Professional But Low Cost IP Video Alternatives To Avigilon / Exacq / Milestone

An integrator raised an interesting question. He's looking for a low cost IP video system for residential / SMB customers. He wants quality but charging $3,000 to $5,000 for a 'normal' professional 4 camera system is hard to justify in a market where kits are going for 80% less than that (and have mobile phone support).

Here are some thoughts about alternatives (in alphabetical order):

  • Axis Camera Companion - no VMS recorded needed, just a handful of M series Axis cameras with SD cards (or a NAS) - $1,000 to $1,500 all in - downside - Axis only, limited VMS functions
  • Avigilon - I am not sure of a solution here as Avigilon is inexpensive for professional users but does not really have a budget kit offering
  • Dahua / QSee - very inexpensive cameras and kits - downside available at Costco and online
  • Exacq LC - lower cost appliance for professional VMS software and broad third party support - downside: higher cost than Chinese / Axis Camera Compaion
  • Milestone Arcus / LenovoEMC - similar to Exacq LC in both pros and cons

There's other 'pure' consumer offerings (e.g., Dropcam) but I am not sure it's good enough nor attractive enough for an integrator.

What else would you consider?

Axxon Next + Zotac/Shuttle Mini PC with Hikvision Mini IR Domes/Bullets

For this type of application, I think an NVR (i.e., VMS pre-loaded on a PC) would be better / less cost overall (no time setting up, etc.). Does either Axxon or Hikvision offer 4 or 8 channel NVRs? Presumably Hikvision does.

ACTi offers 4, 8 and 16 channels pre-loaded NVRs

Bosch has new pre-loaded NVRS too but MSRP is $2400ish

Speco keeps pushing their new NVRs as well with a PoE Switch embedded on them too.

Just some ideas

Thanks, Steve.

I had not looked at the Speco NVRs in a while. They have a 4 channel NVR with a PoE switch, ONVIF Profile S, that sells online for ~$750. That's not bad.

You can get a 4 channel Hikvision embedded NVR with integrated POE ports and 4 outdoor 1.3 domes for under $1000. It has webserver and free Iphone app. For the money I was impressed and it blows the doors off analog systems.

The reality is for a basic 4CH system with no expandability and no advanced features (e.g. transcoding for improve mobile and web viewing) a HD-SDI system is cheaper and easier to setup. 4CH realtime HD-SDI DVRs can be had for ~$200 and 1080p outdoor cameras ~$200 each as well.

From our point of view the #1 reason to go IP is expandability, features and scale. If the customer just wants basic basic basic then HD-SDI is the more suitable option.

These standalone NVRs are no good for a quality mobile viewing experience because they do not transcode so cannot adjust picture quality and frame rate to match the bandwidth conditions of the viewer or the NVR's internet connection. Also browser compatibility is usually poor and restricted to only Internet Explorer.

Dahua / QSee - very inexpensive cameras and kits - downside available at Costco and online

I would add Hikvision to the relatively inexpensive list. Some of their kits have appeared at Costco in the past few months under the Swann brand. The thing to keep in mind is that the entire Dahua product line is not used by Q-see and other similar companies. They are primarily focused on the fixed 3.6mm mini domes and bullets. Often times, those are not always desired. This is when offering those products under other US distribution company names is wise simply because they allow more of the Dahua product line and most customers don't know the difference.

We had a job where an integrater had recommended and purchased SnapAV CCTV products. They were difficult to install and the DVR was horrible at compressing video. The integrater had left the project after prewire and we ended up finishing. When the end user was unable to get more than a few days of record time from a decent size hard drive, we recommended a different DVR. They instead called the original integrater and he said that you just need to set the DVR to CIF. D1 wasn't necessary.

Now SnapAV camera products are anything but inexpensive, but their goal is to only make it available to integraters to stop price shopping and potentially give integraters higher margins. This works on some of there products, but this doesn't hold true when comparing the products to Dahua and other products where you are getting much better pricing on to begin with.

