DVR vs VMS Software: Test Results

By: Benros Emata, Published on Mar 22, 2011

DVRs don't get much respect anymore. Widely viewed as old and antiquated, the buzz now goes to VMSes. When IP video people think good software, DVRs are generally far from their mind. Plus since VMS software, by design, works with megapixel and IP cameras, they support the latest and greatest cameras. Lots of savvy people look at DVRs and wonder why they would pay thousands of dollars for a proprietary, analog only, box.

In our discussions with numerous integrators, the strongest case made for using DVRs is choosing very low cost Asian DVRs. These integrators point out that the prices for these units are incredibly low ($250 or less for 4 channel DVRs, $1,000 or less for 16 channel DVRs, etc.). The total cost of these appliances are far less than just the hardware costs alone from Dell, HP, Intransa, Pivot3, etc. Add in the cost of software licenses and the higher camera costs for IP over analog and the cost savings of using Asian DVRs are massive.

We've been intrigued by this. The economics seem clear but what about the quality? The deserved historical reputation of Asian products is bad UIs, poor software feature sets, weak support, etc. We wanted to see for ourselves where these low cost DVRs truly stand today.

In this report, we share our test results of Hikvision's DVRs [link no longer available] and contrast them to Milestone's Essential VMS software (including our tests of Milestone's Smart Client and Go). We found Hikvision to be a good representative choice - large revenues (hundreds of millions) and broad product use (either directly or through their DVR OEMs). Additionally, as Hikvision has been aggressively expanding its presence in both the EU and the US, this would give us a chance to see where they stand and what, if any, progress they have made. Milestone, of course, is a logical choice as well simply because it is so commonly cited and marketed throughout the world as a leading VMS software.

Let's start with our key findings from the Hikvision DVR / client test:

  • Thick client software offered a full range of typical VMS capabilities in a single client (including alarm management, mapping and detailed audit trail). The client was fairly easy to use. Nothing groundbreaking but generally followed best practices of other DVR / VMS systems.
  • The free iPhone / iPad client was solid with simple controls for live viewing and PTZ control. 
  • The web client offered broad functionality including live view, search/playback and system/recorder configuration.
  • The DVR is 'headed' and provides a clean UI and a mouse driven interface.
  • Phone technical support was solid. We did 4 anonymous phone calls to the US office [link no longer available]. On 3 of those phone calls, we were connected to a native English speaking technical support representative within 5 minutes (the other time it went to voice mail). Tech support says they are open from 6am - 6pm Pacific Time.
  • The system only offers IP support in their 'top tier' DVR offerings. The system had no video analytics.
  • The 4 channel unit we tested had an MSRP of $493. In the same series (DS-7300 [link no longer available]), the 16 channel unit had an MSRP of just over $1000. Note: Hikvision uses a security dealer discount structure so street prices would be significantly less.

Recommendations

For entry to mid level systems (less than say 32 channels), Hikvision's software features and support rival Milestone's at a fraction of a Milestone solution's cost (i.e., Milestone Essential software licenses, PC, setup, etc.). The biggest deficiency for this market segment is the lack of IP / megapixel camera support. For those looking for a low cost system with solid remote monitoring and are willing to forgo IP / MP, Hikvision would be quite attractive.

Contrast Between Hikvision and Milestone

Let's look at the key advantages of each of the two offerings:

Milestone Essential Advantages

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  • Higher resolution cameras: better image quality, broader coverage, etc.
  • Pick your own hardware: organizations can choose a COTS PC hardware they trust and have a service contract.
  • More controls for playback / search 
  • Upgrade to higher end Milestone VMS versions for access control integration, enterprise management, video analytics, etc.

Hikvision Advantages

  • Much lower system cost - Just for the recorder side, Hikvision is likely to be 1/3rd the price 
  • Single client to perform both administration and operation functionalities
  • Simpler playback / search functionalities
  • Free iPhone application vs Milestone's extremely expensive add-on options ($1,000+ price) 
  • Integrated alarm management and mapping (Milestone does not offer this in Essentials though many other entry/budget VMS systems do)
  • DVR is an embedded system - need not worry about anti-virus, firewalls, etc.

We found thick client software feature sets and phone support for both providers to be roughly similar.

In the rest of the report, we dig into the details of the Hikvision test results.

Thick Client (IVMS 4000)

In this video we take a tour of Hikvision's thick client application, IVMS-4000 [link no longer available]. The application supports Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and 7. We'll demonstrate key functionality of this all-in-one client used for both extensive operation and administration. We start by showing how to add remote devices or DVRs to the application. Next, we cover live viewing in what the IVMS-4000 calls the 'Preview' tab. Live viewers are able to do the usual tasks, such as, PTZ control, snap-shots, multi-camera views, digital zoom, local recording and alarm monitoring. We'll then look at the built-in mapping feature. It's a straight forward procedure and provides typical map functionality, e.g., nested maps and placing clickable icons of cameras onto those maps. We'll then move on to archive searches or playback capabilities. We discover that playback mode provides typical features such as date/time search with an interactive timeline, synchronous playback, video clips and exporting, frame-by-frame, and slow/fast playback speed adjustments. We'll then shift focus to some administration/management functionality of the client. In the 'Setup' tab the thick client provides robust DVR configuration options such as video stream/quality settings, schedules, motion detection/record, network settings and many other essential options as well. Finally, we'll briefly cover the 'Logs' tab, where audits on user activity and system level events can be filtered, queried and exported for review. In all, the IVMS-4000 is a fundamentally solid operator/administrator interface with many key features in a fairly well designed GUI.

Web Client (Internet Explorer)

In this video we provide a review of the Hikvision DVR's web-client application. It uses Active X controls so IE is recommended. We'll notice that the interface appears 'clean' and has a well layed out design. It's also an all-in-one type application supporting both operator and administrative capabilities. It's not quite as robust as the thick-client but still manages to keep key features/functionality. We'll go through the live view mode, playback mode and lower level settings to get a sense of it's overall usability and function. Unlike the thick client, the web-client does not provide a map feature, digital PTZ, or multi-camera playback. Interestingly, however, the web-client does provide a wide range of DVR configuration options - much like the thick client.

Mobile Client (IVMS 4500 for iPhone)

In this video we examine the IVMS-4500 mobile client [link no longer available]. We download a free iPhone version from the App Store, but it's supported on other mobile platforms as well (Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry). Like the thick client it can manage multiple Hikvision DVRs (and IP cameras), but it has no playback functionality. Features include 2x2 or single camera live view, PTZ controls, portrait/landscape orientation, and snap-shots all in user friendly interface.

Hikvision DVR Overview

Finally, here is a quick overview of the physical properties of the Hikvision 7300 series DVR. It's pretty simple and straightforward - small form factor, headed unit with basic controls via front panel or mouse.

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