Blue Iris (and the many headaches)

2021, Nov 01    

For the last few years I have been a supporter of the vendor-agnostic Blue Iris CCTV software, allowing you to leverage commodity hardware and run a CCTV platform for a fraction of the cost of some of the larger vendor-specific solutions. However, as the amount of issues I have encountered over the last 12 months with it has reached a critical point, I've moved away from it and looked back on the many frustrations encountered, and just how much time I have lost to it.

The Beginning

In 2017 I needed a CCTV solution to cover the house with some basic cameras. I'd previously looked at using one of the available NVR devices (from the same vendor as the camera) however there was a lot of negative feedback regarding the stability of the devices and the lack of support for larger drives. One of the promising alternatives was that of Blue Iris, a cheap piece of software that allowed you to use your existing hardware as a CCTV server, with support for hardware decoding (Intel) as well. I purchased a license and took the plunge, spending time configuring an old Dell system I had to get it operational and start recording footage. The learning curve was steep (with the documentation leaving a lot to be desired), but the basics of recording were there.
Fast forward some time and the frustrations regarding its usage and stability had started to take hold. The software crashed more often than not (with little explanation as to why), playback didn't behave, and connecting an Android device would cause the system to hit 100% CPU and crash. As I needed a stable system that I could trust while travelling, and as a replacement system also had the same issues, something had to change.

The Switch

Attempting to go "pro", a top-of-the-line Hikvision system (complete with AI) was ordered, to replace Blue Iris while providing advanced functionality that wasn't in BI at the time. Over £2000 later and the new system had arrived, and within the first 30 minutes highlighted just how bad Hikvision software is (at time of writing, the issues I raised more than 12 months ago still haven't been fixed, leaving you with an unusable web interface).
For two weeks I tried to get the device to function, but in the end it was returned as it was so unstable I question how it was ever released. Lesson of the day, more expensive doesn't always equal more better...

The Return

After the Hikvision NVR was sent back it was back to Blue Iris, with a genuine view that I shouldn't have left. After seeing how bad enterprise hardware is, it was time to stick with the vendor-agnostic approach and ride out the rough patches. Ken (the creator of BI) was responsive at times, and credit where credit is due, they did add support for the audio stream that Hikvision cameras output (and mislabel). Some issues were fixed along as time progressed, but it wasn't a rosy picture.

The Frustrations

As time progressed, the number of issues I encountered got seemingly worse. Switching to the stable channel didn't improve things, and I started running into issues that had to be common for other customers. Each upgrade left me with the fear that it would break and the system wouldn't record footage, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened. In the early hours over a weekend someone decided to damage my property in a not-so-quick to repair fashion. In theory it shouldn't be a headache as the CCTV footage would show the culprit(s) and would allow the police / insurance company to do their jobs, however the footage was corrupt (both the motion clips which had triggered and the raw). End result, a case that the police weren't interested in and a headache with the insurers due to a lack of proof.
Attempting to get support for issues I was encountering also slowed down (likely due to the volume of complaints), and the responses from the new member of staff (Sam) became progressively more annoying. Even when proving that a switch to an earlier version would resolve an issue, responses still came back as "it must be something your end". The final straw came in response to yet another issue, highlighting how bad things had become with the product (and its support). Looking back at how much time I had lost trying to resolve issues on an almost-daily basis, how many different hardware changes (and OS changes) I had performed, and how much sleep I had lost over wondering if its actually working while I was away, makes me question if it was even worth it at all.

Green Screen
When trying to play back an alert, this is not helpful...

The Issues

Over the years I have encountered so many issues it makes me honestly question if I should have switched at all. For the amusement of anyone reading this I've listed the top issues that I can recall / that stand out in my mail archive:

  • Commercial software that doesn't support server operating systems
  • SSL certificate not being checked / honoured (including expired certificates)
  • Logging being next to useless at the best of times
  • Not logging the username of a failed authentication (making brute-force investigation a pain)
  • Lack of real release notes
  • The DB becoming corrupted (so many times...)
  • Crashing when attempting to rebuild the DB
  • Missing clips in the alert timeline (found each time the DB is rebuilt, usually over 500)
  • Clips being mislabelled (from the wrong camera)
  • Clips failing to move with "MoveFile Error", when sysmon shows the only thing using the files is Blue Iris
  • Clip write errors (the dreaded 80000000, undefined)
  • Clip writes failing due to "disk not ready", with no storage failure and no filesystem locks/no system errors
  • A freeze bug for many camera types (more than once)
  • Auto upgrades that break and require a manual reinstall
  • Random crashes that you wouldn't know unless you were looking for
  • Memory leaks that like to consume all system RAM
  • Large increase in CPU usage when using GPU decoding after an update (with no explanation)
  • Large increase in RAM usage due to stream processing even when nobody is watching a camera and direct-to-disk is enabled
  • Motion zones resetting without warning post-upgrade
  • Green-screen effect when attempting to play live/recorded footage (regardless of GPU)
  • Playback freezing after a few seconds despite using Intel/nVidia GPU's and software encoding
  • H.265 encoding being broken, yet available in the UI to choose
  • Hardware acceleration failing (both Intel and NVIDIA) for no reason ("HW VA not compatible")
  • Hardware encoding failing and everything defaulting to software encoding, killing the system due to CPU usage and service priority
  • Support emails and the blame that "it must be your environment"
  • Support asking to switch to H.264 permanently from H.265
  • Support stating "it must be the anti-virus" on a clean system with no anti-virus (stripped of everything)

DB Corruption
Ever wondered what a corrupt database looks like?

Space Issues
Always nice when it can't read the space, and the bar is off the side of the UI

The Future

After years of supporting Blue Iris and recommending it to those I know, there comes a point where your perspective changes and you realise that for most people the sheer number of issues and frustrations are just too much for even small organisations who just want a working CCTV platform (regardless of the fancy features). I've switched to a different platform and can honestly say that its its a relief not to have to check every 48 hours to see if its still functional or if my storage is full or if its just broken for no reason.