The Value of Hybrid NVR/DVRs in IP Video Systems

By: John Honovich, Published on Jun 15, 2008

Hybrid NVR/DVRs are appliances (purposed built computers) that can simultaneously support IP cameras and directly connected analog cameras. This provides simplicity and flexibility. Customers can start with their existing analog cameras and slowly migrate to IP. Specifically, unlike a 'pure' NVR, a hybrid NVR/DVR eliminates the need for a separate video encoder when connecting to analog cameras.

Hybrid NVR/DVRs are now being offered by almost all of the traditional DVR companies. However, many have questioned whether this meets a customer need or is done simply because it is easy for the traditional DVR companies to do.

Nevertheless, the hybrid NVR/DVR is quite legitimate and plays a critical role in very common scenarios in video surveillance:

  • 80%+ of cameras today are analog and most of those cameras have many years of service left in them.
  • In many applications (perhaps 30% or more of all systems), bandwidth constraints force customers to deploy recorders at the remote site near the on-site cameras.

In these scenarios, hybrid NVR/DVR systems will be very attractive. And since this scenario is very common, it will be a major factor for many security managers and the industry as a whole. To see why this will be a major factor, let's examine general NVR benefits and why they are reduced in these scenarios.

A main benefit of a pure NVR is consolidation of video management and storage functionalities. Rather than managing video in chunks of 16 or 32 across potentially dozens of appliances, centralized servers and storage clusters can be used. These servers and storage clusters can reduce equipment cost, power consumption and service costs. Indeed, main of the early adopters of pure NVRs and IP video systems did so because of this advantage.

The biggest challenge in consolidation is bandwidth availability. Consolidating requires video feeds from various parts of a facility/facilities be transmitted to a central location(s). To do this, requires sufficient bandwidth. Inside the local area network (usually inside a building), bandwidth availability is plenty and fairly inexpensive. However, in the wide area network (usually between buildings or campus), bandwidth is scarce and quite expensive. To centralize video management and storage across the WAN could easily cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, negating the benefits of consolidation.

In many distributed facilities with 4 to 32 cameras, organizations will have to manage and store their local feeds in their local premises. This is, of course, not new as it is the common practice with DVRs. However, it does affect the NVR business case and create incentive to choose hybrid NVR/DVR systems.

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Economic Comparison of Hybrid DVR/NVR to pure NVR

When you have less than 32 cameras and you need to store and manage those cameras locally, the economics of hybrid NVR/DVRs are far better than pure NVRs.

A mid-tier 16 to 32 channel hybrid NVR/DVR costs about $6,000 to $8,000 (using online Google pricing for all estimates). The hybrid NVR/DVR does encoding, storage, management and serving of the video, all in one, with minimal on-site setup and configuration.

By contrast, a pure NVR solution can cost 20% – 50% more than a hybrid system and is more complex to setup and maintain. The additional costs come from having to (1) purchase standalone encoders to convert the analog cameras to IP ($200 to $300 per camera), (2) purchase software licenses for the NVR($100 to $150 per camera) and (3) purchase a PC/server with storage ($75 to $125 per camera). Additionally, the server needs to be set up, software loaded, OS tuned, encoders configured and connections established between encoders and NVR. It also takes more space, more IP addresses and because there are now multiple systems, increases the risk of integration or future service issues.

The NVR approach is much more complex and time consuming than the comparative hybrid NVR/DVR which is relatively plug and play. In a large scale environment where 100s of cameras were being consolidated, the cost savings often justify the additional complexity and setup time. However, in a small setup, the costs are quite significant.

Hybrid DVR/NVRs Provide a Smooth Transition

For any given customer, the most attractive hybrid DVR/NVR will be the unit from their existing DVR supplier. Even if the customer does not especially like their DVR vendor, all of their staff is trained on using that DVR's client software. Moreover, often, all of the DVRs are from one vendor, so the staff never has to worry about which software client to use. The same client software for the DVR can usually be used for the hybrid systems. This makes the switch seamless and transparent to the users. Customer are willing to switch but when it's close, the comfort of the staff is a major factor in sticking with existing processes and products.

What's the Downside of Hybrid DVR/NVRs

The biggest downside of Hybrid DVR/NVRs is that many are not truly hybrid. A genuine hybrid would be equally flexible with IP and analog. Mixing and matching many combinations of analog and IP would be standard. Supporting a variety of IP and megapixel cameras would also be standard. Exacq is a good example of a true hybid. The problem is a lot of so called 'hybrid' systems offer only token support for mixing and matching and for different IP cameras. One common technique is to offer only a few additional IP cameras, constrained to 1 or 2 IP suppliers, in addition to the 16 analog inputs. GE's Symdec [link no longer available] is an example of a "fake" hybrid. Hybrid systems are supposed to give you flexibility to grow into IP. This approach is more of a trick than a benefit.

The other downside of Hybrid DVR/NVRs is that they may not offer the same advanced functions as NVRs. Though individual units certainly do not, most mainstream DVRs support the same type of advanced functions as NVRs do. For more information, examine my review on how DVRs have been catching up to NVRs [link no longer available]. Buyers should examine this point but most mainstream hybrid systems should be quite close to NVRs.

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