SEM Security Systems
a division of Southeast Mobility Inc
Digital Video Recorder
The digital video recorder or DVR is the heart of your CCTV system. Not long ago all video was recorded onto VHS tapes and you would find a stack of them head high right next to the recorder. VHS tapes were better than nothing but had a couple of draw backs. First you had to continually swap tapes when the one in the recorder neared it's end. Of course they had to be labeled and kept in such an order that when the new tape was about full, you could find the oldest tape to replace it with. Then there was the issue of retrieving video recordings. You had to search through the tapes, assuming that you labeled them properly as you swapped them out, and find the day of interest. Next you had to fast forward through the tape until you found the time of the day that you were looking for. All of these issues and a lot of others have been solved with today's DVR.

DVR's typically come in a 4, 8, 16, and 32 port configuration. This indicates the maximum number of cameras that can be attached to the DVR. If you look at your needs and decide that you have to have 5 cameras, then you will have to install an 8 port DVR. Of course this leaves you 3 empty ports that you can add cameras to later if needed.

A DVR is nothing more than a computer. It may have a different shape, stand up right, or lay flat on a shelf but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck or a computer in this case. All video is stored to a computer hard drive. Now when you get ready to find video that happened last week you just use a computer key board to enter the date and time you are interested in and it is retrieved instantly for you to view. What happens when the hard drive gets full? The computer will start recording over the oldest video on file. Once the system is installed and you see that you are only getting 3 weeks of recording history and you really wanted 6, you simply add in another hard drive.

DVR's offer other advantages. Remote viewing for instance. With all but the cheapest DVR's you will have ethernet capability which allows you to view video from anywhere on your local network using your lap top or even your smart phone, or anywhere in the world via the internet and your broad band connection.

One question that I'm always asked is "how long will it keep a history of recordings?". That depends on a lot of factors. First there is the number of cameras that are attached to the DVR, more cameras equals less recording time. Then there is the recording video quality, higher quality recorded video equals less recording time. Next is the recording speed. Some of the cheaper DVR's will display 30 frames per second to the screen when you are viewing real time but may record at a maximum of 2 frames per second. Higher recorded frame rates equals less recording time. Obviously the size of the hard drive to which the video is stored is going to be a factor. Another factor is whether the cameras are recording full time. With all but the cheesiest of DVR's you can designate each camera to record full time or when motion is detected. This is a function within the DVR, not a motion detector added to the system. When the DVR detects movement in the received video, it will start recording and stop recording when the motion stops. You can also usually set the cameras up on a schedule. For instance we want camera number 1 to record 24/7 but camera 2 we want to record full time during work hours, say from 8 to 5, and then record on motion at night and on weekends. These options where unheard of in the days of video tape.

Most DVR's will have a DVD burner built in so that you can save a particular video to DVR to be used later in court for instance. Some have "hot swappable" hard drives so that you can easily slip out a hard drive that is about full and slide a new one back in it's place.

One thing that may not be so obvious is the user interface or UI. We have worked with some DVR's that were so intuitive that you really didn't need a manual to operate them. It was as easy as pointing with the mouse and clicking and the DVR did exactly what you expected it to do. However, we have worked with others where it was absolutely mandatory that you read the users manual and then call the manufacturers technical support line and have them explain it to you again. By the time you decide you need to do something else with the DVR you have forgotten how to do it and you're back in the manual again trying to figure it out. Definitely take the time to look at the UI, you will glad you did 6 months down the road when you need to go back and make a recording of that incident that just happened.

Again you get what you pay for and the capabilities of the DVR need to be matched to your budget and the video quality that you expect from the cameras.