Doorbell Video Cameras: Forensic Pros and Cons

Doorbell video cameras are becoming increasingly popular in neighborhoods across the country. Not only are they reasonably priced, but they are easy to install and operate, giving individuals and families additional surveillance for their homes. However, these cameras have their drawbacks. Their low-quality video recordings can prove problematic should attempts be made to forensically enhance footage. Let’s take a closer look at how doorbell video cameras provide evidentiary support and the advantages and disadvantages you should be aware of before purchasing these security measures for your home.

DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS AS EVIDENCE

According to Government Technology Magazine, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that doorbell video cameras had reduced neighborhood burglaries in 2015 by as much as 55 percent in seven months (Shedlock, 2019)[i].

In 2019, our lab saw a significant increase in the number of cases utilizing evidence via doorbell video cameras. We are currently working on a case with crucial video evidence from a camera that captured a murder suspect. Although we can see the perpetrator from the neighbor’s doorbell video camera, we are unable to make an identification.

PROS OF DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS

As previously mentioned, doorbell video cameras are both affordable and easy to install. They connect through wifi and are accessible from your mobile device anywhere, anytime. These cameras help identify the knock at your door and deter “porch pirates” from stealing packages.

Doorbell cameras not only record video, but they can record audio as well. And based on our experience, there has been greater success in forensically enhanced audio rather than video. We currently have an active case that was originally ruled as a suicide but is now under investigation as a murder. Forensically enhanced audio revealed additional information and as a result, the investigation has been re-opened with a new case strategy.

Several manufacturers have recently released 4K resolution technology in doorbell cameras. Although our lab has not worked with 4K resolution footage yet, we anticipate there will be a dramatic increase in the success rate of forensic video enhancements due to the higher quality of video they will provide.

CONS OF DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS

One drawback of forensically enhancing doorbell video cameras is the amount of compression that occurs as a result of the operational structure. The video portion of these recordings can become highly compressed for a number of reasons. These include low-strength wifi connection, the use of cloud storage, and the limitations of the system settings. Compression reduces the quality of the video, especially at a distance, making it difficult to clearly see the events as they occurred.

Although it is convenient to connect these systems to your home wifi, it makes the video vulnerable to hackers that try to learn your day-to-day behavior.

According to CNet, researchers have found that doorbell cameras had vulnerability leaking wifi login information and could give hackers access to your account allowing them to stream and send messages to the user in an attempt to deceive.

“It had been sending this sensitive information over an unencrypted network, which meant that anyone viewing that network could have seen your username and password for your Wi-Fi. The potential hacker would have to be within a range of your Wi-Fi to carry out this attack.” [ii]

SINGLE VS MULTI VANTAGE POINT

When using doorbell cameras, there is only one camera view with one vantage point, limiting their effectiveness. CCTV systems, on the other hand, have multiple camera views with more than one vantage point. This means that more areas are covered in the video recordings which presents more options for forensic enhancement to the forensic video technician.

CCTV systems have multiple cameras installed that are typically out of reach, making it difficult for anyone to steal or damage them. Doorbell cameras, however, are mounted in closer ranges that are easy to access and susceptible to damage or theft.

BEFORE YOU BUY

There are many makes and manufacturers of doorbell video cameras. Our research has pointed us to PC Magazine, which featured the article The Best Video Doorbells for 2020 [iii]. Happy DIY Home also shared their top wireless doorbell choices for residential use [iv]. We recommend doing some research before purchasing a doorbell camera and consider home surveillance (CCTV system) as an option.

Browse our website for more information on forensic video enhancement and contact us with any questions.


[i] https://www.govtech.com/public-safety/Ring-Doorbell-Cameras-Help-Fight-Crime-Raise-Other-Issues.html

[ii] https://www.cnet.com/news/ring-doorbells-had-vulnerability-leaking-wi-fi-login-info-researchers-found/

[iii] https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/358684/the-best-video-doorbells

[iv] https://happydiyhome.com/wireless-doorbell/

Smart Phone Video Enhancement

WHAT IS SMART PHONE VIDEO ENHANCEMENT?

