- Protecting your property is important and technology can play a vital part, with phone apps and warning systems many of the latest security cameras are more affordable than you would think.
- High quality video is an absolute must. It is possible that an arrest and conviction could be obtained from your footage, as well as lost items being tracked down and returned to you.
- It should be noted that cost becomes a factor when it comes to data storage.
It’s a dangerous world out there. These days, you need to do everything possible to keep your home secure. In this handy little guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know if you’re buying a home security camera. This Guide
1. How Do Home Security Cameras Work?
Wireless cameras transmit video data through a radio transmitter. The data is then collected and stored, either via cloud storage or a built-in device. A wired camera works in much the same way, except that the signal is sent to the storage device via wires instead of radio signals.
Infrared LEDs (or IR LEDs) detect the photons that escape an object or animal as it emits heat. These photons are then converted to electrons, which can then, in turn, be processed into visible images, even if the camera itself is surrounded by total darkness.
Some security cameras are small and designed to be hidden in inconspicuous places, while others are placed outside of the house, often with window stickers detailing their presence. This is supposed to act as a deterrent to would-be intruders.
2. What Am I Looking For?
High quality video is an absolute must. It is possible that an arrest and conviction could be obtained from your footage, as well as lost items being tracked down and returned to you. However, this will only be the case only if the footage is clear enough to fully identify the culprit or culprits.
You will also want a camera with a wide field of view (FOV), especially if it is covering a larger area with lots of hiding places (e.g. the back garden or driveway). The FOV is determined by the focal length of the camera lens and the size of the image sensor.
A security camera capable of capturing 80 degrees or more is usually considered to be a ‘wide angle’ security camera. The term ‘super-wide angle’ generally means that the camera can capture up to 180 degrees, while ultra-wide angle (usually IP or CCTV) can capture as much as 360 degrees. It goes without saying that the greater the FOV, the higher your chances are of capturing a suspect on film.
Two-way audio is also recommended. This enables you to receive and transmit audio through the camera. On the fun side, two-way audio will allow you to interact with family pets on your breaks from work. On a more serious note, it will also be possible for you to deter burglars verbally before they even enter the house.
3. What’s Better, 4K or 1080p?
All digital video files have set dimensions; these are named according to the number of pixels in the image. 1920 X 1080p (or simply ‘1080p’) tells us that the image is 1,920 pixels wide and 1,080 pixels high. This is also known as ‘high definition’ or ‘HD’ and provides a very good quality image.
The term ‘4K’ refers to a frame that is 4000 pixels wide (or greater). When dealing with this level of image quality (also known as ‘ultra HD’ or ‘UHD’), resolution is measured by width instead of height.
UHD contains almost 4 times the number of pixels as regular HD. Accordingly; UHD specializes in establishing ultra-fine detail that would be missed by even the best HD cameras.
On paper, then, 4K would seem the better choice. It is the superior technology, after all.
It should be noted that cost becomes a factor when it comes to data storage. However most cameras have a 7-day rolling overwrite of all footage stored.
4. What About Motion Detectors?
Motion detectors constantly scan for movement, alerting you instantly if they capture any. Without this feature, you’d be constantly checking your video feed, which is impractical, not to mention boring!
False alarms can be a pain, however. Remember that the camera doesn’t know the difference between a burglar and the family beagle – and will notify you of the presence of both with equal insistence. Annoyed by this, many users deactivate the motion sensors on their security cameras, something that they can soon regret.
A better tactic by far is to set ‘motion detection zones’ within the home and ensure that they are kept clear when you aren’t at home.
Cameras with PIR sensors actively seek out body heat, meaning that they are less likely to be activated by slight, inconsequential movements and more likely to pick up a human presence in the home as a result.
5. How Does Motion Detection Work?
There are two main types of motion detector available for home security cameras.
The first, software-based motion detection, works by comparing pixel changes between successive frames. The system is activated when a significant amount of pixels is altered within the stationary image (indicating movement).
The second, PIR, seeks out body heat. So when the ambient infrared levels change (indicating the presence of a person or animal), the system springs into action.
Both types of camera do not record constantly. Instead, the ‘record’ function is only activated when movement is detected.
6. Wired Vs. Wireless
Both wired and wireless cameras have benefits and drawbacks.
Wired cameras are very reliable and supportive of larger systems. However, installation can be difficult and can take rather a long time. They are also vulnerable to power outages. However, wired cameras are proven and effective as long-term security solutions.
Wireless cameras, on the other hand, are easier to set up and install. They can be easily removed as well, making them ideal for renters. On the negative side, they can be susceptible to radio interference (which happens when signals get crossed).
Wireless cameras are also dependent on a wireless signal (which, as we all know, is never 100% reliable) and they can still be vulnerable to power outages. In some cases, wireless cameras can even be hacked. Additionally, wireless cameras also tend to be smaller, which limits the amount they can view.
Most modern security systems are compatible with other smart products, especially phones, as this allows the user to receive alert messages whenever something aberrant is detected. Many systems are also compatible with light switches, pet food dispensers and doorbells, among other things.
The more ‘high-end’ systems even feature facial recognition software.
Lesser models, however, can suffer from bad app interfaces, poor video quality and shoddy overall build quality, so it really pays to shop around.
