An Effortless Guide to Home Security and Smart Homes

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An Effortless Guide to Home Security and Smart Homes

The widespread adoption of affordable smart home solutions has made home surveillance and theft-prevention systems more popular than ever—from security cameras, to Wi-Fi video doorbells, electric locks, and home security alarms, which are often complemented by popular home automation digital assistants like Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Nest. Installing a home security system used to require the services of an installation professional—and in many large-scale setups, it still does—but ongoing technological innovations have rendered consumer-level video surveillance easier to install and operate, and increasingly customizable for residential use.

Your first question may be, why bother adding intelligence to the exterior of your home? According to crime statistics provided by the FBI, 60.5% of more than 8.8 million offenses and 7.5 million incidents reported in 2020 were crimes against property. Collectively, victims of such property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $17.5 billion. Such big numbers make the cost of installing a robust security system seem like small change indeed.

SECURE YOUR ENVIRONMENT

Before you run out and buy security cameras a or fancy surveillance system, here are a few suggestions on how to lessen your chances of being one of those statistics:

  • Doors are the main point of entry. Front doors should be solid-core or metal. Sliding glass doors should have a wooden dowel placed in the bottom track to prevent opening when you are not home.

  • Windows are the second most common entry, especially in warm-weather months. Make sure all windows are secured with secondary security latches.

  • The strike plate on the door is usually the weak point for a kick-in. Install a heavy-duty strike plate with at least 3" screws.

  • Always try to install a heavy-duty deadbolt, and always change door locks when moving to a new home or apartment.

As safe as you make the infrastructure of your home by heeding these points, it pays to consider a little extra technological help. Home surveillance systems have become more cost-effective and simpler to install in recent years, while new trends and advancements improve on past technology to make the home security sector a smart investment. Additionally, many homeowner insurance policies will give you some kind of discount when you have a surveillance system installed. But picking a system is not as easy as it may seem, especially with all the available options to choose from. So, let's start with some simple questions to help demystify the process.

Decide on Your System: Analog versus IP?

Analog systems turn your video surveillance images into an analog signal, and then transmit that video through cabling into either a TV or monitor, which is usually connected to a centralized DVR, where it is converted back into a digital signal. This configuration was commonly used by anyone with a surveillance system in the past 20 years. The good news: analog systems are cheaper, the cameras come in a variety of styles (from bullets to domes to larger PTZ models), and it's easier to mix and match different models to scale-up your existing older surveillance systems. Additionally, some manufacturers now have hybrid DVRs that can accept a limited amount of IP cameras, like the H24HRLN Hybrid DVR from Speco Technologies.

DVRs Pros:

  • Cost effective

  • Can use existing coaxial cabling systems

  • Can use existing, mix-and-match analog cameras

Cons:

  • Running coaxial and power cables is more challenging than Ethernet cables

  • No wireless option

  • Separate power source needed for each camera

  • Smaller coverage area

  • No network connectivity

Dahua Technology C888E64A 8-Channel 4K UHD Pentabrid HD-CVI DVR with 4TB HDD
Dahua Technology C888E64A 8-Channel 4K UHD Pentabrid HD-CVI DVR with 4TB HDD

IP cameras and systems , on the other hand, do everything through the Internet. The signal starts off as a digital transmission, and is converted directly in the camera, usually via onboard encoders that also double as mini web servers. This allows the signal to be delivered through any web browser, as well as being sent directly to a network video recorder (NVR) or even more typical, a cloud storage service. Also, because the signal does not have to be converted from analog to digital, the signal resolution can be higher, which means you can use one IP camera to do the work of several analog cameras. The cons should be apparent—because of the technology involved, IP cameras and systems are more expensive. Additionally, you will need high bandwidth to deliver your video, and adding more cameras will eat into that bandwidth.

