QNAP NVRs Low-Cost IP Video Examined

By: John Honovich, Published on Nov 21, 2009

Network attached storage (NAS) manufacturers are rapidly entering the video surveillance market, offering low cost NVRs with advanced storage management compared to traditional video recorders.

Perhaps the most well known of these manufacturers and certainly the most commonly sold on-line is QNAP Security [link no longer available], a division of QNAP systems. QNAP offers a broad selection of NVRs [link no longer available] ranging from 4 to 40 channel units.

QNAP and other NAS manufacturer offer an alternative to software only providers (like Milestone, Genetec, OnSSI, etc.) who charge $100 - $300 per channel just for software in addition to the purchase of separate computers to run the software (see our analysis of Intransa's NVR appliances for an attempt to simplify this but at a relatively high price).

While QNAP does not deliver many of the premium and sophisticated features that software only providers supply, QNAP's low cost, broad camera support and sophisticated storage management will be a better fit for a number of applications.

QNAP offers 13 models of NVRs [link no longer available] ranging from 4 to 40 channels and from 1 to 8 bays for hard drives.

The models follow a clear naming convention:

  • All the models start with "VS" except for the Home units which start with "NVR." The "VS" units, which are the small business and enterprise models, support all IP cameras that QNAP supports. The home unit "NVRs" only support a subset (see comparison chart).
  • The first number in the model refers to the number of bays (e.g., the VS-2008 [link no longer available] has 2 bays while the VS-5020 [link no longer available] has 5 bays). There are 8, 5, 4 and 2 bay options.
  • The second number in the model refers to the maximum number of IP cameras supported by the unit (e.g., the VS-2008 [link no longer available] supports a maximum of 8 cameras while the VS-5020 [link no longer available] supports a maximum of 20 cameras).
  • An "RP" at the end of the model name means that the unit is rack mountable and offers redundant power (e.g., 24 channel systems are offered in both tower and rack versions - VS-8024 [link no longer available] vs VS-8024-RP [link no longer available]). Rack mounted, redundant power versions are offered for 16, 24, 32 and 40 channel models.

Limitations for IP cameras is based on total cameras licensed and throughput. QNAP has the following limitations on I/O throughput:

  • 300 Mb/s throughput for models in the 8 bay series
  • 138 Mb/s throughput for models in the 5 bay series
  • 62.6 Mb/s throughput for models in the 4 and 2 bay series

QNAP reports that this is the highest throughput in its class. We cannot assess this claim.

As an example, according to QNAP's specification, a VS-5020 has throughput to support 20 cameras each with an average bandwidth of 6.9 Mb/s. The highest end QNAP model (the VS-8040U-RP [link no longer available]) is rated for 40 cameras at an average bit rate of 7.5 Mb/s. In both cases, this would be capable of supporting a large number of even 2MP MJPEG cameras (which often consume about 10 - 12 Mb/s).

QNAP does not offer license upgrades to support more cameras, even if the unit has sufficient throughput. The channel count of the appliance bought is the maximum number of IP cameras that may be supported.

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Motion detection is not provided by the QNAP appliance. If motion based recording or alerting is required, this must be performed on the camera. This creates dependencies on the quality and accuracy of each camera's built-in motion detection.

All QNAP appliances are "headless" and require a remote PC to browse video or perform configurations. The Internet Explorer browser is required.

Hardware Features

All of the small business/enterprise "VS" series products offer a number of sophisticated storage management features:

  • Easy input or removal of hard drives without having to screw/unscrew carriers, etc.
  • Hot swappable hard drives
  • RAID 1 or 5 for storage redundancy and tolerance against the failure of a single drive
  • Online storage expansion - lower capacity hard drives can be swapped out for higher capacity units while the system is still running

QNAP does not support an internal video encoder card and therefore only interfaces with analog cameras through the use of separate encoder appliances.

Software Features

On the software side, the following are key elements:

Because the appliance is headless, all configuration/setup needs to be done via a web browser. The video below shows the use of a wizard for initial configuration:

Monitoring is also done through the web browser offering a limited virtual multiplex of up to 120 cameras. The video below provides an overview:

Basic investigation/playback functionality is provided as demonstrated below:

Enterprise Management

QNAP does not offer enterprise management of user accounts nor servers. Changes to configurations need to be performed at each individual appliance. The only 'enterprise' functionality is the limited virtual multiplex provided in the monitoring view.

