Digital video recorders (or DVRs for short) have slowly but surely replaced older video capture technologies, such as the VHS tape-based VCR that ruled the 1980s and 1990s. While the DVR had once been relegated to exclusive use in set-top boxes like cable and satellite television receivers, this is no longer the case – anyone with enough knowledge and resources can turn their PC into a DVR as well. In fact, many security systems use either a standalone or a PC-based DVR for their video recording needs.


However, not everyone interested in recording video may want or even need a PC-based DVR; by the same token sometimes a standalone DVR simply doesn’t offer enough functionality you’re looking for. Here’s what you need to know about both PC-based and standalone DVR systems, how they differ from one another, and how one might be a better fit for you than the other from a security standpoint.




As the name implies, a PC-based DVR is a computer that is running DVR software and has the ability to accept video and audio feeds from a security camera system thanks to a dedicated add-on card. Such a setup is typically more expensive than a standalone DVR unit, but there are advantages to the added cost.

One of the most important of these advantages is the almost near-infinite scalability of a PC-based DVR when it comes to storage space. As digital video recorders use computer hard drives to store recorded audio and video feeds, the ability of a DVR to store large quantities of data in the form of hours and hours of video surveillance is directly related to how large its internal hard drive is. While standalone DVRs may have room for one or two external hard drives to expand their storage capacity, their internal drives are fixed and unable to be upgraded; however, with a PC-based DVR it’s easy to add more storage space by either swapping out your existing drive for a larger one or adding more internal drives, as well as having the ability to use external drives.




The main drawback to a PC-based DVR system is that they tend to be prohibitively expensive and require someone to monitor the computer carefully to make sure it’s working at all times. Meanwhile, a standalone DVR is a much less expensive all-in-one unit that is designed from the ground-up to ensure all its components work together flawlessly.

Because of their higher affordability and plug-and-play reliability, standalone DVRs are often a good option for modest security systems such as a residential home or a smaller retail shopfront. A standalone system is also ideal for individuals who don’t have the expertise to build a PC-based system or the desire to constantly monitor and maintain a complete PC just to ensure they’re able to review and record security footage when they need or want to do so.