Looking for the best NVR? This guide will help you find the right one for you, help you through the jargon, and get your recorder at the best price.
NVR is short for Network Video Recorder, a device which acts as a hub for an IP-based security camera system. It is a storage and review point for your CCTV which means you don’t need to sign up to remote service to store your video.
That means, of course, it’ll need cameras, typically connected by power-over-ethernet (PoE) cables (see our guide to the best PoE cameras (opens in new tab)), and at least one hard drive.
The retailer often offers the NVR in several different bundles with different types and numbers of camera, and complete with different drive capacities . There are real bargains to be had with some of these all-in-one kits, and the only real downside is some spectacularly confusing product names.
An NVR, incidentally, is not quite the same thing as a DVR (or Digital Video Recorder), which appeared in the late 90s. They look similar and store video too, but a DVR is built to accept and digitally compress analogue or digital video via coax sockets; an NVR expects a digital input.
The advantage of an NVR-based security system is that, because the video is being compressed by the cameras, local processing power is available for AI functions like detecting movement. This, in turn, means you don’t need to dig into your wallet for a subscription service; both storage and AI analysis are provided by a device you own rather than a service you lease. Given that subscription services usually only store the clips their AI identifies as significant, having your own NVR also gives you the power to review every moment yourself rather than being dependent on an algorithm to parse the events your camera sees. All the advantages of networking like remote access and – of course – the ability to work with all IP cameras, wired or wireless, remain.
Key features to look out for are PoE (Power over Ethernet), which can simplify wiring, hard drive capacity (indeed if any drives are included at all), the resolution limit, the number of channels or cameras it can handle, and if there are any means of backup. Remember that a 4K camera uses more data throughput than a 1080P one, so an NVR can handle fewer of them – this is where the compression method (e.g. H.264 or H.265) can make a big difference.
Best NVR in 2022(opens in new tab)
While not everyone will need the 320Mbps throughput, if you’re looking for a powerful NVR which affords some flexibility when it comes to choosing your cameras (and don’t mind paying for that) then the Amcrest 5 Series seems to have that in the bag. Eight of the sixteen Ethernet sockets are PoE, likely enough for most customers though it seems a shame they weren’t all enabled.
We certainly can’t complain about the level of effort which seems to have gone into usability in what is not always the most user-friendly product category; a great example is the QR codes to bring up quick remote viewing via the Amcrest View app.
The device is certainly not the cheapest on this list, given the list price doesn’t’ include a hard drive and you’ll need at least one – likely two unless you opt for the motion detection mode. It does, however, offer some of the features of subscription services via the app and web features, as well as the advantages of a hardwired device; not to be sniffed at.(opens in new tab)
Despite having only one SATA bay, the Reolink system makes a lot of room for storage by adding an eSATA socket at the back. The system is also typically bundled with its preferred Reolink 4K cameras which provide stand-out sharp footage which is easy to review thanks to the fresh modern interface
Built-in operating systems can be a tad clunky, but connect the supplied mouse to the NVR and the Reolink interface, whether on 4K TV or VGA screen, is a bit clearer. The 24/7 recording is accompanied by a timeline which highlights events (people or vehicles) and can be filtered as you browse. While it doesn’t sound a lot, in practice most CCTV reviewing is for these things.
When connected to your local network via the LAN socket, assuming an internet connection, the system can use the same alert tech to send specific activity alerts to your devices.(opens in new tab)
This Embedded NVR has a distinctly professional appearance, and it’s certainly suited to higher-end set ups, in fact it’s even more future proof than many given it’s not only capable of handling 12MP cameras but isn’t too picky about the brand. The compatibility with ONVIF (S & T) means it’s possible to build your camera collection over time from multiple brands. We also appreciated that it’s got two SATA bays and each can accept a drive of up to 8TB for a total of a whopping 16TB.
In practice, that might be more than you need for a home system – and certainly it’s more than a modest investment before you even get one camera – but this is a thoroughbred capable of serving up to 256 Mb/s for video review and includes smart search.
We also liked that the rear panel features an alarm interface panel amongst the usual connectors for serious setups.
Clearly built for practicality, the Annke H800 makes connecting a USB drive easy without re-positioning by adding an extra USB socket at the front as well as the rear one for the mouse.
The in-built OS isn’t beautiful, but actually very smart; you can choose to disable motion detection by zone on each camera view and, even as you refine the detection, you see a handy live view of where the algorithm is spotting action. Other handy features include quotas for individual cameras to prioritise some recordings drive vapacity.
The system includes event-driven or “Smart” timeline review of recorded video, the latter allowing you to search video for movement within areas you specify – a handy tool for finding if someone went into a specific corner of the shot after the fact.
Phone integration for Android or iOS also brings notifications though only one user account can be connected.(opens in new tab)
What shines out with the Swann system is the more advanced facial recognition tools which put person/vehicle recognition in the shade. Yes, generalized person or vehicle alerts are still very useful, but Swann allow the known faces can be named; instead of a generic alert, you have a specific alert when the kids get near the treats (without paying a monthly fee).
In addition, it feels like Swann appreciates what the fight against Nest and the others means from a user’s perspective, hence functional integrations with Alexa & Google Assistant via the NVR.