Smart phone video enhancement is the process of applying scientific applications to a video recording in order to better see the events as they occurred. Smart phones record video events such as an accident or crime.

We forensically clarify or enhance to better see these events. In the following paragraphs, we hope to communicate some information that will guide you on forensic video enhancement.

We have included some before and after forensic enhancement examples for your review. We also include advise on what to do to best capture an event in for forensic enhancement.

Most people recrod smart phone video evidence freehand or without a tripod, so you can’t guarantee the video usability. When people are nervous they shake while recording. In this case do not zoom in too much. A wide shot is less shaky than a zoomed in shot. Shaky video can result in less than quality video evidence.

RECORD VIDEO HORIZONTALLY OR LANDSCAPE

When recording video on your smart phone, hold the phone horizontally and try not to zoom in. One of the most prevalent problems we have seen with video recordings are they shake and are not stable. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to see what’s happening.

FORENSIC VIDEO ENHANCEMENT

The two clips below will help you understand how video forensic video enhancement works. The first clip is of a forensically enhanced iPhone video. The original video was a distant view from down the block as it was recorded. In the sample below, please note no stabilization or other forensic enhancement has been applied to this video.

In the enhanced sample below, we applied warp stabilization. Notice how the frame follows the motion of the video, creating a more stable picture for analysis.

As you can see, the subject in the video was not close enough to the smart phone camera. This makes it difficult to see the desired events as they occurred. Clip one is not very helpful in this condition for use in court. The subjects are very far away, making it difficult to see the recorded events as they occurred.

THE SCIENCE OF FORENSIC VIDEO ENHANCEMENT

The forensic video enhancement process is not as simple as zooming in on the video recording. This will lower your overall video quality. Fixing it or enhancing your video isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the enhance button on your computer.

Reduced video quality occurs when you zoom in and has to do with pixels. Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is a series of pixels that display the image you see in front of you.

Expanding an image means also expanding the size of each pixel. Because each pixel is representative of one ?frame? of a bigger picture, such as photos making up a collage, each individual square pixel will expand along with the image. The increase of pixel size can cause distortion to the image, therefore making it even harder to decipher the contents of an image.

WHY A FORENSIC EXPERT IS NECESSARY

The forensic video enhancement process is not as simple as zooming in on the video recording. This will lower your overall video quality. Fixing it or enhancing your video isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the enhance button on your computer.

Reduced video quality occurs when you zoom in and has to do with pixels. Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is a series of pixels that display the image you see in front of you.

Expanding an image means also expanding the size of each pixel. Because each pixel is representative of one frame of a bigger picture, such as photos making up a collage, each individual square pixel will expand along with the image. The increase of pixel size can cause distortion to the image, therefore making it even harder to decipher the contents of an image.

How can Forensic Video Enhancement Help Investigators?

How can forensic video enhancement help investigators? In this blog post, we’ll explore its benefits and why there is a growing need for it in today’s court system.

Forensic video enhancement is the scientific approach to clarifying a video recording in order to better see the events as they occurred. It can help litigators understand events that are difficult to see because of excess movement, distance, or the video is too dark. For example, CCTV cameras outside retail stores helped the FBI capture the terrorists who were responsible for the Boston bombings.

Videos often need forensic enhancement because cameras are not properly maintained. This is a huge problem that goes unnoticed until after the crime has been committed. Or, worse yet, the cameras are not installed or positioned properly. Read on for a few facts on forensic video enhancement.

Forensic Enhancement Editing

ORIGINAL VIDEO

Perform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark. Be careful not to add too much brightness.

COMPUTER SOFTWARE

Perform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark. Be careful not to add too much brightness.

COLOR CORRECTION

Perform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark. Be careful not to add too much brightness.

ENLARGEMENT

If you need to enlarge a portion of the recorded video viewing area, apply after you review the footage on a large video monitor. At Primeau Forensics, we use minimum 27 professional video monitors. Remember, the larger the playback monitor, the better you can see events in the video and the less you need to enlarge your video as an enhancement step. This is even more important in the courtroom.

EQUIPMENT

It is good to know the type of equipment that made the video you are enhancing. Often times, a poor CCTV video export may be to blame for the poor video quality. If the recording is stored on the system, we can make sure we have the best export to work with for forensic video enhancement.

