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4k vs 1080p Surveillance Cameras: What's the Best Choice?

Author: May

Feb. 04, 2024

19 0 0


As shown above, 4K Ultra HD provides up to four times higher resolution than standard 1080 resolution. 4K Ultra HD uses the 16:9 format.

1080p and 4K Ultra HD are based on square pixels – similar to computer screens – so 4K video from video surveillance cameras can be shown on either HDTV screens or standard computer monitors.  The 1080 and 4k cameras may also be connected to a network, just like lower resolution IP cameras. Additionally, you can convert your existing analog cameras into an IP video solution.  This means you can start to integrate higher resolution cameras into an existing analog or IP surveillance solution.  Granted, your monitor will only display the resolution it’s capable of, but the video is recorded in the resolution of the camera.

1080p vs 4k

To ask "which is better, a 1080p or 4k security camera?” is not an easily answered question. Asking a few more specific questions will help you determine which is correct for YOUR project.

  • Per camera, what costs less, a 4k or 1080p surveillance camera?
    • 1080p will most always win (if it doesn’t, let me know where you're buying so I can too)
  • Which camera allows me to capture a larger space?
    • 4k wins this one- that’s science.

When pricing an entire system, image size and coverage plays into the cost question. Yes, a 1080p camera is less expensive – but if I can see more with a 4k I can use fewer cameras.  This line of thought makes 4k a better selection for parking lots, open warehouse environments, gymnasiums, cafeterias, playgrounds, open office plans, and so on.  With digital zoom technology and the 4k pixel quantity, video is much sharper and focusing in on a recording will be dramatically improved over a 1080 video.

This is great if you require a fixed large image with the ability to zoom.  But what if you need some tracking or want one camera to take on the role of multiple cameras?  Again, the answer depends on your application.  In city surveillance applications, retail and multi-tenant building parking lots, airports, and hallways there are some cool things happening with 1080p and 4k surveillance cameras.  Take a look below at some specific cameras to help determine if 1080 or 4k is right for your application.

1080p camera with tracking

1080p 360 degree multi sensor video surveillance camera

4k 180 degree panoramic multi sensor surveillance camera

Costs may move you from 4k to 1080p, but what else should you be concerned about?

  • Are all cameras created equal?
    • Take a look at the optics. If a sensor is of similar size as the equivalent HD sensor and it has 4x the pixels, a lower light video will be 4x lower.
  • What impact will it have on my network?
    • Streaming bandwidth will be close to 4x larger unless better compression is used.
    • Oftentimes the data network is overlooked in an IP camera installation. This is why working with a well-rounded solution provider is imperative.  Taylored Systems is not just a security provider, but also a network expert.
  • What impact will it have on my storage?
    • As with network impact, the size of the video will be 4x the size of a 1080 file.

To sum it all up, here are the key facts and considerations when you’re comparing 1080p vs 4K in a surveillance context:

  • Why 4k video surveillance?
    • When you need a larger and clearer image
  • Who is it for?
    • Anyone with a budget that allows the use of the highest resolution in video surveillance or can justify the cost by the application.
    • Examples: city surveillance, warehousing and production, schools, campus environments, airports, open office environments, and multi-tenant buildings
  • Do I have to replace my existing system?
    • You can integrate your existing analog cameras into a new IP platform or you can add 4k into an existing IP video surveillance solution.
  • Will 4k cost more?
    • On a per camera basis, yes. But as a solution it may not.
  • Pros for 4k vs 1080p
    • Future proofing. Yes, there will be more advancements with video resolution. There are already companies testing and applying 8K solutions.  However, it will be a number of years before those technologies are financially feasible for small to medium businesses.
    • Largest image available
    • Clearest image available
    • Perfect for a large general view with the ability to zoom
  • Cons for 4k vs 1080p
    • More network resources needed
    • More storage needed
    • Higher cost per camera

Now that you’re aware of the definition and difference between 4k and 1080p, how each resolution may fit into your environment, and how each resolution can be applied, are you ready to start designing your own?  Taylored Systems would love to help and make sure you are creating the best solution from camera selection, placement, cabling and network design to installation and ongoing maintenance.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in February 2019 and has been revised to reflect industry updates.

Resolution is a top consideration when deciding between purchasing 1080p or 720p security cameras. While both are suitable for indoor or outdoor use, they differ in the level of detail and clarity for each model—and consequently, how well intruders or vandals would be effectively identified from their footage.

720p models are adequate for many users, and cost about the same as more sophisticated cameras. Those featuring 1080p require more storage and bandwidth, but also provide greater detail for not too much higher a price. 

While either camera is a solid option, higher-resolution surveillance is the slightly better choice, if your budget permits. 

The following is a helpful breakdown of some of the many advantages of 720p- and 1080p-resolution security cameras.


