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Review: VITEK VT-H40 H.264 DVR


Vitek VT-H40 Digital RecorderVITEK logoI have been using the popular AverMedia NV5000 PC based DVR system for a few years now.  While it works great, and the software is very powerful, it requires a dedicated PC, which has several disadvantages, such as maintenance, potential stability problems and energy cost.

I have been looking around for an affordable H.264 (which provides much better compression and quality) DVR appliance for a while now, and finally decided on ordering the Vitek VT-H40 DVR since Automated Outlet (a CTVA member), is running a sale on them this month.  Read more for a detailed review and many pictures of the system in action.

UPDATED: I added a few more comments to the end of this review, now that I have had the chance to use it for a few months.

Unboxing

The DVR was well packaged using the typical packaging materials most companies use.  The box contained the following items:

  • Vitek VT-H40 4 channel H.264 Digital Recorder
  • Power supply + power cord (typical PC power cord)
  • IR remote + 2 AAA batteries
  • Manual (paper)
  • CD with the client software and manual in PDF format
  • 4 hard drive mounting screws

VT-H40 unboxing VT-H40 unboxing VT-H40 box content

One of the first problems I ran into is that the batch my unit came from (manufacturing date is 2009.05.12) suffered from several firmware issues.  VITEK provided me with a firmware upgrade which resolved all the issues (they even joined the CT chat room to provide real time help), and they have assured me that this batch has been pulled so they can address the issue.  From what I can tell, both the hardware and software were developed by Natadel, a Korean company specializing in CCTV hardware and software.

Hardware

VT-H40 frontVT-H40 rearThe VT-H40 is about the size of a typical DVD player.  Dimensions are 13.4" x 10.3" x 2.5", which means it won't fit in a structured wiring can.  The unit is equipped with a fan, and definitely can be heard in a quiet room.  Together with the hard drive noise, this DVR is far from silent, but this shouldn't be too much of a showstopper unless you plan on putting one of these in your bedroom.  When the unit is in operation, the exterior doesn't feel warm at all, and the same can be said for the fan exhaust.

The model I received shipped with a 250GB hard drive, but the drive can be swapped out with a larger drive, up to 1TB in size.  The manual includes a list of compatible hard drives.

It supports recording 4 channels at 30fps (frames per second) each, but only when recording at the lower resolution (352x240).  If you wish to record at high resolution (704x480), the fps will drop down to a maximum of 8 per channel.  This is not something the sales brochure made clear, but looking at some of the other cheaper DVR units out there, it looks like this is typical for a DVR in this class.

One of the nicer features I am happy to see is are the 4 alarm inputs, and 1 relay out.  It allows you to trigger recording based on external automation and/or security sensors (supporting both Normally Open and Normally Closed sensors), plus trigger the alarm system (or some other automation task), when the system has detected motion.

VT-H40 inputsThe system also has 2 video outputs, 1 VGA port and 1 BNC video out port.  You can select which video output you want to use, but keep in mind that by default, VGA isn't selected.  I personally hooked it up to an old VGA monitor, and didn't experience any problems.  If you do switch it to VGA mode, make sure that you do this while the unit is turned off, as the manual clearly indicates.

The VT-H40 does not support recording audio or support PTZ control (however, both the Windows client and web based client seem to indicate it does, which can be confusing at first).  If this is something you are interested in, there is another version of this DVR, the VT-H41, which supports these features.

This model also has a network port, allowing you to access your video feeds (and archived data) from a remote location.   There is 1 USB port on the front, which allows you to take backups of your video, and configuration, to an external USB drive.  Firmware upgrades using the USB port are possible as well, but you can not download any firmware updates from their site.

Software

VT-H40 Main screenAfter turning it on, you'll see a splash screen for a few seconds, and the unit will be ready to record.  I was hoping the operating system would be Linux or Windows (XPe/CE) based, in order to make it 'hacker' friendly, but according to VITEK, it runs pSOS.  It is using a custom file system, named NaFS filesystem, which has been developed by Natadel, and has been designed to avoid data corruption upon power failure.  The web interface is powered by the GoAhead webserver software.

Once the system finished booting up, you will see your cameras right away, but you will want to configure the system.  You can do this by pressing the Setup button and enter the default password, which can be found in the manual.

Configuring the unit is pretty easy, but you have to use the included IR remote and an external monitor/TV in order to do this.  While I am impressed with the many options you can configure, I really wish you could configure the system through the client or web interface.  But since this is a real appliance, I guess you won't touch the settings on a regular basis, and it shouldn't be too much of an issue.  Navigating the system is fairly easy to do.  You simple navigate the menus using the arrow keys and select button, and if you want to go a level back/up, you use the Esc button.  Data entry is done by either arrow up/down to select a (alpha) numeric character, or sometimes you also get to use a virtual keyboard.