Forensic video enhancement is an art as well as a science. Please understand that you should use different filtering to get different results. Always begin with the largest file size and structure as close to original digital video recording as possible.

Have further questions on how forensic video enhancement can help investigators? Call us for a consultation on your video that needs forensic enhancement 800.647.4281.

The Video Recordings of the Shooting of Laquan McDonald

On November 24, 2015, police release video that captured the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois, almost 13 months after the incident took place. There has been a public outcry regarding not only the death of McDonald, but also the videos themselves.

The following blog post clarifies why there could be an absence of audio during the multiple videos released by the city of Chicago from the Laquan McDonald shooting.

DASH CAMERA SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS RECORD VIDEO AND AUDIO

Video surveillance systems, or closed circuit video recording systems, keep a pre-determined area under security. Not all video surveillance systems record audio. Video surveillance systems in many department stores do not record audio, while those in gas stations, convenience stores and banks often do. Police car dash cam surveillance systems record both audio and video for further officer protection and to deter profiling.

VIDEO SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS INCLUDE AUDIO

The question remains, why do the videos released by Chicago authorities of the Laquan McDonald shooting lack audio? What are the sounds heard on the video recordings that sound like sirens or whining?

If you watched the videos released thus far, you hear electronic noise. The digital video recorder in the squad car recorded audio, though no audio signal was being sent to the recorder. Was this a technical glitch or did the officers not activate their body microphones? Perhaps they were all muted? Was there a problem downloading the digital recordings from each police car? Who maintains chain of custody logs for handling this evidence?

In an interview for the Associated Press, our lead digital media forensic expert, Ed Primeau, comments on the lack of audio from multiple police cars being a red flag. Additioanlly, fellow forensic expert Gregg Stuchman comments in a second interview for the Associated Press, “It’s plausible for a single squad car to have a glitch preventing sound recording.” Then how could multiple cars not have recorded audio? “I’ve never heard of it before,” Stutchman said. “It raises a red flag. The more likely explanation is that audio was intentionally switched off.”

THE NEED FOR A FORENSIC INVESTIGATION

Furthermore, a forensic investigation performed by a neutral, independent forensic expert can determine the reason for the absence of police dialogue and radio communication in the Laquan McDonald shooting. Primeau Foresnics has examined thousands of police dash cam systems. Some include audio, others do not. There are three methods of activating dash cam video and audio.

  1. The officer activates the recording manually.
  2. The squad car reaches a certain, predetermined speed for recording to begin.
  3. The video records when the squad car flashers activate.

Either way, officers have the ability to mute or deactivate their body microphone transmitter. However, the car microphone almost always remains on.

YOUTUBE FAKE SQUAD CAR VIDEO

The Associated Press asked Primeau Forensics to examine a YouTube video of the Laquan McDonald shooting that has audio. After careful forensic examination, Ed Primeau concluded beyond a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the audio track on the video lacks authenticity. Careful analysis of the audio spectrum contained on the video indicates many signs of post event alterations.

Most importantly, we hope this blog post about dash cam video and audio surveillance recordings clears up any misconception about the absence of audio on the Chicago Police dash camera videos.

Tips for Mobile Video/Cell Phone Video Enhancement

cell phone enhancementWe have previously discussed techniques that video forensic experts use  when conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement. What we have yet to discuss is how we get the best results when enhancing mobile video recordings.


An Introduction to Smartphone Video Evidence

Since most mobile video evidence is shot freehand on a smartphone camera, you can’t guarantee it will be decent quality. People naturally shake when recording dramatic events. The placement of your subject and method of recording video can lead to poor video evidence that needs forensic enhancement.

Video forensic experts know available software programs and outboard digital signal processors that can help your video provide valuable information to the authorities. Primeau Forensics’ team of experts have reviewed and enhanced hundreds of videos, many of which are from smartphone cameras. One of the most prevalent problems in our experience is unstable recordings. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to tell what’s happening.

Adobe products are excellent tools for video enhancement assignments. Adobe After Effects has a plug-in called the warp stabilizer which creates a full frame reference for the shakiness of smartphone video. It enhances the audience’s ability to view the video and more effectively determine the events that occurred.


