Digital Video Recorders for Paranormal Investigation - Part 1
By John Garcia - Central Ohio Paranormal Society


Many groups use a digital video recorder (DVR) on investigations hoping to catch the illusive object moving or apparition. With technology ever-advancing, there are a lot of choices in the marketplace. Making the right selection from the beginning can save money and a lot of headaches later on.


Stand-Alone vs. Computer-Based

The first big decision to make is whether to purchase a stand-alone unit or buy a card to install in a computer system. Both have some advantages and disadvantages. Let's compare the two:


Stand-Alone DVR

A stand-alone DVR is an all-in-one unit that has the singular purpose of being a multi-channel (multi-camera) recorder. These can be purchased at many locations, including Micro Center, Costco, and numerous sources online.


1) Portability. There is no bulky, awkward, heavy computer to lug around. Just take the DVR, monitor, camera, and cable and you're ready to go.

2) Ease of setup. Most stand-alone DVRs are used in security systems and are designed to be fairly easy to setup and use.



1) Locked-in on the number of available recording channels. Most stand-alone units are not upgradeable beyond the size of the internal (or removable) hard drive. If you buy a 4-channel unit now and want to add channels later, you're probably going to have to replace the entire unit (or add a second stand-alone DVR).

2) It may be difficult or slow to transfer video files to a PC for sharing and analysis. It is important to verify that these units have the ability to produce "computer-friendly" video formats and have a USB port or other suitable transfer method.

3) Limited equipment re-use. A stand-alone DVR is generally a single-purpose piece of equipment. It might not be able to provide any other function (other than recording) for your team.



Computer-Based DVR:

A computer-based DVR, as the name implies, is a computer that has a special card (a DVR card) and software installed to record video from multiple cameras. These cards are widely available (especially via e-Bay) and come in many levels of power (and price).



1) Equipment re-use. If you have a computer available for your team, it can wear many hats (including DVR). When not out on an investigation, the computer can be used to analyze audio, video, or anything else that you need a computer for.

2) Upgrade paths are available. As you need additional capability, you can upgrade the appropriate component(s).

3) Power and flexibility.



1) Computers are awkward, heavy, and hard to move, and there are few viable options available for laptop computers. When combined with the work of setting up cameras and running cable, this is not a trivial consideration (especially for smaller teams).

2) The opportunity to get ripped off when buying a DVR card... Unfortunately, there are many cards out there that are suitable for security system use, but aren't particularly good for paranormal investigation. There are many potential pitfalls here that will be completely covered in a separate article.

3) Additional power brings additional complexity. You don't need to be a PC Guru to set up a computer-based DVR, but it certainly isn't as easy as a stand-alone unit.



Once you've made the basic decision of stand-alone vs. computer-based, you can start looking at specific models and specifications to find the right DVR for your group.

Read part 2 of this series for additional information on what specifications to look for.

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