DVRs Are Holding Their Value in Surveillance Systems
Despite the industry’s push toward IP-based video systems, DVRs are still in demand for many applications and end users.
Considering the continued attention given to the rise of IP in the security industry (particularly at this year’s ISC West), it would be understandable if you assumed that DVRs are about as widely used as tube TVs or video cassettes. After all, with all the features and functionality IP offers, why would anyone want to be tied to an analog recorder? No, network video recorders (NVRs) are the way to go. Right?
That assumption is more or less true when it comes to new installations, where a majority are making the choice to go all-IP, says Dan Cremins, director of product management for Ottawa, Ontario-based March Networks.
“If you’re dealing with a greenfield installation and you’re pulling new wire, Cat6 is a lot easier to work with than coax,” says Christopher Johnston, product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems Inc., based in Fairport, N.Y.
But in general, DVRs, as well as analog cameras, are holding their own — for now, at least — against the “latest and greatest” that IP has to offer.
“There are no hard statistics on DVR and NVR installations available, but I would assume that there are more DVR installations to date given that they have been available longer, and IP video networks have really just gained traction in recent years,” says Frank De Fina, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ridgefield Park, N.J.-based Samsung Techwin America.
For Honeywell Security, which has been producing recording devices for nearly 20 years, annual sales of DVRs and other analog products continue to grow steadily, if not modestly, says Greg Tomasko, regional sales manager for the Louisville, Ky.-based company.
“Legacy systems are out there so heavily and the cost of converting over to IP is so prohibitive. So analog still has sustainable growth, maybe 2 percent over the next five to seven years,” he says.
So why is this the case when IP is so far ahead in terms of resolution and intelligent features like video analytics? There are three main factors, the first of which, as mentioned previously, is the sheer number of legacy analog systems in the marketplace.
“The customer doesn’t care about the technology that’s inside,” says Jeff Burgess, president of BCDVideo in Northbrook, Ill. “The analog market is vital. That vitality comes from the drives that they use. As long as you can get cheap drives, you can fix your DVR. No one is going to trash their working 16- to 24-camera DVR just to go to NVR.”
The second factor driving DVRs’ continued popularity is price, which for some DVRs is not just a fraction of an NVR’s, but also a fraction of the price of DVRs in the past, Johnston says.
“The cost of a DVR today is half — and then half again — of what a DVR would have been five years ago,” he says.
Rounding out the three biggest DVR drivers is ease of installation.
“Analog may be limited in terms of resolution and functionality, but it’s an easy box. You can get the box, plug in the box, the lights come on and you plug in your cameras,” Burgess says. “That’s something the IP market needs to address as it tries to gain market share.”
Another factor worth mentioning that makes today’s DVRs attractive is the increased number of features, many of which weren’t included in the past.
“So much of what in the old days was an ‘extra’ is standard. It’s like a car. In the old days, everything was extra — if you wanted cruise control, air conditioning or a tape deck, you paid extra for it,” Johnston says. “It’s amazing what’s included in the DVR box today: H.264 encoding, some sort of audio support and a lot more.”
WHAT ABOUT NVRs?
However, the fact that DVRs are still going strong doesn’t negate the fact that NVRs could one day become the default choice for video recording. Of course, none of us knows just when that may be. Five years? 10 years? 15 years? Never? It depends on who you ask.
“Analog could still be around and growing for 10 years. DVRs have apps and can connect to Web servers, so there’s still utility there,” Tomasko says. “There’s going to be a day, but it may come at a point when a new technology or new format competes with IP. Then IP would be the standard and the legacy, while the new standard would get all of the research and development.”
De Fina agrees with a somewhat accelerated timeline for the tipping point’s arrival, based mainly on continued improvements in IP video.
“I believe NVRs will ultimately be the de facto standard for video surveillance recording given the continued growth of IP video systems, and more specifically integrated systems running on network infrastructure,” De Fina says. “I see this happening within the next few years given the current pace of the industry and the core imaging recording and software technologies that are driving it.”
David Choi, product manager for Amityville, N.Y.-based Speco Technologies, on the other hand, is less convinced that NVRs will indeed become the de facto standard for video recording.
“NVRs may never become the choice due to the fact that VMS software solutions that are coming to the market these days can be installed on plain server computers. However, NVRs do serve a purpose for the semi-niche market where a dedicated network recorder is preferred,” he says.
As prices for IP equipment, including NVRs continue to fall, that will only help advance the rise of the NVR, says Wayne Hurd, executive vice president of sales and marketing, for Digimerge, a FLIR company, based in Markham, Ontario.
“As prices compress on NVRs and IP cameras and installation becomes less complex as a result of technical advances, NVRs will edge out DVRs as the product of choice in 1-32 channel CCTV installations. This should transpire over the next three to five years,” he says.
Whether you believe NVRs will in fact replace DVRs as the norm for video recording, there’s no denying that the vast majority of end users could benefit from IP in some way.
