Security Cameras Review
Why Buy a Home Surveillance System?
The top performers in our review are Frontpoint, the Gold Award winner; Vivint, the Silver Award winner; and LiveWatch, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
Being the victim of a home break-in is a miserable experience. No matter how small the theft, when a stranger breaks into your home and sanctuary, it is distressing. You can protect your home with monitoring and security systems to prevent this helpless feeling, and security cameras are an important part of their overall surveillance operations.
Homeowners are not alone in feeling bereft after a break-in. Business owners, too, often feel like they have been dealt a body blow when someone breaks into the building that houses their livelihood and takes computer equipment, retail merchandise, important identity information or other valuable materials. If you are a small business owner, stolen items represent a significant amount of your own money, not to mention the emotional attachment you have after launching your own company.
Besides burglary, which is when someone steals your property, home and business owners must consider the even more dangerous risk of robbery, a situation where someone breaks in when you or a loved one is in the building. You may also have to contend with vandalism, another disheartening and sometimes financially troublesome problem.
Fortunately for today's property owner, there are many advanced electronic tools in addition to security cameras to safeguard your residence or business. A complete home security monitoring system that includes cameras can be your eyes and ears – the sentinel that watches for break-ins as well as other safety hazards, alerting you and emergency responders of any threat.
Complete home monitoring systems also provide many other security options. Modern home security monitoring equipment can alert you to dramatic changes in temperature, flooding, carbon monoxide, power failures, natural gas leaks, and smoke or fire. You can receive this information via text, email, phone call or an alert from a mobile app. Security systems can also contact law enforcement for you.
Cameras are a significant part of a full security system. Depending on which type of camera and service you use, you can get live stream feeds on your phone of what is happening inside and outside your home, along with still photographs of anyone trying to break in.
People buy security cameras not only to capture criminals in the act, but also as a preventive measure. Sometimes a sticker saying the home is protected is not enough of a deterrent, but surveillance cameras inside and outside the house show that you are serious about keeping intruders away.
This security camera review compares the best security camera systems available as part of full home monitoring services. Also check out our articles on security cameras for more information about finding the best home surveillance system.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What We Evaluated, What We Found
Security cameras have become very streamlined. If a particular feature is a major selling point, the rest of the industry quickly develops something comparable. This works nicely for you as a consumer, since you can count on getting a strong camera from a range of brands. The cameras in our lineup have very similar features, so for our security camera reviews, we also evaluated the quality of the home services they come packaged with to help us rank them. A home security system is a sensitive purchase that requires plenty of research to find the right fit, so we have reviewed the best home surveillance cameras and monitoring services we could find.
Many of these home security monitoring companies set up various protection measures and equipment for you, while others allow you to customize your service based on your needs and protection expectations. Several home monitoring companies let you customize camera placement and add more cameras if necessary.
We checked costs when we examined the security cameras that are part of a home security system, including starting costs, monthly expenses, the three-year cost of ownership, and how much you need to pay if you cancel the plan. We also looked at the length of the contract periods, which range from no contract at all to five years. Generally, contracts extend for three years.
Another thing we looked for is equipment you can install yourself. This gives you flexibility as to where you position the cameras and whether you pay for professional installation.
Including Security Cameras With Home Security Monitoring
We dug into the details of the specific features the cameras offer, but we also examined them in the context of a total home security package and evaluated the companies that sell them. Our findings also apply quite well to locating the best security camera system for business owners.
Crime can happen at any time of day, so 24-hour monitoring is critical for any camera in or around your house. The best security camera systems allow you to watch the video feed in real time or play back previous footage on the internet and your smartphone. This can be crucial evidence for police if anything is stolen or vandalized, since it helps them identify the perpetrator.
Some of the best home security surveillance camera systems can also record audio. Some cameras with this ability allow two-way intercom communication between the camera and an internal speaker, so you can talk to someone at your doorstep without opening the door.