Smartphone Video Enhancement Examples

The two clips inserted below showcase video enhancement techniques. The first is from an actual video enhancement case and was recorded using an iPhone. No stabilization has been applied to this video. Notice how difficult it is to view.

IMG 1363 from Primeau Forensics on Vimeo.

In the next video, we take the same source clip and time apply several filters, including warp stabilization. Notice how much easier it is to view the video as the frame follows its motion, creating a more stable picture for analysis.

IMG 1363.MOV CLARIFIED VIDEO from Primeau Forensics on Vimeo.

A trained forensic expert knows how to apply tools that enhance video evidence. These tools allow you to zoom in and clarify otherwise difficult to see events. However, it is important to note that these processes may lower your video quality. And as Hollywood may lead you to believe, fixing it isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the enhance button.


Pixels and Image Distortion

When zooming in on a mobile video/cell phone video enhancement, its pixels can reduce video quality. Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. A specific amount of pixels make up the clear image you see in front of you. To further explain, think of a large collage composed of much smaller pictures. Once combined in a specific order (usually by color), the smaller pictures create one larger image. Think of pixels as those smaller square picures that make up one large picture. However, expanding an image also means increasing the size of each pixel and can cause image distortion.

Photoshop and other Adobe programs offer pixel interpolation. Generally speaking, pixel interpolation tools blend cubic pixels together to create a more cohesive image. You can see in the second video above, the image has been enhanced so the viewer can better see the events that occurred. It is important to note that video quality hasn’t been compromised because pixel interpolation techniquees helped keep the image clear.


Smartphone Video Orientation

Smartphone orientation is the biggest issue we see when conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement. Always be sure to record horizontally, or landscape, in order to capture a larger portion of the scene. The vertical position records a much more narrow view of the scene and keeps potentially valuable information out of reach. 

In the footage shown above, notice that at the 0:25 second mark, the camera focuses on the Jeep pulling up as another officer runs toward the scene. This distracts our focus away from the scene and we miss a substantial amount of the incident. Had this evidence been shot horizontally, we would have been able to view a greater portion of activity as the officer arrived at the scene. We would also have been able to better see the white Jeep in the background, which was an important detail.


Contact Us

With the expansion of mobile video technology, any cell phone could effectively record a crime scene that can go on to become crucial evidence. The highest quality video recording can help litigators more effectively. If you have any further questions on conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement, please contact us for a pro bono consultation.

The Palace Brawl: The Significance of Video Evidence

palace brawlNovember 19, 2004 was the day the worst sporting brawl in US history took place. It was the final few minutes of the basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons when a fight broke out between the players. While Ron Artest was in time out, a drunken fan tossed a partially full beer cup and hit Artest causing him to jump over seats and attack a fan in the stands. With tempers running hot, Artest went after the wrong person and triggered an ‘every man for himself’ situation with only four Auburn Hills police officers in the building.

After the criminal litigations were over, the attorney for the Pacers, Steve Potter retained my services as a video forensic expert on behalf of the Indiana Pacers basketball team. My first activity was to collect all of the available video footage from that moment when the brawl broke out. As you can imagine there were many video sources. With the help of http://www.potterlaw.com/, I found cell phone videos, CCTV system videos from the Palace of Auburn Hills, and four major television network multi-camera video sources.

The next task was to cull through all the footage including multi-camera views of the brawl and isolate those vantage point views that helped bring the brawl into the courtroom for the civil litigation.

I was prepared with several video clips when the first civil case went to trial, Haddad V Indiana Pacers on August 10, 2006. (Read all about it here).

Here are the video forensic activities I used to help the Trier of Fact and jurors view the brawl including all isolated incidents in question. After I received all video footage, I loaded the various formats into my forensic computer using Adobe Premiere Pro software. I created sequences for each incident and placed the useful camera vantage point clips back to back in each sequence. Some events went by very fast so I repeated the video clips and added slow motion. In some cases, I reduced the speed by 25%, 50%, and 75% so all persons could see the series of events as they occurred. When necessary, I also zoomed to enlarge the area of interest in each video clip.

