DVRs can be a pain to use. These devices are slow, finicky, and confusing. Add in years of dust, damage, and neglect and you may be facing a DVR that does not function properly in the first place. Even in the most pristine conditions, DVRs are bound to have a few problems that cause a headache for users.
Although we have designed DVR Examiner to work directly from the hard drive, bypassing the need for the DVR itself, it may sometimes be necessary for you to work directly with the DVR to export video or determine DVR settings. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand what to do when faced with a DVR that is not functioning in the field to preserve evidence that may exist on the device. Here are 10 helpful tips and tricks on how to solve some of the common problems of a nonworking DVR, so that you can easily address these basic technical issues.
1) Document the current state of the DVR. The first step when handling a DVR of any kind is to document the make and model of the device. This is important because all DVRs function differently, so it is crucial to understand what device you are dealing with before you can solve the problem. Make note of what the make and model is of the DVR (if there is one) as well as the current configuration of anything that is plugged into the DVR. A good time to do this would be while the DVR is turned off, and this information can be documented with photos if there is no make and model information available.
2) Preserve the data. Preserving the data is key when handling a nonworking DVR. There are many things that can occur during the startup of a nonworking DVR that could cause unintended changes to the data stored on the hard drive including:
- Power Surge: A failure of the DVR power supply or system board may cause a power surge that can kill an otherwise working DVR.
- Hard Drive Association: Some DVRs store the serial number or other properties of the hard drive in the memory as the ‘associated drive.’ A malfunction of the system board or depletion of the CMOS battery may cause that association to be lost, resulting in the DVR ‘formatting’ the hard drive upon boot.
- Video Expiration: Depending on the make and model of the DVR, there may be an option to set video to ‘expire’ after a certain number of days. Because of this, if the DVR has been powered off for any period, booting it up may cause the DVR to ‘erase’ that video.Before starting up a nonworking DVR, make sure you are aware of these potential impacts on the DVR hard drive. If there is important video evidence on the DVR necessary for a case, you want to make sure to preserve the data before you begin the DVR startup process.
The best way to preserve data…
The best way to preserve the data is to make a forensic image of the DVR’s hard drive. This preserves the original evidence before any modifications were made, which allows the data to still be valid in a court room. It also provides a backup if something were to happen to the DVR such as if the DVR ‘erased’ evidence due to video expiration, or if the DVR experienced any of the above malfunctions. You can always make a clone of this forensic image later if needed.
3) Use DVR Examiner! DVR Examiner is a great tool for recovering and preserving data from any DVR device. Simply connect the DVR hard drive to your computer in a forensically sound manner (using a writeblocker) and you can view and export video evidence with ease. With DVR Examiner, you don’t even have to turn the DVR on! If you are just trying to recover video evidence, DVR Examiner will likely be faster and easier than using the DVR itself, plus there is no risk of unintended evidence loss.
Click here to learn more and start your free 30-day trial of DVR Examiner.
4) Check the Power Supply. This is a crucial step when facing a nonworking DVR. Many users skip this step as they assume they do not need to check the power supply or that this is not the source of the problem. However, simply because there is a power supply on the shelf next to the DVR, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the correct power supply for the DVR. Majority of DVRs use a 12v power supply with a standard DC Barrel Jack; we typically see anywhere from .5 amps to 5 amps for DVRs, and around 1 amp for camera power. When checking the power supply, be sure to check all the connections; most DC power supplies have a connection at the wall, the power brick and the back of the DVR. This is a simple and easy way to solve a problem with the DVR, you always want to make sure that the power supply is compatible with the device before taking any further steps. This step can be very time saving!
5) Check any Additional Power Buttons or Switches. Once you have checked the power supply and it looks good and compatible with the DVR, you will want to check for any additional power buttons or switches. Although many DVRs will boot up as soon as they are plugged in, this is not the case for all DVRs. Some may need to be manually turned on by power switches on the front or back of the device.
6) Check the Hard Drive. Is there a hard drive? While rare, some DVRs may require a hard drive in order to properly boot. If you have removed the hard drive to create a clone or an image, you may need to re-connect the original drive, a clone, or an empty spare drive. Make sure to be mindful of the impacts of drive associations as noted in bullet point #2 under ‘Preserve the Data’ above: putting in a different hard drive could prevent you from using the DVR to recover your video in the future. It would be unfortunate if you were to lose important video evidence in the process of DVR recovery, and this will help prevent you from losing any important video you may need.
7) Is the Hard Drive Working? This should be evident through any attempts to make a forensic image of the drive. If the drive does not work, it may cause the DVR to be unable to boot or could be shorting out the system. If any of this is happening, you should try disconnecting the hard drive and rebooting the DVR.
8) Is the Hard Drive Spinning? A quick and easy way to check this is to touch or carefully pick up the hard drive. If it is spinning, you will generally be able to feel it. With some unbranded ‘black box’ DVRs, there are no lights so checking the hard drive can be a good indicator that the system has power. If the drive does not spin, it may indicate additional issues with power (bad power supply, or invalid amperage) or an issue with the hard drive itself.
If the hard drive is spinning, this means that the DVR has power and may be working. If you see any display on the monitor, double check the connections. It is possible that some DVRs may have multiple video outputs (VGA, BNC, RCA, HDMI, etc.) but be aware that not all DVRs use all ports in the same way. Some DVRs will leverage a ‘SPOT’ output, which allows users to assign one or more cameras to a specific monitor.
9) Is There A Remote? It is important to check if the DVR has a remote because some DVRs cannot function without using a remote. They may turn on and spin up the hard drive, but they will not output video until you press a button on the remote. Typically, these are the same DVRs that have very few to no buttons on the front panel and may or may not accept a USB mouse. If you have lost or damaged the remote to the DVR, you can probably find a backup remote on eBay or through the manufacturer by using the make and model of the DVR.
10) Read the manual. If there is a manual provided with the DVR, or you have a make and model for the DVR and can find it online, a brief read over the manual might help to solve any of the problems you are having with the DVR if none of the above instructions have been helpful.
If you are still having difficulty with a DVR after following these steps, we recommend that you contact the manufacturer of the DVR by checking the make and model of the device. If you need help extracting necessary video evidence from a DVR, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (800) 413-0363, where a member of our Advanced Technical Services team would be happy to assess your needs and answer any questions you may have.