Complete security systems include additional types of equipment that protect your home from all angles, such as carbon monoxide detectors and heat sensors. Some services offer home automation, which automatically links your cameras to temperature and smoke sensors, providing a simple way to track and prevent many different accidents. We took all of these aspects of home security systems into account in our rankings.
We also evaluated the kinds of customer service that you can expect from the companies that offer the best home monitoring cameras along with their complete surveillance packages. We gave higher rankings to companies that provide support by phone, email and live chat. This option can make or break your experience with a home security monitoring company.
What Types of Cameras Are Available?
A security camera is a key weapon in your fight against intruders who might steal possessions, vandalize your property, or harm you or your family. Several different camera types are available, and although they have some varying characteristics, they generally are quite similar in their features. These are the most common security cameras on the market:
Wireless Indoor Camera
In general, the best indoor cameras for home security are wireless, because even if someone who breaks into your home cuts off the electricity, your cameras will still function. These cameras record the actions of whoever is inside your home and often include audio as well. Some even offer night vision.
Wireless cameras are also easy to hide if you want them to be discreet. On the other hand, some homeowners want to have cameras front and center to show that they are not fooling around when it comes to the safety of their home. Some intruders may flee if they spot a camera because they are afraid of being recorded and recognized by law enforcement officials.
Granted, a wireless system can be hacked, but that takes a more sophisticated burglar than the one who is most likely to try stealing relatively small, easily pawned items such as jewelry and electronics, which often are stolen to support a drug habit. There are times when wireless cameras encounter problems with signal transmission too, but this does not happen often.
One type of wireless camera, the IP (internet protocol) camera, lets you see what is going on from its viewpoint, since it functions much like a webcam. You can see what is happening in real time and remotely control the camera.
Wireless Pan-and-Tilt Camera
These are cameras that you can control remotely. They can scan a room or area from one side to the other. You can also view areas up and down and zoom in for closer examination. This kind of camera is available for in-home or outdoor use, giving you flexible views of any part of your property.
Outdoor Wireless Camera
Some wireless cameras are designed to withstand weather and temperature changes so they can give you a clear recording of what is happening outside your house. These cameras are especially useful at your door, letting you see who may have tried to pick your lock or just dropped by when you were out. With an IP outdoor wireless camera, you can see who is standing on your front porch in real time.
This is a specialty item that only a few top-notch home security monitoring services provide. It connects to the control panel and lets you see who is pushing the doorbell when it is happening. Vivint provides its own unique doorbell camera that includes a speaker and microphone, so you can talk to the person at your door via the control panel or a mobile app.
The rounded exterior of this security camera is typically tinted, which conceals the direction the lens is pointing while it records what is happening in a given area. A dome camera is visible rather than hidden, but it can blend in nicely with any decor and not stand out nearly as much as other surveillance cameras.
Named for its shape and small size, a bullet camera is a smart choice for a small area, being compact and discreet. You can get weatherproof bullet cameras that keep an electronic eye on the exterior of your house, your yard, your garden or any other portion of your property that you want to keep free of intruders.
Home Security Companies: Shop & Compare
When you agree to a contract for home security services, you commit to a legal agreement that you will pay for monthly services the company will provide. This might seem to be a straightforward business deal, but since this involves the safety of your family, home and valuables, it is a significant step. Take the time to understand all the details of any plan you agree to, the payment options and any other considerations you might need to address.
For example, it would be smart to call the city hall or non-emergency number for police where you live to check whether you must register your system and whether there are any policies regarding false alarms and possible fines if they take place. Otherwise, you might get stuck with bills from police or fire departments for those false alarms.
It's also wise to get written estimates from a number of companies before making any commitment to one. Be sure to read the contract carefully and keep a copy of it with your records.
Reject the Hard Sell
If you meet with a home security salesperson, you should require full identification from that individual. Write down that person's name, contact information, the company and anything else that you think is important. It is not enough to have some cheery person announce a first name and then begin a rapid-fire spiel about different security plans and payment.
