so far, many of the DVRs require a particular camera-to-DVR connection. They each seem to be proprietary in some way. That’s okay, if I can get wiring diagrams that’ll allow me to build the cabling that’ll let me hook up the cameras I require.


Simply put, I’d like to find a DVR with a smallish footprint (to put in a case of some type), that will run off of the battery pack (also installed in the case) that will accept various video inputs. And it would need to be able to run/capture video up to 12 hours straight. I think I've got the power stuff worked out, but I need to work out the DVR/storage/camera connections bit.


Audio is not an issue. I don’t use it. Matter of fact, if I picked up audio, I’d delete it.


All of that being said, this board seems to be an amazing resource. Lots of folks with lots of knowledge…collective genius.


Here’s hoping that I can get some guidance as to gear/brands/rigs/wiring that’ll let me wind up with what I want.


[uLTIMATELY, I’m going to build a vehicle with 8 – 10 cameras, switches to choose which to record, TPZ capability, charging stations, monitors, etc. all built in. For now, I just want to build a terrific, portable unit that, if necessary, I can replicate.]


Any and all ideas are not only welcome, but intensely requested and hungered for.


[i'm not an electronics whiz, by any means. But I'll learn what I need to know to do this. One person suggested I try to start with the Raspberry Pi 2 and build one up from there. Hell, I'd do that if it'd work! But I'd rather find a DVR somewhere that I can get my various "video in's" to work.


Thankee ahead of time…



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Okay, this is gnarly. Camera systems tend to be power hungry, so leaving one unmanned in a vehicle, while doable is going to eat up a lot of battery. Needing to conceal the camera itself is a whole other issue, as ironically, generally the low consumption cameras tend to be bulky and very pricey. If you're expecting to do this set up "on the cheap", forget it already, as it won't happen. Fibre optic lens cameras are the most concealable, but again, extremely pricey units. They can be "cheap" CCD board cameras which start at US$200 ish, to very good high resolution cameras, where you can literally add a 0 to the price. (yes US$2,000 PER camera), and as you'll want to identify the person moving, you'll be looking at the $2,000 rather than the $200 option. If you also want it auto-tracking movement, keep going up. Can you do some sort of set up to do what you want? Certainly. I could design this with some degree of ease. Would it be affordable? Depends the budget you have set aside for it, and what you mean by "affordable".

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There is a tie for the biggest challenge in my opinion. 1st is the portability. If this were being setup for one vehicle with semi-permanent mounts it would be a bit easier. 2nd is the lenses required to get reasonable views of a subject at the distances you mentioned.


The next challenge is battery life, how long do you want this to run on battery alone? Would you have remote start to give yourself some recharge ability? I know in some areas idling a car is illegal, but it is an option.

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Yeah. You'd ideally want a battery bank mounted in the boot, and possibly a solar panel, or an AC inlet to "top it up". For "ease", you'd prefer that these banks, are "per vehicle" being used, as the bank won't be light, although if you had each vehicle fitted out with plugs, the bank itself could be transferred. Then all you'd need to do is shift the bank to the new vehicle, and plug it in.

Leaving a vehicle unattended for extended periods is a whole other issue, and much would depend on the council etc, requirements.

As I said earlier, this could all be done, but as to doing it cheaply, I'd have extreme doubts.

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"Vehicle" means what? Car? Minivan? Cargo van? If it's a minivan or larger, that makes things much easier for wiring and size. After that, I'd look for a hybrid non-mobile NVR with analog and IP connections. That'll give you hidef recording options alongside traditional analog cameras and vastly improve your potential camera selection. Handheld minicams often have great zoom, image stabilization, and versatility. You'll easily be able to hook up analog cams with either BNC or RCA connections, plus add some megapixel cameras if you want. Use a pure sine wave inverter to power the AC from the vehicle's DC or your battery pack. Mount the DVR and battery pack in, say, something inconspicuous like a dog carrier. They're available in plastic so they're hard to see into but still ventilated. Add padding to protect the DVR from vibrations. The biggest problem, besides battery power, will be covertly mounting PORTABLE cameras, particularly ones capable of useful detail at 100+ yards. One decent option would be waterproof cams or housings mounted behind a radiator grill or other existing venting or driving light housings in the front. Make the cables easily accessible and labeled at the DVR end so you can at least move the DVR housing and some of your cameras quickly. An amber flashing light bar on the roof might disguise a little bullet/pinhole camera or three mounted near or in it. Clunky but easily removable but not as protected as a few cams mounted in windows. Mount a 12v DVD monitor in the front for viewing/focusing and you're set. I'd add a battery isolator to the vehicle and hook into it to "help" the standalone batteries in the DVR housing and/or a second vehicle battery to assist the DVR housing. The isolator (common in RVs, boats, and ambulances) will allow you to charge two batteries safely but draw one battery down to empty while protecting the other one to still allow starting.


Most of the worst fiddly stuff is for your longterm dream of 8-10 cams combined with the easily portable part. For now, other than that, just mount a regular SOHO DVR (sounds like even an all analog one would work for now with your present cameras) with PTZ capability in a dog carrier (or whatever- if it's hot and you leave it unattended, some jerk will probably break your windows to make sure there isn't a dog in it) with a pure sine inverter and some extra padding to protect the electronics from road vibrations and you're set. BNC and RCA video connections are easily interchangeable and just about universal. If you're swapping cars and are crippled by Toyotas (and others) that have cig lighter ports switched off with the key, add alligator clamps (fuse the positive one) and some wire and run power direct from the battery out the edge of the hood closest to the windshield, around the corner post, and in the door. Simple easily portable way to tap into the battery of multiple vehicles. There are other more tamperproof methods but 6" of exposed wiring isn't the end of the world if you can't modify your vehicles AT ALL. Adding a fused wire from an free unswitched port (some have power when the key is on, some don't) on the fuse panel to the back of the cig lighter plug will easily make it available at all times if you prefer. Most can use a blue female bullet connector (14-16ga) on the back of the cig lighter power port for power and use a male spade connector to tap into the fusebox on the hot side of an unused fuse port. Get handy with it and you could easily do it in 10 minutes and switch it back when you're done. Easy even on rental cars if you're switching vehicles often for whatever reasons. For max versatility, put some connectors on the power wire to the DVR and have three different options for powering it. Carry a wire with your current cig lighter end, another with the alligator clamp setup, and another with a fused spade connector to tap into the fusebox without changing the wiring to the cig plug. Use the cig lighter when you can, the spade direct to the fusebox when you can't, and direct to the battery with alligator clamps if you can't find an unused always hot slot in the under-dash fusebox.

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