In my opinion, it is very important to place this series of clips back to back with a 5-second pause in between clips so the viewer can become acclimated with the series of events as they occurred. For each clip vantage point, there was an average of two to five minutes of video all persons could watch to see exactly what went down during the brawl.

Read more about the brawl: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacers%E2%80%93Pistons_brawl

Footage from the infamous brawl can be found below:

Video Enhancement: How to Enhance a Video Recording

video enhancementAs experienced and trained video forensic experts, we perform video enhancement in our lab on a regular basis. In the following post, we will share with you some common challenges with forensic video enhancement process. We will also share some ‘How To’s’ so you better understand the forensic video enhancement process.


Video Enhancement Preliminary Analysis

Client attorneys submit video recordings to us for preliminary analysis. During this phase, we spend one hour of lab time to review the statistics of the video recording. We examine the compression, pixels, format and aspect ratio to name a few. During the preliminary analysis, we communicate to our client whether or not forensic video enhancement is possible. Nobody should pay high forensic laboratory rates until a forensic expert believes a video recording can be enhanced.

The main reason we are called many times every day here at Primeau Forensics for video enhancement is that our clients want to better see the events as they occurred. This is mostly because they want the truth about an event, crime, or altercation.


Purpose and Goals for Video Enhancement

One of the goals of forensic video enhancement, in some cases, is to be able to see person’s faces better than they are when viewing the video without video enhancement. In this case, a comparative analysis is performed after video enhancement in an attempt to determine the identity of a person in a video recording.

Other reasons for forensic video enhancement is to enlarge and clarify a video in order to identify, for instance, the license plate on a car. This is more difficult, especially if the car is in motion and the camera is not near the license plate. When the car is not moving and the license plate is in close proximity to the camera, a video forensic expert can use frame averaging to combine the best pixel quality for successful video enhancement.


Audio Enhancement for Video Recordings

Audio portions of video recordings can also be enhanced to help an investigation. On occasion, audio portions of video recordings fail or are not clear. In the laboratory, we can remove the audio portion of a video recording and forensically enhance the audio to better hear the events as they originally occurred.

With forensic video enhancement, we can only enhance what is possible to enhance. Hollywood has distorted the public perception of what can be enhanced forensically and what is impossible to forensically enhance.

In some cases, the video is of too poor quality for forensic video enhancement. Some reasons for low video quality include; the video recording was not exported properly and the camera lens is dirty (keep your outdoor cameras clean).

Frame rate is set low in the digital video recorder will also lower the potential for successful video enhancement. If the video recording size (aspect ratio) is small, we have a lower chance for successful video enhancement. We can not zoom and clarify the objects of interest. These objects become blurry and distorted. Even while using the best forensic video enhancement tools and software programs available, a successful enhancement isn’t always possible.


We Ask Questions About Your Video Recording

When we initially speak to a client-attorney, government agency, or private individual, we ask a lot of questions about the video recording. Is the video recording still stored on the system that created it? This is always the best practice when a video recording has captured a crime. That way, a video forensic expert can be brought in to examine the recording system and video quality to make sure we have the highest quality of video recording for video enhancement. We have learned to ask a lot of questions before our clients spend any money that may be wasted. We always make sure we have the best quality export from the system or device that created the video recording when performing forensic video enhancement.

At Primeau Forensics, we have a team of trained forensic experts, forensic technicians, and investigators that work on a daily bases with all kinds of video recordings.


How to Enhance a Video Recording

This section is designed to better help you understand the forensic video enhancement process. One tip that we can present to you, as previously mentioned, is to make sure you always have the highest possible quality export from the equipment that created the video recording. Types of equipment that create video include a CCTV surveillance system, mobile video surveillance device, police dash camera, police body camera, and smartphone to name a few. Another tip is to keep the video recording stored on the device that created the video recording.

There are methods for recovering video recordings for forensic video enhancement. A more desirable method is exporting the highest quality video recording. Another is to play the video recording while simultaneously recording the video onto another device. Here is another tip, do not use your smartphone to record the playback screen of a video surveillance system and expect a successful video enhancement.