“NVRs are all those things DVRs will never be. It can support up to 300 cameras on a single server, remote management, hot-pluggable storage in the field, extended on-site warranties, redundancy and large amounts of storage in a limited rack space,” Burgess says. “But where the NVR truly stands out is in the reliability and manageability. DVRs tend to have a high amount of drive failures, at least compared against NVR drives in proper IP video systems. This is where the technology has taken over. We’re looking at faster, more reliable drives using high-speed SAS versus SATA, which was so popular in analog days due to price, certainly not performance.”
So even if you’re a skeptic, it’s not a bad idea to start working with customers on a transition plan. Ideally, that would be sooner rather than later, but that’s not always going to be the case.
“End customers with 16 or less cameras are less likely to upgrade to IP video until their system dies its natural death,” Burgess says. “When that time comes, they’re likely to look for IP video systems that run with the ease of their DVR.”
Encoders can be useful for incorporating both analog and IP cameras into a system but they’re not a long-term solution, Tomasko says.
“The problem with an encoder is that you’re providing the customer with a Band-Aid that’s eventually going to be ripped off,” he says. “Once the system ages and cameras fail, it’s not likely that they’re going to replace them with analog, but with IP. At that point, an encoder — which is a significant cost — gets thrown away.”
Another possibility for setting customers up for a gradual (and budget-friendly) transition from analog to IP is to use a hybrid DVR (read “Baby Steps: Hybrid DVRs” on www.sdmmag.com for more information).
“Some customers are hedging their bets with a hybrid to ease into the IP transition. As cameras need to be replaced, they’re swapping out analog for IP cameras,” Johnston says.
If customers, particularly those with 16 or fewer cameras, are unsure about incorporating IP into their systems, an old-fashioned “taste test” between analog and IP can help dealers and integrators make the case, Hurd says.
“The biggest thing they should know is how to upsell their customer. They should demonstrate the two technologies side by side. The dramatic picture quality difference should make the transition an easy one,” he says.
Burgess notes that a test drive may be just what a customer needs to decide to take the plunge into IP.
“No one is going to can their existing, working system. It might be as easy as offering them an encoder card to put in the camera so they can try a couple IP cameras. With IP cameras, once an end user sees what the cameras are capable of doing, they’re going to want to go to IP,” he says.
On the other hand, it’s also important to realize that not every customer is going to need an IP system, Cremins says.
“You have to understand exactly what the needs are for the customer. You don’t always have to have the best camera for every application,” he says. “In some cases, an analog camera image is fine. So you also have to understand the tradeoffs and what is appropriate for the end user. Whether the decision is to go with analog or IP, choose the camera first and then choose the recorder accordingly.”
Migrating from a DVR- to NVR-based system doesn’t have to be scary, Tomasko says. “Change is necessary, but it’s never easy.” It is, he assures, a comfort level/learning curve that can be overcome.
When it comes to installing and/or programming an NVR, there are a few processes that could pose challenges as integrators prepare for an increased install base of NVRs, either as part of an IP or hybrid system.
“The difference between NVRs and DVRs speaks to the intelligence of the camera,” Honeywell Security’s Greg Tomasko says. “With a DVR, things like changing frames per second and the quality of the saved video are done in the recorder itself. With an NVR, that responsibility is flipped because IP cameras can be programmed to determine the number of frames, where to look in a scene for motion, what video to send, etc. That makes the installation and configuration of each camera more difficult. It’s getting better with some of the newest NVRs that can program cameras.”
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the snags an installer or integrator might encounter have to do with networking and communication issues.
“Camera compatibility is always the initial issue to address, so the camera/recorder combination needs to be thoroughly researched prior to arriving on any installation site,” says Frank De Fina, Samsung Techwin America.
One common roadblock stems from the network or networks on which the camera and/or the NVR are located.
“Having IP cameras on the same network as the NVR is always preferred. In the case that they are not on the same network, there are additional steps required to having the cameras communicate to the NVR properly,” says David Choi, Speco Technologies. Total network bandwidth needs to be taken into account, especially if there are multiple IP cameras with high resolution.
When an NVR can’t identify or communicate with a camera, it’s often because of IP settings, says Wayne Hurd, Digimerge.
“The biggest issue is when the camera is set to a static IP the NVR will often not find the camera. The installer has to use tools to enable DHCP, which takes time and can be frustrating as it’s a complicated process,” he says.
Another big thing to watch out for is bitrate, which can clog up a network and cause big headaches, says Dan Cremins, March Networks.
“As people add more IP cameras, it comes down to bitrate. You’re never really sure what a device is actually going to provide,” he says. “Our tech support team receives calls saying, ‘My DVR is not operating properly.’ What they often find is that what the customer did was open the pipeline, so cameras are sending the maximum bitrate, which is too much info for the recorder to handle.”