There are a lot of acronyms to decipher when choosing how you want to store your security camera footage. From NVRs and DVRs, to NAS, FTP, RTSP, and more, there is no lack of options when deciding how to maintain your recorded feeds.
All of these physical devices and network protocols each have their own data rates and methods of storing data.
Ways to Store Security Camera Footage – At a Glance
- NVRs and DVRs: Main storage devices for security footage; NVRs cater to IP-based cameras and are pricier, while DVRs use simpler coaxial cables and handle more of the processing centrally.
- Local Storage Options: Cameras may use MicroSD cards or embedded solutions like eMMC for direct storage, but not all cameras support this.
- NAS Systems: Similar to NVRs but offer more customization, require more setup, and are tied to home networks.
- FTP/SFTP & Cloud: Methods to transfer footage either locally or to cloud servers, but cloud options can raise privacy and cost concerns.
- Storage Implications: As camera resolution increases (e.g., 4K), the demand for storage space grows. Considerations include the number of cameras, retention duration, and setup complexity.
Now let’s get into it in a bit more detail!
NVRs (Network Video Recorders) are the most common and widely-used storage devices for modern IP-based security cameras. NVRs generally have Hard Drives installed providing terabytes of data storage for your footage. They are usually upgradable if you require more space.
Connected IP-based cameras typically process and encode the footage directly at the camera’s end before transmitting them over an ethernet line. Although this process of encoding video before transmitting is not as efficient as raw analog data, this method can transfer high-resolution footage greater than 8MP (20MP-200MP) without loss of image quality. These systems are somewhat complex and difficult to set up, and one of the reasons why IP-based security camera systems tend to be more expensive.
Probably the oldest method of processing and storing camera footage was using a DVR. (Digital Video Recorder)
DVRs receive footage from each camera via Coaxial Cables. The transmitted footage is either via analog or digital signals. You can easily identify a DVR because it uses coaxial cables for the camera input instead of Ethernet RJ45 cables.
The DVR processes the signals and converts them into video before storing them on a local hard drive in the DVR itself. DVRs can then use an ethernet cable to connect to a phone line or Wi-Fi router so that footage can be accessed using RTSP. (Real-Time Streaming Protocol)
Unlike NVRs, where the camera does a lot of the processing, DVRs are workhorses. They receive basic feeds from each camera and process them centrally.
DVRs are less expensive than NVRs because the coaxial system is less complicated. Their cables are sturdy and very well shielded against noise and other forms of interference. They can also be laid up to a distance of 1640ft (500m) without repeaters.
However, there are some drawbacks to these coaxial-based camera systems. For starters, these systems can only transfer video, so collecting audio is out of the question (unless they have separate audio ports). On top of that, the cameras require separate power sources and cannot be powered through the coaxial cables unlike PoE. (Power over Ethernet) These cables are also very stiffer and can be more difficult to install and hide.
3. MicroSD/TF Card
One of the best local storage solutions for individual cameras that don’t rely on a CCTV network are Micro SD cards. (formerly known as TF cards)
However, all security cameras do not support Micro SD cards so you need to choose carefully if looking to rely on local storage.
Some cameras use an NVR (via PoE) as the primary way to store footage while offering a local microSD card as a backup, in case the ethernet connection is disabled / or the NVR is destroyed.
The two main features you want to look out for when picking out a good Micro SD card for your security camera are capacity and read/write speeds. In most cases, having more storage is always better but if you feel like the Micro SD card will be severely underutilized you can always go for an SD card with a lower capacity.
For security cameras that record non-stop 24/7, you need a higher capacity. Even if the footage is not full 1080p, it can add up, so we recommend going for at least 128GB.
Usually, 1080p HD footage takes around 20MB per minute, so if you go for a 128GB card (with approximately 100GB of usable storage space) you can get around 80 days’ worth of footage. However, if you have a motion-based security camera that records footage only when motion is detected, you can go for 32GB or even less, depending on how much footage you want to capture and how frequently you want to check the SD card.
NAS stands for Network Attached Storage, and as the name suggests, this method uses your home’s network, be it Wi-Fi or ethernet to store data on a local hard drive(s). It typically uses the RTSP protocol to stream footage from the camera to the storage device.