Pricing

MSRP pricing is approximately $110 per channel which includes the software licenses and the NVR/NAS appliance. It does not include hard drives. Purchasing two to eight 1TB hard drives at approximately $100 each will not significantly add to the overall cost per channel.

Here are a few representative MSRP price points for the product line:

  • NVR 104: $499
  • VS-2008: $899
  • VS-4016U-RP: $1999
  • VS-8032U-RP: $3699
  • VS-8040U-RP: $4099

Since QNAP is widely sold on-line, up to date pricing can easily be found using a Google product search. On-line pricing is generally quite close to MSRP.

QNAP Strengths

These features provide QNAP with a number of important strengths:

  • Low cost: At about $110 per channel for hardware and software, this is about the same price as low end IP video software that supports multiple vendor's IP cameras. Cheaper solutions are available but they usually only support a single vendor's IP cameras (e.g. D-Link, ACTi, Vivotek and many others provide free VMS software that supports only their cameras).
  • Broad IP camera support: They support over 2 dozen IP camera manufacturers including all of the top 10 selling manufacturers except for Bosch. 
  • Strong storage management: They offer storage management features that are generally not provided in PCs or NVR appliances (RAID, hot swappable drives, on-line hard drive expansion, etc.)

This combination of strengths will be especially attractive for customers that are using megapixel cameras and want the flexibility of deploying cameras from multiple vendors.

QNAP Weaknesses

At the same time, QNAP's product offering has a number of weaknesses:

  • Requires encoders for analog cameras: For most sites with existing analog cameras, QNAP requires the use of 3rd party encoders. This can eliminate the cost savings of QNAP relative to many hybrid DVRs.
  • Poor enterprise management: QNAP lacks central account management, LDAP integration and centralized recording configuration. All of these make it difficult to manage and use large number of NVR appliances.
  • Poor 3rd party integration: For those needing to integrate with video analytics, access control, PoS, ATM machines, intrusion, PSIM, etc., QNAP has very little options.  For those who need more than stand-alone video management, QNAP is limited.

For customers looking to migrate slowly from existing analog cameras, the cost savings may be minimal and better options may be available.

For customers that have large scale, sophisticated needs, QNAP will likely not have the features to meet such requirements.

QNAP Compared to Software Only

For those customers going all IP who only need a few hundred cameras across a small number of sites, QNAP could be a simpler, less expensive choice than purchasing and deploying a more sophisticated VMW software solution.

On the other hand, for thousands of cameras or for systems that must integrate with 3rd party systems (including analytics), features in 'open' system VMS software to accomplish these tasks will likely justify the additional cost.

QNAP Compared to Other Appliances

For small to medium sized deployments, the best alternatives to QNAP come from other appliance vendors.

Compared to Avermedia

For users migrating large numbers of analog cameras while adding in a few IP cameras, Avermedia's Hybrid/Analog Linux DVRs are likely to be a strong alternative. With 16 channel appliances under $2,000 USD, Avermedia essentially provides analog video encoding for free compared to QNAP (which will result in $500 - $1000 savings by eliminating encoder appliances). Avermedia also offers more sophisticated centralized management capabilities. On the downside, Avermedia provides no redundancy for storage and requires manually addition of hard drives (e.g., opening the lid and assembling/inserting the hard drives).

Compared to Exacq EL Series

Like Avermedia, the Exacq EL series [link no longer available] are hybrid DVR appliances that eliminate the need for separate encoders when supporting existing analog cameras. Exacq also offers software only version of their VMS and broader 3rd party integration. On the other hand, the MSRP of the Exacq EL is approximately twice that QNAP's (closer to $4,000 USD depending on model).

Compared to NUUO NAS NVRMini

The most well known direct alternative to QNAP is likely the NAS NVRMini series from NUUO. The NVRMini offers the same fundamental architecture - a NAS appliance with embedded VMS software that supports a broad range of IP cameras (though note: NUUO's NAS IP camera support is significantly lower than QNAP's and NUUO's better known VMS's version support).