Compatibility with other home systems is important to some users, so we’ll take a look at a few examples over the next couple of sections.
Love her or loath her, Amazon’s Alexa is one of the market’s leading smart hubs. Just as Alexa can connect to most of your household gadgets, she can also be placed in charge of your home security system via app or voice control.
Systems such as ‘Circle 2’ or ‘SimpliSafe’ are readily compatible with Alexa – and there are a lot of others, too.
Nest are a company that specialises in smart, interconnected home devices. Their product lines include a ‘smart doorbell’ as well as thermostats and smoke alarms. Their indoor and outdoor security cameras are state-of-the-art and often (though not always – be sure do your research) connect to all their other products.
Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana can also be used to run your home security system in much the same way that Alexa can. In fact, if your security camera is compatible with Microsoft products, the chances are that they are also compatible with Cortana herself.
11. Google Assistant
If Cortana isn’t your thing, Google Assistant can also be used to run your home security system. Assistant is Google’s equivalent to Cortana, Alexa or Apple’s Siri and is compatible with quite a lot of products, such as fridges, home entertainment systems and even cars. If you have an up-to-date Android phone, Google Assistant is an easy interface option for your security system.
Be aware of compatibility issues, however. Just because something works with Nest or Google Assistant, it does not follow that it would also work with Cortana or the various Apple products available. Before you buy, be aware of what you want your home system to do and plan your purchases accordingly.
12. User-Friendly Apps
Controlling your camera via an app can be an easy and efficient process, provided the app is well designed.
An app that alerts you to any motion or sound detected by the camera is pretty much what you’re after, but other functions such as two-way-audio and the ability to instantly create and share images in real time can also be very useful.
Generally, the more customizable the app is, the more likely it will be to fit seamlessly into your life.
As a final point, if you are already using Alexa, Google or Apple smart home products, be sure to check that your camera and/or home security system are compatible with them.
Not everything works with everything else, and it would be a waste or time and money to blunder into the marketplace without double-checking this first.
13. Is it Weatherproof?
If you’re buying an outdoor security camera, it is important to ensure that it is weatherproof. Pretty much all outdoor technology (such as two-way-radios) is given an IP rating. This is a score from 1 – 6 (‘0’ or ‘X’ meaning none at all) that details just how hard wearing and waterproof your device actually is.
The first digit refers to how vulnerable the device is to intrusion (i.e. from dust, dirt or small objects.
An intrusion rating of 1, for example, simply means that you can hold it safely and that it is safe from objects greater than 50mm in diameter. A rating of 6, on the other hand, means that it is probably vacuum-sealed and therefore totally dust proof.
For second digit (or ‘moisture’) ratings, 1 tells us that the device is effectively protected against rain or condensation. 8, on the other hand, means that the device can be fully submerged in water, even at significant depths.
14. Data Storage
Data storage is an important consideration when buying a home security camera.
Basically, there are two types of data storage. Internal, whereby the data is transferred to an SD card or external, where the data is saved to the cloud.
How much data your camera stores, as well as file size, are important factors. Storage space isn’t unlimited, after all.
The higher the image quality, the more space will be required to store the video. The more video is taken, the greater the amount of storage space required. So, if your camera stores a lot of high quality footage, it could end up costing you more money.
With some cameras, you can view 24+ hours of stored footage, whereas others only store footage once the camera is activated.
15. Cloud Storage Vs. Card Storage
As discussed above, there are two major ways to store security camera footage.
With cloud storage, the encrypted data is stored via the Internet and is accessible to you anytime you have access to the network.
With card storage, Footage, images and photos are stored on an SD card, depending on the size of the memory on the card and how often it is triggered, data can be stored for 7-10 days, with the first recorded data being overwritten when the storage is full.
One thing to keep in mind is to be absolutely sure that the cards will work with your particular camera. The two main types of SD cards are SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity). SDHC cards have the capacity of between 4Gb and 32Gb, where SDXC cards have a capacity over 32Gb. Choosing the right card and capacity is vital if your not going to opt for cloud storage.
Make sure you purchase the right physical sized card for your camera, as they come in 3 different sizes:
- Standard SD cards: SD SDHC, SDXC – 32 x 24 x 2.1-1.4mm.
- MiniSD cards: miniSD, miniSDHC – 21.5 x 20 x 1.4mm.
- MicroSD cards: microSD,
- microSDHC, microSDXC – 15 x 11 x 1mm
A majority of the cameras on the market use Micro SD cards, but check the instructions on your camera so that you purchase the correct camera.
Alternatively, online storage is efficient and usually safe. However, there are still security concerns. Data storage systems can be hacked, as can pretty much anything on the Internet if the hacker is clever and determined enough. To avoid this, you should go with a trusted, well known brand that employs up-to-date encryption technology.
The biggest risk, perhaps surprisingly, is the user’s account, rather than the site itself being compromised through careless activity online. Create a strong password and update it regularly.
It is possible to get a limited amount of free online storage space, usually as part of an overall deal. For longer video history, greater storage space and a broader selection of supported cameras/systems, you may have to pay a monthly fee for storage.
As always, be sure to identify your specific wants and needs, find a product in your price range that suits you and then research it thoroughly before making your purchase.