I had one similar to the Swann, the DVR type which usually have pretty cheap cameras. My old ones were not 1080P and the picture was alright during the day but even with night vision the picture quality at night was not good. I had two cameras that came with the 4 camera system fail within a couple of years. It served its purpose but if you have to run the wire to power the cameras so install is about the same as a POE system.
So, I wanted to upgrade to better cameras and I decided to use a POE system since I felt it was easier than providing power to the cameras and running cat5 cable too. The Power Over Ethernet cameras get power from my gigabit switch. My system consists of a dedicated PC, gigabit switch to power the cameras, cat 5E cable and the cameras. Here is the equipment needed:
1. cat 5 cable - I went with solid copper, shielded cat 5E cable and I bought a 1000 foot roll. There is cheaper cat5 but I did not want to run into any issues. I used this one:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0085GKCOK?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00
2. Cable crimpers - I bought this pair and they worked fine, they come with the cable stripper and tester which comes in handy. I would buy different connectors, these were a bit on the cheap side and the quality could have been better. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008UY5WL0?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s02
3. Gigabit switch - There are cheaper ones but this one has eight powered ports for cameras. It has enough power and 2000 Mbps of bandwidth and a lifetime warranty. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GG1ACX2?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s01
4. I picked two different cameras, the first were these Dahua. The 3.6mm lens gives a wider view, my previous camera would capture the front door but not much more. The 3.6mm lens allows me to see my front door and about 12 foot of sidewalk leading up to the door.http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PQKQ7GU?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00
4b. I chose the Hikvision 6mm cameras for other areas and they allow me to see a wide area out into the road in front of my house. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PQKQ7GU?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00
5. PC - I found a new but older technology Lenovo M53 on sale for a little over $200. These are tiny and have only the essentials but I found out later I needed a better processor (I'll get to that later). http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00U6GIF5U?keywords=m53&qid=1453338957&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1
6. software - I chose Blue Iris but tried a few different ones and I have a few more to try. The Blue Iris works well but like I stated earlier, depending on how many cameras you use you really need an Intel Core I7 processor to run well.
7. Fish tape - Lowes sells a 25 foot tape and it works well if you have to run cable down an insulated wall.http://www.lowes.com/pd_471916-295-FTS1-4-25_2z8vk__?productId=50114239&pl=1&Ntt=fish+tape
You really need to know about setting up IP addresses, subnets and the like to get the cameras set up. There is too much to explain here but with the Hikvision and Dahua you download their programs and modify the IP addresses as needed. You may be able to find some videos on the net but I deal with this a little at work so it was easy for me. If you have never dealt with it there could be a bit of a learning curve.
So the PC has the Blue Iris software and it connects to the gigabit switch and the cameras plug into the switch. The Blue Iris software has numerous settings on how to record (continuous, motion activated etc.), where to save the files too, whether to encrypt - there is a lot of selections and it takes a little while to get everything right but it is all menu driven and you can go to Blue Iris forums to get help if needed. Once again I do similar tasks at my day job so it was easy for me to figure out.
Now for lessons learned, buy different connectors and watch some videos on how to crimp the connectors. If you do not do it right it will cause some time troubleshooting. When I first got things hooked up I had multiple problems making it hard to troubleshoot - I had one camera that was defective and would work intermittently, a couple loose crimps that would work at times then stop and some internet issues. As you go along get each piece correct before doing the next step. When testing the line move the connectors to make sure they are crimped properly. It also help throughout this to have two people.
Second, check Blue Iris to see if the camera you want to use is supported. I picked the cameras first and software last so it caused some initial issues.
Third, get help running the cat5 cable, it is not hard but it goes quicker when you have help feeding wire.
Fourth, get the best processor you can afford. My Lenovo M53 with only three cameras has the processor running at 90-95%. This limits the settings I can use and I will need to upgrade to a better processor so I can add more cameras. Blue Iris states that the Intel Core I7 works best and they updated their software so the 4600 integrated graphics should work well (so I have been told on the forums).
As I think of things I will add more so I can save people some time if you want to build your own system. I am sure some people may chime in and tell me how I could have done things better so maybe I can learn some more too.