Networked Video Maximizes Benefits of Going Digital. Just as digital video recorders (DVRs) expanded beyond what could be done with VHS tapes, network video recorders (NVRs) have the ability to accommodate greater numbers of cameras per installation and facilitate remote viewing of stored video.
Contractors have seen their share of “the next big thing” for the electronic security industry come and go. Some have fulfilled their promise, while others have faded into obscurity. So it’s understandable when manufacturers talk about network digital video recording in those terms that some contractors remain skeptical.
However, those doubts dissipate when people see just what network video recorders (NVRs) can do. The ability to use unlimited cameras, resolution that doesn’t miss anything and the ability to view images remotely are features that make NVRs poised to revolutionize video surveillance. They are the next step beyond the digital video recorder (DVR). This technology also offers a new challenge for contractors to stay up to speed on the latest training or risk becoming as extinct as the Betamax.
“Those who don’t get involved in the network DVRs are going to be left behind, just as those who did not get involved in computers in the 1980s were left behind,” says Tony Ibarra, CEO of Denver-based systems integrator Digatron Inc.
As part of installing NVR systems, contractors will need to delve into United Nations-like diplomacy with end users’ information technology (IT) professionals. This can gain them a powerful ally toward getting the installation done. Integrators will also face the challenges of bandwidth and hard-drive space.
The reasons to go from installing nonnetworked to networked DVRs are the same as the ones given to dump the phonograph for the CD player: The ability to do much more than you could before.
In the end, no amount of talk will convince a contractor to go network as much as seeing a screen with real-time, crystal-clear pictures from 50 different cameras a mile away.
Like the old adage, seeing is believing when it comes to NVRs.
Getting Into the Nuts/Bolts of Network Video Surveillance
To get an idea of what a NVR can do for a video surveillance installation, it’s a good idea to take a look at just how a NVR system works and what sets it apart from a nonnetworked DVR set-up.
At the heart of any digital video recording system is the same device found in every home computer: a hard drive. A DVR replaces the functions that used to be served by a security VCR and multiplexor.
The first thing that sets a NVR apart from a typical DVR is the functions of digitizing and compressing the signal are taken out of the recorder and into a device called a video encoder or server. Not only does the encoder digitize and compress, it also serves a new function of packetizing the signal and changing it into an Internet protocol, or IP, signal.
That IP signal can then be transported over a digital network as easy and efficiently as a Web page or E-mail. The signal is then fed onto a local area network (LAN) by Cat-5 cable to be received by the NVR itself. Unlike a DVR, where the video has to be viewed locally on a monitor, a NVR’s video can be viewed remotely on a viewing station anywhere as long as its able to reach the NVR through a LAN, Internet or wireless feed. Not only that, but the storage of the signal can also be sent over the network to a remote hard drive.
The diagram on page 66 of the July print edition of SSI shows an example of a rudimentary NVR system using an existing analog CCTV system and connecting it to a NVR system.
Contractors Need to Broaden Their Horizons to Break Into NVR Market
As technology has advanced, the art of the installation has changed for security contractors. When CCTV video surveillance came into being, installers had to advance beyond their knowledge of door key shunts and window foil and learn video installation. With more and more security appliances using IP connections, the time has come for contractors to broaden their knowledge and learn how a computer network operates.
“What you want to do is know what you’re talking about when you’re meeting with IT,” says Ibarra, a member of SSI’s Editorial Advisory Board. “My hope is our peers in the security industry are going to become educated in the IT world and compete.”
Training is essential to becoming a NVR installer, but while learning about bandwidth, gigabytes and firewalls may seem daunting, installers and manufacturers of NVRs say it’s easier than one may think.
Inside Dedicated Micros’ Torrance, Calif., office sits the company’s largest classroom for the training of installers and end users. Jonathan Kelley, a technical support specialist, teaches some of the courses and says the first lesson a potential NVR installer needs to learn is how to be an “IT guy.”
“A lot of the installers we train here don’t have the network side of training,” Kelley says. “They may be great [at what they do], but they don’t have much experience on the network side. They will have to become an IT guy.”
A big part of installing a NVR is knowing the bandwidth, or the amount of data a network is capable of supporting, and the amount of available hard drive storage space, measured in megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes. Those measurements are second nature to an IT professional but might as well be Latin to a security contractor.
Joe Marchese, president of JDS Digital Security Systems, is quick to say that gaining a basic knowledge of computer networks won’t mean taking a semester of class time away from time that would have been spent building up recurring revenue. “The learning curve is literally an afternoon,” Marchese says. “A kid can do this.”
When installing a NVR, or any networked security system, the installer will have to work hand-in-hand with that IT professional.
The stereotype many have of a company IT person is like the “Nick Burns” tech support character played by Jimmy Fallon of “Saturday Night Live” — a scrawny fellow with a haircut shaped like a bowl and a pocket protector, always laughing about the fact he knows more than you.
Stereotypes aside, Ibarra says the key in dealing with an IT director is to know enough about their field that they feel comfortable with you tinkering with their system. “They are the keeper of the gate. They want to ensure we don’t want to crash their pipeline,” Ibarra says. “Once you give the IT staff a comfort level, that’s the first hurdle to overcome.”
Installers and End Users Weigh the Pros and Cons of Going Network
Those who make and install NVRs say the pros outweigh the cons. However, it is important for contractors to know that even with the seemingly unlimited possibilities NVRs can give, there are still limits.
The first place NVRs excel compared to DVRs is their integration with other systems, and their upgradability. A NVR system can be integrated with pan/tilt/zoom cameras and sensors, for example, to specifically record when a person enters a room and direct the cameras toward them.
“Software-wise, you can do anything,” says Joe Mena, a systems engineer with Los Alamitos, Calif.-based manufacturer Elbex America Inc. “It’s the biggest advantage of a network DVR.”
Many tout NVRs as suitable replacements for matrix switches, because, like a matrix switcher, they can route video signals and perform the same functions — all that at the same cost as a switcher while including the functions of a DVR (See “The Matrix Revealed” by Robert Grossman in the May 2004 issue of SSI.)
Installers with Dallas integrator Hoss Equipment Co. bestow praise on the fact that NVRs, by nature, aren’t likely to become obsolete like conventional DVRs.
“It’s absolutely the best route to go,” says Tony Alardin, Hoss’ remote monitoring technologies CEO. “I would never buy a DVR now because of the simple fact if a new model comes out, you just upgrade the firmware as opposed to replacing the box.”
Needing only software, upgrading or enhancing a NVR system is much cheaper than doing the same for other DVRs, not to<