Encoders vs. Hybrid DVR Recorders

By: Ethan Ace, Published on Dec 05, 2011

With encoder prices moving sharply lower this year, the question of the most cost effective way to take over analog cameras with a VMS software becomes more complex. Axis has recently announced kits offering reduced-cost Axis Camera Station licenses with the encoder. Avigilon's aggresive encoder pricing, along with a new lower-cost VMS version reduce prices further. In this update, we will compare deployment of hybrid DVRs versus encoders with a separate VMS server, and see which is truly least expensive.

Hybrid DVRs

The first, and perhaps most common, method for upgrading analog systems is the hybrid DVR. Analog cameras are simply connected to inputs on the rear of the unit, and licenses are added as required for IP channels. This simplicity has some installation advantages, since less network configuration needs to be done, fewer switch ports are required, and cameras are directly connected.  

Encoders

When using encoders, the two fundamental options are: (1) to use encoders which are kitted with VMS software or (2) to use open platform encoders with 3rd party VMS platforms.

The first option offers definite pricing advantages. Axis, for example, offers their own VMS software for as little as $12.50 USD per channel when purchased with their encoders. Avigilon's four-port encoders require only a single Control Center license per encoder, instead of per camera channel, essentially a 75% discount on licensing compared to competitive options. 

The second options, using encoders with general third party VMSes (no kits) do not offer the competitive advantages of the above options. However, users may not have other options. Axis's kits, for example, do not support 3rd party IP cameras nor does the VMS discounts cover their blade/chassis-based encoders. Higher camera count projects are therefore left to pay full price in most cases. 

Pricing Comparison

Comparing the above options, we arrive at the following pricing comparisons. These comparisons are configured for 16 analog channels, assuming 1TB of storage. 

Using encoders does require some additional switch ports and configuration time, since this method requires each encoder to be configured individually, instead of configuring a single hybrid DVR. Using a hybrid DVR likely saves an additional $150-$250 because of this, which narrows the margin somewhat, which we have reflected below with a $200 average.

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The following is ordered by least to most expensive pricing:

All Avigilon Solution

  • PC/OS for VMS software: $1,000
  • 4x ENC-4P-H264 Encoders: ~$300 estimated street pricing each, $1,200 total
  • 4x Avigilon Control Center Core VMS Licenses: ~$80 each, $320
  • Additional configuration: $200
  • Total: $2,720

Exacq Hybrid Recorder

  • Exacq EL Series: ~$3,000 USD online (16 analog inputs and 1TB hard drive)
  • Total: $3,000

Avigilon Encoders + Low Cost 3rd Party VMS

  • PC/OS for VMS software: $1,000
  • 4x ENC-4P-H264 Encoders: ~$300 estimated street pricing each, $1,200 total
  • 16x Milestone Essential or ExacqVision Start Licenses: ~$50 each, $800
  • Additional configuration: $200
  • Total: $3,200
 

All Axis Solution

  • PC/OS for VMS software: $1,000
  • M7010 16-channel encoder + 16-channel ACS license: ~$2,100 estimated street pricing
  • Additional configuration: $200
  • Total: $3,300

Axis + Low Cost 3rd Party VMS

  • PC/OS for VMS software: $1,000
  • M7010 16-channel encoder : ~$1,900 estimated street pricing
  • Additional configuration: $200
  • 16x Milestone Essential or ExacqVision Start Licenses: ~$50 each, $800
  • Total: $3,900

Note: using Sony or Panasonic encoders would result in even higher prices than the most expensive combo listed here as their entry level encoders are more expensive than Axis's M series.

Clearly, Avigilon's aggressive encoder pricing and licensing scheme makes them most competitive. Note that even using Avigilon's H.264 ONVIF-enabled encoders (some of the least expensive available) with a low-cost third-party VMS which does not offer kit pricing, the Avigilon encoders still present a very low cost option.

Avigilon's kit is also attractive because it retains flexibility to use third party IP cameras unlike the Axis kit which locks one in to using only Axis cameras and/or encoders.

Application Considerations

Economics and performance issues vary depending on scale:

  • If only a few analog cameras need to be migrated, a hybrid DVR is wasteful as typically the minimum number of analog inputs is eight. In such circumstances, a single 4-port analog encoder makes most sense.
  • For 8-32 cameras, while hybrid DVRs are modestly more expensive than the lowest cost kit, they are undoubtedly simpler. This may be valuable to many integrators, especially those deploying multiple-site projects. From an installation standpoint, efficiencies are gained by deploying a single box instead of multiple, and these increase when multiple sites are involved.
  • However, at larger channel counts at a single site, deploying a stack of hybrid DVRs becomes more difficult to manage. Normally, in these cases, it is more desirable to centralize equipment, using fewer, more powerful servers and storage units, so that staff need not manage multiple NVR appliances and can benefit from savings on fewer, more powerful servers and centralized storage.

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