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DVR vs NVR Digital

Video Recording for

Enterprise Systems
Alex Swanson, IndigoVisions Head of
Engineering, highlights the differences between
Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) and Network
Video Recorders (NVRs), and the implications
for systems designers and end users.
First came the camera and monitor, closely followed by
the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR), recording one video
stream to a 3-hour tape at 25/30 frames per second and
NVRs now provide significant advantages over the traditional DVR solution.
often triggered by an input device (raid button in a bank,
for example). Technology then brought us the multiplexer,
which allowed several streams of video to be recorded onto the same tape and separated out into discrete, viewable
streams on replay and the time-lapse VCR which enabled the dropping of frames and in so doing permitted a 3-hour tape to
be used over much longer periods, albeit at the cost of lost information.

The rapid development of video compression algorithms (MJPEG, MPEG-4, H.264 etc.), computer processing speeds and a
rapid reduction in data storage costs then gave rise to the DVR. This you could consider as being the functionality of a
multiplexer together with a computer disk for storage in place of tape, all housed in the same box together with some
additional ports for connectivity.
The DVR provides a convenient, if limited, replacement for the multiplexer + VCR combination and provides non-linear
access to recorded material usually selected by camera ID, time and date. The consistency of quality of recorded material
will in general be higher than that obtained with analogue tape although the actual quality achieved may or may not be
better, depending on the compression algorithm and individual configuration.
In general more programmable options for individual video stream recording parameters, (picture resolution, number of
frames per second, trigger options, start/stop times etc), are available, but a DVR is only useful where the analogue cameras
are all cabled back to the DVRs location. Competent DVRs now feature CAT 5 network ports so that the device can be
provided with an IP address and thereby become accessible over an Ethernet network.

Many limitations still apply, however, not the least of which being that if it fails youll have most probably lost all your
recordings (or they may not even have been made in the first place). This is not true of NVRs which can be used in mirror
mode see below. On the subject of reliability if you are going to use a DVR make sure that the one youre proposing
incorporates an industrial grade hard disk drive (HDD) and not a domestic one, or failure might be a lot sooner than you
think (most DVR failures arise from overworked and overheated hard drives) - ask the manufacturer which drives he uses.
Like most other things in this world the actual performance obtained from a DVR, its ease of use and reliability will depend
upon the manufacturer, individual model selected and price paid.

And so to the NVR

The Network Video Recorder heralds the arrival of the next natural point in the development of recording technology.
It is important to differentiate between DVRs and NVRs, as both are often termed digital. A DVR digitally compresses
analogue video feeds and stores them on a hard-drive, the term digital referring to the compression and storage
technology, not the transmitted video images. The DVR therefore has to be located near the analogue feeds. In contrast an
NVR stores digital images directly from the IP-network.
Therefore the most obvious difference between the DVR and NVR is that whereas the DVR records from analogue streams
provided from analogue cameras the NVR records video streams that have already been encoded at the cameras. Thus you
find no video connectors anywhere on a NVR; its input and output is IP data comprising compressed and encoded video.
This will typically be in either MPEG-4 or H.264 formats which have enjoyed widespread adoption in the CCTV industry as
the compression technology of choice, due largely to their efficiency.
The huge advantage of architecture based on NVRs is that they can be
located anywhere on a network at the monitoring centre, adjacent to
camera clusters, on the edge of a network, collected together in a
hardened environment, indeed anywhere at all. In use their location is
transparent to an operator he or she simply calls up the recorded video
stream to be viewed and, provided that they have the necessary
authorisation there it is. NVRs record and replay simultaneously, and
recordings on any one machine can be remotely viewed by a number of
operators spread across the network simultaneously, all totally
independently and without affecting each other.
The importance of the independence of physical location, well away from
the cameras if necessary, should not be underestimated IT Managers
are notoriously zealous in safeguarding their network capacity and rightly
so, but by calculating the data flow requirement across the network and
strategically placing NVRs accordingly, the impact of video streaming on
bandwidth usage can be minimised. Typically an NVR might be placed on
a Local Area Network (LAN) and near (in network terms, not necessarily
physically) a camera cluster so that the load is carried by the local LAN
capable of absorbing it easily, thus saving capacity on other, perhaps
more restricted, parts of the network. The IT Manager can specify what
level of bandwidth he is prepared to make available for video streaming
and this can be set as a cap, so that it is not exceeded under worst-case
conditions when in operation.
Then, when a recording is required at any other point on the network
(typically at centre, but not necessarily so) it can be called up
seamlessly by the operator, streamed and then analysed, viewed (not the
same thing) and acted upon accordingly.