After making certain you are dealing with a genuine company representative, ask for materials in writing, because it is easy to get lost in a blizzard of verbal quotes. Legitimate salespeople take pride in their work and will not object to making sure that you fully understand what they are selling, what you will get for a particular price and the details of the deal.
Sadly for the reputable home security companies, there are scam artists out there who try to take advantage of you. Reject any attempts by someone to sell you anything if you have not seen proper identification. Do not be fooled by delaying tactics, such as the salesperson asking for glasses of water or use of your bathroom while you scratch your head, wondering what the last half-hour of chatter about security plans was all about.
Since you are investing in the safety of people and things that are precious to you, the salesperson should behave professionally. If that professionalism is not evident, bid that individual a pleasant but final goodbye.
Paper Is Your Friend
So often today, our reading material and even important records are stored online. However, if you are about to embark on a contract with a home security monitoring firm, you need a hard copy of a written estimate that clearly spells out the terms of the deal: the services you will get, the equipment involved, whether you must have anything professionally installed, and the costs.
Once you have this information, there should be no rush to make any decision. Instead, it is probably best to do some comparison shopping to ensure that you are getting the best security system for your home.
One common complaint about the home security industry is automatic renewals. Sometimes a company does not inform you of its automatic renewal policy when you sign a contract. You should know when your contract would renew and what you need to do if you no longer want this company's service to make sure it doesn't keep charging you.
You also should get written information about the company's cancellation policies. In some cases, you cannot cancel a contract or, if you do, you will be charged a fee. You need to know what that policy and potential fee is before committing to anything. Also find out the process to follow if you cancel a policy, including such details as whether you must notify the firm in writing, by what date, and when you must pay the cancellation costs.
Best Security Cameras: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Choosing a security camera that is part of an overall home security system before you commit to a contract can be a time-consuming task. We have simplified that research process through our security camera reviews and pinpointed the best security camera systems.
Our Gold Award winner, Frontpoint, gives you three different types of cameras: wireless indoor, wireless outdoor and image sensors. All three kinds provide night vision, and you can see the live feed from them on a smartphone, tablet or computer. These cameras also have motion detectors that can take a still photo or start recording as soon as they sense motion of any kind.
The indoor camera can spot things 50 feet away, and its infrared capability can capture images in the dark. The outdoor camera has night vision that can cover a 40-foot range. All three types of cameras also provide HD recording. These camera features, combined with Frontpoint's other top-notch home security monitoring services, make it an excellent choice.
Vivint, our Silver Award winner, provides a selection of four cameras: an indoor camera, an outdoor bullet camera, a pan-and-tilt camera, and its own highly versatile doorbell camera. The doorbell camera lets you not only see who is standing at your door, but also communicate with that person through a speaker and microphone system. The doorbell camera also has night vision. Every security camera Vivint provides preserves any footage in the cloud, so you can view it whenever you like.
Our Bronze Award winner, LiveWatch, offers an exceptionally good selection of cameras for your home security system. You can choose indoor fixed, pan-and-tilt, or night-vision cameras for inside your home, as well as a dome camera. To keep your yard, garden, driveway and house exterior safe, you can use the outdoor infrared bullet cameras. You can also have an image sensor that snaps still photos when it detects movement.
LiveWatch lets you upload 1,000 video clips to cloud storage to access anytime. This home security company offers the added benefit of its ASAPer feature, which quickly sends alerts by phone, text, web or email to a chosen group of people all at once rather than one at a time. These individuals can then communicate via ASAPer's group chat to decide whether a situation is a false alarm or the house needs emergency services pronto.
Combining the best home surveillance camera system with a complete security system will more fully protect your loved ones and valuables against potential thieves, robbers or vandals. Beyond protecting your home, these systems can help law enforcement identify, arrest and prosecute whoever commits or attempts break-ins.