DVR camera systems have been some of the most popular security products for several years, and are more widely available than ever. Digital video recorder packages usually include a DVR, two or more cameras, and accessories for making connections to your computer or network.
You can also mix-and-match covert or "spy" cameras along with standard cameras, connecting all of them to a single DVR unit. For more on hidden spy cameras, check out this page on Choosing a Smoke Detector Spy Camera.
Cameras come in a wide variety, and can have features such as motion detection and night vision capability. For more on night viewing, see DVR Security Camera System with 8 Channels.
A Varifocal Camera allows you to manually zoom in or out, giving you the exact view you want. This is especially helpful when you can't mount the camera as close as you'd like to the area to be viewed.
If you’re thinking about getting one of these home video systems, you’ve probably seen a mind-boggling selection of products.
Because everyone’s security needs are different, it’s impossible to recommend specific surveillance video systems. However, there are some key points to consider when shopping for camera equipment.
DVR camera systems are available with varying amounts of memory for storing images. How much video can be stored depends on several factors:
As an example, a 4-channel DVR security camera system might be recording 24 hours per day at 30 FPS. To hold a weeks worth of video would require about 250 GB of hard drive space.
This is a rough estimate, and will vary depending on image quality settings and other factors. DVR camera systems with a motion detection feature will cause cameras to be recorded only when movement is present. This can greatly extend recording time, and saves time searching through hours of video looking for an event.
Once the memory gets full, most DVR camera systems will begin overwriting the oldest video first, so you’ll always have the latest images available.
When in doubt, get more memory than you think you need. Additional memory is never a bad thing, and if you ever add another camera or two in the future, you’ll be happy you have some to spare.
If you plan on using your own computer to record video, make sure it meets the available memory required by the camera system. Also be prepared to keep this machine powered up and ready to accept images during planned recording times.
Video can also be stored on an external hard drive connected to a computer. You may find it more convenient to keep the latest video on a DVR or personal computer, and use a hard drive to archive video for long-term storage.
Another way to go is to store video in a Cloud service. The Ring Video Doorbell saves your recorded video on its servers, which you can access from anywhere via computer or smartphone. Ring charges a small monthly fee for this, but it makes it very easy for you to keep and view your images with no maintenance.
Most DVR camera systems have a web-based interface that allows viewing cameras and controlling the system using your own PC or Mac. These desktop interfaces are designed to work with a specific operating system, or OS. They also will work only with certain web browsers.
Check the specifications of any DVR camera systems you’re considering, and make sure the equipment is compatible with your OS and browser. If you have Windows XP and use Internet Explorer, for example, these should both be among the supported operating systems.
DVR camera systems tend to follow the general rule for all systems: Hardwired is the most reliable, while wireless is the most convenient. For a look at a basic system, see Wireless Security Camera Kit.
Wireless options always rely on a radio transmitter at one end, and a receiver at the other. Any object in between can disrupt the signals being sent, as can any radio frequency (RF) interference that may be present.
Wired connections are the exact opposite. Unless it is cut or otherwise damaged, there isn’t much that can go wrong with a wired connection.
Also, remember that even a wireless camera still needs a reliable
source of power. Some wireless cameras are designed to run on batteries,
which is good for testing various locations during installation.
Batteries alone, though, will only run most cameras for a few hours. For
permanent installation, cameras need access to an electrical outlet.
Most operate from a low-voltage plug-in power supply.
If you decide to go the wireless route, there are some things you can do to improve the performance of your system:
Reviews of DVR systems can be a good way to get a “preview” of what to expect if you buy the same system.
While it’s true there may be a few false, glowing reports posted by an unscrupulous vendor, careful reading can get you some good information.
In particular, here’s what to look for: