Operator using a VMS vs NVR security system.
If you're deploying a video management system, you're probably weighing many considerations. Everything from camera count and site requirements to infrastructure and network availability. Through it all, you might also be wondering.
Should you choose a video management system (VMS) or network video recorder (NVR)?
Here's the short answer: it depends. Both an NVR and a VMS have pros and cons. The right choice for your business will be contingent on factors like your budget, the number of cameras, how you use your video system, and what your long-term plans are.
How to choose the right video management system
Taking the time to explore what your organization needs from a video management system (VMS) will help ensure you get the right deployment. To help you make the best choice, we've created a list of questions you and your team can go through.
What's a network video recorder?
If you and your team have been shopping for a video surveillance system, you've probably come across the term network video recorder or NVR. But what is an NVR security system?
An NVR is a specialized appliance that enables a network video camera system. It's a simple device that connects to a small number of cameras over your network. For example, an NVR will usually accommodate anywhere between eight and 32 cameras.
The NVR is designed to record and store video from your network video cameras, and usually, there's no software to install or maintain. You can use a simple web-based application to view cameras or retrieve video recordings.
Beyond basic viewing, search, and export functionality, a typical NVR security system doesn't offer many other features. This is one of the reasons why an NVR is better suited for simple deployments. Whereas a video surveillance system is primarily used for after-the-fact investigations.
VMS vs NVR Comparison 2024
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How is an NVR different than a VMS solution?
A video management system or VMS is different from an NVR in many ways. A VMS is a software application that allows you to monitor and manage a large number of IP video cameras from any location. It's either hosted on a network-connected server or runs as a cloud-based service. Whether you decide to go with on-premises server infrastructure or the cloud, you'll be able to monitor live video and access recordings using the VMS software.
One of the biggest differences between an NVR and a VMS is that a VMS is more feature rich. Here are a few examples of what you can do with an IP video management system:
Receive real-time notifications when a camera falls offline, or movement is detected in a specific area
View camera locations or alarms on a map of your facilities or jump from camera to camera to track suspects moving through your property
Use built-in cybersecurity and privacy features to protect your video and data
Integrate other physical security or business systems to enhance response
Essentially, the advanced features of a VMS help you streamline video management tasks. This is particularly useful in larger, mission-critical deployments.
What are the pros and cons of an NVR camera system?
An NVR is a budget-friendly option for small to medium-sized video surveillance deployments. Since there's no software to install or maintain, an NVR camera system is normally quite easy to set up. You can simply power up the NVR, connect it to a network, and configure your cameras via a web-based app. The ease of an NVR security system helps keep costs down.
The biggest downside to an NVR is that you're limited to very basic functionality. Because of this, you may need to rely on IT professionals to ensure your system is cybersecure. And you won't have access to newer video analytics or the advanced features that are included in a VMS.
Some NVRs are also proprietary. This means you'll be stuck with specific vendors' cameras and the NVR won't support other types of devices or systems. Even if you do find an NVR that integrates with other physical security systems such as access control, the functionality may be limited.
What are the pros and cons of a video management system?
A VMS can provide many advantages over an NVR surveillance system. For one, you can scale your video surveillance system to hundreds or thousands of cameras. You can also connect many VMS systems across various locations back into a security operations center to facilitate centralized video management.
As mentioned earlier, a VMS comes packed with advanced features that can enhance your response procedures and investigations. It also offers built-in system health monitoring tools and privacy-by-design features that help mitigate cyber risks and enhance compliance.
With an open architecture VMS, you can choose the cameras that best suit your budget and deployment. You can also easily unify your video software with other physical security systems such as access control and intrusion monitoring solutions and connect cameras to various sensors. This gives your operators a more complete picture of what's happening when responding to events or handling investigations.
Some VMS solutions come with application programming interfaces (APIs). This allows you to add customizations and really tailor the VMS to meet your environment's specific requirements.
Overall, there's far more flexibility with a VMS. This means you can keep growing and expanding your system over time and adding newer technologies as they come to market.
What are the disadvantages of a VMS? The advanced capabilities of a VMS will come at a cost. A VMS is more expensive than an NVR overall. Software license fees, software maintenance agreement fees, and the cost of purchasing and maintaining servers can add up.
A VMS also has a more complex installation. You'll need to rely on the help of a system integrator to ensure everything is set up and running well. They may also provide operator training for a VMS system, so these costs should also be factored into the deployment budget.
Top considerations when deciding between a VMS and NVR
Choosing between a VMS and an NVR isn't always straightforward. You might think an NVR security system is right for you today, but perhaps that'll change in time when you decide to add more cameras or integrate an access control system.
So how do you know if a VMS or NVR is better for your deployment? Consider the following key decision criteria:
Size of your deployment
How many cameras will you be managing today? Do you plan to add more cameras or expand video coverage over time? Do you have more than one location that you'd like to secure with video surveillance technology?
