“Digital” is a common customer requirement when it comes to audio and video recording. Over the past year, I have had many discussions around digital technology with our law enforcement customers, who are looking to upgrade their interview room systems.

Unfortunately, early digital recorders — and even most of today’s brand name recorders — are simply not designed to meet the unique needs of interview rooms. In fact, many early adopters have abandoned their digital upgrades, and are once again dealing with large stacks of VCR tapes.

Why? Most DVRs are designed for traditional security applications, devoting much of their digital horsepower to managing multiple video signals, often resulting in poor audio quality and poor audio synchronization. Additionally, security DVRs are designed for passive use by a limited number of users, whereas LE applications demand constant use by sometimes multiple users.

To make matters worse, the evidence exported from many DVRs is often not easy to quickly share or play back on PCs. The result is a lack of satisfactory performance for interview rooms and other law enforcement needs, and unhappy customers.

Fortunately, a select few DVR manufacturers have addressed these issues and are designing products with the law enforcement professional in mind. To help guide you through the hundreds of digital video recorder options available, I have prepared a list of key questions that every LE customer should consider when purchasing a digital video recorder.

1. Is it easy to use?

This might sound like an obvious question – but every DVR can be easy to use given its used for its designed purpose. The real question here: is it easy to use in YOUR environment. Check to see if the provider has a money-back guarantee so that you can ensure you purchased the right recorder for YOUR application.

2.Can the export isolate specific points in time?

Many security DVRs only allow exporting of data over larger periods of time. Commonly, law enforcement recorders are capturing evidence that applies to many separate cases — and mixing evidence is not acceptable. A DVR to be used in an interview setting or for other LE applications should allow you to pinpoint the audio/video you wish to export down to the second.

3. Is the audio synchronized?

As stated earlier, most DVRs on the market do a poor job when it comes to audio quality and synchronization. See if the provider can send you a clip of audio/video exported from the DVR you are considering, which will make the recorder’s synchronization capabilities blatantly evident.

4. Can camera channels be isolated for export?

If you are considering a single DVR to cover more than one interview room, or to be used for multiple applications (interviews, dui processing, holding, security, etc), then make sure that a single camera can be isolated and exported independently of other channels.

5. Can the recorder perform multiple operations?

If you are opting for a multi-channel recorder, check to see if the DVR can perform multiple operations simultaneously — such as recording, exporting, viewing etc. — so that one use is not impeded by the events of another.

6. Are Windows Media compatible files available?

Almost all DVRs provide the essential proprietary exports that are required for evidence validation. However, these proprietary video exports often require special software to be loaded on a PC before viewing can be accomplished. Having a DVR that can also export evidence in an AVI Windows Media compatible file is important for both easy review on PCs and quick sharing without the need of any special software.

7. Can recording be remotely activated and deactivated?

Make sure that the recorder in question accepts some type of trigger input. Trigger inputs allow for a variety of toggles, push button switches, door contacts, etc., to start recording discretely. Many recorders with trigger inputs even allow for pre- and post-recording, so what led up to the need to start and stop the recording is captured and added to the evidence file.

8. Can audio be heard over the network?

Networkable DVRs have become standard, providing live monitoring capabilities remotely over the LAN. However, most only allow live monitoring of video, not audio. Having the convenience of seeing and hearing live interviews allows others to join in on the interview without the need for special monitoring stations, extra cabling and the expense of additional a/v monitors.

9. Does the recorder provide both VGA and video outputs?

A VGA output is the most desired today, allowing for connection to space-saving LCD monitors. However, a recorder that offers video outputs as well will allow for easy integration with other devices, such as the use of spot monitors for watching critical areas in your facility.

10. Can the recorder be updated?

Many manufacturers continue to develop additional features and menu operations even after you’ve made your purchase. Check to see if your vendor is continuing to look after your interests, making these advancements available to you.

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