In a sense, this is somewhat similar to an NVR, but a NAS system offers better ways to access your data and the entire system is customizable. In terms of storage, you are not limited to a single hard drive, you can add more drives, perform RAID configurations, (for added redundancy) set up separate backup methods, and provide access to a variety of devices, be it your computer or smartphone. On top of that, you can also set it up so that files can be accessed remotely.
However, setting up NAS devices for security cameras is not very straightforward, there are a lot of issues you can face along the way such as choosing improper NAS drives, (security cameras work best with surveillance-based NAS drives) camera licenses, limited KVM functionality, and more. So before you dive into the NAS rabbit hole, you will have to do your research and due diligence.
FTP and SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) is a set of rules that a computer or NVR follows when sending information to a media server. This server can be a local server connected via ethernet or Wi-Fi, or it can be a cloud server connected via the internet.
In most cases, a DVR/NVR is used to record the footage locally, and at the same time, the footage is sent to a cloud server on the internet with the help of FTP protocols. However, due to bandwidth limitations, the footage uploaded to the webserver usually has lower quality than the local footage. This is because wireless FTP and SFTP methods of data transfer are not as fast and efficient as local storage and you might have to spend more on bandwidth to achieve similar transfer rates and image quality.
A lot of newer security camera brands have their own cloud storage offering. That way, for a set fee, you can access and maintain footage on their particular cloud platform.
This is ideal for the householder who just wants to quickly set up a camera and not worry about the ins and outs of how it is stored.
However, there are a number of concerns with this approach. From a privacy perspective, there have been cases where some customers have been able to access other customers’ camera feeds. Some brands have started dramatically increasing the cost of cloud storage, and limiting camera features without signing up.
Some NVRs also allow you to backup footage to cloud storage services such as Google Storage, Azure, AWS S3. This is better than the above as you are not tied to a brand’s cloud platform, and instead, you have your own contract with one of the main cloud storage providers.
7. USB Flash Drive
Although recording footage on USB flash drives isn’t very common in security cameras, some cameras, such as Arlo, provide this option in their wireless base station.
In terms of functionality, both USB and Micro SD happen to have the same non-volatile flash memory storage capabilities. Their major differences are the form factors and the patterns of data reading/writing activity.
USB flash drives tend to have a bigger form factor and they are generally used for transferring files in-between computers. However, that doesn’t mean they do a lousy job of recording CCTV footage as their data writing capabilities are fast enough to keep up with a single CCTV camera just like an SD card.
With that being said, you will not find security cameras that support USB storage very easily, and they are mostly found in wireless hubs to store recordings. Nonetheless, we do not recommend USB flash drives because of their slightly larger form factor (compared to Micro SD)
Similar to USB Drives, eMMC is not that common as a means of storage. Some brands, such as Eufy have the storage devices integrated into their cameras as a means of local storage.
eMMC stands for Embedded MultiMediaCard. They are another form of non-volatile flash memory just like a USB flash drive or Micro SD card. However, these storage devices have a very tiny form factor and hence, are used inside some security cameras, smartphones, and other compact devices.
eMMC storage devices cannot be removed and inserted like SD cards. They are soldered into the circuit boards of devices and are not available for consumer use. However, their read and write speeds are very impressive as they are right in-between HDDs and SSDs in terms of read/write speeds.
Many IoT devices and smart security cameras use eMMC storage for backup capabilities. However, they use a very low amount of storage space (typically less than 32GB) and they are typically used as a buffer until the footage can be fully uploaded to the internet or local server.
We generally don’t recommend cameras with eMMC storage and much prefer NVR and NAS.
Storage is not the first thing one would consider when selecting a security camera. However, 4K footage with a high frame rate can take up a very large amount of space that needs to be designed for.
Storage solutions, whether local or cloud-based, can be expensive and require a lot of work to set up so you should always consider your priorities. It is best to optimize your storage based on the number of cameras installed and how long you intend to keep the footage. Let’s face it: you can’t keep all your camera footage with you forever!