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2005 Yonge St
Toronto, ON


Canada's first spy shop.  Spy gadgets including electronic security, counter surveillance, video cameras and GPS tracking devices.  Online shopping available for Canada.

Multi-Camera DVR System


As a business that sells somewhat unusual products, we recognize that any additional information we provide can benefit not only our customers, but casual readers as well.  Since the owners and staff at Spytech have accumulated decades of collective experience in the business, we have decided to share our knowledge through this "Spytechblog".

Multi-Camera DVR System

Hans School

In Store Product: Standard Multi-Camera DVR System

Although this type of system is one of our more popular products, it is also the one with the most variations.  The overall setup is made up of a "Multi-Camera DVR" (Digital Video Recorder) with anywhere from 2 to 16 cameras attached to it.  Since any DVR usually does the same job, you'll find that variety mainly comes in the form of dozens of different types of cameras you can use with this type of machine.  Pretty much every video surveillance system you see in a building or on a property would be some variation of the same setup described below.

The biggest difference from any one system to another, is that as you get into higher numbers of cameras, the hardware and software become more sophisticated and thereby more expensive.  Yet, however sophisticated a system may be, the individual parts still perform very similar functions.  While addressing these functions, I will use past customer inquiries as a guideline as to how much technical detail to indulge in.

Multi-Camera DVR

The most common DVR models come in 4, 8 or 16 channel versions, but other than the maximum number of cameras, they do pretty much the same thing.  There are also other models as well (like 32+ channels), however our customers have usually preferred to buy several smaller units instead of one huge one.  I think the reasoning is, 16 images are plenty of squares to watch all at once on one monitor, so people just prefer to get a second system for the additional cameras instead of making the first one even bigger.  Of course, either option has its own advantages, and my own reasoning is only based on anecdotal observations.  As such, let us leave that debate to the individual customers and their installers to sort out.

The typical DVR will record hundreds of hours of video onto a Hard Drive, with the exact time determined by the amount of memory in that Hard Drive.  Usually, a DVR will be connected to an internet service for online access, assuming there is internet available at the site.  This online capability, along with video motion activation and memory overwrite are the most important features for DVRs.  To keep this article brief and pithy, I will focus on these universal features of a DVR, instead of listing countless industry-specific tweaks that are only relevant to a few specialists.

Online Video Feed

Having an online video feed from the DVR allows you to watch your property remotely at any time.  Some people will check on their home from work, which is referred to as "nanny cams" on daytime talk shows; likewise, entrepreneurial types will check on their business from home or while traveling.  Speaking of travel, it has gradually become more popular to use phones and tablets to view these video feeds, since most of the big brand devices have the technical capability these days.  Generally, DVRs can also send out some kind of email message to alert you about a motion activation after hours, or some other event, like a damaged camera.  This allows you to check out those online cameras immediately, and investigate whether there was a security breach.

Motion Activation

Motion activation doesn't seem like a very important feature until it's time to play back your recordings.  That's when you see a list of motion recordings sorted by times and dates, and organized by which camera captured them, and you begin to appreciate the amount of time you saved yourself while investigating so many hours of video footage.  At the very least, you can skip over all those hours where you know nothing even happened.  All DVRs these days will also allow you to adjust various motion activation settings to minimize common issues like false alarms.  Since a DVR can be tuned just the way you want, it is rare to see one anymore that is not in motion activation mode.


Overwrite - also known as "looping" - is the expected default setting for video surveillance these days.  When you don't use overwrite, the DVR simply stops recording when the memory is full.  For example, if the Hard Drive holds 900 hours, the DVR will only contain the first 900 hours of footage you recorded, unless you delete the footage and start over.  When you use overwrite mode, the DVR erases the oldest contents of the memory constantly while continuing to record the latest footage.  In our example, the 900 hours of video content of the DVR would always be the last 900 hours recorded.  Of course either mode may work better for a customer, depending on the actual application.

Other DVR Features

Other common features you may find on a DVR include the schedule record function, so you can set the unit to record only during certain hours.  There may also be an external alarm input to connect an existing alarm system to trigger the DVR recording.  While integrating the DVR into other systems can run the risk of creating more errors, or information overload, there is still a certain level of comfort in piling on more layers of security.  Those are really all the most popular features that people generally ask about.  Any of the really obscure features can be explained by our staff, when they naturally present themselves, but no more of them shall be forced into this discussion.

Surveillance Cameras

This is where things get complicated.  Since there are so many different types of cameras, it is quite rare for us to sell the same multi-camera setup more than once, even when it's just a simple four camera setup.  It is not uncommon for a customer to actually buy 4 completely different cameras for one DVR.  This is the reason our stores only carry universal DVR models, which use industry standard BNC connectors, not the all-in-one package deals that only work with their own proprietary wiring and come with just one standard type of camera.

Surveillance cameras come in outdoor weatherproof or indoor versions.  They can have night vision or no night vision capability.  There are even wireless cameras or hardwired cameras.  Of course, being a spy store, we offer various types of hidden cameras as well.  Each camera is actually some combination of all of these different options, not just one of them.  With each option there is always a positive and a negative.  For example, night vision cameras see in the dark, which is great for late night surveillance obviously, but they are much bigger and more difficult to hide, which often makes them awkward to use as hidden cameras.  Another example is trying to find a model of camera that you can move around to different locations from time to time.  Of course, the ideal option would be a wireless camera, because it wouldn't require the hassle of running video wires every time you change its location.  On the other hand, a wireless camera could have range limitations or it could suffer from certain forms of interference, none of which you would ever have to worry about with a hardwired camera.

With so many different potential options, you can see why it can be worth a trip to a Spytech store in person.  Decisions like how many cameras to use, and what type of camera each one should be, would tip the scales back and forth between the extent of security coverage versus the total cost involved.  Alas, are we not forever struggling with the eternally shuffling compromise between our security and our freedom?  Well, fortunately all these decisions can be made with some helpful guidance from a professional installer who can meet you in person and give you an experienced opinion about the location you are considering.  If you are close to our Spytech store locations, we can refer you to such an installer, so feel free to contact us.

Hans School
President, Spytech

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