The ability to see your home from wherever you are and whenever you want is useful to anyone, whether you rent or own. However, until relatively recently, installing a video surveillance system was a very big expense.
Thankfully, advances in technology have brought the price of camera-based surveillance systems down and improved the look, helping blend better with your home. Additionally, the advent of wireless technology means homeowners and renters can easily install just one or two cameras for specific use cases, without the need to wire the entire home.
What all of this means is that whether you want your home to resemble Fort Knox or just need to keep an eye on the dog, you can find a home surveillance system that fits your needs, your budget and your aesthetic.
Here are the top questions to ask yourself when choosing a video surveillance system for your home:
Why Do You Want Video Surveillance?
This should be your first question, because your answer will dictate which features your system will need, how much storage for recorded footage will be necessary, and how many cameras you’ll be installing.
Common uses for video surveillance are:
Having visible cameras installed is a proven deterrent to burglars and an essential tool for recovering stolen goods.
- Home Safety
A camera in the kitchen or the basement can help you avert disasters caused by a pot left on the stove or a washing machine malfunction.
- An Extra Pair of Eyes
So called “Nanny Cams” were some of the first consumer level in-home video surveillance systems. Today’s options for keeping an eye on the babysitter, cleaner, contractor or errant teenager are simple and effective. Many even allow you to have a two-way conversation through them.
Do You Need Cameras Indoors or Outdoors?
Deciding what you want surveillance for will help determine if you need indoor or outdoor cameras. As discussed, indoor systems help you keep an eye on everyone in your home, but motion sensing capabilities can also alert you to intruders, and facial recognition software capabilities have helped cut down on the number of false alerts you receive.
Outdoor systems are designed more for perimeter security; even just the sight of one could deter a would-be thief. Outdoor home surveillance systems should be weatherproof—not just weather-resistant. Some even have wipers for the lenses.
With both types of systems you can opt to monitor one area—a child’s room or the front door—or your entire property. Outdoor cameras are generally more expensive, but increasingly, cameras are being designed for indoor and outdoor use, meaning you can adapt them based on changing needs.
Should You Go Wired or Wireless?
The next decision is wired versus wireless. Remember that no system is actually wire-free. All cameras need either a power cord, or a power cord and an Ethernet connection (to cut down on the number of wires for wired systems look for POE models: Power Over Ethernet).
Wired cameras provide the most consistent service and best picture, and are less susceptible to interference and to the vagaries of the Internet—Wi-Fi going down, or the system potentially being hacked. However, unless you can install the wiring as part of new construction, a wired system is likely to require some professional installation and a higher expense. These systems are often more cumbersome looking, with larger cameras and wires visible throughout the home.
Wireless cameras (also known as IP cameras) are generally smaller, more discreet and easily installed. However, if the Internet goes down or power goes out, your system will fail. You can mitigate this by purchasing battery back-ups for each camera and for your Wi-Fi router. Another common issue is in-home Wi-Fi not extending far enough to support cameras in all the locations you will need for whole home surveillance. Buying a Wi Fi extender or a second router can fix this problem.
How Do You Need to View Your Footage?
Whichever surveillance system you choose, you need a way to view the footage they capture. Most systems allow you to log-in and view live footage from your cameras over the Internet, either on your computer or smartphone/tablet. However, for a security system you’ll definitely want to record footage, so if the worst happens and you have a break-in you can go to the police with photographic evidence. Or, on the brighter side, if you have a camera set up in your living room and your baby takes their first steps, you can hop on to the system and save the previous moment to share with friends and family.
Most complete surveillance camera systems come with a DVR (digital video recorder), and the higher the storage capability of that system, the higher the cost. You need to make sure your storage system matches the capacity of the cameras on your system. For example, a 1 TB DVR should allow for continuous monitoring of eight cameras and store about four years of footage onsite. For a less expensive upfront cost (and a better overall option for a smaller system), consider cloud storage from reputable companies who, for a monthly fee, will store a certain time frame of footage on their servers, allowing you to access remotely and download it when necessary.
Now, What Type of Camera Do You Need ?
How many cameras you need and what features they have depends on how you will be using them. A full-home exterior surveillance system may require 4, 8 or even 16 box or bullet cameras with infra-red night vision. Being able to check on your living room from your office may only need a small pan/tilt/zoom capable dome camera with motion sensing software.
The quality of your camera’s footage is also worth serious consideration. There’s little point in having 20 cameras and a 4 TB DVR if you can’t actually make out Fido from a thief because the video footage is such poor quality. Here are some of the different styles of cameras to consider and the features to look for in your camera to ensure the best quality for your budget. Remember, the more features, the higher the price tag, so decide which ones are most important for your use case.
- Box cameras are the more traditional style of surveillance cameras. Used outdoors, box cameras are larger and extremely heavy duty.
- Bullet cameras are usually mounted outdoors to the side of a wall and are a sleeker, smaller version of a traditional box camera.
- Dome cameras are for indoor use and can be positioned on a flat surface or hung from the ceiling. They are more discreet than box or bullet style cameras and the dome covering protects them from vandalism/damage.
- A Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera is capable of remote directional and zoom control, allowing you to see more area with fewer cameras. PTZs are available in most form factors but the dome shape is the most common.
- Night Vision – as most crimes happen at night, this is a high priority feature for a security system. Look for night vision with an infrared illuminator. Night vision capable cameras should also have a super low LUX rating, which indicates the capability to capture an image in the dark.
- Motion detection – a good feature to help limit the amount of footage recorded unnecessarily. Some systems will send you alerts every time motion is detected.
- Facial recognition – this feature is particularly useful if you are using your system to monitor your home as it will only alert you to unfamiliar faces, not every time your spouse comes home.
- Automatic Iris – most security cameras feature an iris built into the lens to control how much light they take in. A fixed iris works well in consistent environments, where light won’t change much, but an auto iris adjusts itself depending on the light improving the quality of the picture.
- Resolution – measured in the number of pixels contained in the image, the higher the number of pixels, the more detail in the image. Higher resolution images give you the ability to zoom in to see fine detail.
- Frame Rates – while it’s true that the higher frame rate will record better video, it will also take up more space, so if you are recording a lot of video from a large number of cameras, consider a lower frame rate. 1 – 3 FPS (frames per second) is perfectly acceptable for home use. If you just have one or two cameras and want higher quality footage, look for up to 30 FPS.
- Wide-angle lenses, pan/tilt/zoom capability (PTZ) and 360 views all enhance the range your camera will cover.
- Check the distance the camera claims to reach, especially for outdoor use; 65 to 100 feet is standard.
Choosing a home surveillance system is actually a lot easier than it appears at first glance. Yes, there are a lot of options out there, but by narrowing down your particular requirements, you can turn what might seem like a tough decision into a straightforward choice.
Writing about smart home technology for The Home Depot, Jennifer Tuohy offers her insights on home security issues and home surveillance systems. You can view Home Depot’s wide array of home security products online at homedepot.com.