NVRs Pros:

  • Higher quality video

  • Easier to wire and install

  • Single PoE cable for power and data (cameras don’t need to be individually powered)

  • Flexible placement and distance of cameras and recorder

  • Greater coverage with fewer cameras

  • Network connected

  • ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) compliance enables interoperability with a wide range of surveillance devices from different manufacturers

  • More options with smart analytics, tracking, and remote management

Cons:

  • IP cameras may be cost prohibitive, especially for larger installations

  • Wireless NVR systems can suffer signal loss when Wi-Fi is overloaded

  • Limited network security

Lorex Fusion Series N845A62-8AB4-E 16-Channel 4K UHD NVR with 2TB HDD & 4 4K Smart Deterrence Bullet Cameras
Lorex Fusion Series N845A62-8AB4-E 16-Channel 4K UHD NVR with 2TB HDD & 4 4K Smart Deterrence Bullet Cameras

How Skilled Are You at Wiring?

If you go with a wired system, you’ll probably need to run a power line and cables between the cameras and the DVR or NVR and connect to a monitor. Before you start, make sure you have sufficient cabling or wires for the job, or else you may have to compromise on where the central DVR or monitor is placed. Installation may also involve drilling through multiple walls in your home or structure to hide unsightly wires. Drilling the holes is the major concern. You must be sure you're not drilling into electrical lines, near pipes, or through support beams. If the security system was not installed while the house was being built, you’ll want to contact a professional who can determine where the wiring should go by reviewing a floor plan, to ensure your cameras are not wired to your plumbing, for instance.

Wireless cameras are a little simpler. You usually only need to find out where to run the power line, but you still must be careful. A dedicated burglar will follow a camera's wires when spotted to determine where to snip the power cord.

Identify the Type of Camera to Best Serve Your Needs

 Bullet Cameras: These shoebox-shaped cameras vary in size and are generally mounted on a wall. Bullet cameras work best for long-range video capture when there is a clear idea about coverage area. They are also good for obtaining images of points of entry into a space.

Varieties: Wired analog and HD turret cameras, wired IP turret cameras

Pros:

  • Lens is well suited to distance viewing and can have high zoom capabilities

  • Wall mount allows for easy installation

Cons:

  • Narrower angle of coverage than dome or turret cameras

  • Camera angle and/or camera itself more subject to tampering or vandalism

  • More susceptible to interference from natural elements like spider webs, wildlife nesting, or foliage

Dome Cameras: Generally mounted on the ceiling, these fixed-location cameras offer coverage of large open spaces. PTZ models can pan and tilt for even better coverage. Dome cameras sometimes allow you to define zones for coverage. The cameras can then pan across the defined zones in an established pattern.

Varieties: Wireless dome/mini dome cameras, wired analog and HD dome/mini dome cameras, wired IP dome/mini dome cameras

Pros:

  • Wide angle of dome allows for maximum coverage area

  • Low profile and simple form factor make them rather inconspicuous

  • Dome covering makes it hard to determine the direction of camera lens, while also shielding camera from vandalism

  • Highly weatherproof, water-resistant design

Cons:

  • Limited flexibility with mounting to take full advantage of extreme wide-angle view

  • Installation is more complicated and time consuming

  • Infrared light can reflect off dome to negatively affect picture quality

  • Increased glass surface area can increase dirt and/or cause scratches

  • Water droplets can blur lens if mounted vertically

Turret Cameras: The ball and socket design of these cameras—also known as eyeball or flat-faced dome cameras—allows them to rotate freely once the base is mounted. Due to their small size and slick appearance, turret cameras are typically best suited to indoor small-scale surveillance situations, such as office spaces and locations where decor counts.

Varieties: Wired analog and HD turret cameras, wired IP turret cameras

Pros:

  • Ease of installation and lower cost

  • Generally smaller form factor and higher aesthetic look

  • Can be installed either vertically or horizontally

  • Typically offer better night vision image quality, with less potential for light reflections

Cons:

  • Camera direction is more obvious, making turret cameras less vandal resistant

Hidden Cameras: Commonly associated with the era of nanny cams, the hidden (spy) camera is often used to monitor the actions of thieves or intruders who might assume they are not under surveillance. Use of these cameras—often designed to look like everyday objects—may be controversial, or even illegal, in certain locations due to ethical considerations and/or privacy laws.

