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 a storage medium like a hard drive.
Retailers often package the same NVR in several different bundles, mixing up the types and numbers of cameras and hard drives, or simply leaving this all to you. 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 may give 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.
We look at some of the key features in detail at the end, but something else to remember if you’re in the USA is the China trade war; major security player HikVision have already fallen victim to US internal bans on new products and may end up on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.
Key features to look out for are remote access, 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.
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The EufyCam HomeBase 3 and various bundles bring the glossy consumer experience of IP cameras like those from Google or Nest – including AI-like face detection – but don’t leave you paying every month. This device also has a home-friendly design so you can leave it on a countertop (good if you have limited space near your router).
Some security pros might not appreciate the non-traditional approach with only clips recorded when the cameras detect motion. The flip side is that the NVR is a more accessible experience. Even without adding a hard drive the 16GB included will likely capture a couple of months of ‘events’ (clips by triggered movement) from your cameras; add a drive and that can go up to a lifetime. It also means the cameras can be installed wirelessly, with battery power, meaning getting up and running is virtually painless. We especially liked the S330 eufyCam 3 bundle with solar-powered 4K cameras featuring floodlights and night vision. See our Eufy S330 eufyCam 3 review.(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.
Swann has always built innovative systems, and this is no exception. Adopting an elegant upright design, the NVR PowerHub is the basis of several new Swann packs including the AllSecure650. We like this system not only because of the elegant design, but because it offers so many options in a small package. It also, brilliantly, turns the main annoyance of battery camera systems to its advantage; an extra battery is included (total of 3 for a 2 camera bundle). The extra battery lives in the hub, where it not only charges but offers backup power backup in case of an outage. When you need to swap a camera battery you have a spare, ready to go, so you can swap it with one – rather than two – trips up the ladder to the camera.
It does not, however, ditch all the functionality of a traditional NVR as it attempts to blend into the home or small business. While you can control nearly everything via the app, as well as enjoy remote access, there is also a mouse socket and HDMI port for use with a monitor. The supplied 1TB storage will also manage 2 years of clips by Swann’s reckoning, after which you can opt for Dropbox or USB transfer. See full Swann AllSecure 650 review (opens in new tab).
Synology offer multi-drive RAID storage systems – many which can take on a little monitoring on the side – and devices like this built with it front and center. There is the power to drive AI on up to 16 streams of video including separating people from animals, intrusion detection and even license place recognition. Businesses can even use the AI system to detect whether face mask rules are being complied with. This AI also helps distinguish threats in poor lighting thanks to the GPU power. Recording can be backed up across drives or both can form a single volume
As well as HDMI connection for a monitor, the device can be reached remotely via iOS and Android apps and on virtually any computer via a browser interface. The USB 3.2 ports (front and back) offer keyboard and mouse connection.
This is a great choice for smaller installs, but bigger businesses might need something like the 4-drive FVA3221.(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. Reolink also offer a great variety of cameras and a doorbell.
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.
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 prioritize 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 allows the known faces can be named. That makes specific alerts possible if, say, one of the kids gets near the treats. That is the kind of benefit consumer smart cameras offer, built on with integrations with Alexa and Google Assistant, but without the cost of a subscription.
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 is chic enough to 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)
As well as dedicated NVRs, Synology are synonymous (sorry!) with all sizes of data storage devices. While many entrust their data – especially with limited amounts of it – to the cloud, there are many reasons to have a physical backup system. Hot-swappable drives mean every piece of information can be backed up within the device, and a network connection means it is available via your home network, or remotely.
Since the machine is essentially a small computer, it can run apps on its own OS, from Mail Server to (more relevant here) Synology Surveillance Station. This lets you use some of your overall drive space to store video from your connected security cameras.(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.
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.
- Trade Sanctions:
In the USA Lorex, EZVIZ and HikVision have had their products restricted from government purchase. HikVision is similarly restricted in the UK and in both countries, this might only be the beginning. It is a step toward the banning of new products for all customers. The governments cite the firms’ links with Chinese government surveillance and, they say, has human rights violations. Regardless of the evidence, if you’re building a system it might be wise to look for a brand that will still be on the shelves when you want to add to your system.
Other useful buying guides:
Best outdoor security cameras (opens in new tab)
Best indoor security cameras (opens in new tab)
Best PoE camera (opens in new tab)
Best PTZ camera (opens in new tab)
Best doorbell cameras (opens in new tab)
The best body cameras (opens in new tab) for personal security