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article / July 27, 2023

How to play a dav file

White CCTV camera mounted on a wall.

Free .dav players and converters found online can introduce more problems than they solve.

When sifting through closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, there’s a good chance investigators will come across something called a .dav file. These files hold the digital video many CCTV systems record, but viewing them is challenging without the requisite software.

As investigators use valuable time looking into how to play a .dav file, they’ll find that it isn’t as easy as it seems — especially if they’re looking to ensure evidence remains forensically sound. Read on to learn more about .dav files, what makes them difficult to play, and the best ways to play them without causing damage to converted files.

Two CCTV cameras attached to the corner of a building point in opposite directions.

What is a .dav file?

A .dav file is a proprietary video format created by Dahua Technology and is most commonly found in CCTV systems.

When a CCTV camera records video footage, it sends the feed to a digital video recorder (DVR), where the feed is then recorded, processed and stored in a digital format. Because CCTV systems often operate with little to no downtime, they must compress recorded video to keep the resulting file within the limitations of the storage space available in the CCTV’s network. Digital video is also encrypted to prevent unauthorized users from being able to access and play secured CCTV footage. 

.dav files are a common video file created by DVR365 systems built by Dahua Technology or third-party manufacturers utilizing Dahua Technology systems. 

Why are .dav files difficult to play?

Because the .dav format is proprietary, this means that footage is often only accessible via the CCTV that created the file or specialized media players that are licensed to play this format.

The biggest roadblock many investigators face when coming across .dav files is that the media players built into operating systems like Windows and popular open-source video playback software like VLC Player are not compatible with the .dav file format. When attempting to view a .dav file with these media players often report a “File type not recognized message,” leading investigators down an online rabbit hole where they spend over 80 minutes looking for a player that will work.

Discover how Axon Investigate removes the difficulty in playing .dav files so you can spend more time building your case. Contact us today to learn more.

Can you trust free online .dav players or converters?

Unfortunately, no. Many free .dav players or converters found online are of dubious quality and cannot be trusted to convert a video from .dav to a more commonly used format like .mp4.

Accuracy is the biggest concern when converting a highly-compressed, encrypted and proprietary format like .dav into another video format. If mishandled, decompression and conversion of .dav files can introduce a host of inconsistencies and other issues that didn’t exist in the original file. Even official playback software created by CCTV companies can introduce irregularities, leading to inaccurate playback.

While problems like dropped frames, distorted aspect ratios or altered playback speeds may be acceptable for personal, non-official use, these problems can lead to misinterpretations and inaccurate judgments in the courtroom and with the public, effectively ruining the trustworthiness of evidence. 
According to our 2023 report, 8 Key Trends in Digital Evidence, 91% of surveyed forensic video specialists are concerned about digital video files being misplayed or misinterpreted during trial. Utilizing a free .dav player or converter is a fast track to seeing crucial video

How to play a dav file in a forensically sound manner

If you need to play .dav files in a forensically sound manner, then the best solution for playing them is with a Public Safety Grade media player, like Axon Investigate or Axon Evidence

Axon Investigate was built by a team of certified forensic experts to provide drag-and-drop playback while ensuring videos remain accurate down to the pixel level. Investigators can simply drag, drop and play their .dav file and get accurate playback within moments. They can also bring Axon Investigate into the courtroom and display video content, zoom in on critical areas or even loop videos directly from the platform. 

Axon Evidence leverages the same powerful video conversion engine inside of Axon Investigate, providing investigators the ability to view and and manage .dav files in the cloud.

How to convert and share .dav files in a forensically sound manner

Like playback, conversion should also be handled by Public Safety Grade media playback software, such as Axon Investigate or Axon Evidence. Once a video is uploaded, files can then be converted to standard formats like .avi or .mp4 while maintaining the forensic integrity of the original file’s content. The original file is also always kept on-hand as well.

Axon Evidence also provides vital chain of custody and metadata features to further track and preserve the forensic integrity of video files. If a video is shared via email or stored on-premises, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to determine who has accessed a particular file or whether it has been altered. With Axon Evidence , you can ensure that the original files remain preserved regardless of any additional work that has been done.

Maintain forensic integrity of your .dav files with Axon Investigate

Investigators spend far too much time searching for ways to access and convert case-critical files and ultimately turn to solutions that introduce too many inconsistencies to be reliable in a court of law. 

Axon Investigate was developed to provide a video evidence tool that gives departments secure, forensically-sound methods to view, investigate, convert and share video files. Axon Investigate also provides an additional suite of tools to help agencies examine evidence, build cases and protect the truth in a fraction of the time. Contact us today to request a demo.