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DVR Recorders – PC Based vs Standalone

Oftentimes I hear the question, “Which is better – PC-based or standalone DVR”?  That is like asking which is better – a mop or a broom?  Or similarly – which is better – a ball-peen hammer or a claw hammer?  The point is that one is comparing two tools, on the surface and at first glance they appear to do the same things – capture and store video.  The truth of the matter is that it all boils down to one thing – application.  What is your intention for the DVR?  How do you plan to use the unit in your security or surveillance application?  Keeping these questions in mind, we’ll take a look at a few of the differences the PC-based and the standalone DVR offer because the similarities are, well, similar.

Standalone DVR vs PC Based DVR

Standalone DVR vs PC Based DVR

Standalone DVR

The standalone DVR has been the bedrock of DVRs for years.  Self-contained with embedded software, the standalone DVR – in most cases – is your Plain-Jane, run-of-the-mill, Git ‘Er Done unit.  It records, stores video, and makes video available on demand.  Granted, the newer units offer more and more features (alarm inputs, PTZ controls, hybrid-capability, etc), they still remain standalone – small, generally compact, and fairly inexpensive.

PC-Based DVR

The PC-based DVR is just what it sounds like – a PC, either desktop or rackmount, which houses a capture card or merely software (in the case of digital IP), which in essence turns the PC into a DVR.  Deciding whether this option (self-installation) is the best for one’s needs entails asking the question: “Am I comfortable physically opening my PC and installing hardware, as well as the necessary software to make this work?”  While not incredibly difficult, you may opt to purchase a pre-configured complete unit if your PC experience is limited to turning on or shutting down the computer.  There are several noteworthy advantages with the PC-based configuration, to which we will now direct our attention.

PC-Based DVR Advantages

First, as mentioned previously, should you already own a PC, it is oftentimes more economical to merely purchase and install the capture card (Read our article on choosing a DVR card) into your own PC to obtain video recording capability.  Some individuals crave the rush of selecting their own hardware, gutting their PC, and transforming their drab work station into a glorious video-recording, image-processing, high tech security and surveillance ravenous beast. (Sorry, just walked past our Technical Department and all the GB and TB jargon – combined with the LAN, WAN, and other CCTV FANS has a way of getting to you and carrying you away…) Similarly, those who work with and or around PCs oftentimes like the ability to upgrade video cards, motherboards, hard drives, and various other components within the PC which is not possible (and/or very limited) within the standalone units.  Along these lines, it is often possible to upgrade a PC-based system with more cameras by installing additional capture cards.  Again, this is a scalability advantage that the standalone DVR does not offer.

Secondly, and probably the biggest advantage of the PC-based DVR over the standalone, is scalability.  Again, this comes back to a person’s individual application.  A business, for example, with multiple locations might consider a PC-based DVR advantageous due to the ease of networking.  Whether it is several branches across a city or a slew of locations covering the country, today’s advances in technology make it possible to link them together and keep eyes on numerous facilities and manufacturing processes through the linked connections of PC-based DVRs.

A third benefit of the PC-based DVR is the compatibility with the ever-increasing demand for IP megapixel cameras and the clarity they provide.  PC-based DVRs allow a user to practically install software and run.  While more and more standalone DVRs are adapting to a hybrid approach (combining analog cameras with IP cameras), it is the PC-based DVR that gives the most flexibility.  The increased use of IP megapixel cameras also creates the need for more storage due to the enormous amount of pixels comprising the crisper images (Further Reading:  CCTV Resolution for Analog and IP).  This again is relatively easy to resolve by adding more storage – either internally or on the network – to a PC-based DVR.


Remember – bottom line is application when it comes to which is “better”.  It really isn’t a “one-size fits all” decision.  Take the time to do some research and make a few phone calls.  The more information offered while describing a particular scenario and the intention for such equipment makes it that much easier for a great PC-based or standalone DVR system to be designed.  Practical, functional, and ease-to-use, while not being limiting in terms of future growth and demands is the intended combination.

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