Police departments often send us video recordings created on a surveillance system that were not exported through the equipment that created it but rather recorded out of the equipment onto another device. Once the device plays the recording while another device simultaneously recordings the playback signal. An output like ‘VGA’ is used which records the same quality that can be viewed on the systems video monitor. This is much better than recording the screen with your smartphone. Some of the time this is the only way to get a video recording exported from the system that created it.


There are several companies that manufacture turnkey evidence retrieval systems.

In some cases, a simultaneous video recording is better than what the system that created the recording is capable of exporting. When in doubt, it is best to perform both processes and send us both versions. Screen capture or VGA as well as an export from the system. To further explain, an export is a process that can be verified in the operator’s manual of the system.

Call the manufacturer of the surveillance system tech department if you need help. Do not wait too long and risk the important video recording to be erased or overwritten. Put the export on a thumb drive and make back up copies. Do not change the file format or any other settings when making copies.

If you have any questions about video enhancement, forensic video enhancement, or forensic video recovery, call our experts at 800.647.4281.

A DVD is NOT an Original Video

DVD EvidenceMore often than not, a DVD is not an original video.

Many law enforcement organizations create DVD copies for defendants because they are much easier to play than native digital video formats. This can be confusing so allow me to further explain.

Over the last 30 years as a practicing audio/video forensic expert, I have experienced many digital file formats, as well as analog tape formats, used in litigation. Usually, they are able to successfully serve a purpose by showing the facts as they occurred. These videos help bring the scene of the crime into the courtroom so the Trier of Fact and the jury can make decisions more accurately. People alter video and eliminate sections they do not want the court to see.

This is why as a video forensic expert, I am asked to examine and authenticate video evidence when one of the parties in the litigation disagrees with the contents of the video. When the video evidence is presented on a DVD as a VOB burn, it is nearly impossible for me to authenticate because the metadata has been stripped. When a digital video is created, the metadata in the digital video file has information about the equipment that made the digital video file, the date and time the digital video was recorded and most importantly, a footprint of any video editing software that was used before that video was admitted into evidence. All of this metadata information is stripped from the digital video recording if the video has been burned to a DVD.

Part of my job is to investigate the history of the video in evidence and help attorneys and prosecutors obtain originals or better understand the video evidence before any due process begins. One of the biggest problems I find is that most of the video entered into evidence is on a DVD and is not original. When either of the litigators question the contents of a video, they ask for my help to determine if any editing or alteration has occurred. I always encourage prosecutors and lawyers to maintain the original video evidence in the recorder that created it because that way, a full forensic investigation is easily executed.

Once that original video is deleted, it becomes much more difficult to investigate forensically. In some cases, a properly made copy of the original evidence will include the important metadata necessary for the authentication process. Leaving the digital video file in its native format is much better than converting the video format to a DVD VOB file through the burning process.

How to Enhance Security Camera Videos – Enhance Video Quality

How to Enhance Security Camera Video, CCTV EnhancementAs a video forensic expert, CCTV enhancement (closed-circuit television) is a day to day practice we perform on video recordings from both digital and analog surveillance systems. Often times, the courts we testify in want to know how to enhance security camera videos. In the following post, we will describe CCTV enhancement and how to enhance CCTV camera videos to retain quality and clarify the recorded events. We will also cover the basic best practices to ensure the most successful and accurate forensic video enhancement.


What is CCTV Enhancement?

CCTV Enhancement is done using non-destructive techniques to preserve the video evidence integrity and pixel quality. Some of the most requested forensic video enhancement are license plates. Clarifying or enhancing the events as they occurred assists the trier of fact to make determinations about the video events.

As video forensic experts, we are asked to enhance recordings used as video evidence to clarify the events as they occurred. Video recordings used as evidence can be enhanced regardless if they were recorded during the day or at night. The success of the CCTV Enhancement is directly proportionate to the quality of the video recording. We can perform a preliminary analysis to make sure we are confident in meeting our client’s expectations.

Often times, we are also asked to provide forensic image enhancement for identification purposes. We use various software programs and CCTV enhancement tools to help us enhance or clarify the desired video images. We create customized filtering to sharpen the video image and remove video noise for identification and enhancement of the images in the CCTV surveillance video.


