The 6 options to be discussed include 3 DVR and 3 IP based systems. Five of them are for stationary operations and one is for vehicles on the move. All options are available on the market and we will not mention any brand name or supplier source here.
We must understand that DVR and IP represent two generations of technology for video surveillance monitoring and that DVR will be replaced by IP in the long term. However, DVR has its merits for small systems and therefore DVR is still a major contender in this context.
-- Digital Video Recorder (DVR) Based --
DVR has been around for many years, most technologies are mature and products are competitively priced. For small systems, we normally exclude new and expensive options unless there are very clear incentives. As such, DVR has a price incentive over IP based systems. If DVR is fit for purpose as well, then DVR would win the case.
We will look at a vehicle video surveillance system here to illustrate the point for security and tracking purposes. Obviously a typical system will have one or more cameras monitoring the vehicle cabin, at least one camera monitoring road conditions, a Global Positing System (GPS) to identify the location, speed, date and time of the vehicle, and G-sensors to identify the shock or acceleration conditions of the vehicle. The cabin is a fixed container of space, and standard definition cameras (640 x 480) will do the job well. The camera may need to have a wide angle so as to capture more context of the cabin than just the face details of passengers or the driver. More importantly, the vehicle may not have much space to install the system. A dedicated design DVR system will be more practical than an IP based one with an open design. Such a DVR with 2 cameras and all the bells and whistles may retail for US$400 and IP vendors will not cope with this price ceiling. This is indeed a case of victory for DVR based on fitness for purpose and cost of ownership.
-- Fixed and Scalable DVR --
The market has no shortage of supply of low cost "Do it Yourself" DVR systems which are also known as All-in-One. All we need to do is to place the cameras and recorder as we desire and route the cables in our house or office or retail space. This type of systems mostly has standard resolution cameras supporting live views at 25 frames per second and 420 TV lines. They would use a standard hard disk drive (HDD) of say 1TB (terabyte) for recording on a recycling basis holding 3 to 10 days of footage depending on the recording algorithm. Such systems may retail for US$1400 inclusive of 4 cameras, a display screen, a 1TB hard disk and cables. If our requirements can be satisfied by this level of DVR system, we can safely go this way.
Moving up the DVR ladder is a bigger system which is scalable as well. Scalability (adding more cameras in later stages) is a natural feature of IP based systems and DVR vendors have copied the concept and applied one useful technique to make DVR partially scalable. We have chosen a modern 8-camera DVR system for discussion here. Such a system will support high compression for footage storage (such as H.264), and connect to any standard PC or a local area network for user viewing of footage. The system normally uses a 1TB HDD for storage. The beauty of this type of system is that we can deploy another unit for another 8 cameras and allow users to view footage in the same PC. To achieve this, we will need either installing a PC software package called Central Management Software (CMS) or applying standard LAN techniques to set up multiple displays of DVR units. Either approach does not limit the number of cameras to operate. The market price of such a modern 8 channel DVR will be about US$900 excluding cameras, cabling and display screen.
-- Internet Protocol (IP) Based --
Open IP based systems are scalable but often associated with a minimum overhead cost for supporting the open feature. As such, IP systems have better economies for large systems than small ones although larger systems cost more than small systems on a per camera basis due to added functionality. Nevertheless, there are situations where the High Definition (megapixel) feature of IP cameras and its natural IP properties (this is the subject matter of a separate white paper) would lay claim of the jewel.
Let us introduce several new terms here: NVR for network video recorder, VMS for video management software, and NAS for network attached storage. We will use these 3 terms to differentiate 3 options of small IP based video surveillance systems.
VMS is software and can be sold as a separate product to cameras by different vendors or together with cameras by the same vendor. The VMS is considered open and closed (bundled) respectively. Independently developed VMS products are chargeable whereas bundled VMS products are free. If the bundled case is free, why would we want to pay for a chargeable VMS? The answer is that many independent VMS are rich in functions and not that expensive. It is possible to find several combinations of VMS and cameras that are cheaper than bundled offers.
Assume the price of a High Definition camera to be US$300 and 4 cameras will be US$1200. We still need to pay for the NVR and VMS. VMS is free as bundled with the cameras, or is about US$200 for 4 cameras. What about the price of NVR?
The NVR would be a PC for small systems and an industrial grade rack mounted server for large systems. A PC based on a current generation 3.0GHz CPU and with a LCD screen, a powerful graphics card and 1TB of HDD would cost US$1000 or more. Therefore the basic equipment total cost would be $2200 for a bundled offer or $2400 for an open VMS based system. This price point is certainly higher than DVR based but we talk about megapixel cameras here!
NAS is another option. Some NAS comes with VMS (bundled) and sells for around US$1000 as well. This option excels in the sense that NAS is ready to be connected to a network and to provide access of footage to all PC on the network. We can see these NAS products to be the hardware plus software, and we just pay for cameras and cabling in addition. Of course the NAS approach has its own shortfall as it is rather like DVR in terms of flexibility even though it lives in the IP camp.
-- Cost Profile --
The case of Small Vehicle DVR is quite clear. It serves the purposes and is low cost. IP cannot compete there.
The case of pre-packaged Small DVR system is good for very small sites or if we want to get the first video surveillance system without investing much money.
The case of non pre-packaged Small DVR system with a network connection is interesting. It is at a level where a comparison with IP options will yield interesting results. On a per camera basis, it would be cheaper than IP options due to lower camera prices.
IP systems that are really open are more expensive on a per camera basis. Nevertheless, we pay the price for good reasons: high definition IP cameras, scalability of system, flexibility of usage of IP properties, and not being locked to any vendor.
-- Hosted or Managed Service --
Most business people are too busy to be bothered with the maintenance and operation of anything outside the core business revenue path. It would be ideal if someone else can take care of maintenance and assure operation of the video surveillance system for a small service charge. To achieve a small service charge, the operation service vendor has to use automatic and remote tools so as to keep his costs as low as possible. The Internet bandwidth is a key requirement but it is a bottleneck in many places such as New Zealand as in early 2011.
The bottleneck situation applies if we do not keep any camera footage on-site and rely on the Internet to transmit all footage to the service agent. The bottleneck would not be as serious if we keep all footage on-site and we use the Internet for health checking of the system and assist in searching for the target footage only.
-- Guidelines and Cautions --
This paper has provided a cost profile for appraising small video surveillance systems. It has not covered 2 issues that are very important for making purchase decisions due to the intention to keep this paper focused.
The first issue not covered is that the quality of cameras, VMS, NVR and NAS products on the market varies significantly. A more expensive system may or may not be better.
The second issue is that all prices discussed here pertain to hardware and software, and do not cover cable, cabling labour, and fine tuning service etc. We assume a "Do it Yourself" approach for simplicity.
Always talk to a specialist who knows the industry and the subject matter and has the credibility of being trustworthy.