For years, when I used the term “PTZ” outside of industry circles, I got a reply of “PT what?” Due to a hefty price tag, monstrous size and complicated use, PTZ cameras have traditionally been one of the least known types of security cameras to the general public.

Today, however, PTZs are fast becoming a popular camera for a ranges of applications. PTZ cameras can be found at nearly every store front, parking garage, or large business area — and are increasingly used by homeowners to protect their property. As video security becomes more prevalent, many end users are finding out how PTZs can add additional dimensions of security.

So just what exactly are PTZs? Modern PTZ cameras are compact all-in-one packages featuring super high resolution cameras, powerful motorized zoom lenses, and high speed motors that can reposition the camera up to 360° in less than a second. This powerful combination of features can often replace up to four regular security style cameras.

Previously, PTZ cameras and similar products were used by organizations that could afford to devote personnel to constantly monitor and control these cameras. PTZ cameras have proved to be a force multiplier for casinos, allowing agents to visually traverse large expanses quickly and gain in depth detail of activities without annoying customers. Modern PTZ cameras can still be used in this fashion, or can be programmed to automatically patrol areas of interest — eliminating the need for constant manning of controls.

PTZ cameras featuring intelligent processors behind the controls take this technology a step further. These processors are known as video analytic (VA) devices. Together, VA devices and PTZs can autonomously find suspicious activity such as loitering, trespassing, and shoplifting, and can automatically track vehicles and/or people that are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some PTZs come with analytics on board and popular IP versions gain VA ability when connected to advanced network recording software.

Needless to say, IP PTZ cameras provide remote monitoring and control capabilities. Given that it’s standard for today’s recorders to offer PTZ interfaces and Ethernet connectivity, your analog PTZ system will likely feature remote monitoring and control capabilities as well. Either way, being able to explore activities from the next room over or a thousand miles away is powerful — and even more so when utilizing a PTZ camera to watch any area you please.

Similar to standard dome cameras, PTZs can be flush or surface mounted, and come in indoor and outdoor housings, to fit the exact needs of your application. Another option, infrared illumination, is a must for most applications, and will keep your investment paying back 24/7.

A common question I hear regarding PTZ cameras is “What other equipment do I need to make it work?” Like traditional security cameras, you’ll need power and video cables. Analog PTZ cameras also require a data cable to connect to your PTZ controller — a common CAT5 network cable will do the trick. IP versions of PTZs only need power and a network cable.

If you are planning to actively monitor your PTZ camera, I highly recommend the small additional investment in a higher-end controller that will provide easy manipulation and is designed to handle more precise movements.