Steps to Enhance Video Quality

A variety of CCTV enhancement techniques are applied in different arrangements on CCTV surveillance video recordings, smartphone video recordings, law enforcement dash camera recordings, as well as other types of recordings used as video evidence. The most important ingredient to this scientific process is to maintain the highest quality of the video recording and establish a chain of custody. This yields the highest success possible throughout the investigation. If the analog video or digital video file has undergone additional compression, this video evidence will be limited to the enhancement possibilities.

  • Scaling/Pixel Interpolation: Re-size, or scale an image or video to a larger resolution to further identify suspects.
  • Sharpening: Enhances the edge contrast of an image or video.
  • Warp Stabilization: This is most common today with smartphone video evidence. Reduces the amount of movement from the user that created the video evidence.
  • Shadow and Highlight Adjustments (Exposure): Reveals subtle detail in the shadow and/or highlight areas of your images.
  • Frame Averaging: Increase the quality of the image by combining data from surrounding frames as well as a better signal to noise ratio (SNR) in your images or videos.
  • Speed Reduction: Decrease the original playback of video evidence to view the events as they occurred in more detail.


CCTV Enhancement Tips

First, take the necessary steps to preserve your original CCTV recording. You may have various export options for extracting the CCTV video from your system that you are not aware of. By preserving the original evidence, the opportunity for questioning the integrity of the CCTV video diminishes. This is especially true if the video recording is extracted from the original system. You can also consult a video forensic expert about the best methods and file format exporting options that your CCTV system is capable of.

Second, if a crime has been captured on a CCTV video system, you will want to export a copy for the local police. Most consumer-based CCTV camera video systems have easy to follow instructions for exporting AVI files (courtroom ready format) directly to mobile storage. Most consumer-based CCTV camera systems require a flash drive storage medium to export to. These drives are easily available at any office supply store like Office Max or Staples. The AVI formatted video is also easily viewable by a video forensic expert or investigator for immediate review.

CCTV enhancement is done using various software programs by a trained and qualified professional like a video forensic expert. Pixels are enlarged, or otherwise adjusted, in order to bring out the necessary details or information about the crime that was committed. Most CCTV systems and their cameras have night vision that will record clear images of events as they occurred for forensic enhancement.


Contact Us for a Pro Bono Consultation

If you have a video that you question or need help understanding, contact us for a pro bono consultation. We apply forensic expertise to cases in the United States and many countries around the globe. Any and all formats of audio and video accepted.

Click HERE to email your questions or call 800-647-4281 in the USA or +01-248-853-4091 Internationally.

Video as Evidence – CCTV Video and Video Forensics

CCTV Evidence

As a video forensic expert and expert witness, I have seen almost everything when it comes to CCTV. Some of it is very disturbing, but much of it is from the lady whose ex-husband is stalking her, to the bank that just captured a robbery on video. Understanding CCTV systems has become part of the video forensic examiner’s job because a majority of video evidence is made on CCTV systems. In the following article, I will give you my forensic tips on CCTV.

Imagine this. You are the proprietor of a convenience store. Last night at 11:06, you rang up a customer’s Snickers bar and a jumbo Slurpee. The customer reached in his pocket, pulled out a gun, and put it to your head, demanding all the cash in the register. Terrified for your life, you gave him the money. Luckily you had a CCTV system and turned the tape over to the police. The police sent it to a forensic expert because all you could see on the tape was a dark silhouette of the criminal. Unfortunately, the robber’s face and features were unidentifiable.

Although CCTV systems can prove to be beneficial for many reasons, they can be useless without some well thought out considerations. My hope is that the law enforcement and legal community will read this article and pass on the information to the businesses in their community.

CCTV is a network of cameras hooked to a monitoring system so that various locations or angles can be viewed and/or recorded. It does differ from broadcast television in that CCTV cameras are not openly broadcast through the airwaves. However, some CCTV systems have point-to-point transmissions that could be intercepted by someone with the equipment and knowledge to intercept that signals.

