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TVs, VCRs and hi-fi systems are high on every burglars shopping list. Rick Maybury looks at ways to protect your investment, and even use your AV system as part of a sophisticated video surveillance system



CQR SENTINEL, 300 or less, installed

Most security cameras are designed to see and be seen, they can have a strong deterrent effect, but in the main they're often quite ugly-looking things. The CQR Sentinel porch/lobby camera is an interesting alternative. The discrete black plastic dome hides and protects a miniature black and white camera module. However, the lack of external features is enough to draw attention to itself, and hopefully caution unwelcome callers.


The weather-resistant dome can be fixed to a wall or ceiling and the camera inside is attached to a simple pan/tilt bracket, so it can be aimed in almost any direction. The camera connects to any TV, via a 15-metre length of cable and a power supply/TV interface box. This has an RF modulator, like a VCR and it connects between the aerial and the TV. If there's a VCR in the aerial chain the picture can be recorded. DIY fitting is possible, though the Sentinel is normally sold through security specialists, who also carry out the installation.


When someone knocks at the door, simply switch the TV to the camera channel and you can see who is there. Picture quality in daylight is very good, and it can cope with a wide range of illumination levels. Low light sensitivity is less than 1 lux, that's enough to provide a useable image from a porch light, for example. 

Value for money       80%

Telephone CQR (0151) 334 0933



We shouldn't be telling you about this, it's supposed to be a secret. They're  known as a covert cameras in the trade; the idea is that they look like everyday objects, in this case a  common or garden wall clock, but GBC and the other companies in this field, also hide postage-stamp sized 'board cameras',  with pin-hole lenses, inside intruder detectors, fire alarms and all sorts of places you'd never suspect. Covert cameras are mostly installed in offices, by suspicious employers, who want to keep an eye on staff, but they're now widely available from high-street security specialists, for domestic use. 


The camera is actually mounted behind one of four decorative black spots in the  corners of the clock face.  It's almost impossible to tell which one it is, even close up. Needless to say the clock is fully functional, the only possible clue to its other role might be the wire carrying the power and vision signal  -- unusual on a battery-powered clock  --  though it could be easily hidden, or buried in the wall. 


There's only two connections to be made: a 12 volt DC supply, and the video output, which can be fed directly to an AV input on any PAL TV. The camera has fair low-light sensitivity and it will produce a reasonably clear black and white image in normal room lighting. The price of covert cameras varies, typically between  200 to 300, depending what they're installed in. You could even build your own disguised camera; sub miniature board cameras and lenses are freely available from companies advertising in Exchange and Mart, for around 100.

Value for money 85%

GBC Europe Ltd, 01438 714069



You'll find this one in amongst the black-head suckers and electronic rat repellents in the home shopping catalogues that fall out of the Sunday papers. The idea is it looks so much like a real CCTV camera ne'er-do-wells and bad-hats will be deterred from breaking into your property, for fear of being caught on camera. In poor light, who's to know it's not the genuine article? At a distance it looks fairly convincing. There's a winking red light on the front, it's powered by a battery that lasts for up to two years, so it draws attention to itself, (though in practice few serious surveillance cameras have this feature). It's quite well made and should be reasonably weather resistant. It comes with a fixing kit, bracket and pretend connector box, it's easy to fit, and forty quid seems like a fair price to pay.


It's actually a very good idea. There's only one problem, burglars get home shopping  catalogues as well, and can probably spot this particular model a mile off. There are several other types of dummy cameras on the market though, that haven't had as much publicity. Larger B&Q DIY superstores do quite a neat little one for around 35, (they also stock real ones) and many home security companies have them, so check your local Yellow Pages.

Home Free order line (01793) 480000

Value for money 85%



This is another camera that connects into the aerial feedline of a living-room TV, so there's no need for a separate video monitor. You can see who's at the door, simply by flipping channels. The design of the camera's weatherproof housing has deliberate security overtones, but at first glance it's not clear whether it's a small floodlight, or one of those PIR (passive infra-red) intruder detector. Inside there's a black and white camera with a 3.6mm lens, giving a good field of view. It operates down to 1.0 lux, which is sensitive enough to produce a useable image with only a small amount of incident light.


The camera is connected by a pre-wired cable to a small box, that provides power to the camera (via a plug-in mains adaptor) and processes the video signal, so it can be viewed on one of the TV's spare channels. The box plugs in between the aerial lead and the TV or VCR; in the latter case the VCR can be set to record the picture. The system can be easily upgraded, the camera module can be fitted with a microphone and a movement detector, the signals are carried by the same multi-way cable. The control box has an alarm output; any tampering with the cable, or activation of the optional movement detector can be used to trigger an alarm system or activate a separate siren. The basic camera and control box is being sold for around 250 that excludes the cost of installation, though it could be fitted by any reasonably competent DIYer.

Security Technologies International, telephone (01276) 36565

Value for money 75%




This one actually looks like a miniature security camera, and in common with a couple of the other systems in this roundup, it is designed to work with any domestic TV, instead of an expensive video monitor. It has been designed for DIY installation and the outfit, which is currently selling for just under 200, includes comprehensive fitting instructions. The camera has a 3.8mm wide angle lens; low-light sensitivity is just 0.3 lux and it is fitted with three infra-red LEDs, that illuminates anything close to the lens, so it can literally see in the dark. It can hear what's going on too, it has a built in microphone that provides a one-way audio link between the camera and the TV.


The black and white camera module is housed inside a sealed metal case, it comes complete with mounting brackets, 15 metres of cable, cable clips, all necessary fixings and the TV converter box. The manufacturers tell us the design will be changing shortly, to a moulded case, though it will still be fully weatherproofed and capable of working outdoors. The converter box, which also supplies power to the camera, plugs into the aerial feed to the TV, picture and sounds are shown on a spare channel.

Wolsey TV Distribution, telephone (01443) 440011

Value for money 85%




Feeling of security      Wolsey     

Sneakiest camera      GBC Covert

Cuteness factor      Sentinel   

Best features          Xtraview   

Build quality           Sentinel   

Value for money Wolsey





* Mount the camera high up, preferably out of arm's reach, as it could be stolen or vandalised, though it shouldn't be out of sight as it will loose any deterrent effect


* Make sure there are no bright lights in the scene as this can affect the camera's auto exposure system, this includes reflections from windows, car headlights or street lights


* If the camera has a view of the sky make sure the Sun does not come into the field of view during the day as this could damage the camera


* Keep the camera lens clean and check regularly for uninvited guests, they make warm and cosy homes for bugs and spiders


* Don't forget the basics: fit strong window and door locks, and remember to use them when you go out, or go to bed


* Leave lights and a radio on when you go out, use a timer or sensor lights, to make the property appear occupied, and if you're away for any length of time make sure someone comes round every so often to check everything's okay


* Mark all your system components with an invisible marker pen, or better still, scratch your postcode or initials somewhere they can't be seen. Note down all serial numbers, and if you've got a camera or camcorder, make a photographic record of your possessions, and keep it in a safe place


* Deterrence is half the battle, if your property looks secure, or more bother than it's worth, villains will usually go elsewhere


* Many insurance companies offer discounts on properties that have been fitted with alarm systems, though this usually only applies when the alarm and installation meets their approval


* Alarms systems need to be regularly tested and maintained, if they're going to work reliably



( R. Maybury 1996 0801





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