What Are 1080p & 720p Security Cameras?

720p models are adequate for many users, and cost about the same as more sophisticated cameras. Those featuring 1080p require more storage and bandwidth, but also provide greater detail for not too much higher a price. 

It’s important to first understand resolution designations. These represent the vertical pixel (p) quantities—tiny dots of color—in recorded images. This affects how much a picture can be enlarged without sacrificing detail—the higher the resolution, the bigger the image.

1080p signifies high definition: 1920 pixels in width and 1080 in height, or a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. 720p cameras feature older technology, though legacy installations can be easily integrated with newer systems.


Differences Between 1080p & 720p Security Cameras

While 1080p doesn’t seem to provide much greater resolution than 720p, its total picture size actually contains twice as many pixels, since width increases proportionally as images become larger. This can help with better long-distance identification and recognition.

Every area to be monitored demands unique camera specifications, depending on size, shape, and other factors. Smaller, well-lit spaces with a clear field of view can be effectively covered by 720p systems, while larger spaces require an upgrade.



Camera Memory & Streaming

Higher resolution captures greater details, but also requires more memory. A one-hour, 1080p recording uses 675 megabytes (MB) of space, while the same video at 720p consumes only 288 MB.

It’s important to have enough storage to cover the full duration of when you’ll be away. If you regularly go on vacation, you’ll need enough memory card space to record at least one week of footage.

Real-time video streaming to a mobile device will be easier with 720p quality due to its lower bandwidth requirements. Most internet connections can easily stream at 1080p without issues, but a slowdown may cause lag with higher-resolution cameras.


Affordable Storage Space

Even when recording continuously for one week, a 1080p camera will consume only 113 gigabytes (GB) of space. Many modern cameras also have advanced features such as motion sensors and video analytics. Since these are activated only when movement is detected, they extend memory, storage, and battery life.

With cloud storage, some video systems might not even require a memory card. Remote video monitoring captures real-time footage accessible from any mobile device. Varying in price and plans, subscription-based cloud storage holds up to one month of space.

With the advent of cloud storage, some video systems might not even need a memory card. Remote video monitoring enables real-time recordings accessible from any mobile device.


Detail Level & Identification

Before selecting a security camera, consider its purpose: to identify or recognize intruders and occupants. The terms recognize and identify are industry standards regarding qualified image sizes.

Video requires a picture at least 20 pixels wide for a viewer to recognize someone from it. Depending on lighting conditions, a legitimate identification requires an image between 40 and 80 pixels.


Proximity & Image Resolution

A higher-resolution camera packs more pixels into an image, so it aids with recognition and identification at greater distances. 1080p footage, therefore, is better for deciphering identifications from longer ranges and bigger properties. 

720p footage is high enough quality to identify someone looking directly at the lens from across an average-sized family room with good lighting. Real-life scenarios add another layer of complexity, posing the questions: What if the intruder isn’t looking directly at the camera? What if their face isn’t visible, but a small identifying characteristic is?

No specific system can capture every scene, however a higher-resolution security camera provides a slightly better chance of collecting important details. Stiffer competition has lowered the price of 1080p cameras comparable to 720p models. An upgrade could be worth the slightly higher cost. 


Best Uses for 1080p & 720p Cameras


1080p cameras are best for recording larger images for longer time periods. Real-time video streaming is easier with 720p due to its lower bandwidth requirements. Depending on the area to be monitored, less cameras but featuring higher resolutions could be utilized. 1080p cameras can effectively safeguard residential yards, walkways, driveways, and more. They’re also ideal for surveilling commercial storefronts, parking lots, and internal employee areas.

Bullet and dome cameras can deter so-called porch pirates, intruders, and vandals. These are also suitable for monitoring employee productivity, capturing criminal activities, and ensuring public safety in commercial settings.  

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and systems are additional options for critical surveillance of commercial businesses, schools, and public gatherings. This technology can also assist law enforcement with identifying and possibly  apprehending potential perpetrators. 

1080p cameras are best for recording larger images for longer time periods, and real-time video streaming will be easier with 720p quality due to lower bandwidth requirements.


Which Camera Is Best?

As outlined above, both cameras will provide surveillance, but the optimal model will depend on a number of factors, including  size and specifics of the property or area to be monitored. While 720p cameras may suffice for smaller coverage zones, upgrading to a 1080p model may be worth it, since there’s a minimal price differential and it captures footage at a greater resolution. 

If you’re still unsure, or have further questions regarding cost, clarity, or resolution, it’s best to consult with a reputable and experienced security provider such as General Security, for guidance.

General Security provides security cameras, motion detection, and smart technology solutions to protect your home and business. Request a free quote from us today!


4k vs 1080p Surveillance Cameras: What's the Best Choice?

1080p vs. 720p Security Cameras