Pros:

  • Cameras are tiny, unobtrusive, and often use wireless technology to connect

  • Can improve safety and reduce crime in area being monitored

Cons:

  • Comes with ethical issues and privacy concerns, both in terms of video and sound recording

  • Can require multiple devices, especially if patrolling a large area

Wristcam Video Watch Band for Apple Watch
Wristcam Video Watch Band for Apple Watch

TIPS FOR CAMERA REPLACEMENT

  • A power light can draw unwanted attention to your camera, particularly a night vision device recording at night. A simple piece of black tape over the light solves this problem.

  • If you place the camera anywhere below 6 feet, make sure to disguise the location well. If you can reach it, so can a burglar.

  • If you do place the camera somewhere obvious, consider buying a dedicated enclosure in which to house it. This vandal-proofing makes it harder to interrupt surveillance.

  • Always check the video stream to see if anything is blocking the camera’s view. Foliage, fallen timber, even outdoor furniture can impede the usefulness of your camera.

  • Two-way audio can be an effective way to scare off a would-be intruder. Audio recording may have separate regulations from video recording in your area, so make sure you know the rules before installing a camera with audio capability.

Hikvision EKI-K41T44 4-Channel 8MP NVR with 1TB HDD & 4 4MP Night Vision Turret Cameras Kit
Hikvision EKI-K41T44 4-Channel 8MP NVR with 1TB HDD & 4 4MP Night Vision Turret Cameras Kit

Short Surveillance Glossary

When selecting between different home surveillance systems, you can get inundated by terms, and the salesperson may throw out a few you haven't heard before, too. To wrap things up, here's a very short list of terms with which you should be familiar.

  • DVR: Digital video recorder. This receives a signal that is hardwired to the cameras. Most DVRs have LAN capabilities so that you can access the footage through a network. Usually used with analog cameras.

  • NVR: Network video recorder. This is the centralized hub where all network-connected cameras will store their footage, usually on a hard drive in the device, and usually used with networked (IP) cameras

  • PTZ: Pan, tilt, zoom. The camera may be able to pan, tilt, or zoom, giving you the ability to see perps better in real time. This is especially useful if you are monitoring a structure remotely. Before you make that 911 call, you should make sure your target is not just a nosy neighbor or besotted friend.

  • PoE: Power over Ethernet. This is the ability for cameras to draw their power source from the same network cable through which they transmit data. PoE cameras means that each individual camera doesn't need a separate power source, enabling you to install a PoE switch to connect multiple cameras. This also gives you greater flexibility on where the NVR or DVR is placed.

  • Field of View: The complete area of coverage provided by a network camera when viewed at full frame. Camera type, lens, and image resolution all affect your FOV.

  • Motion Detection: The ability of your camera to detect when something is moving in its field of view. You can set some cameras to a motion-activated or motion-detected mode, so that video is only captured when something is truly moving in the frame. This cuts down on bandwidth, storage, and wear-and-tear for your system.

  • Channels: You'll see 2-channel, 8-channel and up to 32-channel DVRs. “Channel” usually refers to the number of cameras or other surveillance you can attach to your system.

It may sound like a challenge but installing a home security system is not as difficult as it seems. With these basic tips, you should be able to hook up a simple and effective system, like this one, and enjoy some peace of mind tonight.

Speco Technologies ZIPK8N2 8-Channel 8MP NVR with 2TB HDD & 6 5MP Night Vision Turret Cameras
Speco Technologies ZIPK8N2 8-Channel 8MP NVR with 2TB HDD & 6 5MP Night Vision Turret Cameras

For an even more in-depth explanation of this subject, check out B&H’s Surveillance Equipment Buying Guide.

Have you installed security cameras or a surveillance system in or around your home? Share your experiences in the Comments section, below. 

1 Comment

It would be very wise to expand on the subject of PoE not being as simplistic as it seems, for those who have not made the mistake yet. Although the PoE standard is published as being a strict protocol (with all the various versions ) I found out different the hard way. I purchased a PoE compliant IP camera from one manufacturer and a PoE compliant  NVR from another thinking they would be compatible (as stated by the PoE version in their literature) but here is how it went. The camera and NVR never worked together with a PoE connection. Communication with both manufacturers resulted in each carefully blaming each other. So much for standards. In short I would strongly recommend to always buy the camera and the NVR from the same company.