NVR or VMS for my CCTV – What’s the difference

We are living in an increasingly hi-tech world. Every day new security products are being created and marketed to us, the pace of these new products can be overwhelming. Today’s new innovation is next year’s old technology….so how do we decide which product to use?

When it comes to video surveillance, one of the most common questions we are asked as a
security integrator is what is the difference between an NVR and a VMS, and which one should I use. As professionals in the security industry, we start with one question – what problem are you trying to solve? Let’s start with a quick comparison between the two product types:

NVR (Network Video Recorder)
An NVR is an appliance, it is a device with built in software that takes camera feeds and records them to inbuild storage. They are often cheaper and easier to deploy and have a wide variety of features and functions such as smart phone apps, windows/mac apps for management, and network capabilities. NVRs generally come in different flavours relating to the number of cameras you can attach – 4, 8, 16 channel models are the standard these days.

VMS (Video Management Software)
A VMS is a program that allows a computer to record video in much the same way as an NVR. A VMS provides all the functions and features of an NVR; but also offers a much greater array of benefits, flexibility and expandability. The difference is in the functions, longevity and ease of use that they offer the user.

So how do we decide?
Start with the problem……are people vandalising the site? Do you have OH&S considerations? Do you need to have good visual awareness of the site at all times? An NVR will provide good awareness onsite, giving you the ability to display cameras on a screen providing very effective, live visual awareness. The NVR will also let you review footage when looking for who spray painted your front door, or when your tenant slipped over in the foyer and what led to the incident. A VMS will also offer these benefits; but with a few advantages. Finding NVR footage takes time….and lots of it. Using an NVR to review footage can result in significant time investment including:

  • Reviewing footage – requiring someone to sit in front of a screen and search through at times hours of footage
  • Interviewing witnesses to get approximate times if times are not known
  • Obtaining footage from the recorder is a much more time consuming and labour intensive task

In contrast, a VMS allows most or all of the above steps to be skipped due to 1 major feature….the search. With a VMS we can simply ask the VMS to show us a 3-4 second piece of footage showing everyone who has entered a certain part of the camera view over a specified period of time. The VMS will then organise the snippets of video in a way that makes it easy to just browse until we find our person of interest. We can then investigate the video directly from there and either export for law enforcement or for our own investigative purposes.

Apart from usability and management efficiency, there are also business considerations that must be taken into account such as initial outlay, expandability and longevity.

An NVR will cost less initially due to the mass produced nature of these products. They require minimal setup and configuration and can be deployed rather quickly, saving further costs on the initial install. However, once installed there is a very limited amount of expandability and flexibility available. The amount of cameras, and the quality of the video obtained from the cameras is set in stone from the moment of purchase, making the NVR a true appliance. This introduces a much higher level of risk and depth into the decision making process. If you need more cameras down the track, or require more out of your existing cameras…you may need to upgrade to a new NVR (adding cost) or add another NVR (adding cost and complexity to the management of your CCTV system). New features and functions are generally packaged into newer “models” of NVR, meaning that as new innovations become available, you may not get access to them without the cost of a new NVR.

On the other side of the coin, a VMS will usually require a higher initial cost outlay due to the fact that it uses higher end technology and is generally a customised solution. Once installed however the flexibility and expandability is significantly increased and the ongoing costs associated with VMS ownership are significantly lower. Cameras can be added with minimal if any extra costs over and above the cameras themselves. Quality and video clarity can be changed, increased and or customised as site requirements change. New features and functions are generally available free of charge as the product is developed, allowing the user to take advantage of new innovations as they become available. This gives the VMS a distinct advantage when looking at the operational lifetime of your new system and the total cost of ownership.

There are of course an vast array of other considerations when selecting the best system for your needs; but the above should give you a good starting point when making your initial decisions. To really make sure you get the right solution, it is recommended to get a professional security integrator to help you decide, that way you can be sure you will get a high quality system that suits your needs and serves you well into the future.

Adam Walsh
General Manager
0423 456 472

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