You’ve probably heard of DVRs, and maybe people tell you to get one, but what are they and how can they improve your self-storage operations? These devices have a strong security application and add a marketing dimension for storage facilities. Tenants appreciate feeling their belongings are stored safely. This new technology can appeal to that sense of added security.
A digital video recorder (DVR) records video digitally to a storage medium, such as a computer hard drive, CD or DVD. You may already have a DVR in your home—Tivos and PVR or cable-box recorders are nothing more than DVRs working with TVs and cable or satellite decoders.
Several years ago, using video cameras at a facility required a separate VCR to record each camera’s output. The advent of sequencers and multiplexers made it possible to record multiple cameras on a single VCR. It was saved at a smaller resolution, and the system was limited by the recording medium, namely the cassette tape.
Changing tapes became the bane of property managers, who often had to swap them every four to six hours for high-quality recordings. Plus, they had to label and store the tapes. Worse, many had to monitor recordings to assure no suspicious activity occurred at the facility. Tapes were often recycled, but after each reuse, quality became worse and distorted.
DVRs do away with all of that nonsense. Imagine recording up to 16 cameras—in real time with full-screen resolution—to one device that never needs to have storage changed. Need to find an event? Just click on the camera that monitors the area in question. You’ll be taken to a calendar and time line; click the exact time or time frame when you think the event occurred. Scan through at high speed, go in reverse or even slow motion.
Was there a break-in on a particular unit? Freeze frame and zoom in on the perpetrator’s face. Now you can print it directly to your color photo printer or save it to a high-quality CD/DVD to give to local authorities.
DVRs can seem like a godsend. No more searching for the right tape, hoping it’s labeled correctly and the quality is good. No longer must a manager squint while fast forwarding through hours of tiny unchanging images, pausing to see anything in detail.
DVRs have a variety of recording options. Cameras can be set for continuous recording, motion detection, or even to record when an external sensor is tripped. If DVRs are set to record based on motion or an external sensor, you determine how long to have it record after the motion detection ends. For example, if it’s set for 10 seconds, every time motion is detected by the camera, or a sensor is tripped, the DVR will record that camera during activity, until 10 seconds after it stops. No more wasting hard-drive space with recordings of an empty hallway.
Sensitivity levels of the motion detection may be adjusted for each camera, and specific cameras may be “masked” if they are used for high-activity areas. For example, a camera angled at a tree with leaves blowing constantly can be set to a lower sensitivity than a camera watching an indoor hallway. A camera overlooking an entryway with a busy highway in the background could have the highway masked so passing traffic isn’t recorded until a car pulls onto the property.
This allows your DVR to be more selective in what it stores, making it easier to search for a particular event. Imagine only having to search through segments that potentially matter, rather than watching an empty hallway for several hours.
The hard drive obviously doesn’t have infinite room for storage, but it uses space to its fullest potential. Older information is recorded over only when the hard drive is full. With properly configured masking and motion detection, a busy facility can save more than a month’s worth of recordings to one hard drive.
Of course, storage capacity depends on the number of cameras shooting, activity on each and the size of the storage hard drive. Before purchasing your DVR, be sure to ask your security company how many days of storage you can expect to have.
Combining a diligent staff with other on-site security equipment—such as access-control logs or individual door alarms that provide notification of an event to be reviewed—gives you ample time to find and copy an event to a more permanent storage medium, namely a CD or DVD.
Transferring an event recorded on the hard drive to a hard copy is easy: Click on the activity’s date, scan its progression to get the correct time frame and camera, and instruct the program to back up stored recordings for a specified period. Once backed up, the recording can be viewed on a PC, DVD player or other DVR.
Probably the most exciting DVR feature is the ability to connect to an internal network or the Internet for remote viewing. This is useful for corporate or home offices to periodically check managers or remotely scan the facility for traffic or cleanliness.
DVRs connected to the Internet allow you to e-mail captured images or recorded events anywhere without burning them to a disk. Further, a customer storing a boat at your facility could remotely view the camera monitoring the area where the vessel is stored. What a great marketing tool or value-added option to offer tenants!
If you employ this feature, remote access can be limited to specified cameras, agreed upon by the facility owner and tenant.
DVR Shopping Hints
When shopping for a DVR, be mindful of how many frames per second (fps) it can record. DVRs vary from 30 to 480 fps. For example, a 120 fps DVR can capture six cameras’ worth of activity at almost full motion. A 480 fps camera captures 20 cameras’ worth of activity at 24 fps—the same movie speed projected in the theater.
Also inquire about hard-drive size, which is your event storage area. A 100 gigabyte (GB) hard drive holds a few days of recorded activity before it starts over-writing old footage. Using a 500 GB hard drive gives you significantly more storage capability.
DVRs make great sense for busy self-storage operators. They’re simplifying the mangled mess of cameras, recordings, tapes and viewing. At the same time, they amplify security for facility owners and tenants alike. Be sure to tout this provision in all marketing efforts—especially advertisements in the Yellow Pages, direct mail and during walk-in presentations—and see how DVRs can secure your site and marketing plans at the same time.
Steve Weinstein is a senior support technician for QuikStor, a provider of software and security since 1987. For more information, visit www.quikstor.com.