NVR in a box!

The typical NVR solution simply requires

a PC platform and hard disk storage.
However, for more demanding fault
tolerant applications NVRs can be
packaged in stand-alone units. For
example IndigoVisions range of NVRAS 3000s is a range of self-contained
rack mounted, Linux based, with the
option of removable hard disk drives. In
addition multiple disk NVRs have the
option of built in disk redundancy with
either RAID1 or RAID5 configurations.
The units also have optional power
redundancy and built-in redundant
network connections. Recordings can
easily be mirrored to multiple NVRs
around the network.

To assist in the calculation of data flow requirement and disk storage capacity requirement spreadsheet-based calculators
are available enabling these numbers to be estimated on a camera-by-camera basis using such parameters as the scene
type (busy street / internal corridor etc.), functionality of the camera (PTZ under continuous operator control / static for ID
purposes etc.), picture resolution and update rate in frames-per-second requirement, and if motion-sensing is used the
motion frequency and type.

Competent NVRs now embody features such as:

Hot-swappable disks

Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) support

Built-in diagnostics (much beloved of IT Managers)

Protection of files against deletion (whether accidental or otherwise)

In-built firewall for the protection of data against unauthorised access

File export function which embodies the digital signature based on individual video frames and audit trail for security

Synchronized audio and video recording and playback

Hard-disk temperature monitoring

Dual, fully redundant power supplies and network connections, providing uninterrupted and continued operation in
the event of a single power supply or network failure.
Mirroring techniques are now often used to duplicate the recording of video streams on additional NVRs located at different
parts of the network, which provides a high level of protection against network failure; if one part goes down the other is
there as a backup. You can have as many NVRs across a system as you like adding another is just a matter of plugging it
in and configuring it. There is no requirement for additional video cabling. This feature really comes into its own during the
consolidation of several independent systems into one managed environment, or in system rationalisation or expansion as it
reduces system complexity and removes all of the cost associated with re-cabling.
Activity Controlled Framerate (ACF) is also used to reduce the size (and hence the cost) of disks.
This facility relies on processing at the camera encoder. In use, should no movement be detected in the camera scene then
the recorder falls back to a low recording rate (typically one frame per second). However, when movement is detected in the
scene it changes back to its pre-programmed recording rate, achieving this in typically only 100ms (or 1/10 of a second).
This feature is most effective in places where low activity occurs, such as in corridors or on fire escapes, or internally in
buildings which are unoccupied at night, and can save as much as
50% of the disk storage capacity that would otherwise be required.

So what can we expect for the future?

Many tools are already available to assist the operator identify and
replay events of interest from a recording. IndigoVisions SMS4TM
Management software, for example, analyses movement in a scene
and on command from an operator displays thumbnails on the screen
that represent frames from recordings containing the specified
movement. Clicking on one of the thumbnails then replays that section
of video. The system can search twenty four hours of recorded video
The latest Digital IP-Video transmitter units incorporate
an Activity Controlled Framerate (ACF) facility which
and display these thumbnails in just a few seconds. Changing the
reduces the amount of information that NVRs need to
search variables allows the operator to sift through vast quantities of
recorded material quickly and efficiently. Analytics software searches
for the events requested, saving the frustrating and time-consuming
task of manually searching through hours of video and freeing the operator to concentrate on more specialised and
immediate tasks. These are not just features that benefit the user but they also help to reduce the overall demand on the
network. More advanced analytics such as Congestion Detection, Motion Detection, Abandoned Object Detection, Counter
Flow (person moving against a defined route), Virtual Tripwire, Object Tracking and Theft Detection are also available.
This is just the tip of the iceberg new developments encompass: Shape-Based Detection, automatic number plate
recognition; gun-shot detection; facial recognition etc. It can be expected that huge productivity improvements will result from
using analytics software during the searching of recorded material in post-event analysis, and for which the Network Video
Recorder is the key.

About the Author

Alex Swanson has worked in IndigoVision for nine years
and was appointed Head of Engineering in 2010.
Previously he was Chief Technical Officer at Vebnet, a
market-leading global service provider of flexible benefits
schemes. Before that he led engineering teams in 3Com,
Axon Networks and Spider Systems working in network
technology. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Physics and an
MSc in A.I. both from Edinburgh University.
Alex Swanson, Head of Engineering
E-mail: or