The need for businesses to secure their properties from internal and external threats has never been higher. No matter how large or small, a security system is essential. But choosing a DVR vs NVR vs VMS and understanding how surveillance cameras record is key. All video recorders have the same basic function–to store video. The difference is how each system is managed and administered. This post explains the main systems (DVR vs NVR vs VMS), how they differ and, where they are best suited.

What is a DVR? How does it work, and why use it?

Thanks to technological advancements, the VHS is a thing of the past. No more tapes! The first digital video recorders or DVR consisted of a video capture card with a set number of camera connections. A DVR is typically a wired system that connects to analog cameras by coaxial cables. As a result, cameras could be accessed remotely.

As mentioned above, DVRs have a maximum number of channels (or cameras), usually around 16. Consequently, this setup works best for small businesses, homes, and locations requiring fewer analog cameras. However, connecting more cameras requires a second recorder or moving to an NVR system. However, keep in mind that DVR does not support HD video, meaning the maximum resolution is 0.3 megapixels.

An analog camera is a traditional camera that sends video over coaxial cable to a VCR or DVR. Analog cameras need to be directly plugged into the recorder and require power through a low voltage power cable.

DVR Infographic
NVR Infographic

What is an NVR, how does it work, and why use it?

A network video recorder, or NVR, is a computer system that records security footage and stores it on the hard drive. The differences between the NVR and DVR are how cameras connect to the recorder and how each system processes video. For example, the video is encoded and processed at the recorder on a DVR. Whereas, in an NVR setup, the camera processes the video and streams it to the recorder where it can be stored or viewed remotely.

IP cameras work best with NVRs and connect to the recorder using an ethernet cable, and plugs into a network switch that connects to a Windows-based computer or server. Furthermore, remote access is possible through the camera’s IP address. An NVR is a good fit for small to medium-sized businesses that want to leverage an existing network setup.

IP cameras use a network to receive and send image data and connect through a local area network with ethernet cables.

The Windows-based DVR vs the Embedded DVR

A Windows-based DVR is just what its name implies – a computer with a video capture card, running Windows OS. Like the DVR, the system receives video from the cameras and works in conjunction with the recording software.

An embedded DVR has similar features as a Windows-based DVR system does. An embedded DVR has a fixed number of camera inputs and runs typically on Linux OS. However, image quality remains the same for both Windows-based and embedded DVR systems.

The differences between the two systems are camera capacity, power, and features. An embedded DVR supports a limited number of cameras, provides access to simple motion-based recording, and includes video playback. But a Windows-based DVR can accommodate 20 or more cameras, is scalable, and offers more control.

What is VMS, and why use it?

Most early NVRs came equipped with video management software. Essentially, a VMS is a combination of video software and server hardware. VMS enables better camera integration, faster compression and storage settings, and simpler management. Milestone XProtect VMS developers continue to develop their platforms by investing in research and development. Subsequently, this keeps their platforms current, ensures their software remains secure, is compatible with most security camera manufacturers, and integrates with other security products.

Advantages of video management software include:

  1. Support for a greater variety of camera manufacturers.
  2. More robust integration with other building automation systems such as access control and alarm systems.
  3. More advanced search/save or live monitoring functionality, especially with a lot of cameras.
  4. Advanced user management options.
  5. Strong fail-over and redundancy options.
  6. Network-friendly tools to manage video traffic and control HD video bandwidth.

VMS remains the most powerful and feature-rich way to build a security camera system. Therefore, VMS is strongly recommended for a site with more than 20 cameras of five or more megapixels resolution (or HD video). A VMS system is ideal for medium to large-sized businesses looking for central and greater control and a more scalable and reliable solution.

What about Analog HD?

The analog video surveillance market took a hit with the arrival of IP cameras, and then along came Analog HD video! Businesses like analog HD because they can keep their existing analog infrastructure (coax cable and power supply) and change the cameras to HD cameras (up to 8MP). These systems tend to cost less and are best for smaller setups of up to 16-channels.

An HD analog camera can record surveillance video in 720p HD. Analog HD cameras connect directly to a DVR using coax cable.

VMS Infographic

The difference between DVR vs NVR vs VMS comes down to cost, how the data is transmitted, and the cameras used. An NVR and VMS can cost more. However, they are scalable, tend to have better image quality, and can handle HD video. If the property is pre-wired with coax cable, a DVR will likely be enough. The deciding factors will revolve around the property’s specific security needs and your budget.

The video surveillance market has evolved significantly from the early days of VCRs to VMS and the emerging era of “the cloud.” Understanding each component of your video surveillance system is essential in evaluating security systems. To learn more about other elements of a video surveillance system, click here.

Written by : Carlo Di Leo

At the age of 24, with no experience in the security industry or any money in the bank, Carlo quit his job and started Spotter Security from his parent's basement. Founded in 2004, Spotter grew from a single man operation into a multi-million dollar security system integrator that caters to businessess and construction sites across Canada.

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