The NUUO NVRMini tends to be notably more expensive than QNAP with the 4 channel and 8 channel versions being almost twice as expensive (see a sample of online pricing for NUUO's NVRMini). Additionally, the maximum channel count for NUUO is 16, significantly less than QNAP's 40 channel limit.

On the positive side for NUUO, the NVRMini's can be managed and integrated with NUUO's other product offerings including their hybrid DVR card and VMS support. They also can be managed through NUUO's central management software.

QNAP Product Lineup Overview

QNAP offers 13 models of NVRs [link no longer available] ranging from 4 to 40 channels and from 1 to 8 bays for hard drives.

The models follow a clear naming convention:

  • All the models start with "VS" except for the Home units which start with "NVR." The "VS" units, which are the small business and enterprise models, support all IP cameras that QNAP supports. The home unit "NVRs" only support a subset (see comparison chart).
  • The first number in the model refers to the number of bays (e.g., the VS-2008 [link no longer available] has 2 bays while the VS-5020 [link no longer available] has 5 bays). There are 8, 5, 4 and 2 bay options.
  • The second number in the model refers to the maximum number of IP cameras supported by the unit (e.g., the VS-2008 [link no longer available] supports a maximum of 8 cameras while the VS-5020 [link no longer available] supports a maximum of 20 cameras).
  • An "RP" at the end of the model name means that the unit is rack mountable and offers redundant power (e.g., 24 channel systems are offered in both tower and rack versions - VS-8024 [link no longer available] vs VS-8024-RP [link no longer available]). Rack mounted, redundant power versions are offered for 16, 24, 32 and 40 channel models.

Limitations for IP cameras is based on total cameras licensed and throughput. QNAP has the following limitations on I/O throughput:

  • 300 Mb/s throughput for models in the 8 bay series
  • 138 Mb/s throughput for models in the 5 bay series
  • 62.6 Mb/s throughput for models in the 4 and 2 bay series

QNAP reports that this is the highest throughput in its class. We cannot assess this claim.

As an example, according to QNAP's specification, a VS-5020 has throughput to support 20 cameras each with an average bandwidth of 6.9 Mb/s. The highest end QNAP model (the VS-8040U-RP [link no longer available]) is rated for 40 cameras at an average bit rate of 7.5 Mb/s. In both cases, this would be capable of supporting a large number of even 2MP MJPEG cameras (which often consume about 10 - 12 Mb/s).

QNAP does not offer license upgrades to support more cameras, even if the unit has sufficient throughput. The channel count of the appliance bought is the maximum number of IP cameras that may be supported.

Motion detection is not provided by the QNAP appliance. If motion based recording or alerting is required, this must be performed on the camera. This creates dependencies on the quality and accuracy of each camera's built-in motion detection.

All QNAP appliances are "headless" and require a remote PC to browse video or perform configurations. The Internet Explorer browser is required.

Hardware Features

All of the small business/enterprise "VS" series products offer a number of sophisticated storage management features:

  • Easy input or removal of hard drives without having to screw/unscrew carriers, etc.
  • Hot swappable hard drives
  • RAID 1 or 5 for storage redundancy and tolerance against the failure of a single drive
  • Online storage expansion - lower capacity hard drives can be swapped out for higher capacity units while the system is still running

QNAP does not support an internal video encoder card and therefore only interfaces with analog cameras through the use of separate encoder appliances.

Software Features

On the software side, the following are key elements:

Because the appliance is headless, all configuration/setup needs to be done via a web browser. The video below shows the use of a wizard for initial configuration:

Monitoring is also done through the web browser offering a limited virtual multiplex of up to 120 cameras. The video below provides an overview:

Basic investigation/playback functionality is provided as demonstrated below:

Enterprise Management

QNAP does not offer enterprise management of user accounts nor servers. Changes to configurations need to be performed at each individual appliance. The only 'enterprise' functionality is the limited virtual multiplex provided in the monitoring view.

Pricing

MSRP pricing is approximately $110 per channel which includes the software licenses and the NVR/NAS appliance. It does not include hard drives. Purchasing two to eight 1TB hard drives at approximately $100 each will not significantly add to the overall cost per channel.