Doesn't HD Witness/DW spectrum have minimum requirements for low camera counts? I have it running on a dual core processesor with good success. I would think that you could find a lower cost off-the-shelf PC and run 4 inexpensive Onvif cameras on it. The end result would be more expensive then an cheap NVR, but it would offer significant value in the installation and ease of use.

I would 2nd the use of HD-SDI for ease of setup and keeping the cost down. However, is that a closed system in regards to camera and recorder or is there an open standard where you can mix and match?

"Doesn't HD Witness/DW spectrum have minimum requirements for low camera counts?"

The DW Spectrum Blackjack uses an Atom proccesor and is spec'd for up to 16 cameras. (Last page of the brochure below.)

Product Brochure

So that's a pretty light hardware requirement.

Bohan, that's a $1000 for an HD SDI kit ($200 for the DVR, $200 x 4 for the cameras. But you can get QSee HD IP kits from Costco for $699 or the Zmodo one on Newegg for $479. Is there any HD SDI kits available online for less than those prices?

I get that 'theoretically' HD SDI was supposed to be cheaper but it has not worked out that way so far.

The 'smallest' Blackjack appears to be 16 channels and 3TB (+ costs $2,800 online). Is that correct? Does Digital Watchdog have anything smaller?

Bohan, one other thing about ease of use. HD IP kits with integrated PoE switches and auto discovery are very easy to setup. We were surprised to find that in our QSee test but that design eliminates any need for IP knowledge to connect IP cameras to the recorder.

That's the Balckjack cube. They have the Blackjack blade also that is smaller and comes with a 2TB drive, but the only reason I posted the spec on the Blackjack was to show it supported recording using an ATOM processor, not so much for the Blackjack itself.

Freedom VMS is an afordable Australian designed, made and supported VMS with a choice of Freedom Lite and Freedom Pro server software. Freedom Lite retails for $50 per channel (limited to 30 channels per server) and Freedom Pro retails for $100 per channel (limited to 64 channels per server) without any base licence or ongoing PMA/SMA costs. More importantly, it is also compatible with lower cost Chinese hardware brands such Hikvision and Dahau IP cameras and embedded DVR/NVRs. Freedom VMS supports analogue, 960H, IP and HD-SDI and is used in Australia for installations ranging from a few cameras to thousands. Go to for more information.

The problem is that $50 per channel is still a lot of money for this segment. I buy 4 licenses at $50 each ($200), then I buy a PC ($500?) and you are already closing in to $1,000 even without cameras (plus you need to set it up yourself).

Btw, there are a handful of free VMS software options (though you still have the cost of PC and setup).

Because of that, for most people in this segment, getting appliances are overall cheaper and less cumbersome than loading any VMS software on a COTS PC.

We use iCatcher, and overall its a great VMS and integrates every camera we have wanted to use. The fact that it can integrate local analog and usb cameras make it a great option for small businesses and home installations too. In my line of work everything has to be remotely viewable, and their proprietary web server and video compression allow for the video to be viewed by all my users. They have a demo version that allows for you to test and even the multiple camera setups, 2,4,6 etc are extremely affordable. Especially when I am faced with Milestone and having to renew those stupid license keys etc. for close to 100 cameras.

Steve, I have not heard about iCatcher in a while. We looked at them a while back, and it seems the fact remains, that it is fairly expensive (4 channels for 200GBP / ~$325 USD). There's numerous quality VMS software packages for more than $100 less than that.

I am not saying it's a bad VMS. Just that there are a lot of quality VMS software options for the same price or less.

Obviously beyond that, I still think that having to load software and set up a box is major burden for small jobs.

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.

Hi Steve,

It seems you have some expereince with i-catcher. I've used it for some usb cameras and now I'm trying to get it to work with a Hikvision CD2032 which is unfortunately not listed as a supported camera. I'm able to configure the stream manually and use the string 'rstp://admin:12345@IPadress:554//Streaming/Channels/01'

This is giving me the video image but also a continous stream of Error 91 pop up windows. There is definitely something not right. Hope your experience with various camera's might help to get me on track.

Thanks in advance for any support you can give.