How the Pros Troubleshoot Security Camera Systems
When we consider all the electronics that surround us in our daily lives, it's inevitable that we all have to become "the pro" that fixes some electronic device. The concepts we are about to discuss can be applied to any electronic system but is the most effective approach to isolate and diagnose a problem with a security camera system.
Security camera systems are comprised of several parts; the camera, power supply, NVR (video recorder), monitor, cable, internet modem, and smartphone (for remote viewing). Any one of these items can fail, causing strange symptoms that at first glance, indicate an issue with a part of the system that is actually working fine. Following this step-by-step guide you'll quickly isolate and identify the defective item or part that is actually causing the problem.
The secret to quickly identifying the item that is causing the issue is to isolate and test each item that comprises the system. If you do not properly isolate each item, you may be testing two components together such as a cable and a camera. Either one could be causing the issue and no one wants to go to the work or expense of replacing a camera to only find out it was the cable causing the problem. The examples below follow this "Isolate and Test" concept on specific symptoms. Before you start the troubleshooting process, the very first thing you should do is restart the entire system, but don’t do this the lazy way!
Always Start with a Restart
Any Pro will tell you the very first thing you do is disconnect power from all devices on the system. We are not talking about recycling power or pushing the power button. We are talking about physically unplugging all power cords from the wall. If you do not physically remove the device from the power source (even though the device is powered off) components of the device will remain powered. It’s possible the powered component could be causing the issue. If you do not physically disconnect power, you have not covered all your bases and you may have missed an opportunity to fix the issue you are experiencing. Resetting power to all the system devices often solves the issue with minimal effort and downtime.
Video Recorder (NVR or DVR) will not power on.
Symptoms - The unit does not power on and does not display any indication of operation such as flashing lights or a signal to a monitor. There are three possibilities that could be causing the issue.
- - The unit's power switch is off.
- - The power source is dead.
- - The power supply for the unit is dead.
First check the power switch and confirm it is in the on position. If the power switch is in the on position, unplug the unit from the wall outlet or power source. Use some other electrical device you know is operational (such as a lamp or a drill) and plug that into the power outlet. Confirm the item powers on. If the item does not power on the problem is your power source and likely, a breaker has been tripped. Find your electrical panel and reset any tripped breaker.
If the power source is present, the problem most likely is the power supply for the unit. All security NVRs and DVRs step down the voltage for operation. Many units do this with a power brick which is external to the video recorder. The power brick is a small black box with two cable leads, one for the 120v wall outlet and the other (low voltage 12v, 24v, 48v AC or DC) to power the video recorder. The label on the brick will indicate the output voltage the brick provides. Other recorders are designed similarly to a computer. They have an internal power supply and a 120v cord connects the unit to power. The internal power supply steps down the power to the lower voltage needed for operation.
If your unit uses a power brick, you can use a voltage meter to test for the correct output current. If you are not familiar with how to do this, you can just search the internet for the same model number listed on the power brick and purchase a new one. The other option is to take the unit to an electronics store that can test it and likely sell you a new one if it’s found to be the issue. If the power supply is internal, you can take the case off the unit, find the model number on the power supply, and search the internet for a replacement.
If the item is under warranty the smart option is to contact the supplier and follow their replacement instructions.
Video Loss on One Camera
Symptoms - One camera's video feed has been lost on the monitor. Other cameras are reporting correctly but the screen is black on one video feed. There are four possibilities that could be causing the issue.
- - The NVR has experienced a data conflict.
- - The video port on the NVR has failed.
- - The camera has failed.
- - Something has damaged or compromised the cable.
The first possibility, the NVR has experienced a data conflict or crash is the easiest to troubleshoot. Just by following the first step golden rule, you may have already fixed the issue by restarting the devices. This should reset the system and clear any data conflict, if this was the cause, the camera's video feed should be restored. If after restarting the system the feed does not restore, move on to the next steps listed below.
The next step is to test the video port on the NVR or DVR. It's possible the electronics for that specific video input have failed. Simply disconnect a cable with a video feed that is working and connect the cable with the lost video feed to that video port. If the camera comes up and you see the video then the previous port on the NVR has failed. If after moving the cable to the new video port you do not restore the video. Then the video ports on the NVR are good and the problem lies with either the camera or the cable.
The next step is more work but in the long run, will save you time. Take a camera that is working properly and switch it with the camera with video loss. When you swap the cameras if the video feed restores on the camera that was not working the problem lies with the previous cable. Check your fittings for corrosion and if needed pull a new cable.
If the video does not restore on the suspect camera and the verified good camera provides video on the swapped cables then we can safely assume the suspect camera has failed and should be replaced. By swapping the cameras, we have isolated the suspect camera to a verified operational cable and NVR video port. A bad camera is the last possibility.
If the camera is under warranty the smart option is to contact the supplier and follow their replacement instructions.