Well John was kind enough to point me to this conversation in response to a question I asked him about low cost NVR solutions. Since I just got to pick the brains that contributed the above comments, I will toss out a little info on the product I have been testing recently for small installations, and am deciding whether to move ahead with for that market segment - Synology NAS units.
- Inexpensive low-end units. The product line scales from $150 - $22,000+ per box.
- All units run the same surveillance software. Talk about continuity across a product line - something I'm a huge fan of. Understand though, this software does NOT compete with high end VMS software, although the manufacturer seems to be taking its ongoing development very seriously.
- First camera license on every box is free.
- Surveillance ratings for each box seem to be very conservative. The manufacturer caps each box with a maximum number of camera licenses available. Even the tiny $150 (plus hard drive) unit (DS112j) is rated for 5 cameras. The first unit I tested was a DS213j ($200, plus hard drives) - basically the same as the DS112j, but one model year newer, so slightly faster, and it has a 2nd drive bay. I installed it at an existing site with an Arecont 3100 (1.3 MP, MJPEG), Arecont 5100 (1.3 MP, MJPEG), Acti 1231 (1.3 MP, MJPEG), and a pair of Axis 3346(?) (2 MP, H.264). All motion detection was handled by the server. I expected to see some noticeable choking during periods of motion - especially with 3 cameras running MJPEG, but in fact most of the time the system resources were barely being touched. Pleasantly surprising. One caution - check the specs for maximum frame rates at VGA and 720p (published for all models) for sites in wich there is likely to be simultaneous motion on multiple cameras. I point that out because this thread is about getting maximum bang for minimum buck. The DS112j is rated at 10 FPS @720p. Fine for a typical resi install, not so fine for a small but busy store, if you are running MP cameras. By the time you get to the $400 units the question of frame rates becomes largely irrelevant - this product line quickly moves into some serious processing "juice" as you move up the scale.
- Support for a large number (1400+) of camera makes / models. Claims ONVIF Profile S certification, which I have not tested at all.
- No client software - all browser based.
- All multi-drive units support various standard RAID options, in addition to their "hybrid" raid, that allows mixing of different size hard drives.
- In addition to easy RAID options, at about the $500 level all units also support high-availablity (with a second indentical unit).
- Being highly flexible NAS units, they can also do a LOT of things besides act as an NVR. (Media organizing / streaming, web serving, mail serving... just the tip of the iceberg - far more than most security integrators will ever need or want to bother with, myself included. For my purposes, the potential extra value of the additional capabilities comes from having the option of setting up residential customers with simple media streaming, and on-site data backup for resi and small biz customers. Also, since part of my goal is to get completely away from PC-based solutions for small installations, the built-in ability to set up a VPN (stupidly easy - even I did it quickly, and I know nothing about VPNs), is very useful. Now I can retain my ability to directly access router settings when appropriate, and camera settings on most installations, without having to open them to the internet.
- These units do a LOT more than just manage surveillance video. (Yes, I also listed that as a PRO.) For non-techie and highly-techie customers, no problem. For that fun crowd who knows just enough to be dangerous... Lord help us. There is some ability to control access to certain system-level and software package-level functions, but don't expect to be able to seriously lock down the device to make it "poking around" proof. This is more likely to cause headaches from customers who can't resist screwing around in the machine - there is no more danger of accidentally disabling recording than with most DVRs.
- The surveillance software is currently limited to 2 MP video streams, regardless of the box it is running on. Hopefully they will catch up to the year 2005 in the near future. (This is why that 5 MP Arecont 5100 is running at 1.3 MP in the test site I described above. Grrrrrrr.)
- Mobile app (DS Cam) is so-so. Functional but not exciting. Far better, though, than the fact that there is...
- NO TRANSCODING FOR VIDEO REVIEW. This is the deal-breaker for me, until it is corrected. You can set recording resolution and live viewing resolution individually for each camera (limited by each camera's streaming capabilities - not via transcoding), but if you want to record in MP+ resolutions (duh), and the site does not have benefit of solid upload speeds, as many don't - especially in outlying DSL areas) - expect the experience of trying to remotely review recorded video to land somewhere between "agonizing" and "abject failure". The (potential) good news is, the company already has some experience with transcoding for their entertainment video server functions, so perhaps some of that will start to translate over to the surveillance software before too long. It desperately needs it.
- Only one camera license is included with each box. Additional licenses list for $50 each.
As you can see, there are some very intriguing aspects to this product line, but for more than a handful of cameras I do not feel the caliber of the VMS software can yet justify the cost. In their defense, I will say they seem to be maintaining a steady commitment to continually improving it, as they do with the other software for their units. Software updates are free, very easy, and in most cases extend back to units 3-5 years old. For my purposes as a dealer, if they added serious, flexible transcoding for video review I would be sold for most small installations. Until then, I'm still looking.
One last thought, for those still reading... ALL units, even the tiny ones, include a fairly capable and flexible Central Management System (CMS) function. It installs as part of the surveillance software package, and only needs to be turned on and told whether to function as a feeding server or the central server. There is no additional cost. In other words, for $150 plus a hard drive - call it $250 per camera for 1 TB of storage - you can effectively have a nice little "edge" recorder for each camera (first camera license on each box is always free), and use any of the units as your central server. Or, as the number of cameras increases, add a more robust box as the managing server - again, just for the cost of the box and whatever HDD space you want to give it. But either way, with no transcoding you better have that upload bandwidth available at every site.
Getting back to the point of this thread, since I have gotten quite wordy... As an example, $330, plus whatever storage you want to add, gets you a DS214 - brand new model as of this posting, can be licensed up to 12 cameras, 360 FPS @720p, 96 FPS @ 1080p, hot-swappable hard drives. So for a 4 camera initial setup with expandability to 12 and, say, 2 TB of non-RAID storage... $330 (server) + $150 (3 additional camera licenses) + $125 (decent 7200 RPM 2 TB hard drive) = about $600 + shipping, plus your choice of almost any cameras you wish to use.
Hope that saves someone a little time somewhere along the way.