Hybrid DVRs bridge move from analog to IP surveillance

Skipping encoders helps reduce cost of transition to IP-based video systems

If all you knew about video surveillance came from what you saw at the movies or read in the press, you'd think everyone had the latest IP video systems, the best megapixel cameras and the most sophisticated analytics. In reality, about 80 percent of the video surveillance market still uses analog cameras connected to standard digital video recorders (DVRs), says Bob Stockwell, director of systems operations at systems integrator Niscayah.

IP video growth took a big hit during the economic downturn, but today analysts are predicting 25 percent to 35 percent annual growth for IP video. John Honovich, president of IP Video Market, is even more aggressive; he's predicting the market will grow 200 percent between now and 2012, thanks to the reduced cost and complexity of IP cameras, features such as panoramic recording that cut down on the number of cameras needed, and the availability of hybrid DVRs that enable incremental migration to IP from a legacy analog system.

This last factor is a major one for companies that want to add IP cameras to their existing analog environments. In the past, IP cameras required video management software (VMS) or a network video recorder (NVR). To view and manage all the footage on the same system, companies also needed encoders (a.k.a. video servers) that digitize analog cameras' signals.

Also see the related articles VSaaS: Surveillance as a service and VSaaS dos and don'ts.

Today, however, hybrid DVRs—which allow you to directly connect both analog and IP cameras, and store, view and manage video—have become mainstream. According to Honovich, these systems enable remote viewing, have good user interfaces and analytics, and can integrate with remote storage, access control systems and other third-party setups.

"Two years ago, [installations were split] about 70 percent encoders and 30 percent hybrids," says Jeff Vining, an analyst at Gartner, "but now it's about 60 percent hybrid and 40 percent encoders."

So which option is best for you? First, consider camera count. A typical hybrid DVR supports about 16 analog and eight IP cameras, says Tim Feury, president of systems integrator Altec Systems. So for a recent client, a hospital using 96 cameras, Feury would have needed between three and six hybrid DVRs. Instead, he went with encoders and one central server. "I would have been logging into each appliance, whereas with encoders, I can manage it as one system," he says, adding that once you get past 50 cameras, the advantage often shifts to encoders.

Also think about frame rate, he says, because hybrid boxes have a maximum frame rate. For instance, a hybrid unit supporting 24 cameras could not handle 30 frames per second.

And while all the legacy DVR vendors offer hybrid units, Feury says, not all VMS vendors offer hybrid NVRs. So if you choose a VMS that is not offered in a hybrid form, you have to go with encoders. It's also important to check which IP cameras work with the hybrid.

Encoders cost about $300 to $400 per analog camera, plus the cost of the VMS software and hardware. Hybrid systems cost $5,000 to $10,000, Feury says, which includes licensing for 16 analog cameras, storage and management software. Some include IP licenses in their pricing, while others charge extra, he says.

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