Some of the options you can configure:

  • Live display: adjust colors, contrast and brightness per video input.  You can also configure a 'sequence', which will cycle between the different channels in full screen mode.
  • Recording: this is where you configure the resolution, fps, quality and type of recording (motion, scheduled or continuous).  You are also able to configure the pre and post recording behavior whenever motion is detected.
  • Device: configure the motion detection options, such as sensitivity, what parts of the video feed to ignore.  This is also where you configure the alarm inputs and outputs.  All of these options are configurable per input.
  • Network: by default, the unit is configured to use DHCP.  I highly recommend you change it to a static IP address to avoid problems down the road.  You can also select which ports to use for the web client, and the video streaming.  Turning 'Bandwidth Savings' off will also improve the streaming quality, but keep in mind you might run into trouble when accessing your system remotely over the internet.  Last but not least, the system supports DDNS using the ddnscenter.com service and email notification if the IP changes.
  • System: the DVR supports 2 NTP servers, which by default is configured to point to 2 Korean NTP servers, so make sure you point this to local time servers such as 0.pool.ntp.org and 1.pool.ntp.org if you are in the US.

VT-H40 Setup VT-H40 Setup - Live VT-H40 Setup - Record VT-H40 Setup - Record - Schedule
VT-H40 Setup - Device VT-H40 Setup - Device - Motion Detection area selection VT-H40 Setup - Device - Normally Closed sensor trigger VT-H40 Setup - Device - Normally Open sensor trigger
VT-H40 Setup - Network VT-H40 Setup - Storage VT-H40 Setup - System VT-H40 Setup - System - NTP configuration

When you want to access the recorded video, or live video, you have 3 options.  Use the video out port on the system itself and navigate the system.  This works well, but the point of having an Ethernet interface is so you can do this from your desk.  This gives you 2 options, the UMS client software, which can be found on the CD, or the web interface, which is basically an ActiveX version of this software.  Besides searching for recorded video and watching live video, you can also make backups.  The interface is very simple, and you shouldn't have any problems figuring out how to do basic tasks.  As mentioned earlier, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that you couldn't configure the system through the web interface.  Since the web interface relies on an ActiveX component, this will rule out being able to use Firefox and other non-IE browsers, plus it looks like there is also no way of grabbing a snapshot or access an MJPEG stream, so integrating the system with your home automation system will be limited.

Screenshots of the UMS client:

VT-H40 UMS client VT-H40 UMS client VT-H40 UMS client - searching for video VT-H40 UMS client - searching for video VT-H40 UMS client - searching for video

I actually prefer the ActiveX version more than the Windows based client, as it allows you to narrow down your search by dragging your timeline.  Some screenshots of the web interface:

VT-H40 web client VT-H40 web client VT-H40 web client - search

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Power

VT-H40 power supplyOne of the main reasons I purchased this DVR was to avoiding having to spend money on a new powerful PC, and the cost of powering that PC.  So I grabbed my trusty Kill A Watt and took some measurements.  While continuously recording 1 channel (at both 8fps and 30fps), the DVR consumes about 15-16W, which is not bad at all.  The specs state that it uses around 22W, but I am only recording 1 channel.  It ships with a 12 VDC power supply which can deliver up to 3 Amps, so you could invest in a 12V battery system to provide great run times during power outages.

Conclusion

For $350-$400, I really didn't expect a fancy system.  If you are expecting a top of the line system, you are fooling yourself, and you will probably be disappointed.  The VT-H40 gets the job done for very little money, so I think this product is a perfect match if you are looking for a very affordable H.264 based system which comes with a hard drive (thus ready to go out of the box), 4 video and alarm inputs.  There are plenty of online stores which sell digital video recorders in the same price range, but they usually offer a lower total frame rate, no H.264, or do not ship with a hard drive for this price.  Quality wise, my only concern is that the fan will not last, and I'm not sure if it will start sounding an alarm (or shut down) if this fan fails.  The manual could use some work, but you shouldn't have to rely on it too much since the interface is very easy to use.  As for comparing it against the AverMedia NV5000 based solution I have, I don't think it's a fair comparison, but the AverMedia solution is still the way to go if you are willing to go with a PC based system.  If you want a cheap stand alone device, I think you will be happy with the VT-H40.

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Pros

  • Affordable
  • 4 alarm inputs
  • H.264
  • Easy to use

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Cons

  • Fan
  • 30FPS @ 352x240 only
  • Unable to configure the system through the web interface
  • Not easy to integrate into a home automation environment
  • Web interface is only compatible with Internet Explorer

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Links

UPDATE

After doing more research, I learned to appreciate some of the features the VT-H40 offers.  It seems most DVR units in this class do NOT offer full D1 recording (officially 720x480, but 704x480 is pretty much the same content wise) at all, so while this unit only allows you to record D1 @ 7 Frames Per Second, it is a lot better than what others offer.  One of the other 'Cons' was the fact that it only supported Internet Explorer (due to the ActiveX component), but this seems to be the norm for most DVR units, including some of the higher end units, so I am not sure if this could still be considered a negative.

Finally, I do have to add a negative to the list (it really is the only one big issue I have with this unit), but this is typical for DVRs in this class.  Not having the ability to configure this system over the network is pretty frustrating.  While their EH/E series do seem to support it, with the VT-H40, you have to use the remote to make any kind of configuration changes to the system, since the ActiveX component/client software only supports viewing/searching the video recordings.




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