Here are a few representative MSRP price points for the product line:

  • NVR 104: $499
  • VS-2008: $899
  • VS-4016U-RP: $1999
  • VS-8032U-RP: $3699
  • VS-8040U-RP: $4099

Since QNAP is widely sold on-line, up to date pricing can easily be found using a Google product search. On-line pricing is generally quite close to MSRP.

QNAP Strengths

These features provide QNAP with a number of important strengths:

  • Low cost: At about $110 per channel for hardware and software, this is about the same price as low end IP video software that supports multiple vendor's IP cameras. Cheaper solutions are available but they usually only support a single vendor's IP cameras (e.g. D-Link, ACTi, Vivotek and many others provide free VMS software that supports only their cameras).
  • Broad IP camera support: They support over 2 dozen IP camera manufacturers including all of the top 10 selling manufacturers except for Bosch. 
  • Strong storage management: They offer storage management features that are generally not provided in PCs or NVR appliances (RAID, hot swappable drives, on-line hard drive expansion, etc.)

This combination of strengths will be especially attractive for customers that are using megapixel cameras and want the flexibility of deploying cameras from multiple vendors.

QNAP Weaknesses

At the same time, QNAP's product offering has a number of weaknesses:

  • Requires encoders for analog cameras: For most sites with existing analog cameras, QNAP requires the use of 3rd party encoders. This can eliminate the cost savings of QNAP relative to many hybrid DVRs.
  • Poor enterprise management: QNAP lacks central account management, LDAP integration and centralized recording configuration. All of these make it difficult to manage and use large number of NVR appliances.
  • Poor 3rd party integration: For those needing to integrate with video analytics, access control, PoS, ATM machines, intrusion, PSIM, etc., QNAP has very little options.  For those who need more than stand-alone video management, QNAP is limited.

For customers looking to migrate slowly from existing analog cameras, the cost savings may be minimal and better options may be available.

For customers that have large scale, sophisticated needs, QNAP will likely not have the features to meet such requirements.

QNAP Compared to Software Only

For those customers going all IP who only need a few hundred cameras across a small number of sites, QNAP could be a simpler, less expensive choice than purchasing and deploying a more sophisticated VMW software solution.

On the other hand, for thousands of cameras or for systems that must integrate with 3rd party systems (including analytics), features in 'open' system VMS software to accomplish these tasks will likely justify the additional cost.

QNAP Compared to Other Appliances

For small to medium sized deployments, the best alternatives to QNAP come from other appliance vendors.

Compared to Avermedia

For users migrating large numbers of analog cameras while adding in a few IP cameras, Avermedia's Hybrid/Analog Linux DVRs are likely to be a strong alternative. With 16 channel appliances under $2,000 USD, Avermedia essentially provides analog video encoding for free compared to QNAP (which will result in $500 - $1000 savings by eliminating encoder appliances). Avermedia also offers more sophisticated centralized management capabilities. On the downside, Avermedia provides no redundancy for storage and requires manually addition of hard drives (e.g., opening the lid and assembling/inserting the hard drives).

Compared to Exacq EL Series

Like Avermedia, the Exacq EL series [link no longer available] are hybrid DVR appliances that eliminate the need for separate encoders when supporting existing analog cameras. Exacq also offers software only version of their VMS and broader 3rd party integration. On the other hand, the MSRP of the Exacq EL is approximately twice that QNAP's (closer to $4,000 USD depending on model).

Compared to NUUO NAS NVRMini

The most well known direct alternative to QNAP is likely the NAS NVRMini series from NUUO. The NVRMini offers the same fundamental architecture - a NAS appliance with embedded VMS software that supports a broad range of IP cameras (though note: NUUO's NAS IP camera support is significantly lower than QNAP's and NUUO's better known VMS's version support).

The NUUO NVRMini tends to be notably more expensive than QNAP with the 4 channel and 8 channel versions being almost twice as expensive (see a sample of online pricing for NUUO's NVRMini). Additionally, the maximum channel count for NUUO is 16, significantly less than QNAP's 40 channel limit.

On the positive side for NUUO, the NVRMini's can be managed and integrated with NUUO's other product offerings including their hybrid DVR card and VMS support. They also can be managed through NUUO's central management software.

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