The benefits outweigh the drawbacks of implementing CCTV systems for several reasons. Think of how CCTV systems have helped our traffic problems. Having cameras all over our roads and highways allows accidents and traffic jams to be discovered sooner so traffic can be rerouted. In banks, casinos, airports, shopping centers, businesses, and military bases; CCTV systems can prove beneficial against crime.

There are some drawbacks that can really cause problems with CCTV systems. These systems can be expensive. They can be considered an invasion of privacy. Also, a system can fail because of a bad or over-recycled tape, and the crime will not be recorded.

For some strange reason, businesses who still use VHS tape to record their surveillance often insist on recycling their videos beyond a logical limit. Then, when the expert needs to lift an image off for identification, fuzzy, blurry photos are produced.

In the convenience store example above, the camera was in the wrong position. A light was installed in a recently added display that was not in the store when the CCTV system was installed. Nobody ever updated the CCTV system or performed maintenance to discover the problem.

The purpose of this article is to share some of my experiences with CCTV footage and provide some tips from a forensic expert’s point of view, sound advice to avoid costly mistakes, and expensive forensic restoration.

Number One: Plan your CCTV system layout in advance. Do not put in a CCTV system without planning for potential crime circumstances. What crimes could be executed under the watchful eyes of your CCTV system? You can call this crisis management. Draw a diagram of this activity. Use it as your blueprint for locating your camera positions. If you own a business that has a back lot to cover, don’t just mount the camera to the back of your building thinking it will do the job. Consider what you have to protect, the value of these items, and the various ways a criminal could get at them. Then, place the camera(s) to cover all potential activity. Consider multiple cameras because, in the long run, it will save you money.

Because so many systems were not planned thoroughly in advance, the majority of my forensic cases involve video restoration and clarification. So much of this can be avoided.

Number Two: Use a digital video recorder and record directly to the hard drive. If at all possible, do not use VHS. There are some great companies like Focus Micro and Crest electronics that specialize in DVR CCTV systems, maintenance of the system, and training your staff to use them properly. They offer some excellent products and CCTV systems, and will even help you plan your system layout.

Here are some reasons DVR is superior to VHS:

  • Far better image quality
  • The ability to view cameras, live or recorded, from another location through the internet
  • Ease in copying images from crime scenes
  • No VHS tapes to change

Number Three: Make sure to account for lighting conditions, as well as sun positions.

One out of ten of my cases requires the comparison of a frame of evidence from a darkly lit video with an exemplar frame or photo. Make sure there is light where your camera is located. If necessary, hire an electrician to put in a light or two near your camera, especially if the potential crimes that warrant the installation of your CCTV system can occur at night. Duh! I can hear the installed now: sure looked good in daylight!?

In addition, consider sun positions all year long. Remember sixth-grade science class? The sun changes positions with the seasons. Bright sun facing the camera will cause the iris in the camera to close (in automatic position) causing the image of the perpetrator to darken. Try this with your home camera. Take a video of your friends with the un behind them instead of behind you. The friends will appear dark because of the camera’s lenses adjusting for the high light level.

Number Four: Plan camera positions for all possible situations. I have heard it said that if you want to rob a bank, wear a baseball cap. Why is it that CCTV installers put the cameras in high positions that will never show the criminals face?

Number Five: Keep your camera clean. Car dealerships wash their windows and cars weekly if not more often. Why don’t they wash their cameras? Think about it. Many outdoor cameras are somewhat protected from the elements, but after a while, dirt will still gather on the surface of the camera lenses.

A solution of Shaklee basic H or white vinegar in hot water will clean them nicely without scratching or clouding the lenses or protective housing. Harsh cleaning chemicals can scratch or cloud the glass, especially on Plexiglas camera housings.

Number Six: Do not use wireless cameras. If at all possible, run cable and go wired for your entire network. Wireless cameras are unreliable, especially in storms.

Almost all maintenance can be performed by you or done very reasonably by a professional. Avoid costly mistakes and tragedy by keeping your system maintained and updated. Use Google to seek a professional who can help with your circumstances.

Ed Primeau is a video forensic expert, author, professional speaker, and business owner in Rochester Hills, MI. He is the author of two books, ‘The Art Of Production’ and ‘The Video Revolution’.