1652195960992 B 0309 Dvrs

Standalone vs. PC-Based DVRs

March 23, 2009
When making your selection, it’s not a matter of which DVR is better – it’s a matter of which is best for your application

If you’re wrestling with which digital video recorder (DVR) will help you achieve your surveillance-monitoring goals, a basic understanding of the differences will help. It can be difficult to choose between a standalone (embedded) and PC-based DVR.

The older of the two systems is the standalone DVR. “A standalone (embedded) DVR is a single unit made up of a cabinet with all the components inside, including the CPU. The operating system and DVR software are on the chip, though it does have a hard drive to record images. Standalones normally have several internal hard-drive spaces, and two or more external hard-drive connections for extended recording times,” says Sergio Collazo, director of sales and marketing at Irvine, CA-based Toshiba Surveillance & IP Video Products.

Unlike a standalone DVR, a PC-based DVR is just what its name implies – recording equipment combined with a PC. “A tower or rack-mount cabinet contains a motherboard, a network card, a video board, a hard drive, and memory, plus a DVR capture card with video inputs for analog cameras, along with Ethernet ports for IP cameras,” explains Collazo.

The Best of Both Worlds

Still can’t decide between standalone or PC-based? Consider DVRs that offer hybrid capabilities. While Chris Johnston, CCTV product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, NY, acknowledges that an embedded box with analog and Ethernet ports was unheard of a few years ago, he says that you now see many vendors introducing embedded architectures with dual-hybrid capabilities.

Hybrid boxes can accommodate the needs of facilities that currently use analog architecture, while also being flexible enough to adapt to a future of IP security systems. “At that point, do you want to rip all of this stuff out, or do you want the flexibility of adding IP cameras to this system? You can do that by simply flicking a switch and enabling a capability,” explains Johnston.

Advantages of Standalone DVRs

According to Fairport, NY-based Bosch Security Systems’ CCTV Product Marketing Manager Chris Johnston, standalone DVRs use a proprietary real-time operating system (OS), an embedded form of Linux, or another type of OS that’s closed to the outside world. For this reason, they’re much less susceptible to denial-of-service attacks, hacking, viruses, worms, etc. “Also, from a pure IT-management standpoint, you don’t have to worry about the Microsoft patch of the week, the anti-virus code updates, and all the other things that go along with that,” adds Johnston.

Advantages of PC-Based DVRs
PC-based DVRs are often hailed for their flexibility. “They’re more upgradeable and expandable, so it’s easy to add hard drives, DVD burners, CD burners, and advanced Internet-access options. Set-up is also considered easier,” says Collazo. Because of this flexibility, facilities professionals with complex security needs may find the PC-based DVR to be the better option.

Operation and Price
Manufacturers of both types of DVRs have fairly intuitive offerings. “Much of the complexity is hidden behind the user interface,” says Johnston. Keep in mind, though, that an increase in the number of DVR features directly correlates to how difficult it will be to learn and configure the system. Software wizards and help tools can provide guidance. According to Collazo, “While you don’t have to be an IT professional to manage a PC-based DVR, it does help to have more advanced computer skills.”

According to Mentor, OH-based Powering Networks, standalone DVRs cost at least two-thirds less than PC-based DVRs with the same features. Johnston explains: “When you look over 3, 5, 7, or 10 years of ownership, the PC-based box is going to be three- to five-times more expensive.” The higher cost is the result of operating system updates, patches, hot-fixes, and anti-virus software updates.

When making your selection, it’s not a matter of which DVR is better – it’s a matter of which is best for your application. “Decide what your minimum requirements are,” advises Johnston. But, invest in a system that has “some flexibility to add capabilities in the future.”

Jana J. Madsen is former editor at Buildings magazine.

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