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IP cameras form the basis of modern CCTV surveillance systems, capturing and recording video footage for security, operational monitoring and many other purposes. When it comes to recording options for IP cameras, there are four primary choices to consider:

  1. On-camera storage
  2. Video management systems (VMS)
  3. Network video recorders (NVR)
  4. Cloud solutions

Each option offers its own benefits and considerations. In this starter guide, we give an overview of these four recording options, and set out the key benefits and considerations for each.

1. On-camera storage using an SD Card

On-camera storage refers to the capability of an IP camera to record footage directly to an SD card. This option offers several advantages, including local storage control, cost-effectiveness, and reduced bandwidth requirements, since the video data does not have to be transmitted to a central recording device. SD cards with 1TB of recording space are available so storage capacity using SD cards is no longer an issue.

However, it is important to note that on-camera storage comes with the risk of losing the footage if the camera is stolen. To reduce this risk, it is important to install the camera in a position that’s not easily accessible, and to follow best practice of securing evidence footage soon after the event occurred by exporting the footage to a secure drive or device. This is simply done via the network.

Network attached storage (NAS) can also be used. This instead of or in combination with recording to an on-camera SD card. The key benefit being that the NAS can be placed in an inaccessible area.

OUR TIP: On-camera storage is a sensible, cost-effective solution for smaller camera systems, say up to ten cameras, that are for day-to-day CCTV monitoring but non-critical.

2. Video Management Systems (VMS)

Video Management Systems (VMS) are Windows-based software platforms designed to manage and store video data from IP cameras. The benefit of a VMS is that you can centralise control and manage a larger number of cameras, enjoy advanced features and video analytics, integrate with other systems, such as access control, and scale up your CCTV system as your business grows. With an open platform VMS you will enjoy the greatest flexibility, being able to connect IP cameras and devices from many different manufacturers. Availability of regular VMS updates also means your system will remain modern and hardened against cybersecurity risks, offering longer term investment protection.

It is important to consider higher expenditure for server hardware and storage costs, and system performance relies on network capacity and stability. To optimise the benefits of a VMS, it is crucial to choose a reliable and scalable system, ensure ongoing (Windows) updates, and provide staff training for effective use. The choice of video analytics options is much greater than with local SC card storage, as analytics can come from IP cameras, the VMS itself or plugins for the VMS (of which there are many). Two of the leading VMS products in the market are Axis Camera Station and the open platform Milestone XProtect, which offers maximum flexibility and scalability.

OUR TIP: Video management systems are suitable for any sized CCTV system, and a good consideration for when its use is more critical to your business, when your requirements are more demanding, or if you’re investing for future growth.

3. Network Video Recorders (NVR)

A network video recorder (NVR) is a recording device with a set capacity, for example 16 camera channels and x amount of storage. NVRs tend to be designed for end-to-end systems, for example Bosch IP cameras with a Bosch NVR, and generally work reliably without too much of a maintenance requirement. Video analytics in an NVR-based end-to-end system also tend to work well.

However, NVRs do not offer much flexibility or (granular) scalability, and often become outdated after a few years with technological evolution moving as fast as it does.

Best practices for NVR usage include selecting reliable NVR hardware from reputable manufacturers, getting the calculations for your storage requirements right, and implementing regular backups of recorded footage.

OUR TIP: NVRs are suited if you prefer low complexity, low maintenance and do not expect your requirements to change much over time. As a rule of thumb, NVRs are best suited to CCTV systems ranging from 4 channels to 64 or 96 cameras. Above that it is worth considering a VMS.

4. Cloud CCTV

Cloud CCTV for recording of IP cameras has gained popularity over the last few years due to its convenience and flexibility. With cloud-based CCTV systems, you can quickly deploy and remotely access and manage your footage online, scale your footage retention period as needed, and, importantly, benefit from enhanced security.

In addition, with cloud CCTV there is no upfront server hardware or NVR cost. Cloud CCTV offers a wide range of video analytics, either from the camera, the cloud platform itself or 3rd parties.

These days there are quite a number of Cloud CCTV providers, but many try to tie you in, either by the requirement to buy their locked-down cameras, or a so called gateway to link to their cloud platform. Therefore, it is important to investigate providers thoroughly and knowing what you’re committing too. We currently offer reputable cloud solutions from Morphean and CamStreamer, and may add more in future, such as Milestone Kite.

Consider the ongoing subscription costs and ensure reliable internet connectivity. Also consider the bandwidth capacity you have for uploading footage to the cloud.

OUR TIP: Suited for smaller camera systems, say up to 10 cameras on a site. It is best suited to multi-site businesses, geographically spread, who are looking to manage a number of sites via a single online interface.

Hybrid solutions

It's important to note that these recording options are not mutually exclusive. Integrated and hybrid approaches are possible, allowing you to combine the strengths of different solutions. For example, you can use on-camera storage as a primary option and send footage to a VMS or cloud platform for added redundancy. There are many different hybrid design approaches, all depending on individual requirements. We will not discuss them in this starter guide but it is important to know there is lots of flexibility.

In summary

Understanding the available IP camera recording options is vital for designing and procuring an effective surveillance system tailored to your needs.

On-board storage offers local control and cost-effectiveness, while VMS solutions provide centralised management and advanced features for administrators and operators. NVRs are more suited if you don’t expect your needs to change much, and want low maintenance, while Cloud CCTV solutions offer browser-based remote access, scalability, and enhanced data security.

Remember to follow best practices and seek professional advice to ensure optimal performance and security for your surveillance system alongside regulatory requirements such as data and personal privacy.

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