A third USB socket covers mouse, backup drive and downloading to a USB stick (opens in new tab)without needing to unplug anything – usability plus.
On the down-side, pet detection does require a cloud subscription (perhaps that just feels a worrying threshold to cross). In reality the fact Swann offer a cloud option – and secure backup using it – will be a handy option for some, even if it does bring with it a monthly fee. Swann’s Enforcer Kit system also has a number of 4K CCTV cameras with red and blue flashing LEDs and sirens built in which can be acquired in a bundle with the NVR for an effective deterrent system.(opens in new tab)
This elegant looking NVR actually has the same sockets as most other 4K 8-channel systems from the back, but can sit comfortably under a living room TV. There the central panic button, which triggers all lights & sirens built into connected cameras, could end a home invasion.
The main Lorex NVR software also allows you to set up effective deterrence rules using person and vehicle detection and features area search for easier review.
There is a similar level of design polish in the remote access app save for one thing; if you do connect wireless and wired cameras you’ll need to tidy up the alerts yourself to avoid duplicates.
We also appreciated that the Apple TV wasn’t forgotten; and smart home fans will love the ability to add sensors (like gate or door opening) as well as cameras via a Lorex Sensor Hub.(opens in new tab)
The Synology NVR1218 looks a lot like one of the firm’s RAID units, but closer inspection will reveal a few extra features crammed into this box which make it capable of taking on the role of NAS; it sports an HDMI socket for monitoring video streams and generally living without a computer and an eSATA connection which makes it possible to extend the array from 2 to seven drives (up to 70TB), provided you use Synology’s DX517 expansion unit.
Atop PTZ control via your PC or chosen app, the support for Point of Sale (POS) systems means the system can automatically index video against transaction records (worried your staff are skimming? You won’t be). The Gigabit Ethernet connection can cope with up to 12 streams of 720P at a full 30fps making this a very capable box given the relatively low price of entry, but remember to budget for two SATA drives.(opens in new tab)
Make no mistake, this is not the same approach as the other products on this list. This isn’t a ready-made box with all the necessary PoE sockets to connect a series of cameras to but, since an NVR is essentially just a computer in different clothes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the enthusiast community is continuously refining software to power NVRs. If you feel motivated to build your own, why not start with a Raspberry Pi 4? Unless you’re only using USB cameras, you’ll also need a PoE Ethernet Switch (like the BV-Tech) and certainly some kind of storage (it’s unlikely the microSD card slot in the Pi will cut it for long, but many folk already have a spare external hard drive lying around). From there it’s simply a matter of choosing an OS and a piece of software; Shinobi (opens in new tab) is available for free and supports ARM architecture, as does ZoneMinder (opens in new tab), so there are two good starting points.(opens in new tab)
If you need a more powerful NVR – with greater camera capacity – than the NV4108E above, then Amcrest have you covered; the 4216E-AI supports up to two 8GB drives inside and has 16 PoE ports for cameras on the back, all capable of 4K resolution. The system is happy with H.265 and H.264 and has a high-speed throughput of 200Mbps, dropping to 80Mbps when the on-board AI functions are active. This sacrifice buys you human and vehicle detection (and search in recordings), offering functionality to compete with the subscription services from Google Nest and Amazon Ring among others. Amcrest’s App is similar in scope. The machine even has microphone sockets for two-way-talk from the NVR.
If you’d like to install a CCTV system with some of the advantages of your own NVR, but aren’t interested in undertaking the cabling, then the WNQ28 seems a rational choice. It eschews the PoE network switching components in favor of two antenna to create its own wi-fi network which you can connect cameras and viewing devices to. xmartO also include their “G3 Auto WiFi Relay” feature which can use cameras to extend the network. With or without this, the advantage of this device is that it keeps CCTV cameras on a different frequency from your home’s potentially already heavily taxed wi-fi (an issue many of us are starting to notice as high-speed broadband becomes more common). On the down-side it offers a fairly generic Linux-based OS and doesn’t have high bandwidth, while it definitely prefers xmartO cameras. Nevertheless it definitely helps keep things separate when building your network, so we can see some DIY fans strongly preferring this.
How to choose an NVR system
Selecting an NVR forces you to think about the very heart of your security system, and the choice you make will depend on whether you’re starting from scratch or you already have cameras you need to connect to. In either case, make the right choice and it’ll offer years of use even though you add and swap cameras and hard drives.
- Storage bays: While you only need one hard drive to store days of video, having multiple ones gives you different RAID setups to maximize storage or create live backups.
- Camera connections: If the NVR has a built-in network switch then wires can run from it straight to the cameras. Otherwise a separate Ethernet switch will be required.
- PoE: Look for the connections to provide power to the cameras using the Power Over Ethernet standard, since this minimizes wiring and is a recognized standard.
- Camera compatibility: Major brand’s cameras are generally cross-compatible if they support the ONVIF standard, but you can’t guarantee AI features are supported by competitor’s software. Just another reason to look for a bundle!
- Operating System: While the leading brands have developed their own software, there are various Linux based systems out there meaning it’s possible for companies not much more advanced than enthusiasts to develop their own NVR.
Other useful buying guides:
The best body cameras (opens in new tab) for personal security