DVR fail

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An old DVR in a Chinese restaurant -- chugging along. When you try to open the CD drive to collect the video evidence, you realize it's glued shut with grease. Crimes commonly occur in these not-so-clean places. And many occur in places where DVRs fair better: banks, hotels, retail stores and grocery stores. Even in these clean places, though, DVRs fail. Like when a grocery store’s DVR has a hard drive bite the dust before the police can get out to the scene to do the collection.

In a recent online discussion, one security sales professional states that after two years there is a 50% chance that a DVR will either need replacing or a require repairs so expensive that it will usually justify a replacement. He points to environment as a big factor. He claims DVR manufacturers offer warranties but commonly deny the warranty claims citing power surges, dust damage or liquid damage. This causes customers to replace the DVR rather than pay for repairs. Simple things such as using a power-surge protector and placing the DVR in a clean area can help extend the life of a DVR.

During the same online discussion, a number of representatives of CCTV manufacturers recount knowledge of older DVRs in the field, hundreds in fact, some up to seven years old. 2004, in other words. NASA's Spirit and Opportunity spacecrafts landed on Mars, Facebook was founded, a jet reached the speed record of Mach 9.6 and the world's tallest bridge was opened in France. That all sounds cutting edge. But consider the most popular computer operating system: Windows XP, two years old at the time. Windows Vista wasn't released for another three years, in 2007. DVRs three-to-seven years old were manufactured during the days of Windows XP, meaning they assume whomever collects the evidence and later plays back the video is using this software. If you're wondering what that means when you're running a newer version of Windows, such as Windows 7, have a look at the Video Scene Magazine article "Playing proprietary videos with Windows 7".

You get what you pay for

A number of security professionals agree that PC-based DVRs generally fail sooner than embedded DVRs. This is due to PC-based DVRs having more moving parts. Open a simpler embedded DVR and you won't find many parts. The main components include: a main circuit board, a hard drive and possibly optical drive, a power supply and I/O for devices and users.

A low-quality DVR may be more susceptible to failures of the main circuit board. But, according to online discussions, the parts of an average-quality or better DVR are inclined to fail in the following order: first the hard drive; second a button, switch or display; third the power supply and finally the main circuit board.

In today's world computer hard-drive failures seem common. And are commonly followed by, "You did backup all of our pictures didn't you?" Studies on hard-drive reliability give us some insights on what causes the failures. Things like drive age, drive size and temperature are factors. One study by Google found drive failure rates in the first year of operation to be 1.7%, in the second year 8% and in the third year 8.6%. But age isn't always bad. One study found some older drive models to be more reliable because they were sturdier, also known as, "they just don't make them like they used to.” Typically, larger hard drives have more moving parts, making them more susceptible to failure. Another factor is temperature. When a hard drive runs at a higher temperature it's more likely to fail. To appeal to users who want to use hard drives for a greater than average number of years, hard-drive manufacturers offer enterprise-class drives. A DVR that uses enterprise-class drives and has a case designed with proper airflow should be much less prone to hard drive failure.

The future of DVR fail

Failure is not the only thing driving sales of new DVRs. New features also prompt users toward a purchasing a new unit. Just like businesses wanted to get rid of the VCRs in their CCTV setups when DVRs came out, they now want to move to networked DVRs for benefits such as remote monitoring. One security professional says, "The original non-networked embedded DVR... only place left for it is on the Island of Misfit Toys... nobody wants it anymore, but it still works fine."

Interestingly, networked DVR units are experiencing a high rate of returns due to complexity. If the user can't troubleshoot networking issues, which may not be caused by the DVR, they think the DVR itself is not working properly. Some manufacturers don't yet have technical support that can properly troubleshoot a networking issue with a user, so the DVR ends up being returned to the manufacturer.

When it comes to video evidence, we must focus on the past, present and future. Equipment from the past still hits our desks -- many of us still getting VHS tapes. At the same time, we're seeing new DVRs that have only one or two data ports, some with minimal buttons. It's a continual challenge for law enforcement to be ready to deal with any type of video evidence collection and forensic video analysis, but the preparation pays off.

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