If you're planning on implementing fewer than 32 cameras at one location, then an NVR might be your best option. However, if you have a larger number of video devices, have plans to expand your coverage later on, or have multiple locations to secure, choosing a VMS will likely be the better long-term choice.
Use cases for your video system
How will you be using your video system? Are you doing live monitoring and handling investigations regularly, or just conducting investigations following the odd incident? Do you have a busy environment where video surveillance is considered mission-critical?
If you need video surveillance to investigate random occurrences or to keep a visual on specific areas of business, an NVR may be able to fulfill those basic needs. But if you have multiple operators monitoring live video around the clock and handling investigations a few times a week or month, a VMS will offer better monitoring and search capabilities.
Video retention needs
How long do you need to keep your video recordings? Does your industry have regulations about video and data retention that you need to abide by? Do you need to store video evidence for significantly longer periods of time?
An NVR usually provides limited storage capacity. Though device specifications will vary, you may find that you'll get up to 30 days of retention. But the more cameras you have, the less storage capacity you'll be able to access.
On the other hand, with a VMS, you can select and build servers to meet your video retention requirements. And if you find out later that you need to keep video evidence for longer, you can add servers or expand with Cloud Storage to accommodate those demands.
Unification and integration capabilities
Do you want to implement various types of cameras from different vendors? Are there other physical security systems or sensors that you'd like to connect to your network video system? Do you have plans to add access control or video analytics later on?
With an NVR, you may be limited to specific cameras or vendors. And you may not be able to unify your video surveillance system with other technologies. Even when you can connect other devices, sensors, or systems with your NVR surveillance system, the integration may limit what you can do.
Full flexibility comes from an open-architecture VMS. Open IP video software allows you to choose any cameras, add new sensors, and connect different systems. This gives you a more comprehensive view of your environment and the freedom to evolve your deployment as new needs come up.
Video management tools
What tools would best serve your team and objectives? Do you want to monitor many locations from a security operation center? How many people need access to your system, and are user privileges important to your operations?
“Our SOC operators can pull up video to see exactly what happened and share information with security personnel while they're still at the scene. Security Center allows us to manage situations on campus more effectively.”
An NVR is usually great for smaller environments that don't typically experience much disruption. If an incident should occur, you'll be able to look through recordings and find the video evidence you need. While some NVRs may come with search capabilities and other built-in features, they still won't compete with the range of features available in a VMS.
If you have many security operators, want to build a security operations center, or need access to enhanced search capabilities, a VMS will be hugely beneficial. A VMS will give you a host of tools and features that can help your team get to the bottom of things quickly when incidents or emergencies come up.
Cybersecurity and future requirements
Are privacy and cybersecurity regulations on your radar? Do you have the tools to monitor and mitigate threats? Can you limit access to sensitive data and remain compliant with evolving data protection and privacy laws?
Cyberattacks are at an all-time high and there's no sign of cybercrime slowing down. Protecting your video and data isn't just about mitigating loss and ensuring business continuity; it's also about adhering to new and evolving compliance standards and laws.
If you decide to implement an NVR, there are measures you can take to protect your network and IP camera system. However, this usually requires additional expertise, components, and ongoing risk mitigation strategies.
An advanced VMS that is built with privacy and cybersecurity is different. It gives you layers of defense and a host of built-in tools to secure your video and keep data out of the wrong hands. This includes everything from encryption, multi-factor authentication and authorization to real-time system health monitoring and system hardening recommendations.
Future growth and scalability
What are your plans for the future? Is there a possibility that your video system will grow beyond your current requirements? Do you want the freedom to evolve your system if new objectives come up?
If you have one location with a few video cameras and have no plans of ever doing more than that, an NVR will usually fit the bill.
However, if there's a chance your deployment will evolve to encompass other locations, objectives, or requirements, a VMS will give you the freedom to grow and change. This might include adding more cameras with edge analytics or even extending system access to law enforcement during emergencies. Thinking through these longer-term considerations could reveal that investing in a VMS today is worthwhile.
What if you could have the best of an NVR and VMS?
Perhaps you're still on the fence about whether to invest in an NVR or VMS. Maybe you're thinking you want the advanced features, scalability, and openness of a VMS, and the ease of deployment and cost-efficiency of an NVR.
Well, here's the good news: there's another option to consider—Genetec Streamvault™, a plug-and-play, all-in-one security appliance.
Streamvault is a purpose-built, turnkey appliance that comes pre-loaded with the Omnicast™ video surveillance software. This allows you to get your video surveillance deployment up and running quickly while getting access to all the latest video management features. It's a more cost-effective, easy-to-deploy solution that essentially offers the best of a VMS and NVR.
Streamvault is also highly scalable and comes pre-hardened out of the box. This means you can accommodate a larger number of cameras while ensuring the highest cyber resilience