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NVRs save video files from IP cameras while DVRs digitize analog video. Here's how each video recorder works.

On the surface, it doesn't seem like there's much difference between a network video recorder (NVR) and a digital video recorder (DVR). After all, both devices record HD video footage from multiple security cameras on a hard drive for you to watch later—making you feel like a bona fide security guard.

But if you dig a little deeper, it turns into a battle between analog and digital cameras. Each video recorder has distinct features, types of cameras, and costs—with NVRs offering more advanced tech and DVRs generally costing less.

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What's the difference between NVR and DVR?

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1. What's a DVR?

Best DVR system
Swann 8 Channel

Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Summary: A DVR is a great choice for budget-minded folks wanting a large fleet of wired cameras and straightforward continuous video recording.

A digital video recorder (DVR) connects to security cameras using an analog video cable. It sounds fancy, but an analog video signal is just a series of electrical pulses representing light waves hitting your camera’s lens. Like the human eye, light enters the camera, and it’s translated into electricity. But instead of an optic nerve, those pulses travel through a coaxial cable to the DVR for conversion into a digital video file.

Analog video is an old technology, but this makes it an affordable option for video surveillance that generally works well in multi-camera security systems.

But it has some limitations:

  • Power and video require separate cables. If you look closely at the back of an analog camera, you'll notice two connections: one for video and one for power. While most analog cameras bundle these with a combined cable, you still need a separate power adapter because the DVR security system can't power the camera through the video cable.
  • The analog signal's power drops with distance. The longer the cables, the more the signal decreases. So cables 300 feet or more won't work as well.1
  • There's no audio. With an analog security camera, there's no way to add audio to the video feed without running yet another cable. Some DVRs and analog cameras offer audio connections but don't have enough audio ports for every camera.
DVR pros and cons

Katie McEntire, SafeWise.com

DVRs often connect to the internet

Most DVRs come with a port on the back so you can connect them to your wireless router using an Ethernet cable. A typical Wi-Fi router has multiple Ethernet ports on the back for folks wanting a wired connection instead of a wireless one. Once you connect your DVR to the router, you can set up remote viewing on a computer or smartphone.

2. What's an NVR?

Best NVR system
Reolink 5 MP 4-Camera System
Reolink 5 MP

Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Summary: The NVR is a superior option for tech gurus who are fine spending extra for a feature-rich wired or wireless camera system.

A network video recorder (NVR) receives preprocessed video files from IP cameras over an Ethernet cable or wireless connection. With NVRs, IP cameras prepare the video files before sending them to the NVR for  . This is different from .

Think of it this way: Analog cameras send the raw ingredients of a cake and the DVR bakes it. While IP cameras make the cake for the NVR to store like a refrigerator.

Ethernet cameras are the most popular IP camera used with NVRs because they use Power Over Ethernet (PoE). This means your surveillance camera gets everything it needs from a single cable that plugs directly into the back of the NVR: video, power and audio.

Because NVR cameras have built-in processors and advanced hardware, they can send more information than an analog video feed. It's much easier to find NVRs and accompanying IP cameras that support audio recording, two-way audio, and smart motion detection that can differentiate between people, cars, and animals.

Plus, the video data is less susceptible to interference. As long as all the ones and zeros of the video file make it to the NVR, the video quality won't degrade. Although the physical signal strength decreases with distance, like on analog cameras, you can renew the signal as it passes through Ethernet switches.

Unlike the specialized coaxial cables on a DVR, an NVR works with PoE-compliant CAT5 Ethernet cables readily available at your local hardware store.

Katie McEntire, SafeWise.com

Light Bulb
My camera uses a base station. Is it also an NVR?

A base station can be an NVR if it saves video to a local storage device like a USB drive or micro SD card. Many wireless cameras use a base station instead of connecting directly to your Wi-Fi, which improves battery life. But base stations don't always support local storage and save recordings in cloud storage instead. Cloud storage is basically an NVR on a remote server instead of a device in your basement.

Winner: NVR

Recording multiple security cameras isn't easy without an NVR or DVR. While both recorders achieve similar results, an NVR's performance and convenient features win out in the end. You'll pay extra for an NVR camera system, but we think it's worth the price.

Contributing writer: Katie McEntire

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  1. Swann, "DVR vs. NVR - What's the Difference?," December 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022.

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided "as is" and is subject to change or removal at any time.

John Carlsen
Written by
John Carlsen
John is a technology journalist specializing in smart home devices, security cameras, and home security systems. He has over a decade of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech—he was the Smart Home Editor for Top Ten Reviews and wrote for ASecureLife before joining SafeWise as a Staff Writer in 2020. John holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications, Journalism emphasis from Utah Valley University. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, and starting countless DIY projects he has yet to complete.

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